Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Wisconsin hires Gary Andersen

Former (technically interim) Wisconsin Badgers head football coach and athletic director Barry Alvarez found his replacement for Bret Bielema who shockingly left Wisconsin for Arkansas earlier this month by hiring Gary Andersen.  The 48-year old former Utah State head coach is classified as a defensive minded players coach, which gives Wisconsin their third consecutive defensive first head coach in the mold of Alvarez and Bielema.  Andersen used a spread offense at Utah State.  There is no word yet whether Andersen will stick with the spread offense or adopt Wisconsin's ground and pound approach.

Recent history suggests that it makes sense that Wisconsin hired a defensive minded coach but it was a bit of a shock for both Utah State and Wisconsin that it ended up being Andersen.  Alvarez got to see Andersen's work up close and in-person earlier this year when Wisconsin beat Utah State 16-14 on September 15th in Madison thanks to a missed 37-yard field goal attempt by Utah State kicker Josh Thompson in the waning moments of the game.  Earlier this season Andersen signed a contract extension at Utah State worth roughly $750,000 annually through 2018.  Andersen got a nice raise from Wisconsin by signing a five-year, $10 million contract worth $1.8 million in 2013 that contains $100,000 raises each of the next four years.  Despite Andersen having a chance to interview at California and Colorado earlier this year, he said that he wanted to stay at Utah State.  Apparently the chance to coach Wisconsin (along with a hefty raise) was more enticing than Utah State, Colorado, or California.

Alvarez choose Andersen instead of a number of other strong candidates: Chris Ash (current defensive coordinator for the Wisconsin Badgers and future defensive coordinator for the Arkansas Razorbacks), Paul Chryst (current head coach for the Pittsburgh Panthers and former Wisconsin Badgers assistant), Dave Clawson (current head coach for the Bowling Green Falcons), Dave Doeren (current head coach for N.C. State and former Wisconsin Badger assistant), and Mel Tucker (current defensive coordinator for the Jacksonville Jaguars and a former Wisconsin Badgers defensive back).

Andersen is a native of Utah that started his coaching career in 1988 in Louisiana before coaching out west (Arizona, Idaho, and Utah) at various places from 1989 through 2012.

Andersen served as a defensive assistant at Utah from 1997-2008 (1997-02 defensive line/special teams coach, defensive line coach in 2004, and defensive coordinator from 2005-08) with one unsuccessful season as head coach of Southern Utah in 2003 mixed in where he posted a record of 4–7.  Andersen finished as a Broyles Award finalist in 2008, an annual award given to the top assistant in college football, before becoming the head coach of Utah State in 2009.

When Andersen took over Utah State they were coming off a 3-9 season, which was actually a successful season since Utah State had not won three games since 2005.  Andersen finished 26-24 record overall (1-1 in bowl games) at Utah State: 4-8 in 2009, 4-8 in 2010, 7-6 in 2011 (lost to Ohio University in the 2011 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl), and 11-2 in 2012 (beat Toledo in the 2012 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl).

Hiring Andersen is the first step for a Wisconsin Badgers football program that will have put together an entirely new coaching staff twice in less than 18 months.  After last season Wisconsin replaced almost all of their assistant coaches, which is what they will end up doing after this season as well since most assistants agreed to coach the Rose Bowl but accepted similar positions with other programs for next season.

It is way too early to see how all the assistant coach positions will shake out but it looks like it will be a mix of current Wisconsin assistant coaches, former Utah State assistants, and a few select assistants from other programs.  According to various reports, Andersen will bring three coaches with him from Utah State: Dave Aranda (defensive coordinator), Bill Busch (special teams coordinator/safeties coach), and T.J. Woods (offensive line).  Andersen hopes to bring former Utah State assistant coach and current Utah defensive line coach Chad Kauha'aha'a with him as well.

In terms of current Wisconsin assistants, since most already accepted positions with other programs, unless Alvarez and Andersen can lure some of those guys back to Wisconsin the early indications are that only Thomas Hammock (running backs coach), Bart Miller (offensive line coach), and Ben Strickland (assistant secondary coach) will stay at Wisconsin.

