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By the Numbers: Brett Bielema's recruiting performance over the years

Bret Bielema
Bret Bielema (AP Images)

Illinois named Bret Bielema its 26th head football coach on Saturday, succeeding Lovie Smith. Bielema already has a long college head coaching record with stints at both Wisconsin and Arkansas, and is an experienced head coach recruiter. Here we examine Bielema’s recruiting record by the numbers.


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CLASS OF 2021 RANKINGS: Rivals250 | Position | Team | State

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COVERAGE: Rivals Transfer Tracker | Rivals Camp Series



48.85 – Bielema’s average class ranking at Wisconsin

Barry Alvarez announced prior to the 2005 football season that it would be his last as Wisconsin’s head coach, and named Bielema his successor at that time. Starting with that 2006 group, then, Bielema would go on to bring in seven classes to Wisconsin before he bolted to Arkansas after the conclusion of the 2012 football season.

Bielema’s first, full recruiting class was the best he signed at Wisconsin, ranking No. 34 in 2007. That group featured four prospects rated four stars or higher, including Wisconsin legacy Nick Toon who would go on to catch 170 passes in his Badger career. It was also the year a young man by the name of J.J. Watt came out of Pewaukee (Wisc.) High School. Wisconsin did not offer Watt, however, and he would sign with Central Michigan before transferring to Wisconsin a year later and walking on.

The outlier of these classes was 2010, when Wisconsin’s group ranked 87th overall and second-to-last in the Big Ten according to the old Rivals team recruiting ranking formula. That class was without a four-star prospect, but did bring to Madison future All-American offensive tackle Robby Havenstein.

27 - Average class ranking at Arkansas

Bielema recruited five classes to Arkansas after taking over the Razorbacks’ program in December of 2012, and that SEC influence immediately boosted his recruiting results. Arkansas was remarkably consistent during Bielema’s tenure, with each of the five classes ranking between 24 and 30 in the Rivals team rankings.

That highest-ranked class came in Bielema’s final recruiting year of 2017, following his third-straight winning season with the program. Only a small handful of players remain on Arkansas’ roster from that 2017 class, one of them being starting wide receiver Devion Warren. The highest-ranked prospect Bielema recruited during his tenure at Arkansas was defensive lineman McTelvin Agim, the No. 50 ranked prospect overall in the class of 2016.

1 - Number of five-stars signed

Bielema’s first, full recruiting class at Wisconsin featured the Badger’s only five-star signee in the Bielema era. Milwaukee offensive tackle Josh Oglesby was the No. 10-ranked prospect in the country that year. Oglesby was a consensus first team All-Big Ten selection in 2011, but six knee surgeries doomed his career. He was the last five-star to sign with Wisconsin until this past week, when the Badgers inked five-star Pennsylvania offensive tackle Nolan Rucci. Interestingly, Bielema never did sign a five-star at Arkansas, but he did sign 23 four-stars over a five-year period.

19 – JUCO prospects Bielema signed at Arkansas

Junior college recruiting was not part of Bielema’s recruiting strategy at Wisconsin. In fact, over seven classes with Bielema at the helm, the Badgers signed just one junior college prospect. However, when Bielema arrived at Arkansas he immediately started mining the junior college ranks for top talent, bringing in an average of nearly four JUCOs per class. In his final class at Arkansas, Bielema signed two of 2017’s top ten-ranked junior college prospects: four-star tight end Jeremy Patton and four-star wide receiver Brandon Martin.

Whether Bielema will employ more of his Wisconsin JUCO strategy or his Arkansas JUCO strategy at Illinois remains to be seen. His familiarity with junior college recruiting, though, could come in handy as the Illini look to meet needs and fill roster holes with the remaining scholarships in this 2021 class.

11 – Power Five coaches who have signed more classes than Bielema

Between his stints at Wisconsin and Arkansas, Bielema signed 12 classes as a head coach. Only 11 of the current 63 Power Five head coaches (The Arizona and Auburn head coaching positions are currently vacant) have signed more classes as FBS head coaches. That list includes long-tenured coaches like Nick Saban at Alabama and Gary Patterson at TCU. It also includes coaches like Brian Kelly and Mike Leach who have had stops at multiple FBS programs. Coaches like Dabo Swinney at Clemson and Dan Mullen at Florida have signed the same number of classes as Bielema

In the Big Ten, only Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz and Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald have signed more classes than Bielema as FBS head coaches. RutgersGreg Schiano, meanwhile, has signed 12, the same number as Bielema. Both coaches will be on the same track when they finish the 2021 classes at their respective schools in the Late Signing Period.