NCF Nation: Bret Bielema

DALLAS -- It's a sign of the times when you start seeing ground-and-pound Alabama running tempo.

There's a reason one of Will Muschamp's final orders at Florida was to have his team attempt to run more of a spread offense with some tempo. There's a reason Texas A&M and Missouri's offenses have flourished and have a combined record of 56-23 during their first three seasons in the SEC. There's a reason the Mississippi schools have been on the rise. There's a reason Gus Malzahn has had immediate success in two short years as head coach at Auburn.

There's a reason we saw two spread-minded teams -- one incredibly tempo-driven -- with offenses ranked in the top 10 and defenses outside the top four of their own conferences reach the first College Football Playoff National Championship game.

As rugged and as defensive-minded as the SEC has been for years and years, offense is taking over college football, and the SEC -- for the most part -- is trying not to get left behind.

“Any offense is trying to find any advantage against the defense," Oregon running back Royce Freeman said during media day for the College Football Playoff National Championship Presented by AT&T. "Why wouldn’t you? If it’s tempo or if it’s different personnel, if it’s by the rules, do it.”

[+] EnlargeNick Saban
Marvin Gentry/USA TODAY SportsAlabama's Nick Saban once led a crusade against up-tempo offenses, but employed a little of it himself this past season.
Exactly.

Times are changing in all forms of football. Offense is in and defense is ailing.

In each of the last two seasons, the SEC has had six teams finish the year allowing more than 390 yards per game. From 2008-12, only nine teams allowed more than 390 yards a game. The disintegration of defense is apparent in the SEC, and how long it lasts is unknown. Offense is having a trickle-up effect with high school teams adopting the spread more and more and ramping up the tempo. Running quarterbacks feel like more of a necessity in the sport than a luxury.

Nobody thought the spread would work in the NFL, but the read-option is there to stay (hello, Super Bowl-bound Seattle Seahawks) and even the New England Patriots have been running a version of the spread during the last few years at times.

It's a natural evolution in sports for people to try and find the next best thing. Football is no different. For a while, defenses were stagnant and offenses would shift and motion to create leverage. Now, defenses can move at and before the snap to create temporary advantages and mismatches. So offenses have answered by lining up quicker and snapping the ball faster.

It's in all forms of the sport, but Oregon coach Mark Helfrich, whose Ducks have been perfecting this thing since the Chip Kelly days, believes this offensive fad his school helped create might not be the future of football.

“It’ll cycle though. People that believe in certain things will keep it at their core," Helfrich said. "… There are also certain people who are just experimenting with it, so to speak.”

Cyclical or not, programs are realizing that the current offensive evolution -- or revolution -- is real. Most teams in the SEC implement some form of higher tempo in their offenses. Some are spreading guys out more and finding homes in the shotgun. While it goes against all old-school football mantras, it's something coaches realize is the style of the times, and it's working and it's greatly affecting defenses.

Just look at Alabama. This is a team that dominated college football with a very traditional -- and successful -- offense. But Nick Saban's defenses have struggled with the spread recently. Johnny Manziel and his high-flying Texas A&M Aggies lit up Alabama for an average of 523 yards and 35.5 points in games in 2012 and 2013. Against Auburn and that uptempo Malzahn spread the last two years, Alabama has surrendered 1,023 yards and 78 points.

Alabama went 2-2 in those four games.

[+] EnlargeDan Mullen
Mark Zerof/USA TODAY SportsDan Mullen has turned Mississippi State into a league power with a personnel-based spread offense he helped develop with Urban Meyer at Bowling Green, Utah and Florida.
Take it a step further and look at Alabama's two-game losing streak in the postseason where Oklahoma (spread and tempo) and Ohio State (spread) combined to score 87 points and reeled off 966 yards.

Running quarterbacks, spread and tempo have been weaknesses for Saban's defenses, so he added all three to his offense this year and watched Alabama set all sorts of offensive records and average 484.5 yards per game (most during his Alabama tenure) and 36.9 points a contest.

“Three or four years ago, Nick Saban was talking about how he didn’t really like [uptempo offense], and the disadvantages to it," Oregon defensive back Juwaan Williams said. "He’s making the evolution himself.”

Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, a week removed from his third national championship victory, began some of the transformation down South by bringing his version of the spread offense from Utah to Florida in 2005. His very personnel-driven philosophy changed as the players did. That's why you saw Florida's 2008 national championship-winning offense look so different from the 2006 one.