Fans might have wanted Alvarez and Wisconsin to make a flashier hire than Andersen but that is just not the Wisconsin way.  The recent success of less flashy coaches like Bo Ryan and Bret Bielema in basketball and football respectively shows that bringing in a guy like Andersen is the right move.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

2012 Week 16 - Packers wallop Titans

I am living quite a charmed life because I got to see my second consecutive Packers game.  Last week I attended the Packers/Bears game in Chicago with Papa Cheese.  This week I attended the Packers/Titans game with Cheesehead Chick, UP, and Sam.  Luckily we all got to enjoy an old fashion butt kicking with the Packers stomping the Titans 55-7, which was the most points they've scored since October 2, 1983 against Tampa Bay and just two points short of the team record for most points scored set in 1945.

I really enjoyed using Peter King's "10 Things I Think I Think" gimmick last week so I am going to use it again this week:

#1) It took some brass balls to bench starting center Jeff Saturday in favor of Evan Dietrich-Smith.  Apparently the Packers wanted to make the move sooner but losing right tackle Bryan Bulaga for the season forced the Packers to move starting left guard T.J. Lang to right tackle and insert Dietrich-Smith at left guard.  Lang looked uncomfortable at right tackle so they moved him back to left guard and inserted undrafted rookie free agent Don Barclay at right tackle.  With Lang and Barclay settled at left guard and right tackle, the Packers felt comfortable inserting Dietrich-Smith in place of Saturday.  It is only one week so take the results with a grain of salt, but Dietrich-Smith looked much better run blocking than Saturday.  Absent an injury, it looks like the starting offensive line left to right for their Super Bowl run will be Marshall Newhouse (LT), Lang (LG), Dietrich-Smith (C), Josh Sitton (RG), and Barclay (RT).

#2) After starting 2-3, the Packers went 9-1 to control their own destiny for the #2 seed.  The Packers jumped the 49ers in the standings so they are in line for a first round bye.  I know the Packers lost last year after a bye but their last month of the season in 2011 they were barely winning shootouts thanks to their porous defense.  This year the defense is much improved thanks to an influx of young talent via the 2012 NFL Draft and some nice rookie free agent pickups.  All that separates the Packers from a #2 seed and a first round bye is a road win in Week 17 against the Vikings, which would most likely eliminate the Vikings from playoff contention too boot.

#3) Let's relax on Ryan Grant's performance against the Titans: 20 carries for 80 yards and two touchdowns along with one reception for 34 yards.  On paper that is pretty impressive but Grant only gains the yards that are blocked for him and not a yard more and fumbled last week against the Bears.

#4) The defense put up some pretty impressive stats: only gave up 180 yards (79 rushing and 101 passing), had 2 interceptions (Shields and Walden), and 7 sacks (Hawk 2, Jones 1, Matthews 1, Neal 1, Moses 1 and Shields 1).  You read that correctly, A.J. Hawk actually registered two sacks to go along with 20 times that he ran directly into the offensive line without creating any pressure.  While the state line is impressive, don't forget the Packers did that against a number of 2nd and 3rd string offensive lineman since the Titans are missing 80% of their starting offensive line due to injury.  That and Jake Locker looks like a bust just two years into his NFL career.

#5) Nice to see the Packers finally hand out a start to finish butt kicking.  Call me greedy but once the score got into the 30's I was much more interest in the shutout than pouring on more points.  Don't get me wrong, it was great to see the offense in sync but shutouts are so rare that it would have been cool to see a shutout at Lambeau.

#6) What would Chris Johnson cost to acquire via trade from the Titans?  Despite his measly output against the Packers (11 rushes for 28 yards), I still remember how explosive Johnson was when he first entered the league.  I know there is the "Curse of 30" for running backs but Johnson is only 27 and hasn't come close to 300 carries since 2010 so he has fresh legs.  The real problem is what Johnson would cost the Packers.  In 2011 Johnson signed a six-year, $56 million deal, which probably makes him to expensive to fit under the salary cap unless Johnson would be amenable to restructuring his contract for the chance to join an already potent offense like the Packers.

