NCF Nation: Bob Bostad

Gary AndersenAP Photo/David StlukaGary Andersen has paid close attention to every detail in his transition as Wisconsin's new coach.
MADISON, Wis. -- When Gary Andersen arrived at Utah State in December 2008, he didn't spend much time looking back. Some would say he didn't want to strain his eyes.

At the time, Utah State barely seemed worthy of FBS citizenship. The Aggies had endured 11 consecutive losing seasons, 30 losses in the previous three seasons and eight consecutive seasons of four or fewer victories. Andersen faced a total rebuild, but at least he could wipe the slate clean and look only to the future.

It's not so simple at Wisconsin. Despite the construction going on just north of Camp Randall Stadium, Andersen isn't walking into a mess. Quite the contrary.

He takes over a Badgers team that has won three consecutive Big Ten championships, reached three consecutive Rose Bowls, won 40 games in the past four seasons and hasn't endured a losing campaign since 2001. Andersen's new program has produced 39 NFL draft picks and five consensus first-team All-Americans since 2002. The man who hired him, Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez, won three conference titles and three Rose Bowls as Badgers coach, resuscitating a downtrodden program and building it into the closest thing we've seen to a third Big Ten power.

"You take a lot longer and harder look at what's made them successful and what's made the kids successful," Andersen told "For me, there were so many familiarities. The types of young men in this program are what I'm used to at Utah State, the emphasis on in-state recruiting, the emphasis they’ve had in the walk-on program. All those things are staples to what I believe in.

"The transition, there's nothing difficult about it, but you’re more open-minded to what's happened in the past."

Andersen and his assistants also are mindful of what Wisconsin players have been through. One of the nation's most successful and stable programs has endured drastic changes in each of the past two winters.

Six assistant coaches departed after the 2011 season, and head coach Bret Bielema made a surprise exit to Arkansas in December, just three days after watching his team upset Nebraska in the Big Ten title game. Andersen brings in seven new assistants, including T.J. Woods, the team's fourth offensive line coach since the 2012 Rose Bowl.

"We've been through a lot of changes," senior defensive tackle Beau Allen said. "Last season we had all these new facilities [being built] and we were in different locker rooms on different days. Sometimes we didn't really know where we were practicing. And then with all the coaching changes. I think we've rolled with it pretty well."

Allen could be right, but Andersen is taking no chances during the transition. He has gone to great lengths to connect with the players during his first three months on the job.

[+] EnlargeWisconsin Badgers
Adam Rittenberg/ESPN.comWisconsin coaches have incorporated team-building exercises into offseason training with a competition called the Badger Team Accountability Challenge.
It starts with the BTA Challenge (Badger Team Accountability), a competition that includes 10 teams of 10 players, each assigned to two coaches or support staffers. They compete in academics, community service events, weightlifting and even dodgeball. The challenge has carried over to the practice field this spring.

Andersen meets regularly with the 27-player leadership council. He brought the team together to watch the Super Bowl in the players lounge. During practices, he'll snap the ball to the quarterbacks (Andersen played center in college) or press receivers on the line. Players often receive calls from Andersen, just to check in.

"Guys appreciate that," linebacker Chris Borland said. "He's really in tune with the pulse of the team."

Andersen's player-focused approach is a big reason Alvarez hired him.

"A lot of coaches don't feel that’s important," Alvarez said. "You're a dictator and you’re going to do this and this. The good ones still get close to their kids. They’re still demanding, yet they have an empathy.

"The bottom line in everything he talks about is the kids."

When Andersen accepted the Wisconsin job 18 days after announcing he'd stay at Utah State, he called all 106 Aggies to inform them of his move, reaching the final player at 2:30 a.m. Andersen's new players took notice of the gesture. Badgers running back James White said he "knew it was a good fit right away."

Although Bielema was also popular with the players during his time at Wisconsin, Andersen has brought "a different energy" to practices, according to quarterback Curt Phillips. Practices are crisp and upbeat, and music blares throughout the workouts, a change from the past.

"It’s getting there," Andersen said. "They get an idea of who we are, the way we practice. The speed, the pace, everything we do, we want it to be fast and quick. We want to make sure we’re putting the kids first.

"I want them to know I care about them."

Andersen's assistants also are doing their part to ease the burden on players. Woods has kept about 60 percent of the terminology the Badger offensive linemen used last season under Bart Miller. It helps that Woods has a direct connection to Miller -- he coached him at New Mexico -- and an indirect one to former longtime Badgers line coach Bob Bostad. (Woods worked for Jason Lenzmeier, who had played under Bostad at New Mexico.)

"I'm the fourth guy in two years to walk through those doors in that meeting room," Woods said. "I've tried to strain myself more than them just because of the situation they've been in."

There's certainly an if-it-ain't-broke element of Andersen's challenge at Wisconsin.

The offense will remain rooted in the power run, while mixing in some play-action passes. Andersen inherits two backs -- White and sophomore Melvin Gordon -- who would start for almost any FBS team, veteran linemen like Ryan Groy and Rob Havenstein, and good depth at tight end. Although the quarterback competition is crowded, Wisconsin has three options with Big Ten starting experience: Phillips, Joel Stave and Danny O'Brien. He also has bionic-armed redshirt freshman Bart Houston and incoming junior-college transfer Tanner McEvoy.

"It's been easy for the players to adapt because we're doing stuff that they've done," offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig said. "There's a little different terminology, but again, we're trying to draw as much as we can from the past."

Andersen's influence will be seen more on defense, where his expertise lies. The Badgers will be the only Big Ten team operating out of a 3-4 set, although their flexibility with the outside linebackers, who previously played defensive end, allows them to show a 5-2 personnel package.

There will be much more variation in coverages and calls for a unit that has been statistically strong in recent years but a notch or two below elite status.

"We've been on the cusp of greatness, but I don't think we've achieved it yet," Borland said. "We've got a lot of seniors, a lot of guys who have experience. We haven't set any concrete goals, but I think we should be one of the best defenses there is."

