Paul Chryst

Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

CFT Previews: Cotton Bowl Classic

Leave a comment

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

10 Comments

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

AP Photo/Andy Manis
1 Comment

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.

CFT Previews: Holiday Bowl

Leave a comment

WHO: No. 25 USC (8-5) vs. Wisconsin (9-3)
WHAT: The 38th Holiday Bowl
WHERE: Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, California
WHEN: 10:30 p.m. ET, Dec. 30 on ESPN
THE SKINNY: At one point this season it looked as though USC could have imploded. The firing of Steve Sarkisian five weeks into the season could have made for a messy season, but Clay Helton has managed to keep the Trojans going and made sure they played for the Pac-12 championship they were chosen to win back during media days. It was quite a roller coaster to get there that saw back-to-back losses in a coaching transition, a blowout win of Utah, a blowout loss at Oregon and a dominating victory against UCLA to clinch the Pac-12 South. Although USC went 0-2 against Stanford this year, the Trojans proved to be a dangerous team with Cody Kessler throwing 28 touchdowns with just six interceptions thrown and wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster racking up 1,389 yards and 10 touchdowns. Junior linebacker Su’a Cravens and freshman linebacker Cameron Smith showed the legacy at the position should continue to thrive after the two led the team in tackles this fall.

USC will look for its third straight bowl victory, and second under Helton. To do that the Trojans must take out Wisconsin from the Big Ten. The Badgers have had a rough time in bowl games played in California since the turn of the century. Wisconsin lost three straight Rose Bowls from 2010 through 2013. Now they move to San Diego this postseason looking to buck that trend. In year one under Paul Chryst, the Badgers turned in a sneaky decent season with a 9-3 record on the strength of one of the top defensive showings this season. Wisconsin allowed just 97.9 yards per game on the ground and 169.2 passing yards per game. That helped fuel Wisconsin’s defense, anchored by senior linebacker Joe Schobert, allowing just 13.1 points per game to lead the nation.

Running the football tends to be the recipe for success in Madison, but the status of top running back Corey Clement is a concern. Clement is working through a sports hernia injury and hopes to play a key role in Wisconsin’s game plan against the Trojans. If Clement is not able to carry the football much, the Badgers still have Dare Ogunbowale to help out after rushing for 769 yards and seven touchdowns this season. Wisconsin may have won nine games, with close losses to Iowa and Northwestern, but what happens against one fo the most athletic teams they have faced this season? Alabama steamrolled Wisconsin in Week 1. USC won’t do that, but the Trojans may have a chance to make some plays even against this solid Wisconsin defense.

THE PREDICTION: USC 26, Wisconsin 23

Sportswriter says Wisconsin hiring Gary Andersen was “colossal mistake”

9 Comments

With Wisconsin on a bye week this weekend, it was a good time to reflect on the Badgers through the first 10 games of the season. There have been some close calls for Wisconsin, including a 23-21 win at Nebraska and a 31-24 victory at Maryland, but the Badgers have lost just twice and those losses have come against a surging Alabama Crimson Tide and surprisingly undefeated Iowa Hawkeyes squad on pace to appear in the Big Ten Championship Game. One sportswriter in Wisconsin says the first year under Paul Chryst already helps show the program is on more solid ground than it was under his predecessor, Gary Andersen. He’s not wrong.

“While understandable given how UW has generally steamrolled lesser opponents in recent years, such concern is unfounded,” Tom Oates of Madison.com says of Wisconsin’s season to date. “If anything, people should be encouraged about the future because the program is headed in a better direction today than it was a year ago at this time.”

When Bret Bielema left Wisconsin for Arkansas, athletics director Barry Alvarez opted to bring in Andersen from Utah State to take over the program. Andersen was coming off a 11-2 season with the Aggies, with one of those losses coming at Wisconsin (16-14) and a victory in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. By most accounts, it was a solid hire for the Badgers, and in fact it was. Wisconsin went 9-4 in Andersen’s first season in Madison and 10-3 the following season, which ended in a 59-0 loss to Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game. Between the Big Ten title game blowout loss and the bowl season, Andersen skipped town and headed west to take over at Oregon State after Mike Riley accepted a job offer from Nebraska. That led Wisconsin to bringing Chryst home after the former Badgers player and assistant coach got some head coaching experience at Pittsburgh. The benefit of hindsight has allowed Oates to suggest the entire hiring of Andersen was an error.

“Instead of laughing derisively as Andersen’s losses pile up, they should be thanking him profusely for realizing what has become apparent in the 11 months since he left: His hiring at UW was a colossal mistake.

Please, don’t misunderstand that. UW athletic director Barry Alvarez hired a good coach in Andersen, he just hired the wrong coach. Andersen has solid credentials and is a great guy, but he was a bad fit for UW. It’s as simple as that.”

Some programs benefit from having a coach in place that truly understands the program and what it takes to lead it on and off the field. Chryst is about as close to home as Wisconsin could have gotten from the start, and perhaps the wait was worth it as Chryst got seasoned as a head coach at Pitt before returning to Wisconsin. Chryst may not be a flashy guy that will serve up a handful of quotes to fill sportswriters’ columns, but he gets Wisconsin from top to bottom and is a very good fit for the program.