#7) I am going to take the wildly unpopular stance that the Packers need to keep Randall Cobb as their return guy in the playoffs, assuming he is healthy, despite the fact that he got hurt returning a punt against the Titans.  Jeremy Ross looked good returning punts after Cobb left injured but he only has a handful of returns under his belt and one of them was a dropped ball in Chicago on a ridiculous fake punt.  Is that really enough experience for a guy to be your main return-man in the playoffs? Say what you want about Cobb besting Ahman Green's all-time single-season record for net yards because Cobb got to include special teams yardage while Green only touched the ball on offense but it speaks to how well Cobb has done in the return game.  How quickly people forget that the Packers have had an absolutely putrid return game for the better part of a decade until they drafted Cobb.  Plus Cobb is a sure handed, smart football player.  Take his heads up play at the start of the second half when he stepped out of bounds before he possessed the ball on the kickoff netting the Packers almost 40 more yards.  It is one thing to know the rule, it is quite another to pull it of as seamlessly as Cobb did.  With so many quality wide receivers (Boykin, Cobb, Driver, Jennings, Jones, Nelson, and Ross) and tight ends (Crabtree, Finley, Taylor, and Williams) I hope the Packers keep Cobb as their main return guy for the stretch run to the Super Bowl.

#8) Speaking of special teams, let's relax on the Crosby is back talk.  Crosby converted from 26-yards and needed a favorable bounce off the goal post from 48-yards to have his first game since Week 6 that he did not missed at least one field goal.  Let's see him go a few weeks without any misses before we start talking about him being back.

#9) Finley is finally starting to put it together for the first time in a couple seasons.  Before the Packers/Bears game my favorite sports writer of all-time Bob McGinn wrote an article that said according to sources within the organization, absent a huge improvement in Finley's play for the rest of 2012, the Packers were going to trade or cut Finley in the off-season.  It is unclear whether Finley read McGinn's article but Finley sure has been impressive the last two weeks.  If the Packers continue to use the no huddle, I would love to see a personnel package of Randall Cobb, Greg Jennings, James Jones, Jordy Nelson, and Finley.  I know that means the Packers would be without a running back but they could occasionally have Finley line-up as a blocker or Cobb line-up in the backfield as a running back.  As long as the new-look offensive line discussed above can block, quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the aforementioned quintet of skill players would be essentially unstoppable.

#10) I am sure that everyone has holiday traditions that they look forward to each year.  In my family we are starting to make new traditions because two of my cousins adopted children from Ghana.  It is amazing to see these little kids embrace the cold weather and snow in Wisconsin because the climate where they were born is the exact opposite for 365 days a year.  I am sure the holidays are rough for some people so I am not trying to rub it in but enjoying the simple pleasures of Wisconsin when we went sledding yesterday still has me smiling a million times more than any Packer victory.  Happy Holidays to everyone.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

2012 Week 15 - Packers beat Bears to Clinch the 2012 NFC North Title

As a Packer fan and resident of Chicago since 2003, every Packers/Bears game feels like a playoff games, especially the ones played in Chicago.  Thanks to having uncles with Bears season tickets, I have been to nearly every Packers/Bears game in Chicago for the last decade.  Usually I've taken Cheesehead Chick or a buddy but this time I really wanted to go with Papa Cheese.  Luckily schedules worked out so Papa Cheese and I could enjoy the 186th installment of the Packers/Bears rivalry together at Soldier Field.

The Packers beat the Bears 21-13 to narrow the Bears' lead in the series to 92–88–6.  Instead of giving a blow-by-blow game recap of the game, which felt like a bigger blowout than the final score indicated, I decided to employ a gimmick of my favorite national football writer Peter King that he calls "10 Things I Think I Think":

#1) Three touchdown receptions by James Jones helped erase some of the horrible memories of him fumbling away a regular season win at Soldier Field in 2010.  I was dead wrong when I said that James Jones was the 4th most overpaid Packer going in the 2012 season.

#2) Rookie cornerback Casey Hayward's 6th interception completely changed the complexion of the game because it gave the Packers good field position in the waning moments of the first half, which they took advantage of by scoring a touchdown to take a 14-7 lead.  Bears quarterback Jay Cutler has taken some heat over the years for his horrible body language but his reaction to Hayward's interception might have been an all-time low for Cutler.

