Paul Chryst

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Paul Chryst on CFB Playoff rankings: None of it matters until the end

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With the second batch of College Football Playoff rankings from the selection committee released last night, the undefeated Wisconsin Badgers continue to lag behind the competition as the race is on to finish the season in the top four. Coming in at No. 8 this week, the highest-ranked among Big Ten teams after last week’s results, Wisconsin trails a handful of one-loss teams in addition to three undefeated teams, but Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst isn’t focusing on making any public cases for inclusion in the playoff field at this point in time.

Chryst knows the focus must remain on what’s ahead of Wisconsin in the regular season, and potentially in the Big Ten championship game before any attention can be diverted to the playoff rankings.

None of it matters until the end,” Chryst said, according to Mitch Sherman of ESPN.com. “And even then, it doesn’t. I think you rob the kids of the moment. They’ve got to enjoy the journey.”

I’ll interject with an opposing point of view on that second comment by Chryst. The playoff rankings actually do matter at the end of the season. In fact, that is the whole purpose of the ranking. Or maybe I’m just reading too much into what Chryst is getting at. If Wisconsin ends the year at 13-0 as the Big Ten champion and is ranked outside the top four, I’m guessing Chryst will have a different take on those final rankings.

But this is Chryst in a nutshell. He is not going to be a coach who will be bothered by factors he cannot control. Most coaches will likely do the same, of course. But Chryst is an observant man and he has seen what has already happened in his own conference with Penn State going from No. 2 in the AP poll to losing two straight games and dropping as far as potentially playing in the Outback Bowl. Ohio State has also lost a second game, getting thrashed by Wisconsin’s next opponent, Iowa. Now, the pressure is on for Wisconsin to find a way to the end of the season to carry the Big Ten flag back to the College Football Playoff.

Chryst isn’t worried about that. He’s just focusing on Iowa.

Saban, Meyer, Harbaugh, Swinney and more among 19 Dodd Trophy watch list candidates

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When you really think about it, a watch list for a college football award is nothing more than a way to keep public relations staffers in college football programs busy this summer. There’s nothing wrong with that, and it is nice to have a number of key players for the upcoming season highlighted whenever possible (unless you are a Big Ten team going to Big Ten media days). But a watch list is generally pretty pointles sin the long run for most awards. This is especially true for a watch list of college football coaches.

The Dodd Trophy watch list was released today with a list of 19 coaches from many of the top programs around the country. Yep, a watch list for head coaches. Silly, right? It really is the easiest watch list to put together.

The award watch list, compiled by the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, includes four coaches from the ACC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC, two coaches from the Big 12 and one from the American Athletic Conference. You know all of the names, like national championship coaches Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, and Dabo Swinney; household names like Jim Harbaugh, Mark Richt, Bill Snyder, and Chris Petersen; and conference championship coaches like David Shaw, James Franklin.

Some notable names not on the list? How about Jimbo Fisher of Florida State? Fisher has a playoff contender in Tallahassee and is the ACC favorite. He also has a national championship ring. Not having Fisher on a preseason watch list for top coaches seems like a bad oversight. Not having new Big 12 coaches Tom Herman (Texas) and Lincoln Riley (Oklahoma) also feels like a swing and a miss if pulling together a list of potential coach of the year candidates. If we are not going to just list all 130 head coaches in FBS, it seems silly to have such a weird collection of watch list candidates when Butch Jones is on the list.

Five coaches on the watch list are former winners of the Dodd Trophy; Snyder, Petersen, Swinney, Saban, and Paul Johnson. Paul Chryst, Ken Niumatalolo, and Petersen were finalists for the award last season as well.

2017 Dodd Trophy Watch List

  • Paul Chryst, Wisconsin
  • James Franklin, Penn State
  • Justin Fuente, Virginia Tech
  • Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State
  • Jim Harbaugh, Michigan
  • Clay Helton, USC
  • Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech
  • Butch Jones, Tennessee
  • Gus Malzahn, Auburn
  • Jim McElwain, Florida
  • Urban Meyer, Ohio State
  • Ken Niumatalolo, Navy
  • Chris Petersen, Washington
  • Mark Richt, Miami
  • Nick Saban, Alabama
  • David Shaw, Stanford
  • Bill Snyder, Kansas State
  • Dabo Swinney, Clemson
  • Kyle Whittingham, Utah

CFT Previews: Cotton Bowl Classic

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WHO: No. 15 Western Michigan (13-0) vs. No. 8 Wisconsin (10-3)
WHAT: The 81st Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic
WHEN: 1:00 p.m. ET on ESPN
WHERE: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas
THE SKINNY: MAC champion Western Michigan ran the table this season, ended the year as one of two FBS undefeated programs with Alabama being the other. That was still far from good enough to get a crack at the College Football Playoff, but P.J. Fleck has his upstart program rowing their boats to the Cotton Bowl to take on Wisconsin.

The Badgers hope quarterback Alex Hornibrook is healthy enough to stay in the game after getting roughed up against Penn State in the Big Ten championship game. Regardless of who plays quarterback, the real focus of the Wisconsin offense should fall on the running game with Corey Clement working behind a steady offensive line that should have an advantage on the line of scrimmage.