Expectations are high despite the coaching change, and for good reason. Wisconsin returns 25 seniors and many key underclassmen who have only experienced winning in their careers.

Bielema often pointed to the 2013 Wisconsin team as potentially his best. Although many are already handing the Big Ten title to Ohio State, the Badgers are aiming for a fourth straight Rose Bowl appearance, which would tie the record held by Ohio State (1973-76) and USC (1967-70).

"There is a good core," Andersen said. "As with every program, there are definite questions that need to be answered. But to say we're not excited about next season would be the ultimate understatement."

Reports: Badgers dump O-line coach

September, 10, 2012
It took just two games for Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema to part ways with one of his most important new assistants.

Offensive line coach Mike Markuson is out, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and the Wisconsin State Journal reported late Sunday. Markuson's dismissal came just a day after Wisconsin's anemic offensive performance in a 10-7 loss at Oregon State. The Badgers recorded only 35 net rush yards and surrendered three sacks in the loss, and they came just minutes away from being shut out. After setting records on offense and churning out All-American linemen for years, Wisconsin is 103rd in rush offense following its first two games.

Bielema said following the game, "We weren't getting any push at the line of scrimmage." The coach declined to address reports of Markuson's departure during a radio interview Monday morning.

Wisconsin's offense, and specifically the line, hasn't resembled what the Badgers have grown accustomed to, but Markuson's quick dismissal is a stunner. While we've seen assistants get the quick hook around the country in an increasing rate in recent years, it's extremely rare to see this in the Big Ten, especially involving a position coach, not a coordinator.

Markuson looked like a very good hire when Bielema brought him in to replace longtime line coach Bob Bostad, one of six assistants to leave Wisconsin's staff following the 2011 season. A veteran line coach, Markuson had spent the past 14 seasons coaching with SEC teams.

Although there's no official word on his departure or his replacement, the Journal Sentinel and State Journal report that Bart Miller, the Badgers' offensive quality control coordinator, will fill Markuson's post. Miller played offensive line at New Mexico, graduating in 2007.

This move certainly doesn't jive with the picture Bielema and others painted for me in the offseason about the arrival of the new assistants and mastering transition.

It'll be interesting to see how the line responds the rest of the season. Bielema clearly is sending a message with the move, but it creates instability that Wisconsin isn't used to having.
After an offseason jam-packed with change, most players and coaches in the Leaders Division haven't had time to examine anyone but themselves.

"I have no idea," first-year Penn State coach Bill O'Brien said. "I'm only concerned about one program, and that's Penn State."

The Big Ten had three head-coaching changes in the offseason, all of them in the Leaders Division (Penn State, Ohio State and Illinois). Wisconsin, the two-time defending Big Ten champion, had to replace six assistant coaches, including premier playcaller Paul Chryst and offensive line guru Bob Bostad. Purdue replaced its defensive coordinator, while Indiana brought in a new offensive coordinator.

[+] EnlargeBret Bielema
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireBret Bielema's Badgers are coming off back-to-back trips to the Rose Bowl.
All six teams have some new flavor and the uncertainty that comes with it. All six teams also sense opportunity in what could be a wide-open division race.

"Everybody has new people," Penn State defensive tackle Jordan Hill told "Even Wisconsin, they've got six new assistants, and in most cases, the assistants are who deal with the players the most. So I feel it's wide open. Not that I don't feel that every year, but it's more than usual."

Wisconsin has reached the past two Rose Bowls and won 32 games during the past three seasons. The Badgers return Heisman Trophy finalist Montee Ball, the Big Ten's offensive player of the year in 2011, and recently added another quarterback transfer in Danny O'Brien, the former Maryland signal-caller.

Although the staff turnover is significant, Bret Bielema has replaced key assistants before, like defensive coordinator Dave Doeren after the 2010 season. There's still a strong case to be made that the Leaders Division title still goes through Mad-city.

"We are the targeted team in the Big Ten because of what we've done the past two years," Ball said. "Everyone is shooting and gunning for us."

Added Bielema: "Everyone thinks it's complacency that's going to affect us, but here at Wisconsin we've become greedy."

Ball lists Ohio State as the team Wisconsin is gunning for, and the Badgers and Buckeyes have a spicy rivalry brewing. Some think Ohio State will end up as the division's top team, but the Buckeyes are banned from postseason play and the Big Ten title game, adding a subplot to the division race.

"We have a great opportunity right now," Purdue defensive tackle Kawann Short said. "We've got a lot of starters coming back. ... Ohio State can't get back in conference championship, so it just gives us a little edge.

"We've got to take advantage of it."

Purdue likely will be a popular pick as a sleeper team in the division. The Boilers return nine starters on both sides of the ball and three quarterbacks -- Caleb TerBush, Robert Marve and Rob Henry -- who have started multiple games. They also have recorded two wins against Ohio State during coach Danny Hope's three-year tenure.

Indiana has a bigger hill to climb after a 1-11 season in 2011. But the Hoosiers are a year older and more familiar with the demands of coach Kevin Wilson and his staff.

"Last year we struggled in my first year, didn't play up to our capabilities," Wilson said. "Hopefully that'll lead to giving ourselves an opportunity to compete with some of those teams as they go through some transition."

While Ohio State can't make it to Indianapolis in Urban Meyer's first year, the other two division teams with new coaches could surprise people. Both Penn State and Illinois have similar profiles, boasting strong defensive front sevens but question marks on offense.

"At this time, everybody is saying the same thing, whether it's Illinois, Ohio State, Wisconsin," Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase said. "... It really comes down to who’s going to go out there every day and get better, who's going to put in the extra work to be the best football team.

"Everybody wants to be, but ultimately one team is going to do it more so than anybody else."

Pitt names Rudolph new O-coordinator

February, 18, 2012
Pittsburgh has elevated quarterbacks coach Joe Rudolph to offensive coordinator, after losing Bob Bostad to Greg Schiano and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Coach Paul Chryst also announced Saturday that Jim Hueber, previously the tight ends coach, will now coach the offensive line. Bostad came with Chryst from Wisconsin and was named offensive coordinator/offensive line coach of the Panthers in January. He will now coach the offensive line for the Bucs.