#3) There is no doubt that Ryan Grant gives the Packers a fresh set of legs at running back but let's not get too excited about Grant.  There is a reason why Grant was a free agent for most of the season.  That doesn't even factor in Grant's fumble as the Packers were about to put the game out of reach.

#4) The Packers notching their 12th straight division win while clinching their 2nd straight NFC North title with two games left to play still does not mean they should get complacent, especially when a first round bye is within reach if the Packers win out and the 49ers lose one of their last two games.

#5) Head coach Mike McCarthy has made some bold special teams calls this season (think fake field goal against Bears and fake field punt against the Saints) that worked out, but dialing up a trick play with the Packers leaning 21-10 midway through the 4th quarter was downright foolish.  For those that don't know what I am talking about, return man extraordinaire Randall Cobb fielded the punt then threw the ball all the way across the field to Jeremy Ross for Ross's first touch in the NFL.  Some speculated that McCarthy called the fake because Rodgers tweaked his ankle but that presumes that McCarthy's high risk play call would definitely result in a touchdown, which is a stretch.  The smart play is to let Cobb return the kick and have back-up quarterback Graham Harrell play for a series while Rodgers received medial attention.  Thankfully the defense held the Bears to a field goal, otherwise the special teams blunder could have cost the Packers the game.

#6) Wow is it nice to have a healthy Clay Matthews.  Not only is Matthews one of the best pass rushers in the NFL, but you would be hard pressed to find a better rush outside linebacker that defends the run so well.  The only chink in Matthews's armor is that he does not drop into coverage very well.  I support Matthews occasionally spying the quarterback in passing situations but having him drop into coverage seems like a waste.

#7) Although Bears fans hate to agree, it was nice to finally see offensive pass interference called in an NFL game.  I get that three offensive pass interference calls against Alshon Jeffrey feels like too much since refs rarely call offensive pass interference but I applaud the referees for making the right calls.  Plus, if anyone deserves to get a few calls in their favor it is Sam Shields.

#8) Another game, another dreadful performance by placekicker Mason Crosby.  The first miss rivaled Crosby's miss as time expired against the Colts for the worst kick of his career.  The second miss struck the upright to make Crosby 0-2.  I hope I am wrong, but it feels like Crosby is going to have at least once kick with the game on the line in the playoffs, which gives me nightmares.

#9) There is no doubt that the Packers/Bears rivalry is the most historic in the NFL but it has been one sided, both ways, for long periods of time.  Take the current streak for the Packers, they just beat the Bears for the 6th straight time and it was their 8th win in their last 9 tries (only loss was the James Jones fumble game discussed above) to push head coach Mike McCarthy's record against the Bears to 10-5.

#10) Usually Peter King talks about non-football things for #10 so if I am going to borrow his column gimmick, I might as well do it properly.  If you've never been to Chicago, please put it on your bucket list for next summer.  The winters are harsh in the Midwest but the summers make up for it.  Do yourself a favor, come to Chicago the weekend of the Old Town Art Fair.  Besides checking out the art fair, try to catch (no pun intended) a Cubs' game from the bleachers at Wrigley Field, check out a concert at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, tour one of the many museums in and around Grant Park (can't go wrong with the Art Institute, Shedd Aquarium, Adler Planetarium, or the Field Museum), grab a bite to eat in Greek Town or Little Italy, attend a show at Second City, grab a night cap at the Hancock Tower, and grab brunch at one of the many tasty breakfast spots (I highly recommend Orange, Wishbone, or Yolk) on your way out of town.  I know some of those things sound touristy, but they are all worth it.

I am going to the Packers/Titans game next week at Lambeau so check back for my review of (hopefully) another Packers' win.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Barry Alvarez "humbly" decides to coach the Badgers in the 2013 Rose Bowl

The last time Barry Alvarez coached the Wisconsin Badgers football team they upset the 7th ranked Auburn Tigers in the 2006 Capital One Bowl winning 24-10.  Everyone, including Alvarez, could not conceive of any way that Alvarez would even coach the Badgers again, let alone coach them in a Rose Bowl.