It should go without saying that Wisconsin will be, by far, the best defensive team Western Michigan has faced all season long, led by T.J. Watt. The Broncos may feel confident having two wins already this season against Big Ten opponents (Northwestern and Illinois), but the Badgers beat those two teams as well by a combined 59 points, as opposed to Western Michigan’s combined 25-point margin of victory over the Wildcats and Illini. Wisconsin’s defense did get exposed in the Big Ten championship game by Penn State’s big play offense though, and it should be expected Western Michigan will attempt to find those some cracks with Zach Terrell looking to find future NFL receiver Corey Davis for some big gains.

Western Michigan may be overmatched in the trenches, but the running game should be a key for the Broncos regardless. Jarvion Franklin rushed for 1,300 yards this season, but finding room to run against the Badgers defensive front will be his toughest challenge yet, especially if Wisconsin comes out looking to rebound from a poor showing in the Big Ten championship game.

Which brings us to the all-important yet completely unpredictable motivation factor. It would not be fair to take anything away from Western Michigan’s effort should things go well, but what exactly is the motivation level for Wisconsin? The Badgers were the favorite in the Big Ten championship game and lost steam to go from playing in the Rose Bowl (or potentially the College Football Playoff?) and now are paired up with this year’s Group of Five representative in the bowl lineup. Wisconsin does not seem like the kind of program that will go through the motions, and Paul Chryst may not strike you as a rah-rah go-get-em type of coach, but he will have the Badgers ready to go on the big stage in Arlington.

There is a bit of an experience factor at play as well, as a majority of this Wisconsin team has already played in AT&T Stadium. Wisconsin opened the 2015 season in this stadium against Alabama, so the initial wow-factor of playing in this venue may not be a concern. Western Michigan, however, is playing on this kind of stage for the first time in program history. Will that be an intangible?

THE PREDICTION: Wisconsin 35, Western Michigan 20

Saban, Harbaugh, Meyer among Maxwell Football Club coach of the year semifinalists

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Alabama head coach Nick Saban, Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh and Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer are among 16 remaining candidates for the George Munger Collegiate Coach of the Year Award presented by the Maxwell Football Club.

Saban is the only coach from the SEC listed as a semifinalist, and he has never won the award that was first presented in 1989 to Michigan’s Bo Schembechler. Gene Stallings is the only Alabama coach to win the award, doing so in 1992. Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen was the first SEC coach since 1998 (Tennessee’s Philip Fulmer) to win the award, in 2014.

Meyer and Mike Leach are the only semifinalists to previously win the award. Meyer won the award in 2004 at Utah and Leach took the award in 2008 with Texas Tech. Penn State’s James Franklin could become the third Penn State coach to win the award, joining Joe Paterno (1990, 2005) and Bill O’Brien (2012).

The remaining semifinalists for the award are Mike MacIntyre (Colorado), Bobby Petrino (Louisville), Neal Brown (Troy), Ken Niumatalolo (Navy), Scott Frost (UCF), Kyle Whittingham (Utah), Justin Fuente (Virginia Tech), Chris Petersen (Washington), Dana Holgorsen (West Virginia), P.J. Fleck (Western Michigan) and Paul Chryst (Wisconsin).

Finalists for the award will be announced on December 12 and a winner will be named on December 29. The winner will be presented with the award on March 10, 2017 in Atlantic City, New Jersey at the annual Maxwell Football Club Awards Banquet.

Former USC defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox joins Wisconsin staff

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Wisconsin’s defensive coordinator role is no longer vacant. The Badgers have announced the hiring of Justin Wilcox to be the new defensive coordinator under Paul Chryst. The hiring is pending approval from the Board of Regents, which is just a formality at this point. Wilcox spent the past two seasons as the defensive coordinator at USC, the program the Badgers beat in the Holiday Bowl last season.

“During my many conversations with numerous football people that I trusted, one name kept surfacing, Justin Wilcox,” Chryst said. “I am very happy that we were able to get a quality coach like Justin to join our staff. I think he’s a great fit for Wisconsin and this program is a great fit for him. His addition makes us better. He has tremendous experience at some big-time schools and has coached some really good players. He does a great job putting his players in the best situations so they can be successful.”

Wilcox will replace Dave Aranda, who was hired by LSU to fill the same role in Baton Rouge. Wilcox will take over a Wisconsin defense that has tended to be very solid over the years but always seems to be overlooked by splashier teams. Wisconsin ranked second in the nation in total defense and led the nation in scoring defense last season. Wisconsin’s defense may not have many household names, but the Badgers have established a track record of having solid defensive skills, although those defenses have been overpowered against top opponents like Ohio State in the 2014 Big Ten Championship Game and by Alabama in the 2015 season opener. Wilcox should be able to do some good things in Madison though, and he should manage to have some early success in the Big Ten West Division.

Wisconsin adds an experienced defensive coordinator in Wilcox as well. Wilcox has served as a defensive coordinator for the past 10 years between four programs; Boise State, Tennessee, Washington and USC.