Leaders Division helps Badgers' recruiting

MADISON, Wis. -- The Big Ten achieved its primary objectives in division alignment, but if one team had a legit gripe with the setup, it'd be Wisconsin.

By being placed in the Leaders division with a protected crossover only with Minnesota, the Badgers no longer will play Iowa every year. The Wisconsin-Iowa rivalry means a lot around here. The teams from bordering states have played 85 times since their first meeting way back in 1894, and the all-time series is all square at 42-42-1. Wisconsin's placement also ensures it won't face Nebraska each year, taking a potentially spicy rivalry down a notch.

Most Badgers fans would rather have seen their team in the Legends division with Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska.

But the way things ended up isn't all bad for Wisconsin.

"We traditionally recruit more [toward the] East," Badgers coach Bret Bielema told me Tuesday. "For us to be able to say year in and year out that we can Ohio State and Penn State is worth its weight in gold."

Bielema admits the loss of the annual Iowa series is disappointing, especially given his connection as a former Hawkeyes player. But from a recruiting standpoint, Wisconsin would much rather be where it is.

"We've just always had more success recruiting East of Wisconsin than West," he said. "If you go into an alignment with Nebraska and Iowa and Minnesota, you're going to have that natural draw to your West. For us, it remains to the East."

A glance at the Badgers' spring roster shows a large contingent from states East of Wisconsin. There are 13 Floridians, 10 Ohioans, two players from New Jersey and two more from Pennsylvania.

Wisconsin has several players from the western part of the Big Ten footprint -- five Minnesotans and one Nebraskan -- but there's a much larger group from the East. Kicker Philip Welch hails from Fort Collins, Co., and Wisconsin has no players from West of the Rockies.

The most recent recruiting class includes five players from Ohio, two from Florida, one from Pennsylvania and one from North Carolina. Only one incoming recruit, offensive lineman Tyler Marz from Springfield, Minn., comes from West of Wisconsin.

"From a recruiting standpoint, the exposure out East certainly does help," co-defensive coordinator/line coach Charlie Partridge said. "They definitely feel a closer tie to us and being in the Big Ten and guaranteeing that home game for them at Penn State or Ohio State every other year."