Rudolph came with Chryst as well. He will also coach the tight ends, a position he coached with the Badgers.

“Joe Rudolph and Jim Hueber will be tremendous assets in their new assignments,” Chryst said in a statement. “Joe and I worked closely on the offensive side of the ball at Wisconsin. He has a thorough knowledge of our systems and what we want to achieve offensively.

“Jim has coached some of the finest linemen in the game, pro and college. He is tremendously accomplished as a teacher of offensive line play, and his overall experience as a coach benefits our entire staff and program.”

Chryst has two openings left to fill on his staff: quarterbacks and running backs coach.

Q&A: Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema

February, 2, 2012
Wisconsin has established itself as an emerging Big Ten power by winning league titles in each of the past two seasons. Have the Badgers turned the corner in recruiting as well? It's up for debate. Wisconsin signed only 12 players in its 2012 recruiting class and lost offensive line commits Kyle Dodson and J.J. Denman to other programs. The Badgers still ended up with some quality prospects, including quarterback Bart Houston, in a class that never was going to have big numbers.

Coach Bret Bielema chatted with on Wednesday. Here are his thoughts on the recruiting crop.

[+] EnlargeBret Bielema
Brace Hemmelgarn/US PresswireBret Bielema is excited about his recruiting class, even though it's smaller than usual.
What were your top priorities with this class?

Bret Bielema: Without a doubt, the offensive line. We were losing some pure numbers there the last two years, some guys going to the NFL, so we knew that was of major importance for us, especially with Pete [Konz] jumping out a year early. And it's always important for us to sign a quality quarterback and a quality running back, and we did that as well. Defensively, we were only going to take one D-lineman, really liked him [Arthur Goldberg], a kid we got out of Pittsburgh that we fell in love with when he came to camp. He's our kind of kid, blue collar, loves to work, get after it. We signed a really high recruit linebacker [Vince Biegel]. We weren't going to take big numbers there, but we wanted good quality, so we filled that out. And we got three DBs that are quality young men.

Did you expect to be in this range in terms of numbers, like 12 or 13?

BB: We originally thought it was going to be a class of nine or 10. There were some departures on our team. Obviously, Pete Konz, I don't want to have a great player leave early, but the benefit of that is we got to sign another kid. This was really a class we were excited about, because we were going after some high-profile guys and they were jumping in the boat. We still have a chance for one more guy out there, but for the most part I'm very excited. I was excited to get [Jake] Meador in there, we beat out Missouri and Florida. Also with Walker Williams, he's a kid that when we started to have [coaching] transition, several Big Ten schools as well as Pac-10 schools tried to get back in there, and he stood strong.

Did you experience that with a few recruits after you had your assistants leave?

BB: Absolutely. As coaches, we're all vultures. They smell something and they want to try and see if there's an interest, especially with great players. That'd be a great story if you want to call Walker Williams and ask him who came through his school the next two weeks after our Rose Bowl game. And he didn't really bat an eye.

Was this unique in that you had a small class to begin with, and then a coaching transition?

BB: One hundred percent. If it had been a class of 24, we would have had real problems, just getting enough people. At one one point we got down to only [assistant] three coaches with me, Chris Ash, Charlie Partridge and Thomas Hammock, the four of us trying to cover everything. I had to put GAs out on the road, they did a tremendous job, really did well with kids having good faith. And again, with a larger class, I don't know if that could have happened.

You mentioned wanting to get a quarterback and a running back. What stands out about Bart and Vonte Jackson?

BB: If I'm not mistaken, Bart's lost one game in three years as a starting quarterback at De La Salle. He's got an incredible record, an incredible history, something that stands second to none, and that's just winning football games. And Vonte, we had him going into his junior year in camp and he was ridiculous, the numbers he put up, his coachability and his work ethic and everything he stood for. It was very important for us, him being an in-state kid, to keep him here in the state.

You added some defensive backs. What stands out about them?

BB: Well, Hugs Etienne is a guy who is in here at school right now. He's going to be a nice kid that's going to grow into his position. The other two guys, D.J. Singleton and Reggie Mitchell, both have a lot of athletic ability. Reggie comes to us from Pittsburgh, so it was nice to get another Pittsburgh-area kid here into Camp Randall. And D.J. Singleton coming from the East Coast, from St. Peter's Prep, he's a nice guy to bring in and continue his career.

Do you fight any perception when you're signing a smaller class versus schools signing 25 or more guys at all sorts of positions?

BB: One of the things we do is we keep our kids. We don't have a lot of transition among our kids. When we get them, they usually stay four, five years and are part of our program. One of the disadvantages is you end up with smaller classes in a couple different years back to back. One thing that would be neat is if you really sat down and studied the amount of seniors graduating versus the amount of kids being signed. So if you're graduating 13 and signing 28, there are 15 kids, you have to figure out where the heck they went.

You've had some Big Ten freshmen of the year in recent seasons. In this class, do you see some guys who have a chance to contribute early, or will it be tough with the bigger numbers you have elsewhere?

BB: I've never really singled out a guy who might do that, but I'm not saying the possibility isn't there.

Was anything different this year with the Big Ten recruiting landscape, as some new coaches stepped in around the league?

BB: One of the greatest things we have going for us with the new divisional alignment was to be in the same division as Penn State and Ohio State. To me, that's where the true competition lies. Before last season, Ohio State had had six uninterrupted conference championships, and obviously we've had two now. For us to have a big conference rivalry game against Ohio State speaks volumes about where we're at. That's something we took with a lot of pride. They came in on some of our guys, and vice-versa, so it was interesting. It's going to be fun to learn the recruiting style that Ohio State's staff and the new Penn State staff has. That's what you've got to expect in these inter-conference battles. It's just good, clean football, and hopefully the best man wins.

Did you guys swing for the fences more in going for some higher-level prospects after the recent success on the field?

