Where do the Wisconsin Badgers Go From Here?
There’s nothing like a drubbing from a former head coach to prompt a change in a program. That happened this past week for the Wisconsin Badgers. Former head coach Bret Bielema, now head coach of the Illinois Fighting Illini, returned to Camp Randall Stadium and put a hurt on his former team, winning 34-10 in Madison.
This was the final straw for Wisconsin Badgers fans and alumni. Head coach Paul Chryst was fired after the game and given an $11 million buyout to leave the Wisconsin Badgers. Many college football observers were surprised by the firing.
In his time with the Wisconsin Badgers, Chryst had a record of 67-26 and pushed the program to new heights. In the 7 seasons that he was there, Chryst’s teams won 10 games in 4 seasons, at least 9 games in 5 seasons, and at least 8 games in 6 seasons. The only season he didn’t win at least 8 games was in the COVID-shortened 2020 season.
New Head Coach
With Paul Chryst gone, Jim Leonhard was named interim head coach. Leonhard is a Wisconsin alum who had a 10-year career in the NFL, where he played for 4 different NFL teams.
He joined Chryst when he first got the job at Wisconsin as the defensive backs coach but was later promoted to defensive coordinator. In 2017, Leonhard was named a finalist for the Broyles Award, which recognizes the top assistant coach in college football.
It’s a big change to go from managing everything on one side of the ball to managing everything on BOTH sides of the ball. Leonhard will be leaning on former Chicago Bear and Nittany Lion Bobby Engram, Wisconsin’s current offensive coordinator, to get the offense going.
Engram was brought in to revitalize the Badger passing game, but his results so far have been suspect. Through 5 games this season, the Wisconsin Badgers have only thrown for more than 300 yards once.
Rest of Season Schedule
Sometimes a new head coach can spark the existing roster and get them playing at a high level again. The Wisconsin Badgers will open their new era with Leonhard on the road.
The Wisconsin Badgers travel to Evanston to play the struggling Northwestern Wildcats, followed by a stop in East Lansing to play the Michigan State Spartans. They return to Camp Randall for games against Purdue and Maryland, before going back on the road to play Iowa and Nebraska on the road. They finish the season at home versus Minnesota playing for Paul Bunyan’s axe.
For their remaining schedule, I can see at least 2 guaranteed wins on that schedule – Northwestern and Nebraska, who have both played this year. Michigan State is having a down year, so they may be able to take them out at East Lansing, and hopefully close out the season in Camp Randall with a win over rival Minnesota.