Ohio State and Wisconsin will meet this weekend in a heavyweight battle between two of the best teams in the Big Ten. It’s also a reunion of sorts for one of the more intriguing recruiting storylines of 2016.
Wisconsin had an apparent coup early on the recruiting trail last cycle, securing the commitment of four-star running back Antonio Williams. After being a Badgers commit for over a year, Williams flipped to Ohio State in October of 2015.
Williams told Cleveland.com that he picked Ohio State because he didn’t think Wisconsin could develop him into the running back he wanted to be. After Ezekiel Elliott’s career at Ohio State, and given the Buckeyes’ superior on the field results, this isn’t too much of a surprise. Top recruits flip to Ohio State all the time.
But Wisconsin evidently has a different a different perspective on why Williams won’t be on their sidelines this Saturday.
"There's a reason he's not here," running backs coach John Settle said. "We talk about smart, tough dependable. If a guy doesn't fit that criteria, he wouldn't do well in this environment."
That reason is eight words.
Following Wisconsin's 10-6 loss to Iowa in the 2015 Big Ten Conference opener, Williams tweeted, "We will not be elite until Stave leaves”
"We didn't chase him," Settle said. "After he made some comments about one of our family members, I think it was a forgone conclusion that he was welcome to go look at other places.
"The players didn't want him here."
Settle adds that Wisconsin running back Corey Clement saw the tweet, instead of UW coaches, and confronted Williams. Shortly after that, Williams allegedly decommitted, and a few days later, picked Urban Meyer and the Ohio State Buckeyes.
Is this story entirely true?
It seems a little much to believe. Williams, a consensus four-star recruit, was one of the crown jewels of Wisconsin’s 2016 class (he was the second highest ranked player at the time), and given Wisconsin’s offense, finding a superior running back is of perhaps even more importance than it would be for Ohio State.
Wisconsin doesn’t get many blue-chip recruits, period. Would it be wise to run a player of that caliber off, especially somewhat late in the cycle, because he shared (and then quickly deleted) an observation about Wisconsin’s quarterback that, to be blunt, was not wrong? It’s not like Williams tweeted something discriminatory or otherwise inappropriate.
And even if the coach is being wholesale truthful, what’s the benefit of saying it now? Sure, Williams isn’t likely to play much against Wisconsin. But when you’re an underdog, why throw a player on the opposing team under the bus? Had Wisconsin simply said “he made a decision to go somewhere else and we’re going to move on”, nobody would have thought twice about it; most high level recruits are going to pick Ohio State over Wisconsin.
But to then to all but say “well, actually, we didn’t want him anyway” in an on the record interview?
Wisconsin replaced Williams (who also had offers from Georgia, Alabama, Auburn and others) with three-star Sam Brodner, who chose Wisconsin over Syracuse, Iowa and Vanderbilt.
Did Wisconsin really let a player get away, to a conference rival, over one bad tweet? Even if they did, Wisconsin’s loss is surely Ohio State’s gain.