BB: If they're kids who lie within our normal recruiting area, we're going to go after a kid whether he's a five-star or a one-star, if he fits our program. On the flip side, if there's a kid outside of our norm, it's usually because they reached out to us, Walker Williams being a case. I believe he had every Pac-10 school [interested]. I know there were two major schools within our conference who reached out to him after the bowl game, hoping the transition of coach [Paul] Chryst and [Bob] Bostad would have an effect on the decision. It didn't. That speaks volumes about where we're at.
Bret Bielema made a rapid rise up the college coaching ladder.

Big Ten position coach at 26 ... Big 12 co-defensive coordinator at 32 ... Big Ten defensive coordinator at 34 ... Big Ten head coach at 36.

[+] EnlargeBret Bielema
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireWisconsin coach Bret Bielema says he isn't upset after losing 11 assistants in the past three seasons.
Bielema's ambition helped put him on the fast track. And when he's hiring assistant coaches at Wisconsin, he wants to see the same qualities.

"When you talk to a coach, if he doesn’t want to advance in this profession, we probably won’t talk very long," Bielema told on Thursday. "I want guys that want to be coordinators, or guys that are coordinators who want to be head coaches. If they don't want to sit at the front of the room, we're probably dealing with the wrong type of coach. I want guys who want to advance."

Bielema has had plenty of assistants advance in recent years.

He lost two after the 2009 season, one of whom, Randall McCray, went from position coach to coordinator. He lost three after the 2010 season: defensive coordinator Dave Doeren became head coach at Northern Illinois, while running backs coach John Settle and nickel backs coach Greg Jackson both departed for posts in the NFL.

Wisconsin has lost six assistants in recent weeks, a number that has raised eyebrows in college football circles. The team is coming off of back-to-back Big Ten titles and back-to-back Rose Bowl appearances. Bielema's job is very secure. While one assistant (Paul Chryst) left for a head-coaching job and two others (Bob Bostad, Dave Huxtable) went from position coaches to coordinators, the exodus has left some wondering whether there's something wrong at Wisconsin.

Bielema views things differently.

"It's really not that unusual," he said. "It's unusual at a program that has as much success as we've had, where we're able to keep that continuity of winning in place. I take it as a compliment to what we've been able to do. All those coaches are moving on. Two of them didn't get coordinator jobs, but everybody else got coordinator jobs or titles that made it significantly better for them where they were going.

"To me, it's a tremendous challenge that I love, I embrace and I have a lot of fun with it."

Bielema has filled two vacancies with offensive coordinator Matt Canada and wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni. After an extensive interview process for the coordinator job, Bielema went with Canada, in large part because Canada has called plays in different systems (spread, pro style) and can adapt.

"I interviewed a lot of coaches of different levels: NFL, college, big college, small college," he said. "I'm not a résumé guy. I want a football coach. And as this thing gets moving forward, I kept coming back to him. I just think he’s going to be a great fit for what we're going to blend together at Wisconsin. I'm going to hire four new offensive coaches that are going to come from different areas of the country and come together and play the style of football we like at Wisconsin."

Wisconsin's staff will be two-thirds new in 2012, but Bielema won't be surprised if he's doing more hiring a year from now.

"I have every year," he said. "Usually the NFL takes two, took two from me last year. It’s just one of those things, the beauty of the beast here at Wisconsin."
When Wisconsin offensive coordinator Matt Canada met with reporters Wednesday, he didn't mask his excitement about his new gig.

"This isn't recruiting talk," Canada told reporters. "This is a place -- you can call my best friends, you can call anybody you want -- I wanted to be."

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Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesWisconsin coach Bret Bielema will try to win a third straight Big Ten title in 2012 with a new-look coaching staff.
That's good news for the Badgers, especially since some are questioning how appealing it is to work for Wisconsin right now.

DeMontie Cross on Thursday became the sixth assistant coach from Bret Bielema's staff to leave Wisconsin in the past few weeks. Cross, who spent the 2011 season as Wisconsin's safeties coach/special teams coordinator, is leaving to coach linebackers on Charlie Weis' staff at Kansas.

What should we make of all the coaching departures from Madison?

When viewed individually, most if not all the departures make sense. Offensive coordinator Paul Chryst left for a head-coaching job (Pitt). Offensive line coach Bob Bostad and linebackers coach Dave Huxtable left to become coordinators for Chryst. Tight ends coach Joe Rudolph became Chryst's assistant head coach and returns to his native Pennsylvania. Wide receivers coach DelVaughn Alexander made a lateral move to Arizona State, but he's a Los Angeles native who spent much of his career on the West Coast.

Cross is leaving to coach a position (linebacker) he oversaw from 2007-10 with the NFL's Buffalo Bills. He's a St. Louis native who played at Missouri, so he'll be closer to home at KU. He also has been a bit of a job-hopper lately, spending a few weeks on Purdue's staff last winter before taking the Wisconsin job.

So you can make good cases why each coach left Wisconsin. But the entirety of it -- six coaches leaving a team that has won back-to-back Big Ten titles and reached back-to-back Rose Bowls -- is highly unusual.

Usually when six coaches are departing a staff in the same year, the head coach is part of the group. Bielema, meanwhile, is extremely secure in Madison, having built Wisconsin into a new Big Ten power.

Assistants typically want stability (i.e. Penn State) and would rather remain with a proven winner.

Bielema has hired two offensive assistants (Canada and receivers coach Zach Azzanni) and reportedly has found Huxtable's replacement (Nevada's Andy Buh). He now needs to add three more assistants to his 2012 staff.

Although coaches like to see their assistants succeed elsewhere, they also value continuity, which usually translates into success. Penn State and Iowa have had few changes until this year, and Mark Dantonio has kept his staff together for the most part at Michigan State.

Bielema might just be unlucky to lose so many assistants at once, but so much staff turnover often has consequences, at least in the short term. As Bielema continues to interview assistants, he needs to look for guys who can coach, who can recruit and who want to be in Madison for a little while.
Big Ten bloggers Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett will occasionally give their takes on a burning question facing the league. We'll both have strong opinions, but not necessarily the same view. We'll let you decide which blogger is right.