Part of the reason Alvarez agreed to coach Wisconsin in the 2013 Rose Bowl following the shocking departure of Bret Bielema to Arkansas was that Alvarez said he was "humbled" by the fact that the team captains asked him to coach the 2013 Rose Bowl.  I said "humbled" because if you've ever seen one of Alvarez's press conferences, he is anything but humble.

There is no doubt that Alvarez is the savior of the Wisconsin Badgers football program, which allowed Wisconsin to turn a blind eye to certain indiscretions on Alvarez's watch because of his impressive resume at Wisconsin:
- Head Coach from 1990 to 2005
- Athletic Director from 2004 to present
- Overall record as head coach of 118-73-4 (.615)
- Bowl record of 8-3, including 3-0 in the Rose Bowl (UCLA 21-16 in 1994, UCLA 38-31 in 1999, and Stanford 17-9 in 2000)
- Won 3 Big Ten Titles (1993, 1998, and 1999)
- College Football Hall of Game inductee in 2010

Besides the captains asking Alvarez to coach the team, there were a number of other converging factors that worked in Alvarez's favor to coach the Badgers one last time.  Most notably, Alvarez is the athletic director so he doesn't need to get his boss's permission because he is the boss.  Besides being the main decision maker, almost all of Wisconsin's assistant coaches have their sights set on other jobs.  Juxtapose that with Alvarez who has reportedly had other head coaching offers since stepping down as head coach following the 2005 season.  Instead of bolting Wisconsin for a more lucrative coaching job, Alvarez remained athletic director at Wisconsin.

There is the financial aspects of Alvarez coaching the Rose Bowl as well.  Alvarez earns an annual salary of $1 million for being the Wisconsin athletic director.  It is reported that Alvarez will earn at least $100,000 for coaching the Rose Bowl and is in line for a sizable bonus if the Badgers beat Stanford in the 2013 Rose Bowl.  Doubling or possibly tripling his salary for the month of December is a nice holiday bonus for Alvarez, which I am sure his wife and bank account will appreciate.

The 2013 Rose Bowl is technically Alvarez's 6th Rose Bowl as a coach since he was an assistant coach twice for the Iowa Hawkeyes (1982 and 1986) to go along with the four Rose Bowls as head coach for Wisconsin (1994, 1999, 2000, and 2013).  In terms of his legacy, this might be the most important Rose Bowl for Alvarez because he is putting his undefeated record as a head coach of 3-0 in the Rose Bowl on the line.  If Alvarez leads the Badgers over Stanford he will join Woody Hayes for the most wins by a Big Ten coach in Rose Bowl history.  Plus it would be a nice jab at his hand picked protege Bret Bielema that bolted Wisconsin for Arkansas earlier this month because Bielema has an 0-2 Rose Bowl record losing the 2011 and 2012 Rose Bowl.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Bret Bielema leaves Wisconsin for Arkansas

Wisconsin was a perennial doormat of the Big "Ten" in football before Barry Alvarez took over as the head football coach in 1990.  Alvarez lead the Badgers to a 118-74-4 record, 8-3 in bowl games (including 3 Rose Bowl victories), and 3 Big "Ten" Championships (1993, 1998, & 1999).  Bret Bielema served as defensive coordinator under Alvarez at Wisconsin for two seasons (2004-2005) before taking over as the head football coach when Alvarez relinquished those duties to focus solely on being the Wisconsin athletic director (a position he held since 2004 after Pat Richter retired as athletic director).

On Monday I posted a question to Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Wisconsin Badgers beat writer Jeff Potrykus's chat about the rumors of Bielema leaving Wisconsin for Tennessee.  Potrykus dismissed the rumor.  As it turns out, Bielema is leaving Wisconsin to coach in the SEC, just not for Tennessee.  Instead, Bielema accepted an offer to become the 32nd head football coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks, which is the team that Bielema beat 17-14 in his first season as head football coach of Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl.  The timing of Bielema leaving Wisconsin is surprising because he was set to lead Wisconsin to their 3rd consecutive Rose Bowl appearance in a little less than a month.