And that's why Dan Mullen's spread at Mississippi State looks a little different from the one he helped run as the offensive coordinator at Florida. That's why Hugh Freeze's spread at Ole Miss has some philosophical differences from Mizzou's. That's why Tennessee is now spreading things out more now to go with its tempo with a more mobile quarterback in Joshua Dobbs.

“It’s not system-driven; it’s personnel-based," Meyer said of the spread.

That's why Bret Bielema isn't interested in it at Arkansas. He has his big guys plowing into everyone every chance they get, and he likes it. And that's fine, but as we continue to look around the league, more tempo and more spread is coming. Even new Florida coach Jim McElwain, who was a part of the ground-and-pound Bama philosophy during his time with Saban, would like to inject more tempo in the Gators. Steve Spurrier has even experimented with some tempo at South Carolina.

As we dive into this new playoff thing and football gets faster and faster, the SEC appears for the most part to be ready and adapting. And really, it had better be.

“It seems like every team is trying to conform to that," Ohio State offensive lineman Darryl Baldwin said. "I guess it’s more about scoring points now than playing defense now."
One of the biggest success stories in the 2015 recruiting class has been Arkansas with its in-state recruits. The Razorbacks were 10-for-10 on players they had offered in Arkansas, but that changed Sunday when ESPN 300 receiver K.J. Hill backed off his pledge.

» More 2015 Too-Early Rankings: Top 25 | ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC

The 2014 season may have just ended, but it's never to early to look ahead to next season. With all the obligatory caveats, here's our first look at SEC power rankings for 2015.

If you're looking for an off-the-wall pick in the SEC Western Division in 2015, don't look at Arkansas. Find someone else to come out of the woodwork to take the SEC West by storm.

Why aren't the Hogs on my spoiler radar? Well, I think they might deserve more than just dark horse status in 2015.

But Edward, Arkansas won just seven games last season and didn't have an SEC win until Nov. 15 (after 17 straight league losses). The Hogs have sleeper written all over them, right?

[+] EnlargeSebastian Tretola, Bret Bielema
Wesley Hitt/Getty ImagesDespite some close losses in 2014, Bret Bielema, right, has Arkansas on the rise in the SEC West.
True, a 7-6 team isn't exactly the team you pick to be swimming in blue-and-yellow confetti inside the Georgia Dome in early December, but I think we can all agree that the Hogs left a couple more wins on the field last fall -- four losses were by seven points or less. This team lost to Alabama and Mississippi State, which both ranked No. 1 in the nation this season, by a combined eight points. With the way this team bounced back from being so snake-bitten for most of the season, I think it's safe to assume there is a lot of momentum in Fayetteville.

After losing three straight in the middle of the season, Arkansas won four of its last six games, including shutting out No. 17 LSU 17-0 and pummeling No. 8 Ole Miss 30-0. The season culminated with a decisive 31-7 romp of Texas in the AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl.

After a very strong finish to 2014, Arkansas should enter the new year oozing the type of confidence exhibited by its head coach. The Bret Bielema tenacity showcased in games and on social media has bled into his players. What was a relatively soft group before he took over has transformed into one of the league's most physical teams on both sides of the ball. Teams hurt and will continue to hurt against Arkansas.

The brawny, pound-you-into-the-ground running style Bielema used at Wisconsin has become a sledgehammer of a tool for the Razorbacks. The Hogs finished the 2014 season averaging 218 rushing yards per game (10 games with 150-plus yards) and 5.1 yards per carry. Running backs Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins, who return in 2015, both eclipsed 1,100 rushing yards, and each had 12 touchdowns.

Returning with that dynamic duo are four starting offensive linemen, starting quarterback Brandon Allen, and four of Arkansas' top six receiving targets. That is a lot for a coach going into his third year at a program. And though Allen, who threw for 2,285 and 20 touchdowns this season, absolutely must be more consistent, he has those running backs to lean on, making his job much easier.

It's almost unfair when you consider both backs averaged more than 5.3 yards per carry.

Defensively, please proceed with caution when you play the Hogs. I really can't stress that enough.

Outside of returning four starters along the defensive line and a relatively experienced secondary, Arkansas signed first-year defensive coordinator Robb Smith to an extension. He really was the driving force behind Arkansas' complete defensive transformation in 2014. The Hogs climbed to 10th nationally in total and scoring defense, after finishing the 2013 season ranked 76th in total defense.