Today's Take Two topic is inspired by Justin from Baltimore, who writes: Would you rather lose assistant coaches or star players? If you are Wisconsin, would you rather lose five assistant coaches and have Montee Ball return for his senior season or would rather have kept the staff intact and seen Ball go to the NFL? If you are MSU, would you rather lose Jerel Worthy to the NFL and keep Pat Narduzzi as defensive coordinator or would you rather have seen Worthy stay for his senior season but lose Narduzzi to Texas A&M?

Take 1: Brian Bennett

As a general rule, I'd rather have the Jimmys and the Joes rather than the guys doing the X's and the O's. For example, Oklahoma State lost a star offensive coordinator last year when Dana Holgorsen went to West Virginia (you know, the guy who rang up 70 points on Clemson in the Orange Bowl). What did the Cowboys do? They hired Todd Monken from the NFL and went on to win the Fiesta Bowl, mostly because they still had Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon. Great players make coaches look good. I think the situation may be a little different with Wisconsin, which is losing a whole lot on the offensive staff and a tremendous playcaller in Paul Chryst. There is almost certainly going to be an adjustment period there. Having Ball will ease that transition, though maybe not as much as having Russell Wilson at quarterback another year would have helped. While I really like Narduzzi and think he is ready to be a head coach, I think another defensive coordinator could step in and succeed with that talented Spartans group, especially if Worthy were still around. There are a lot of good coaches out there who haven't had the chance to work with great players. That's because great players are harder to find.

Take 2: Adam Rittenberg

Some excellent points, BB. I definitely agree that the players often make the coaches. But in Michigan State's case, I actually think it was more important to retain Narduzzi than Worthy. Although he likely will soon depart for a head-coaching job, Michigan State showed by retaining him that it's willing to pay top dollar and retain a top assistant coach. Ohio State is paying more for assistant coaches. Michigan is paying more for assistant coaches. Michigan State needs to keep up and, in my mind, passed an important test by retaining Narduzzi. The Spartans also have recruited extremely well on the defensive side and should have enough depth to survive the loss of Worthy. The difference between Narduzzi and Chryst was Chryst left for a head-coaching position, while Narduzzi would have made essentially a lateral move for more money. So I think Michigan State had the better situation in the end. Regarding Wisconsin, while it's never easy to replace so many assistants, especially guys like Chryst and offensive line coach Bob Bostad, you don't often get to have a Heisman Trophy finalist back in the fold. Wilson was gone no matter what, and the offensive line would have had some turnover no matter what, but losing Ball could have really set back the unit with the quarterback situation so cloudy. Although Chryst and the others do great work, Wisconsin is so entrenched in what it does offensively and how it develops certainly position groups, namely offensive line. Bret Bielema has made good assistant coach hires in the past, and Wisconsin fans need to have some faith his track record will continue this time.
A Big Ten coach recently told me that the league will be more wide open in 2012 than it has been in recent memory.

He's absolutely right.

While Ohio State's personnel issues changed the complexion of the league race in 2011, things went more or less as expected. Wisconsin, projected by many as the preseason favorite, won the Big Ten championship and advanced to its second consecutive Rose Bowl. Michigan State was a mini surprise, but more because of the Spartans' brutal schedule than their talent level. Michigan exceeded expectations, while Ohio State, Nebraska, Illinois, Northwestern and Iowa fell short of them.

The forecast for 2012 is cloudy at best. Every potential frontrunner has some significant hurdles to overcome.

Let's look at seven of them:

Michigan's challenges: Brady Hoke's crew plays arguably the league's toughest schedule, opening against Alabama, playing road games against Notre Dame, Nebraska and Ohio State, and hosting Michigan State, which has won the teams' past four meetings. The Wolverines also lose standout defensive linemen Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen, as well as center David Molk, the Rimington Trophy winner, and top receiver Junior Hemingway.

Michigan State's challenges: The schedule isn't as treacherous, but Michigan State loses several key pieces, most notably quarterback Kirk Cousins, a three-year starter and a three-time captain. The Spartans also must replace their top two receivers (B.J. Cunningham and Keshawn Martin), their top offensive lineman (guard Joel Foreman), All-Big Ten safety Trenton Robinson and two players making an early jump to the NFL draft (defensive tackle Jerel Worthy and backup running back Edwin Baker). The Spartans say goodbye to six All-Big Ten performers.

Wisconsin's challenges: Although the Badgers regain the services of running back Montee Ball, a Heisman Trophy finalist, they will be adjusting to plenty of new faces both on the field and on the sidelines. All-Big Ten quarterback Russell Wilson departs along with three starting offensive linemen, headlined by All-America center Peter Konz. While the defense returns mostly intact, Wisconsin will be replacing at least five assistant coaches, including offensive coordinator Paul Chryst and offensive line coach Bob Bostad, two of the best in the business. On the bright side, Wisconsin doesn't have to visit Spartan Stadium.

Nebraska's challenges: Along with Michigan, the Huskers return the most offensive firepower in the league and could take a significant step if the line comes together and the wide receivers and Taylor Martinez continue to mature. But if Big Red doesn't play the type of defense it did in 2009 and 2010, it could be another long season in Lincoln. Nebraska loses its top two defenders, linebacker Lavonte David and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, and must upgrade the defensive front seven to handle the more physical Big Ten offenses. The schedule might be a little easier, but not much as Nebraska visits both Michigan State and Ohio State.

Ohio State's challenges: Urban Meyer inherits a young football team with the chance to make big strides in 2012, but the Buckeyes are ineligible for postseason play because of NCAA rules violations. It wouldn't shock me to see Ohio State have the best record in the Leaders Division, but its season will end Nov. 24 against Michigan as the Scarlet and Gray can't play in the Big Ten title game. There also could be some growing pains as players adjust to new systems.