Bielema finished his seven year stint as head football coach at Wisconsin with a 68-24 record, 37-19 in the Big "Ten", 2-0 in Big "Ten" Championship Games, and 2-4 bowl games.

Let's look at Bielema's record, by season:
2006: 12-1 and 7-1 in Big "Ten"
2007: 9-4 and 5-3 in Big "Ten"
2008: 7-6 and 3-5 in Big "Ten"
2009: 10-3 and 5-3 in Big "Ten"
2010: 11-2 and 7-1 in Big "Ten"
2011: 11-3 and 6-2 in Big "Ten"
2012: 8-5 and 4-4 in Big "Ten"

Bielema had a lackluster bowl record, which always left a bad taste in Badgers fan's mouths throughout the 9 month off-season.  Here is Bielema's bowl game breakdown:
2006: beat Arkansas 17-14 in the Capital One Bowl on January 1, 2007
2007: lost to Tennessee 21-17 in the Outback Bowl on January 1, 2008
2008: lost to Florida State 42-13 in the Champs Sports Bowl on December 27, 2008
2009: beat Univ. of Miami (FL) 20-14 in the Champs Sports Bowl on December 29, 2009
2010: lost to TCU 21-19 in the Rose Bowl on January 1, 2011
2011: lost to Oregon 45-38 in the Rose Bowl on January 2, 2012

Bielema's biggest accomplishment at Wisconsin will undoubtedly be going 2-0 in the only two Big "Ten" Championship games ever played (so far) in conference history:
2011: beat Michigan State 42-39 in the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game
2012: beat Nebraska 70-31 in the Big Ten Championship Game

Wisconsin won at least a share of the Big Ten Title in each of the last three seasons: 2010 (Co-Champions), 2011 ("Leaders" Division Co-Champions, represented "Leaders" Division in the Big Ten Championship Game & won), and 2012 ("Leaders" Division representative in Big "Ten" Championship Game despite finishing 3rd in the "Leaders" division because Ohio State & Penn State were ineligible for post-season play & won).  The only hole in Bielema's resume is that he never won a Rose Bowl, going 0-2 while his predecessor and former boss Alvarez went 3-0.

There was some speculation after Bielema accepted the job at Arkansas that he still wanted to coach Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl but rumbling are that associate head coach/defensive line coach Charlie Partridge would get the nod in Bielema's place if Partridge doesn't follow Bielema to Arkansas.  I find Bielema wanting to coach Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl unrealistic on two fronts.  First, Arkansas wants Bielema to hit the recruiting trail immediately.  Second, Wisconsin wants to name Bielema's successor as soon as possible for recruiting purposes and might be able to use the chance to coach the upcoming Rose Bowl as a way to entice a slightly bigger name to take the job.

There are a ton of other jobs that you could argue are just as good or maybe even slightly better than Wisconsin (i.e. Clemson, Michigan State, etc) but what collegiate head football coaching jobs are unquestionably better than Wisconsin?  In my mind, here are the unquestionably better, and in most instances more risky, jobs:
- ACC: Florida State, University of Miami (FL), and Virginia Tech
- Big 12: Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Texas
- Big "Ten": Michigan, Nebraska, and Ohio State
- Independent: Notre Dame
- Pac-12: Oregon, Stanford, UCLA, and USC
- SEC: Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, and LSU

There is no doubt (in my mind at least) that Arkansas is bigger college football program than Wisconsin.  Arkansas joined the SEC in 1992 but has never won a conference championship and has only appeared in the conference championship game three times  Despite not having any SEC Championships, Arkansas fans still expect to win the SEC.

After finishing the 2011 season the 5th ranked team in the country, the Arkansas football program has fallen on hard times over the last eight months.  Bobby Petrino was fired as the head football coach of Arkansas after it was revealed that he was having an affair with a former Arkansas student-athlete that he hired to work him.  Former Michigan State head coach John L. Smith took a 10-month contract to coach Arkansas but could only muster a 4-8 record (2-6 in the SEC) despite having a ton of raw talent on the roster.  That all leaves Bielema with a bit of a mess to clean-up at Arkansas.