Arkansas ranked second in the SEC in total defense and held opponents to 17 points or less eight times, with six of those coming against eventual bowl teams. The Hogs capped the season by holding Texas to 59 total yards on 43 plays (1.4 yards per play), the lowest offensive output by any FBS team this season.

And only a few defensive starters are leaving, so watch out.

Let's not forget that Arkansas currently has the No. 21 recruiting class in the country, according to ESPN's RecrutingNation. Five commits are ESPN300 members, and Bielema won't hesitate to play any of those guys early.

Arkansas isn't perfect, far from it. Allen has to improve and the Hogs need a top-flight receiver (are you ready, Keon Hatcher?). Replacing Trey Flowers and Martrell Spaight on defense won't be easy. Oh, and that whole SEC West thing.

Still, there is no reason to sleep on Arkansas. Next year's nonconference games are all winnable. And Auburn, Mississippi State, Missouri, and Texas A&M -- who beat the Hogs in 2014 -- have to play in Fayetteville.

Bielema is building for a legitimate SEC run in 2015, and it shouldn't surprise anyone.
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Four of the seven SEC West teams will have new defensive coordinators next season, which is fitting, given the carnage we saw in that division during the bowl season.

It's a carnage particularly glaring on the defensive side and yet another reminder that times are changing -- or, more precisely, have changed -- in college football.

Remember when the SEC was known for its defense?

Well, there is no defending how the five Western Division teams that lost in bowl games played, defensively, last week.

The numbers were abysmal, the kind of cataclysmic meltdown that only lends credence to the biggest criticism of SEC defenses over the past few years: They rack up most of their numbers against offenses within the league that aren't very explosive.

Now, before we go any further, not everybody in the West suddenly forgot how to play defense during the postseason.

Arkansas crushed Texas 31-7 in the Advocare V100 Texas Bowl and made the Longhorns look even worse than they really were offensively, which took some doing. The Hogs held the Longhorns to 59 total yards on 43 offensive plays, which marks the fewest yards by any FBS team this season.

It wasn't just that Texas was that bad, either. First-year Arkansas defensive coordinator Robb Smith did an amazing job of transforming the Hogs' defense all season. They held opponents to 17 or fewer points in eight of their 13 games, and six of the eight were against bowl teams.

With only the College Football Playoff National Championship presented by AT&T remaining, Arkansas ranks 10th nationally in both scoring defense and total defense and 12th in rushing defense. The only other SEC team in the top 12 in all three categories is Alabama.

[+] EnlargeEzekiel Elliott
AP Photo/Brynn AndersonAlabama, which gave up 281 rushing yards to Ohio State, was just one of several SEC West teams with poor showings defensively in bowl games.
No wonder Arkansas coach Bret Bielema moved fast to make sure Smith had a new three-year deal that will pay him $750,000 annually. But the way Arkansas' defense played in the bowl game was the exception to the rule for the West this postseason.

Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Texas A&M all gave up more than 30 points each in their games. The Aggies were able to escape with a 45-37 win against West Virginia, though their biggest win might have been prying away defensive coordinator John Chavis from LSU a few days later.

It wasn't a memorable final game for Chavis' LSU defense. The Tigers gave up 263 rushing yards to Notre Dame in a 31-28 loss and were especially vulnerable on third down. The Irish converted 11 of 17 third-down opportunities and drove 71 yards in 14 plays for the winning field goal.

As it was, LSU's defensive performance might have been the best one of the bunch among the five West teams that lost bowl games, which underscores what a shoddy three days of defense it was for those five teams.

The final damage: Averages of 39.6 points allowed, 501.4 total yards allowed and 314.6 rushing yards allowed, not to mention a combined defensive third-down percentage of 55.4 percent.

The rushing totals were most incriminating. Mississippi State was gashed for 452 yards on the ground by Georgia Tech's option attack and gave up 49 points.

Melvin Gordon and Wisconsin did a number on Auburn, to the tune of 400 rushing yards, and Alabama allowed 281 rushing yards -- including a back-breaking 85-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter -- in its 42-35 playoff loss to Ohio State.

That's two bowl games in a row in which Alabama has laid an egg defensively. The Tide gave up a combined 87 points and 966 yards in losses to Oklahoma a year ago in the Sugar Bowl and Ohio State this year in the playoff.