Penn State's challenges: The Bill O'Brien era begins in 2012, and it's hard to know what to expect from a Penn State team going through a transition period. The Lions once again should be strong on defense, although they lose Big Ten defensive player of the year Devon Still and most of their starting secondary. O'Brien and his staff will upgrade the offense eventually, but there could be some struggles initially with a unit that has underachieved since 2008. Although the Leaders Division is up for grabs, Penn State has no shortage of hurdles.

Iowa's challenges: Kirk Ferentz's program reaches another crossroads in 2012 after losing momentum from the 2009 Orange Bowl run. Will Iowa move into the Big Ten's lead pack or take another step backward? There are significant concerns along the defensive line, and Iowa must replace the league's top receiver in Marvin McNutt. If Marcus Coker returns, the offense should be decent, but quarterback James Vandenberg must show he can be more consistent away from Iowa City.

The Big Ten doesn't have an obvious team to beat in 2012, like Wisconsin in 2011 or Ohio State in 2010.

If I had to pick a favorite at this point, I'd go with Michigan State because of the Spartans talent-stocked defense. But the Legends Division race will be extremely competitive -- undoubtedly the tougher division to win. Ohio State's bowl ban, Wisconsin's player/coach losses and Penn State's transition make the Leaders race nearly impossible to predict. While Wisconsin will be a popular pick, I could see several teams, including a sleeper like Purdue, make a run in 2012.

The season kicks off in 235 days.

When it does, buckle up and get ready for a wild ride.

Pitt announces assistant coaches

January, 7, 2012
New Pitt coach Paul Chryst announced the hiring of six assistant coaches Saturday, including three from Wisconsin -- Bob Bostad as offensive coordinator, Dave Huxtable as defensive coordinator and Joe Rudolph, who will serve as assistant head coach and quarterbacks coach.

Here is a brief profile on each:

Bostad spent the past six years at Wisconsin as offensive line coach. The past two years, Bostad coached four first team All-Americans on Wisconsin’s offensive front (center Pete Konz and guard Kevin Zeitler in 2011, and tackle Gabe Carimi and guard John Moffit in 2010). The Badgers rushed for more than 3,000 yards each of the past two seasons en route to a pair of Big Ten titles.

Huxtable spent this past season coaching linebackers at Wisconsin, where he produced a pair of first-team All-Big Ten performers in Chris Borland and Mike Taylor. Before joining the Badgers, Huxtable spent seven seasons at UCF (2004-10), including the final three as defensive coordinator.

Rudolph, a graduate of Belle Vernon Area High School, returns to Western Pennsylvania after coaching the tight ends at Wisconsin the past four seasons. He also served as Wisconsin's recruiting coordinator. As a coach at Wisconsin, he oversaw the development of three NFL draft picks at tight end.

Chris Haering will serve as linebackers coach. He joins Pitt from nearby Mt. Lebanon High School, where he served as head football coach the past 17 years (1995-2011) and compiled a 111-71 record. Under Haering’s direction, Mt. Lebanon won the 2000 WPIAL Class AAAA championship and advanced to the playoffs 13 times.

Jim Hueber will serve as tight ends coach. He has nearly four decades of coaching experience on both the collegiate and professional levels. Hueber most recently served five seasons with the Minnesota Vikings (2006-10) working with the offensive line. He spent 33 years coaching college football, including an exceptional tenure under Barry Alvarez at Wisconsin (1992-2005), where he helped the Badgers evolve into a national power.

Todd Rice will be strength and conditioning coach after spending the past five years as director of strength and conditioning for the NC State football team. Before his time with the Wolfpack, Rice served five years in the same capacity at Boston College.

They're celebrating in Mad-town, as Wisconsin running back Montee Ball has decided to stay in school for his senior season. Ball based his decision heavily on a third-round grade he received from the NFL draft advisory committee in addition to other factors. I caught up with Ball, the Heisman Trophy finalist and 2011 Big Ten offensive player of the year, after his formal announcement.

Here's what he had to say:

Take me through the decision-making process and when you finalized your choice to return.

Montee Ball: In early November, I obviously had the decision to leave or stay. I tried not to think much about it, because we had some games to finish and finish out the season right. But come last Saturday, I woke up in the morning, it was around 9, walked around, thought a little bit, looked myself in the mirror and made a decision. Around 10 o'clock, walked up, found Coach [Bret Bielema] and basically told him why I decided to come back, and I told him some factors that weighed heavily into my decision. Obviously, he was excited. He hugged me and welcomed me back.

When did you get your evaluation back from the NFL, and how big a factor was it?

MB: I got it back two or three weeks ago, and obviously it weighed a lot on my decision. They came back, they said third round, and obviously I was a little disappointed. I felt like I was better than third round. Me coming back now, I'll be able to focus on my strength, my speed and all that stuff, and I believe I can better my stock.

Did they only give you a grade, or areas you can improve? Where can you get better in 2012?

MB: Mostly it was just a grade, but listening to Coach and hearing some whispers here and there, I heard that they felt being a 205-, 204- [pound] running back, you've got to be blazing, blazing fast, so they want me to be up around 215, a physical back. That's really what I'm going to focus on.

What will that be like? You've been at 235, and now you're at 205, and then you're going to be 215. You'll be three different players in your career.

MB: Yeah, I'm sure my body is a little confused with that, going from 230 to 205 and now I have to get back up to 215. But I know it's going to help me and help my game, and obviously it will better this team.

What do you say to those who think you can't get any better, that your stock can't get higher than it is right now?

MB: I understand where they're coming from, because 1,900 yards, 39 touchdowns, it is hard to match that or do better than that, but if I would have told you I'd do that at the beginning of the season, you probably wouldn't have believed me. So you really can't say anything. You have no idea of what I'm capable of doing coming into the [2012] season.

What are some of the challenges for you going into your last year? Russell [Wilson] won't be there, Coach [Paul] Chryst and Coach [Bostad] won't be there.

MB: Of course, losing the great players we are losing and the coaches we're losing, it's obviously a challenge, but I have faith in Coach B. that he's going to bring in some great coaches. And what he did a great job of last year was preparing the second- and third-string players for their time this year to shine. They're just as ready as the players that are leaving, so we're going to be just as good as we were last season.

