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The New Kids on the Block - Bret Bielema

This is part one of a series of brief articles about some of the new head coaches in the SEC. This week’s edition brings us the new Boss Hogg: Bret Bielema.

"We at the Big Ten don't want to be like the SEC-in any way, shape or form."
"We at the Big Ten don't want to be like the SEC-in any way, shape or form."
Wesley Hitt

"What matter where, if I be still the same,
And what I should be, all but less then he
Whom Thunder hath made greater? Here at least
We shall be free; th' Almighty hath not built
Here for his envy, will not drive us hence:
Here we may reign secure, and in my choyce
To reign is worth ambition though in Hell:
Better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heav'n."

- John Milton, Paradise Lost


Bret Bielema played on the defensive line at the University of Iowa from 1989-1992, including being a six-game starter and every-game contributor during the 10-1-1 1991 season. He ended his collegiate playing career with 83 tackles (39 solo), 12 tackles for loss and 2 sacks.

After a very brief stint in the Arena Football League in 1993, Bielema became a graduate assistant at his alma mater in 1994, then advanced to coach linebackers from 1996-2001. He was Dallas Clark's linebackers coach in 2000, before Clark moved over to tight end prior to the 2001 season. He was co-defensive coordinator under Bill Snyder at Kansas State in 2002 and 2003 - squads that went 11-2 and 11-4, with a Big 12 Championship that second year (but that still didn't stop Oklahoma from playing for the National Championship). On 2004 and 2005, he was the defensive coordinator at the University of Wisconsin on squads that went 9-3 and 10-3. After the 2005 season, Wisconsin Head Coach / Athletic Director Barry Alvarez picked Bielema to be the Head Coach after his retirement as Head Coach. (


In 2006, Bielema's first season as a Head Coach was a success, ending the season 12-1 (7-1) and ranked #7 in the AP poll and #5 in the Coaches. A 14 point loss to Michigan was all that stood between the Badgers and a co-conference championship with the Ohio State Buckeyes and potential BCS National Championship Berth... against the Ohio State Buckeyes. IRONIC HISTORICAL TWIST: does everyone remember why the 2006 National Champion wasn't decided by a rematch between Ohio State and Michigan? That's right!!! Urban Meyer's Florida Gators beat the Arkansas Razorbacks in the SEC Championship Game, allowing the Gators to sneak past the idle Wolverines in the final BCS Poll... setting up: (1) Bret Bielema's Badgers beating Arkansas (his new team) by a field goal in the Capital One Bowl; (2) Urban Meyer's Gators beating Ohio State (his new team) 41-14 in the BCS National Championship Game; and (3) the Michigan Wolverines also being exposed 32-18 by USCw in the Rose Bowl. (As an interesting further historical sidetrack, the original BCS formula (1998-2003) would have resulted in the rematch.)

This Wisconsin squad ended up ranked #16 in terms of S&P+ (#31 offensive, #8 defensive). (All advanced stats in this article naturally come from They finished #21 in terms of FEI, leaving Wisconsin at #15 in the F+. That Wisconsin team made hay by playing very solid scoring defense (#3 at the end of the regular season) and pass defense (ending the regular season at #2), and running the ball 63% of the time for an average of 4.1 yards per carry.


The 2007 Badgers team took something of a step back, finishing the season 9-4 (5-3) and ranked #24 in the AP poll and #21 in the Coaches, with losses to Illinois, Penn State, Ohio State and Tennessee (in the Outback Bowl). The losses to Penn State and Ohio State were both by more than 20 points.

Wisconsin ended the season ranked #39 by S&P+ (#27 offensive, #60 defensive). They finished #38 in the Fremeau Efficiency Index (#33 offensive, #57 defensive), for a combined F+ of #40 (#32 offensive, #58 defensive). Wisconsin again ran the ball 63% of the time, upping their average to 4.45 yards per carry, with 7.79 yards per pass attempt, and 5.69 yards per offensive play overall. On the flip side, they allowed 4.12 yards per carry and 6.78 yards per pass attempt, and 5.45 yards per play overall.


2008 saw further regression from the Badgers, who posted a 7-6 (3-5) season, including close losses to Michigan, Ohio State, and Michigan State, and drubbings at the hands of Penn State, Iowa and FSU (in the Champs Sports Bowl). They also squeaked by with a one point victory over Cal Poly in overtime.

Wisconsin finished this disappointment of a season at #42 in the S&P+ (#42 offensive, #49 defensive) and #56 in the FEI (#70 offensive, #36 defensive), for an F+ of #46 (#62 offensive, #42 defensive). The Badgers again ran the ball 63% of their offensive plays, and again improved their yards per carry, this time to 4.84, while gaining 7.34 yards per pass attempt for a total of 5.77 yards per offensive play. Defensively, they allowed 3.85 yards per carry, 6.30 yards per pass attempt, and 5.01 yards per play.


2009 saw the Badger Resurgent and ranked #16 in both polls with a 10-3 (5-3) season, with a close loss to Northwestern, and losses to Ohio State and Iowa, and a win over Miami in the Citrus Bowl. Ohio State's 18 point victory was aided by two pick sixes and a kickoff returned for a touchdown. Both Ohio State and Iowa went on to win BCS bowls.