Does that mean Alabama has lost it defensively? Of course not. The Tide are always going to be a force defensively as long as Nick Saban is around.

But it is fair to say they haven't been nearly as dominant defensively on some of the biggest stages as they were during their national championship seasons in 2009, 2011 and 2012.

In their 55-44 win against Auburn this season, they gave up a school-record 630 total yards. In the 34-28 loss to Auburn last season, they gave up 296 rushing yards, and earlier in that year, they allowed 628 total yards to Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M in a wild 49-42 win over the Aggies.

Spotty play at cornerback has been a recurring problem for the Tide the past two seasons. They've had trouble covering people, which has been magnified by their inability to consistently get to the quarterback.

Nobody's writing off the Tide defensively. Teams all over the country would gladly take their numbers -- and certainly their talent. But mobile quarterbacks have tormented them, and the way they've finished seasons defensively each of the past two seasons has been a concern.

Last impressions are what they remember in college football, and that also goes for Alabama's brethren in the West.

Reputations are earned. Right now, the entire SEC -- specifically the West -- has some work to do in earning back its reputation on the defensive side of the ball.
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Now that Randy Shannon has been officially announced as a part of the Florida coaching staff, the expectations for success in South Florida are high for the Gators.


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Barry Alvarez thought his coaching days were over after Wisconsin won the 2006 Capital One Bowl.

Not so fast.

Alvarez came out of retirement to coach the Badgers in the 2013 Rose Bowl after Bret Bielema surprisingly departed for Arkansas days after winning the Big Ten championship game. The Badgers fell, 20-14, to Stanford. Surely, Alvarez's coaching career had ended and he could focus solely on his duties as athletic director -- and College Football Playoff selection committee member.

But there would be another surprising chapter for a legendary college coach, and this one would end on a much happier note. Wisconsin players once again summoned Alvarez to coach them after Gary Andersen surprisingly bolted for Oregon State days after the team's 59-0 loss to Ohio State in the Big Ten title game. Alvarez, who turned 68 on Tuesday, immediately accepted and was on the sideline for Wisconsin's 34-31 overtime win against Auburn in the Outback Bowl on Thursday.

Although star running back Melvin Gordon went off for 251 rushing yards and three touchdowns, the best Badger moves came from Alvarez, who broke it down in the locker room with his players. Alvarez, who made several bold decisions in Wisconsin's win, improved his coaching record to 119-74-4.

Paul Chryst now takes over as Wisconsin's coach, while Alvarez returns to his AD/CFP duties.

Will this be Alvarez's last dance as the Badgers' coach? If so, he made it count.

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HOUSTON -- The postgame handshake was brief. No small-talk chatter or back-slapping. No horns-down twitches, either.

Charlie Strong walked up, gave Bret Bielema a firm handshake, turned and walked off.

"I got beat," Strong said soon after, "so what are you going to do, go talk and tell jokes?"

Bielema stared at the exiting Texas coach for a moment. He looked a bit startled by their two-second meeting, but what should he have expected? The two head coaches were heading in different directions.

[+] EnlargePhilon
AP Photo/David J. PhillipArkansas' stomping of Texas on Monday will send the Razorbacks into next season with lofty expectations, while the Longhorns are left to pick up the pieces.
Arkansas' head man made his way over to the midfield stage to accept the Advocare V100 Texas Bowl trophy, his prize for a purely dominant 31-7 victory and a seven-win season that should have Razorbacks fans fired up about the future.

Strong went over to a news conference room inside NRG Stadium and let loose with seven losses worth of anger and frustration before conceding Texas has "a long ways to go" after a rough first year of rebuilding.

Surely Bielema can sympathize, right? Until Nov. 15, the second-year coach had played 13 SEC games and lost them all. Suddenly, thanks to two upsets and the Monday night destruction of the Longhorns, Arkansas will start being hyped as hot for 2015.

"We have a lot of guys coming back that, if they continue to have the growth they did a year ago, we're gonna be able to do some special things," Bielema said.

His Razorbacks defense already had shutouts of Ole Miss and LSU on its résumé, yet found a way to top that. Arkansas held Texas to the least productive offensive performance of the entire 2014 college football season: an FBS-worst 59 total yards and 2 rushing yards on 43 plays.

The Hogs' control of the game was absolute. They pounded away up front, controlling the ball for more than 41 minutes and never giving Texas a hint of a real chance. Body blows early and often -- tough runs, easy passes, easier defensive stops -- was all it took.