When you sent in your forms to the NFL, what did you think they would say?

MB: At the time, it was mainly just, 'Let's figure out where my grade's going to be and let's just see what they say.' I guess at the time they would come back second round or something like that, but they came back third. It weighed heavily with my decision, but there obviously were some other factors as well.

If you had received a second-round grade, would you have gone to the draft?

MB: Obviously, a lot depends, but no, I believe I still would have stayed.

So it would have taken a first-round grade.

MB: Yeah, if they came back with first round, for sure. You can't pass that up.

You made your decision before the Rose Bowl. Did the game itself have any effect on you, even if you guys had won?

MB: I believe that's why I made my decision before the game. I didn't want the outcome of the game to weigh heavily with my decision. But a little bit of me staying was seeing some of the players' faces in the locker room after the loss, just how hard they worked and still to come up short again. I want to make sure this year [2012] no matter where we end up, hopefully we end up in a bowl game, and I'll make sure we come out with a victory this time.

You decided to tell the team you were coming back after the Rose Bowl. What was that moment like? You have some guys whose careers are over, you just lost a tough game and then you're announcing some good news.

MB: Once Coach B said a few words, what he needed to say, he stepped back, asked if there were any questions or concerns. No one really said anything, and just to get it across to everyone's minds, I was like, 'This is my time. I've got to stand up and say something because I will be a leader of this team next year.' So I stood up and basically told the seniors, 'I'm sorry that you have to end your careers like this, and I'm really sorry that we fell short once again.' But what I told the juniors, sophomores and freshmen is, 'I cherish these moments, I'll cherish them for the rest of my life and that's one of the reasons why I will be joining you guys for the 2012 season.' Once I said that, they started clapping, and I just put it up on myself to try and uplift the spirit in the room.

What's still out there for you individually and for this team?

MB: I need to become stronger and faster, and I believe I will get that done. Being a football player, you love individual awards, so I'm looking forward to making it back to Orlando [ESPN football awards] and New York [Heisman Trophy presentation], and maybe coming out with the awards this time. And from a team standpoint, we have to finish the season out right. Two years in a row we didn't, so I'm going to make sure we do it this year.

You'll be able to finish your degree now. How important was that for you and for your family?

MB: Very important. It's very important for myself and my family. Being a running back, your life span in the NFL is very short compared to other positions. Once I'm done in the NFL, I'll be looking to have a family and start a career somewhere else, so I have to make sure I come out with my degree.
It has been a rough few days for the Wisconsin Badgers, who lost their second consecutive Rose Bowl on Monday and lost two more assistant coaches Wednesday.

[+] EnlargeMontee Ball
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesStandout running back Montee Ball is returning for another season at Wisconsin.
But the week is ending on a very good note: "MoneyBall" is waiting to cash in.

Translation: Montee Ball will remain at Wisconsin for his senior season.

Ball, the Badgers' star running back, announced his decision to stay at a Thursday afternoon news conference. Badgers fans have to be thrilled and also a bit surprised by Ball's choice.

While the Big Ten's NFL draft decisions so far have been as expected -- Illinois' Whitney Mercilus, Iowa's Riley Reiff and Michigan State's Jerel Worthy all were expected to forgo their senior seasons and did -- Ball raised a few eyebrows by opting to stay.

The biggest reason? His position. Running backs typically bolt for the NFL when their stock is high, and Ball's stock rose after a season when he led the nation in rushing (1,923 yards), matched Barry Sanders' NCAA single-season touchdowns record (39) and earned consensus All-America honors. Given the short span of pro careers for most running backs, Ball's choice to delay his NFL entry makes him unique.

On the other hand, Ball isn't projected to be a first-round pick, unlike the Big Ten's three early entrants. In fact, he received a third-round grade from the NFL draft advisory committee, which "really disappointed" him.

There have been concerns about his pass-blocking and even his size after he slimmed down considerably after the 2010 season. Ball said he plans to increase his weight to 215 on the recommendation of the NFL draft advisory committee.

"That's what I’m going to do this spring, see if my body can handle 215," he said.

It's hard to expect Ball to duplicate his 2011 performance in the fall, as star quarterback Russell Wilson departs and the team has major questions under center. The offense also will operate with a new coordinator and two new assistants after Paul Chryst, Bob Bostad and DelVaughn Alexander all departed for positions elsewhere.

"Obviously I’m taking a pretty huge gamble coming back," he said.

His decision is great news for Wisconsin and for those who love college football. He'll be the Big Ten's top Heisman Trophy candidate entering the 2011 season and one of the national front-runners. Ball's decision also solidifies Wisconsin as the Leaders division favorite in 2012, especially because Ohio State is ineligible to reach the Big Ten title game.

Ball also puts himself in position to finish as one of the greatest running backs in Big Ten history. He ranks fifth in the Big Ten in career rushing touchdowns with 51, 20 behind former Wisconsin star Ron Dayne, the 1999 Heisman Trophy winner. Although Ball won't catch Dayne on the career rushing list, he could move into the top five in the Big Ten with a strong senior season. He has 3,310 career rush yards -- former Michigan State star Lorenzo White is fifth with 4,887. And unlike most of the backs on the Big Ten's career chart, Ball won't be a four-year starter.

"These four years that I'll be here, I want to make sure I put a huge stamp on this university," he said.

It will take some time to know whether "MoneyBall" made a good business decision.

But Wisconsin fans have to be stoked. The rest of the Big Ten? Not so much.
Bret Bielema tweeted early this morning that he's headed out on the recruiting trail looking for players.

He's also looking for assistant coaches.

Wisconsin lost two assistant coaches Wednesday -- wide receivers coach DelVaughn Alexander and linebackers coach Dave Huxtable -- bringing the total number of departures to four. Huxtable will join former Badgers aides Paul Chryst and Bob Bostad in Pittsburgh as the Panthers' defensive coordinator. Chryst is Pitt's new head coach, while Bostad will serve as his offensive coordinator. Alexander is joining Arizona State's staff.