S&P+ had Wisconsin as their #16 team (#15 offensive, #27 defensive), while FEI had them at #22 (#17 offensive, #17 defensive), with a combined F+ of #15 (#17 offensive, #21 defensive). The Badgers ran the ball... you guess guessed it: 63% of their plays, but took a step back to 4.56 yards per carry (running back John Clay did win Big Ten player of the year, however). They averaged 8.15 yards per pass attempt, and averaged 5.88 yards per play overall. Defensively, they allowed a stingy 2.89 yards per carry and 7.34 yards per pass attempt, for 5.08 yards per play overall.


Wisconsin went 11-2 (7-1) in 2010, ending them up ranked #7 in the AP and #8 in the Coaches, convincingly beating then #1 Ohio State, with losses to Michigan State and TCU (in the Rose Bowl - they played TCU because Pac-10 champ Oregon was playing someone else in the BCSNCG, but I can't seem to remember whom). Wisconsin was co-champion of the Big Ten along with Michigan State and Ohio State, but got the BCS bid due to their higher BCS ranking.

S&P+ ranked Whisky #11 at season's end (#10 offensive, #20 defensive), whereas FEI had them at #12 (#6 offensively, #33 defensively). The composite F+ ratings listed them at #12 (#5 offensive, #29 defensive). Bielema figured out that John Clay and Montee Ball were really good running backs, and ran the ball 68% of their offensive plays this time, at 5.47 yards per carry. They netted 9.39 yards per passing attempt, and 6.73 yards per play overall. Defensively, they allowed 3.93 yards per carry and 6.87 yards per pass attempt, for 5.29 yards per play overall.


Bucky went 11-3 (6-2) in 2011, which was good enough to get them to #10 in the AP and #11 in the Coaches, and a Big Ten Championship. They had won the head-to-head against co-divisional champ Penn State convincingly, and beat Michigan State in the first ever Big Ten Championship Game (but rematch and stuff!!!). They lost to Michigan State and Ohio State in the regular season, and to Oregon by a touchdown in the Rose Bowl.

S&P+ had them at #6 overall (#1 offensively, #55 defensively), and FEI had them #5 (#2 offensively, #49 defensively). F+ had them at #6 (#1 offensively, #52 defensively). Wisconsin ran the Ball (see what I did there?) 65% of the time, earning 5.42 yards per carry. They passed for an even 10 yards per pass attempt, and gained 7.02 yards per offensive play. On defense, they surrendered 4.29 yards per carry, 6.51 yards per pass attempt, and 5.21 yards per offensive play.


The 2012 Wisconsin Badgers football team was weird - this is scientifically supportable. This was a remarkably successful 8-6 (4-4) team ranked #23 in the Coaches poll. They lost to Oregon State, Nebraska, Michigan State (OT), Ohio State (OT) and Penn State (OT) in the regular season. Due to the NCAA's Stalin-esque purge of the Leaders Division, Whisky technically won the Big Ten with an even conference record by schtomping Nebraska 70-31 in the Big Ten Championship Game (butbutbut - sniffle - rematch!!!), earning them the right to lose their third consecutive Rose Bowl (to Stanford - but this clearly wasn't on Bielema). This is not to mention their 5 point win over FCS Northern Iowa to open the season and their 2 point win over Utah State.

S&P+ had the Badgers finishing up #20 (#26 offensively, #18 defensively). FEI had them at #15 (#30 offensively, #12 defensively), and the F+ came out with them #16 (#28 offensive and #14 defensive). Bielema ran the Ball (see what I... oh, wait... carry on) 69% of the time, for 5.21 yards per carry. They gained 7.55 yards per pass attempt, and 5.95 yards per play overall. The defensive unit gave up 3.82 yards per carry, 5.84 yards per pass attempt and 4.82 yards per play overall.


Bret Bielema was a defensive player and assistant coach, but hasn't appeared significantly more successful on that side of the ball overall. He generally doesn't seem to neglect one or the other, and the advanced stats would seem to indicate that he's had teams that relied on each unit in different years (defense in 2006 and 2012, and offense in 2007, 2010 and 2011). Offensively, he likes to run the ball a good bit (by comparison, in 2012 Navy ran the ball 80% of the time and Georgia Tech 81%), but I can't remember him relying on misdirection-based systems like the zone-read or the flexbone triple option.

If you're asking for my guess, I don't imagine Bielema will be successful at Arkansas. Specifically, this is a man who traded: (A) coaching against Urban Meyer every year and Bo Pelini and Brady Hoke some years, for (B) coaching against Steve Spurrier, Les Miles and Nick Saban every year (not to mention Kevin Sumlin), and Will Muschamp and Mark Richt some years. Wisconsin was in a division with Ohio State, Zombie Penn State and no one else, and their permanent cross-division rival was Minnesota.

I just don't see Arkansas's pretty girls, nice weather and mountains allowing Bielema to recruit that much more relatively successfully against his new competition than his old - his prime competitors now have pretty girls, nice weather, beaches and recent National Championships, and I haven't seen much in his past that leads me to believe he'll do any better than his predecessor... well, his predecessor's predecessor, at any rate.