When it was over, Bielema heaped praise on his seniors, on his players' leadership and focus. He touted his junior quarterback and bowl MVP winner, Brandon Allen. He pointed to just how exciting the future looks now.

The roughest days appear to be over at Arkansas. The elusive moment every rebuilding coach chases -- that over-the-hump victory, the high-profile display of dominance and promise -- heck, Bielema has had three of them in the past 60 days.

For Strong, the hill to climb is steeper. A brutal offseason is about to begin in Austin, Texas, and it's completely necessary.

"At some point, we've got to develop and get the pride back into this program," Strong said. "Texas has got to mean something. Right now, it doesn't mean much. You have to play with passion, play with energy and have to have an edge to you. We don't have that right now."

When Strong's most vocal player, senior corner Quandre Diggs, says Texas still has players who don't deserve their spot in the locker room, you know this team is tired of messing around. A fifth loss of 20-plus points -- the most in one season in school history -- raises the pressure.

Strong doesn't have a senior-to-be to hype up at quarterback. He has sophomore Tyrone Swoopes, who accounted for 25 total yards of offense (and minus-21 yards if you include his fourth-quarter interception return yardage); he has an offseason-long controversy that will require wide-open competition; and he has departing seniors, a patchwork offensive line, a dearth of playmakers. A lot more questions than answers.

Given that context, it's easy to see why Strong had no time to blather with Bielema. Texas badly wanted this season to end. And Arkansas just can’t wait for the next one to begin.

Viewer's Guide: AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl

December, 28, 2014
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Three things to watch when Texas and Arkansas face off in the AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl on Monday night (9 ET, ESPN):

Do you like defense? If so, this might be the bowl game for you. As expected, Texas enjoyed a defensive revival in 2014 under first-year coach Charlie Strong. The Longhorns finished No. 1 in the Big 12 in total defense, pass defense and sacks and rank No. 8 nationally in yards per play allowed. Arkansas isn't playing in this game or any bowl without its defense, which shut out both Ole Miss and LSU to reach six wins. The Hogs also held Alabama and Mississippi State to 14 and 17 points, respectively. The odds of this matchup ending in a low-scoring brawl look pretty decent.

Do you like running backs? Arkansas and Texas do. Bret Bielema built his Arkansas team around the only duo of 1,000-yard rushers (Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins) in the FBS. Their most impressive game together? The 437-yard showing at Texas Tech. Texas thought it would have a pair of 1,000-yarders in Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray but never had the O-line to sustain such success. Getting that inexperienced line a month of bowl practices and recovery time ought to help. Expect stacked boxes all night long in Houston.

Winning season vs. losing season: The one-game stakes for Arkansas and Texas are pretty simple. One team finishes 7-6; one team ends up 6-7. The Razorbacks just survived arguably the toughest schedule in the country, with seven SEC foes that won eight-plus games (combined record of their SEC opponents: 73-25). A win Monday would be a just reward for a team that had to fight for everything. Same for Texas, a squad that has played better than its 6-6 record indicates and came close to stunning UCLA and Oklahoma at neutral sites. (Plus the Horns have this bonus motivation.) Both teams will get up for this one, but who has enough left in the tank?
By now everyone has seen the tweeted picture of Arkansas coach Bret Bielema flashing what appears to be the infamous "Horns down" sign with his left hand while shaking Texas coach Charlie Strong's hand with the other during a press conference for the Advocare V100 Texas Bowl.



Well, after that photo went viral, people started calling it awesome, and then fake. Posts about it being photoshopped littered the Internet, and then Arkansas radio host Bo Mattingly tweeted that he talked to Bielema after practice about the "Horns down" move. Bielema denied doing it.



OK, case closed ... right?

Wrong!

Here we have more evidence about the hand gesture through this Vine:



Right at the end you can clearly see Bielema move his fingers into the shape of the "Horns down" sign. Now, whether this was intentional or not, we don't know. Maybe, he had no clue what he was doing. Maybe, it was a brilliant troll move by a coach who isn't new to having fun or throwing a little shade toward his opponents.

Regardless, it's fun water-cooler talk before the Razorbacks take on the Longhorns in the Texas Bowl on ESPN at 9 p.m. ET.

SEC rivalries that need to happen

December, 23, 2014
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With the Allstate Sugar Bowl rekindling a great coaching rivalry in Nick Saban vs. Urban Meyer, it got me to thinking (shocker, I know): There are some SEC rivalries that I'd love to see take off in the near future.