Bielema initially thought Bostad would be the only assistant joining Chryst at Pitt. It appears as though Huxtable will be the last departure.

It's quite a lot of turnover for Bielema, who has had to replace assistants here and there during his tenure but never four staff members at once. Huxtable was a terrific hire last year, as he left a coordinator post at Central Florida to tutor the Badgers' linebackers. Alexander had success with receivers Nick Toon and Jared Abbrederis this season.

It will be interesting to see where Bielema turns. Oklahoma's Jay Norvell, a former Wisconsin assistant, has been reported as a candidate for the offensive coordinator spot.

While Wisconsin is losing assistants, it could regain a huge piece soon as running back Montee Ball, the Big Ten's offensive player of the year, reportedly will announce he's staying in school for his senior season. Most figured Ball would bolt, so this would be a very nice surprise.

Ball would be one of the leading candidates for the Heisman Trophy this fall after finishing as a finalist in 2011.
The Todd Graham domino effect is continuing to have an impact on Wisconsin.

Graham bolted Pittsburgh for Arizona State, leading to Badgers offensive coordinator Todd Chryst getting the Pitt job. Chryst also brought offensive line coach Bob Bostad with him to the Steel City.

Wednesday, the school confirmed receivers coach DelVaughn Alexander is going to Arizona State to work for Graham. Alexander spent the past five years as an assistant in Madison. This season, both Nick Toon and former walk-on Jared Abbrederis had excellent years under his tutelage.

That may not be all the departures, either. The Wisconsin State Journal reports that linebackers coach Dave Huxtable appears headed to Pitt to join Chryst. Huxtable said before the Rose Bowl that he was definitely staying with the Badgers. He reportedly could become defensive coordinator for Chryst. Huxtable did good work with the linebackers, as both Mike Taylor and Chris Borland were All-Big Ten performers.

Huxtable and Alexander no longer appear on the roster of coaches on Wisconsin's official football Website.

The Wisconsin State Journal is also reporting that Oklahoma co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell is a candidate to replace Chryst as the Badgers' playcaller. Norvell is a Madison native who coached at Wisconsin from 1990-94.
LOS ANGELES -- Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema surprised his players on Thursday by telling them they didn't have to go through a full practice.

Instead of working out at the Home Depot Center, Bielema simply had his team go through a light walk-through.

"Half of them passed out because they couldn't believe I did what I did," Bielema said.

[+] EnlargeBret Bielema
Brace Hemmelgarn/US PresswireWisconsin coach Bret Bielema has changed his bowl practice schedule after the Badgers started slow in last year's Rose Bowl against TCU.
The Badgers have been doing a lot of extra conditioning, especially on defense, to get ready for Oregon in Monday's Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO. So Bielema thought it was time to back off a bit before practicing hard again Friday and Saturday. Bielema said he wants to make sure his team is fresh and fast from the opening kickoff.

"A year ago [against TCU], we didn't play well in the first quarter or in the first half," he said. "And I'm putting a huge emphasis on coming out of the gates with the intentions of being sharp from the first snap."

The guy who might need to relax a bit right now is Bielema. Not only does he have the difficult challenge of preparing for Oregon, but he has also been dealing with the loss of offensive coordinator Paul Chryst and offensive line coach Bob Bostad, who will go to Pittsburgh after the game.

"Life has been insane," he said. "To top it all off, my fiancee decides to get sick on Monday when we get down here, so I've been sidestepping those things. Don't touch anything she's been handling. She'll be really glad I let that out there. We may not even get to March [for the wedding]."

Some other notes from the top Badger after the two teams' head coaches met the media for the final time before the game:

Chip Kelly has steadfastly deflected big-picture questions about what a BCS bowl win would mean or his players' legacy. He said his players are not motivated by losing in BCS games the past two years. Though Bielema stresses a philosophy of going 1-0 every week, he and his team had made no secret about being driven by last year's loss to TCU.

"This is the feeling that you'll have in your mouth for the next seven to eight months until we get ready for our opener a year from now," Bielema said. "The fact that our kids were here a year ago ... to come back to that same place, the same destination, and to finish it differently, I think, is a major thought process in our guys' minds.

"Probably my most difficult year of my head coaching career was the year we went 7-6 and lost to Florida State in a pretty convincing manner at the Champs Bowl in Orlando. We came back a year later and beat Miami pretty soundly, and our program has risen from that point forward."

Bielema will sit down with juniors Montee Ball and Peter Konz next weekend to help them with their decisions on whether to go pro.

"The number one thing I want to give them is great information," he said. "The best information possible. I think that when the decision comes down to it, they probably are going to tell you that they went both ways at different times.

"I think both of them are in a position where they've got a good group around them. Pete and his mom, Margaret, I think are very well in tune with what we're saying as well as trying to get information from the NFL. Then Montee and his parents, I think, are going to make a great decision. ... We have all the way until [Jan.] 15, so I expect a decision sooner than later."

Bielema said at the Big Ten championship game that several transfers had expressed an interest in joining the program, including quarterbacks, in the wake of Russell Wilson's success. One potential transfer, former Notre Dame quarterback Dayne Crist, ended up at Kansas. Bielema said no news of impending transfers has reached his desk of late.

A reporter asked Bielema if it was good for the Big Ten that Wisconsin is representing the league here, given the problems at Ohio State and Penn State this season.

"I think the thing that I love about being out here is I know what we've done and earned to get here," he said. "What other people see or believe or perceive will be in their hands. But I think the conference overall moving forward now is going to hopefully take another step forward.

"Ohio State has made a great hire in Urban [Meyer] and the splash that he's had and the things that hopefully he'll bring to the league. I was very excited to see Michigan get another opportunity [in the BCS]. I have a great amount of respect for Brady [Hoke] and the way he's gone about things.

"Moving forward, some of those things will begin to be erased or moved away. So I'd be flattered if people were happy for us, but my guess is a lot of the Big Ten doesn't like us back out here the second year in a row, just because it is a little bit of a sign that things are going very well for Wisconsin."