Bielema Fires Coach; Badger Reality for 2012?
Badger coach Bret Bielema dealt with a lot of change this past year. He got married, which is change enough for a bachelor of four decades but he also had to hire six new coaches.
Continuity is king at the college level and Bielema had it for most of his time as a head coach. Losing one or two coaches can impact a program, but losing six can be downright treacherous, considering you can have just nine assistants on every staff.
On Monday, Bielema fired offensive line coach Mike Markuson, a man he had hired back in January.
The things that need to get cleaned up may be easier said than done. The Badgers had to replace some losses along the offensive line from one year ago, something they have seemingly done in recent years without missing a beat. To compound that issue, the Badgers are also lacking speedy playmakers on the outside.
Still, the drop in production from the last two years to this year is stark and precipitous.
In their 10-7 loss to Oregon State, the Badgers managed just 35 yards on 23 rushing attempts. Against Northern Iowa in week one, the Badgers had 168 yards but on 47 attempts, a ‘paltry’ 3.6 yards per carry average. Paltry by their standards and especially against an FCS team, albeit it a program with a successful history.
New quarterback Danny O’Brien hasn’t been bad, either. He’s been more in line with traditional Wisconsin quarterbacks like Scott Tolzein. Everybody knows the Badgers caught lightning in a bottle last year when they landed the best 5th year transfer in NCAA football history in the form of Russell Wilson. It’s rare when a player throws for over 70 touchdown passes in three years and then decides to transfer, especially one with Wilson’s dual threat capabilities.
One might argue the Badgers would not have made it to the inaugural Big Ten championship game and subsequently won it had Wilson not transfered in to Madison last year, not with Jon Budmayr slated as the likely starter in June of 2011 and he wouldn’t have been able to play due to health reasons. But Wilson came, the Badgers conquered and returned to their second straight Rose Bowl.
The sledding is tougher this year and may be that way for much of the campaign. Road games at Nebraska at Michigan State that looked tough two weeks ago appear more daunting after these disappointing early offensive returns. The home game against Ohio State, who may be the best team in the league, will be a very difficult task to overcome. The road game at Purdue is going to be sticky without a ground and pound rushing assault, as the Boilermakers may have a shot at stealing a Leaders Division crown this year.
A seven or eight win season for Wisconsin is no reason to panic; they’ve won back to back Big Ten titles and there is a great deal of goodwill in Bielema’s bank account, as there should be. Yet it’s never easy to go from the mountaintop to also ran, especially when a division title is there for the taking in a year where Ohio State and Penn State are ineligible to win it, and Penn State is incapable of winning it.
Will the offensive line change be the right tonic? Time will tell, but I suspect this will be a bit of a rebuilding year for the Badgers, a team I picked to finish 5-3 in league play before the season began. Take heart, Badger fans; if seven or eight wins is the new ‘low’, it’s just another indication of the solid footing your program is on.