What Saban and Meyer did -- and what Saban keeps doing -- in the SEC has changed the landscape of the league. And even though they met just three times in the SEC, we all wanted to watch when they did. So why not have a few games that we all get hyped up for when they come around?

I came up with five games that I want to see turn into or turn back into great rivalries to get your popcorn ready for. Of course, scheduling hurts most of these games, but maybe the right people will hear me out ...

Have a few of your own rivalries you want to see in the SEC? List them below!

1. Alabama vs. Florida: Remember when these two just couldn't stop playing each other in the SEC championship games in the 90s? Remember the Meyer-Saban days? Now, there's another ex-Saban assistant -- Jim McElwain -- coaching the Gators, and a chance of redemption in Gainesville. Saban and Alabama are the class of the SEC, just like Florida was in the 90s. Having these guys good at the same time and playing against each other, more often than not, is good for the league.

2. Arkansas vs. Auburn: OK, so these two play every year, but, man, amping up the Gus Malzahn-Bret Bielema storyline would be great. They've both exchanged words with each other, there's been controversy, and they are both the antithesis of each other when it comes to offensive philosophies. This game has the chance to be fun for everyone who cares anything concerned with SEC football. The quiet Malzahn vs. the brash Bielema is too good not to be on everyone's radar each year.

3. Georgia vs. LSU: The Tigers hold a 16-13-1 series lead over Georgia, and that 44-41 Georgia win in 2013 was one for the ages. These two are two of the best in their respective divisions, and should play a lot more than they do, but with the new scheduling format, we have to wait and wait. I mean who wouldn't want to see the laid back Mark Richt in his signature sunglasses taking on the Mad Hatter more? Two very different, yet very successful coaching styles meeting more often just needs to happen.

4. Ole Miss vs. Tennessee: These two went back-and-forth in the 1970s, but Tennessee has dominated the series. However, with Hugh Freeze at the helm in Oxford, this has the chance to be a fun little rivalry to keep an eye on. Why? Well, Freeze coached in the state of Tennessee for more than a decade and can recruit in Butch Jones' backyard when needed. The two played in a lopsided Ole Miss win this year, but with Tennessee trending up with its young talent, these two could have much more competitive games in the future.

5. Missouri vs. Texas A&M: I mean, they were together in the Big 12, and it only makes sense that they ignite those old bitter feelings for each other. Honestly, this game should be played every year because of that. You have two very impressive coaching résumés and two schools that entered the SEC poking their own chests out at the SEC elite. It's been great, so let's get them back on the schedule!

Honorable mention

Auburn vs. Florida: This was one of the great rivalries in the league before it was basically discontinued in 2003. There have been classics in the past and the 2000s brought us some nail-biters in this game, as well. It was sad for both fan bases when this game got cut from both schools' regular schedules, but now Will Muschamp is at Auburn, so hopefully these two can meet while he's still on the Plains.
If Jim Harbaugh takes the Michigan job, it could shake up the recruiting race in the Big Ten. Plus, Paul Chryst’s hiring at Wisconsin makes a lot of sense.


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The motion W on Paul Chryst's hat and sweatshirt next fall won't stand for wandering eye. For that, Wisconsin fans can breath a sigh of relief.

It's humbling for a fan base to see a coach voluntarily leave its program. It's especially humbling to see it happen twice in the past three years. It's especially, especially humbling when coaches leave a winning, established program that is coming off appearances in the Big Ten championship game.

Bret Bielema and Gary Andersen clearly didn't see Wisconsin as a destination job. Bielema wanted to chase a championship in the nation's toughest conference at a program flush with resources. Andersen became fed up with Wisconsin's admissions office and the difficulty of getting his targeted players into school. Their eyes wandered and they left town.

Chryst is coming home to Madison, where he spent most of his childhood, his college years and part of his adult life as a Badgers assistant in 2002 and again from 2005-11. He intends to stay for a while. Those close to him say Wisconsin is his dream college job and that he would only leave to lead an NFL team. Coincidentally, Chryst did the reverse Gary Andersen, leaving Oregon State's offensive coordinator post for Wisconsin's after the 2004 season.

