Case Studies: Wisconsin

We have discussed the Bo Pelini Special and tied it to the firing of Mark Richt at Georgia. 

If another Big Ten coach wrested away the distinction of having an “empty 9-3 record” this season, Paul Chryst did the deed at Wisconsin. If Pelini vacated the spot (and Lincoln) a year ago, Chryst filled it this season.

A few details about Wisconsin’s season, however, make this a slightly more complicated case than other 9-3 records you might see across the country.


Wisconsin’s nine wins represent the easy part of the schedule in terms of analysis and evaluation. There’s no really good win on the slate for the Badgers. They defeated Miami (Ohio), Troy and Hawaii out of conference. In the Big Ten, they defeated Nebraska, Purdue, Rutgers, Illinois, Maryland, and Minnesota. That’s a whole lotta “nothing” in a nine-win season.

The losses, however, make this a less obvious case of a Bo Pelini Special. To be more precise, the way in which Wisconsin lost its two Big Ten games can offer legitimate cause to paint this season in a better light.

The Badgers allowed only 10 points to Iowa. Yes, Wisconsin lost at home, but Chryst’s defense still smothered the Hawkeyes. The whole game was played on the razor’s edge. Even though “almost” is not much of a validation for a losing team, Wisconsin did play Iowa better than most teams did this season.

Second, Wisconsin’s 13-7 loss to Northwestern involved a winning touchdown in the last half-minute which was taken off the board, because replay is awful and pass-catch rules are ridiculously (wrongly) convoluted… and replay is awful, and the call was still wrong even in light of convoluted catch rules:

If you were to asterisk that loss, you would have reason to do so. However, those who say “you are what you are” or “a loss is a loss, no matter how controversial” would also have a point. Chiefly, they could say that — as was the case against Iowa — Wisconsin’s offense stunk.

The bigger takeaway, though, is that a genuine debate could be had about the Badgers’ losses. This is not as clear-cut a case as others across the country.


The other topic worth exploring here is the performance of Paul Chryst this season. After three straight 6-6 regular seasons with Pittsburgh, did Chryst raise his level of performance in Madison? On one hand, you can’t knock a three-game improvement. Yet, what about the context in which that numerical improvement (numbers are irrefutable) occurred?

Last year at Pittsburgh, Chryst beat an FCS team, Florida International, and Boston College out of conference. In the ACC, he defeated Miami, Syracuse, and Virginia Tech. None of those teams finished with a winning record in the regular season; only Virginia Tech finished with a winning record after the bowl season, at 7-6. In many ways, Chryst scored all his wins against fundamentally unimpressive foes.

In that same 2014 season with Pitt, Chryst lost at home to Akron, and he also dropped a decision to Virginia. However, the Panthers’ other four regular-season losses were to decent teams (if not better): Duke, North Carolina, Iowa, and Georgia Tech. If one is to say that Chryst improved relative to last season, it is that he didn’t lose to an Akron or a Virginia. In terms of beating a really good team and coach? Nope. Chryst hasn’t done that yet.

He’ll need to in 2016 if the Badgers can be viewed as a program that’s ready to return to the Big Ten Championship Game.

About Matt Zemek

Editor, @TrojansWire | CFB writer since 2001 |