Let's not forget Bielema was born in Illinois, played football at Iowa, and coached football in the Big "Ten" for all but two years of his coaching career until now.  Bielema even took some shots at Ohio State head football coach Urban Meyer insinuating that the Big "Ten" is classier than the SEC in terms of recruiting practices.  This all begs the question, why would Bielema take the Arkansas job instead of staying at Wisconsin?

As always, follow the money.  Even though Bielema was already one the 20 highest paid college football coaches earning $2.6 million in 2012 he didn't think that was enough I guess.  There are conflicting reports on Bielema's future annual compensation from Arkansas, some claim that Bielema signed a six-year contract worth $3.2 million a year while others report that Bielema is set to earn more than $4 million a year.  I planned on writing a post as the Badgers got closer to the Rose Bowl on whether Bielema was sufficiently compensated since he was the 5th highest paid coach in the Big "Ten" in 2012 but I guess Arkansas showed us that Bielema was underpaid at Wisconsin.

The Big "Ten" is a quality football conference but it is not nearly as deep or demanding as the SEC.  There are currently 14 teams in the SEC broken into the Eastern Division (University of Florida, University of Georgia, University of Kentucky, University of Missouri, University of South Carolina, University of Tennessee, & Vanderbilt University) and Western Division (University of Alabama, University of Arkansas, Auburn University, Louisiana State University, Mississippi State University, University of Mississippi, & Texas A&M University).

Juxtapose that with the 14 teams that will make up the Big "Ten" in 2014 with this potential breakdown for the Legends Division (Indiana, Maryland, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue, Rutgers, & Wisconsin) and Leaders Division (Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska, & Northwestern).  With Bielema headed to the SEC that leaves Indiana's Kevin Wilson as the longest tenured coach in the Legends Division (hired in 2010) and Iowa's Kirk Ferentz as the longest tenured coach (hired in 1999) in the Big "Ten".

Penn State is only a quarter of the way though four years of crippling sanctions so Wisconsin is poised to push Ohio State for the Legends Division Title for the foreseeable future.  That is simply not the case at Arkansas in the Western Division of the SEC.  Over that same time frame Alabama (thanks to Nick Saban), LSU (thanks to Les Miles), and Texas A&M (thanks to Johnny Football) will most likely finish ahead of Arkansas.  The love for college football down south is akin to professional soccer abroad so if Bielema thinks finishing 4th in the Western Division of the SEC is acceptable, he is sorely mistaken.

The pressing issue for Wisconsin now is getting a quality head coach hired as soon as possible.  The first name to surface was former assistant coach Paul Chryst who coached the tight ends at Wisconsin in 2002 before leaving the program to be the offensive coordinator at Oregon State for the next two seasons (2003-2004) before returning to Wisconsin as the offensive coordinator from 2005-2011 before becoming the head football coach at the University of Pittsburgh this past season.  Chryst only went 6-6 at Pittsburgh but that shouldn't matter much since Chryst is credited with landing a number of the offensive superstars that currently play for the Badgers.  Chryst released a statement that said he is committed to Pittsburgh but as Bielema showed, money talks.

Beside Chryst, former Wisconsin assistant coach Dave Doeren is another name that I am sure will surface.  Doeren held various defensive assistant coaching titles at Wisconsin from 2006-2010 before leaving the program to become the head football coach of Northern Illinois in 2011.  Doeren lead Northern Illinois to a 23-4 record including an upcoming BCS Bowl appearance (Orange Bowl) before leaving to become the head football coach at North Carolina State for next season.

For either Chryst or Doeren to become the next head football coach of Wisconsin, they would need very lucrative long-term guarantees.  I am not saying that Wisconsin has to sign either Chryst or Doeren but I am saying that it is time for Wisconsin to actually start paying the going rate for head coaches and more importantly their assistant coaches.  Bielema lost six assistant coaches last off-season and all were hired to similar assistant coaching positions besides Chryst.  Thus Wisconsin has to start paying their assistants because it might have been a big reason why Bielema left Wisconsin for Arkansas.