[+] EnlargePaul Chryst
Jason Redmond/Associated PressGetting Paul Chryst in the fold should close the revolving door at Wisconsin for a while.
Hiring a capable coach is Wisconsin's first priority here, and despite inheriting a mess in Pittsburgh from Todd Graham and yielding middling results, Chryst can deliver with the Badgers. But it's also important for the Badgers -- and the Big Ten -- to bring in coaches who want to stick around.

Let's not be delusional about the Big Ten or modern-day coaches. The days of Woody Hayes, Bo Schembechler, Barry Alvarez, Hayden Fry, Joe Paterno and others who saw Big Ten programs as career endpoints likely are over. Kirk Ferentz is completing his 16th season at Iowa, while Pat Fitzgerald just finished his ninth at Northwestern and Mark Dantonio wraps up his eighth at Michigan State in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic. None seems to be in a hurry to leave on their own accord, but they're more the exceptions in today's game.

Expecting any coach to spend 15-20 years in one place isn't realistic. But the Big Ten also can't have coaches voluntarily leaving every season. A Big Ten coach has chosen to depart in each of the past three seasons: Bielema (2012), Penn State's Bill O'Brien (2013) and now Andersen. Of the three, only O'Brien left for a definitive step up, the NFL's Houston Texans.

Look at Big Ten basketball, which boasts elite coaches -- Michigan State's Tom Izzo, Wisconsin's Bo Ryan, Ohio State's Thad Matta and Michigan's John Beilein -- who view their jobs as destinations. That's what Big Ten football needs.

Chryst puts a stop in the revolving door at Wisconsin, and several of the Big Ten's top programs could be entering a period of coaching stability:

Nebraska: Whether Cornhuskers fans like the Mike Riley hire or not, Riley isn't going anywhere. He sees Nebraska as a last stop, and despite his age (61), he still has great energy for the job. His predecessor, Bo Pelini, didn't voluntarily leave Nebraska, but there were incessant rumors during his tenure about him looking at other jobs. Some think if Nebraska had won the 2012 Big Ten title game instead of Wisconsin, Pelini would have landed at Arkansas instead of Bielema.

Ohio State: Urban Meyer quickly has rebuilt Ohio State into a national power and a playoff contender for years to come. There's always some concern about Meyer's longevity at a job, but he's not mentioned for NFL positions and seems completely settled in Columbus. He might not coach the Buckeyes for 10-15 years, but he's seemingly not on the verge of an exit, either.

Penn State: Amid the excitement of his arrival, James Franklin repeatedly noted that Penn State had work to do with its roster deficiencies, which showed up throughout the fall. Franklin likely will see this process through, and, like Meyer in Ohio, he has roots in Pennsylvania. He has plenty of job security, and unless he becomes frustrated with the post-sanctions effects, won't be looking to leave.

Michigan is the wild card here, but the Wolverines should be seeking some stability in its next coach. After having just three coaches between 1969 and 2007, Michigan will have its third in eight seasons next fall. Jim Harbaugh is the home run hire for the Wolverines, but not if he returns to the NFL in two or three years. Michigan needs an elite coach who wants to stick around, and it shouldn't compromise either criteria. Brady Hoke would have stayed in Ann Arbor forever, but he wasn't getting it done on the field.

Stability doesn't automatically equal success. After a very disappointing regular season, Iowa's Ferentz finds himself in a category of long-tenured, mostly successful coaches -- Georgia's Mark Richt, Oklahoma's Bob Stoops, South Carolina's Steve Spurrier, Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy -- who some want to see move on. Stability can become stale, but cycling through coaches every few years almost guarantees struggle.

Amazingly, Wisconsin has avoided a downturn despite its coaching turnover. Now it has a coach who can keep things rolling without constantly looking for the next best thing.

Michigan's impending hire should calm the Big Ten coaching carousel for a while. And with relative stability at the top programs, the league could be on the verge of a step forward.

Why are coaches leaving Wisconsin?

December, 10, 2014
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The embarrassment on the field was surely enough, but it's yet another blow-off that has Wisconsin reeling.

Losing 59-0 in the Big Ten title game is one thing. That was a short-term setback, and it didn't change the fact that Gary Andersen had just won the West Division and was starting to load up his roster with talented, athletic players who could continue to make his program an annual contender.

Losing another coach to what the Badgers would almost certainly view as a less-prestigious program is the bigger shot to the ego, though, and it will be the cause of some seriously difficult looks in the mirror for Barry Alvarez and his athletic department. This might well be another hurdle that can be cleared in a small time frame, but it suggests there might be more long-term issues for Wisconsin if it can't keep its successful coaches around in a conference that appears to be back on the upswing.

[+] EnlargeGary Andersen
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY SportsGary Andersen was 19-7 in two seasons at Wisconsin.
No offense to Oregon State or Arkansas, but those aren't the kinds of programs that Wisconsin would like to consider as its football peers, and yet Andersen is on his way to the former after Bret Bielema surprisingly bolted for the latter. And while it's hard to consider Wisconsin a stepping-stone job based on what appear to be lateral moves, there seems to be something keeping it from becoming a final destination.

"The last two coaches have proven that," Alvarez said. "It wasn’t a destination job for them, but it was for me and it is for [basketball coach] Bo Ryan. Everybody is a little bit different. I don’t worry about that.

"We’ve got a good job, we’ve got a good place, we’ve got a consistent program. We’ve got a lot to sell. I’m not trying to paint any other picture other than a very positive picture, because it is positive."

The list of pros is indeed long for anybody who would like to come take over for Andersen, and Alvarez was expecting a long night on Wednesday with his "phone ringing off the hook" with candidates interested in leading a program that has played in five consecutive New Year's Day bowls. There are upgraded facilities on hand, including a new weight room and an academic center. And the path to the College Football Playoff currently isn't the most arduous around, though winning the Big Ten West isn't exactly a cakewalk with Nebraska, Minnesota and occasionally Iowa on hand in a division that can hand out a few bruises.

But there are certainly cons that come with the Wisconsin job, from a shallower recruiting pool in its backyard to high academic standards that can potentially trim its options to fill out the roster. But those didn't stop Andersen or Bielema from winning games, competing for championships or heading to prestigious postseason bowls. The issues in retaining those two coaches appear to be things Wisconsin actually has some control over and could change.

Is there really no room for flexibility in terms of getting in a few more recruits who might not have traditionally qualified? There's nothing wrong with a program rigorously holding itself to tough academic standards, but that makes it tougher to put together the best possible team and to possibly keep coaches who could more easily craft a squad in their image elsewhere.

Why doesn't Wisconsin have an assistant ranked higher than No. 77 in the nation in annual salary, according to the most recent USA Today database? There's no cap on spending for coaches, which makes it the one commodity in which schools with title aspirations should never get thrifty.

[+] EnlargeBarry Alvarez
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY SportsWisconsin AD Barry Alvarez is looking for a coach for the program he built for the second time in three years.
How can Wisconsin expect to keep a coaching staff together if it doesn't rank any higher than No. 9 in the league in combined compensation for assistant coaches, behind the likes of Maryland, Rutgers and even rival Minnesota? Bielema had already railed against the lack of financial support to keep his assistants around when he left to take over the Razorbacks.

The possible academic hurdle can't be cleared with a checkbook, but certainly the other problem can be addressed simply by spending more money, and no school in the Big Ten can make any sort of legitimate claim that it doesn't have cash rolling in, thanks to its television contracts. With Wisconsin's passionate fan base filling Camp Randall Stadium, it's also unlikely that its revenue stream is going to dry up any time soon.

With Andersen, though, dollar signs probably weren't the tipping point; Oregon State actually checked in one spot behind Wisconsin nationally at No. 41 in payroll for assistants.

So what else is there? Perhaps the problem is with the boss, with Alvarez looming over a program he led for so many years. Given that he was able to win at a high level despite some of those limitations, might he or the athletic department be unwilling to make concessions that the game has truly changed since Alvarez was on the sideline? That question might be more difficult to answer and even more challenging to fix, given Alvarez's iconic stature with Wisconsin.

Either way, Alvarez is the guy looking for a new coach again. He joked that it would be the last time he would hire a football coach, but then he obviously wasn't ever anticipating the need to do make one after just two seasons with Andersen.

"I’m a big boy," he said. "I understand this business; just take a look around the country. People move for different reasons. That’s why I’m always prepared; that’s why I have a short list. I feel very confident we’ll put a good coach in place, and I promised the kids that. ... I know one thing, I won’t flinch.

"Our program will not take a step backward. We will replace Coach Andersen with another excellent coach and staff."

The trick this time is to make sure there's absolutely no reason to leave.
The good news Thursday was that both Florida and Nebraska filled their open coaching positions in a timely manner, but the bad news is we’re less than 60 days until signing day. Plus, what type of recruiter is Nebraska getting?


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