Assuming Bielema continued to keep Wisconsin bowl eligible on an annual basis his job was safe.  Now Bielema has to chase national titles with BCS bowl appearances on a near annual basis as a fallback position to keep his job at Arkansas.  Only time will tell if Bielema made the right decision.  As long as Bielema accepted the Arkansas job while fully appreciating the risks, I can't blame him for taking the new gig.  If Bielema is looking for a new employer in the next five years, he should have stayed at Wisconsin instead of going all-in taking the Arkansas job

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Wisconsin wallop Nebraska in 2012 Big "Ten" Championship Game

Not many people picked the Wisconsin Badgers to win their second consecutive Big "Ten" Championship Game thanks to their 7-5 record including a 4-4 conference record but the Badgers avenged their loss to the Nebraska Cornhuskers from earlier this season in a big way to win their second consecutive Big "Ten" Championship Game 70-31 in front of 41,260 fans.  Surprisingly, Wisconsin only tied the record for the most points scored in a championship game because Texas also scored 70 points in the 2005 Big 12 Championship Game.

Here is a quick look at the first half scoring plays in the 2012 Big "Ten" Championship Game:

- Melvin Gordon's 56-yard touchdown run gave the Badgers a 7-0 lead

- Marcus Cromartie's 29-yard pick-six gave the Badgers a 14-0 lead

- Taylor Martinez's 76-yard touchdown that Gus Johnson called "legendary" cut the Badgers' lead to 14-7

- Brett Maher's 32-yard field goal cut the Badgers' lead to 14-10

- James White's 9-yard touchdown run gave the Badgers a 21-10 lead

- White's 1-yard touchdown run out the "Barge" formation gave the Badgers a 28-10 lead

- Montee Ball's 16-yard "Superman" touchdown run out of the "Barge" formation gave the Badgers a 35-10 lead

- Sam Arrneson caught a 3-yard pass from James White out of the "Barge" formation to give the Badgers a 42-10 lead

Wisconsin dominated every facet of the first half.  Wisconsin out rushed (290 yards to 128 yards), out gained (391 yards to 223 yards), were more efficient on 3rd down (3 of 5 to 1 of 5), and took care of the ball (0 turnovers to 2 turnovers) better than Nebraska.

Despite leading 42-10 at halftime, Wisconsin did not take their foot off the gas, here is a quick look at the second half scoring plays in the 2012 Big "Ten" Championship Game:

- Following a horrible interception by Martinez, Ball's 9-yard touchdown run gave the Badgers a 49-10 lead

- Martinez's 11-yard touchdown run cut the Badgers' lead to 49-17

- Ball prolonged a 57-yard touchdown run with a spin move and punctuated the touchdown run with a stiff arm 10 yards short of the end zone to give the Badgers a 56-17 lead

- White did his best Ball impression ripping off a 68-yard touchdown run to give the Badgers a 63-17 lead

- Braylon Heard's 9-yard touchdown run cut the Badgers' lead to 63-24

- White's 10-yard touchdown run gave the Badgers a 70-24 lead

- Imani Cross's 26-yard touchdown run cut the Badgers' lead to 70-31

After losing 70-31, Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini claimed that they practiced "99 percent" of what Wisconsin used on offense.  That is a borderline fire-able quote if I was the Nebraska athletic director.

The Badgers had two 200-yard rushers: Melvin Gordon (9 rushes for 216 yards and one touchdown) and Montee Ball (21 rushes for 202 yards and three touchdowns) for the first time in school history.  James White ran for four touchdowns but only had 108 yards rushing on 15 attempts so he was only the third best running back on the field in the 2012 Big "Ten" Championship Game.  All told Wisconsin ran for 539 yards in the 2012 Big "Ten" Championship Game, which is the fourth-highest rushing total in school history.

The Badgers are starting to feel comfortable playing in Indianapolis after winning their second ever and consecutive Big "Ten" Championship Game so they are the only Big "Ten" team to win a football game at Lucas Oil Stadium.  Wisconsin continues to dominate the state of Indiana winning their third game in the state in 2012 while outscoring their opponents (Indiana, Nebraska, and Purdue) 170-59 and their 10th straight win in a game played in Indiana.

Wisconsin will plain in their third consecutive Rose Bowl on January 1, 2013.  Hopefully third times a charm because Wisconsin lost their last two appearances in the "Granddaddy of Them All".