After a Shocking Exit in 2012, Bret Bielema Is Making His Big Ten Return

In this weekend's Hot Cicks: Bret Bielema's B1G return, single plays that knocked college football teams out of postseason contention and more.
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Bielema is Back

Eight years after departing Wisconsin for Arkansas in one of the most shocking voluntary coaching moves in college football history, Bret Bielema is returning to the Big Ten.

Bielema and the Badgers regressed to eight wins in 2012 but was one year removed from three straight double-digit-win seasons and had 68 wins in seven years. Barry Alvarez’s hand-picked 42-year-old successor appeared to be in the early stages of a prosperous marriage at a program that became the picture of stability over the previous two decades. Instead, three days after whooping Nebraska in the Big Ten Championship, Bielema bailed for an Arkansas program reeling from Bobby Petrino’s unsavory exit a year earlier.

Over the next five years, Bielema won fewer games (29) than he did over his final three seasons at Wisconsin, often acted like a childish buffoon on the sidelines, including his flop against Alabama in 2015, and was fired after 65 games. That’s good enough for Illinois, which, after whiffing on the Lovie Smith hire, announced Bielema as their next head coach.

Bielema, an Illinois native who spent the last three years in the NFL with the Patriots (2018–19) and Giants (2020), is undoubtedly a better hire than Smith and boasted one of the most impressive résumés of any potentially available candidate. Illinois could’ve done worse, but could they have done better? In my opinion, yes.

Illinois also interviewed Buffalo’s Lance Leipold and were tied to, among others, Army’s Jeff Monken and Wake Forest’s Dave Clawson. All three have found remarkable success in the nearly decade since Bielema has done anything notable as a head coach.

Other college football coaching notes this weekend: Tom Herman was reportedly interested in the South Carolina job and wants out of Texas … Steve Sarkisian is interviewing for the Auburn job on Sunday … Auburn, who wants to finish its search by Wednesday, is also considering Kevin Steele, Billy Napier and Brent Venables .... Ken Niumatalolo said he hasn’t talked to Arizona … UL Monroe has spoken with at least four candidates, while others, including former Auburn head coach Terry Bowden, have expressed interest … Jim Harbaugh and Michigan AD Warde Manuel began their annual end-of-the-season meetings on Thursday, and there’s no indication Manuel plans to make a change.

And some NFL coaching and GM notes: The Falcons are interviewing GM candidates before hiring a head coach ... Louis Riddick is in the mix for GM jobs … Same for the Lions, who are reportedly interviewing Scott Pioli next week … Potential replacements for the Chargers if they fire Anthony Lynn … And, ICYMI, ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler said last week Doug Pederson is firmly on the hot seat, though that was before the Eagles’ win over the Saints.

33 Plays

On their way to a 10–1 start and the No. 2 ranking in the 2006 Week 13 BCS Standings, USC beat two eventual 10-win teams (Cal and Notre Dame) and one eventual nine-win team (Nebraska). The Trojans were rolling, winning three straight games against ranked teams, and needed one more win to secure a spot in the national championship.

Five-win UCLA, who was smashed by Washington State five weeks earlier and had a four-game midseason losing streak, sat between the Trojans and a potential third championship in four years. The Bruins were 13-point underdogs in college football odds.

Trailing 13–9 with one minute remaining at the Rose Bowl on Dec. 2, 2006, USC quarterback John David Booty was picked off by UCLA safety Eric McNeal deep in the Bruins’ territory.

Championship seasons aren’t built on one play—or even one game—but championship hopes can be crushed on one play, such as John David Booty’s interception in 2006. Had he led the Trojans to a game-winning touchdown, the 2007 BCS National Championship would’ve been Ohio State vs. USC, rather than Ohio State vs. Florida. And maybe USC would’ve won its third national championship in four years instead of Florida winning the first of two national championships in three years.

Click here for 32 more plays (since 2005) from regular-season games and conference championships that knocked teams out of the championship or playoff picture.

Odds & Ends

Anonymous scouts give their opinions on each NBA team … Top 100 NBA players for 2020–21 … DeVonta Smith is the popular Heisman vote for SEC coaches … Explaining the NBA’s investigation into Kawhi Leonard’s free agency … ESPN/ABC might add Super Bowls and Monday Night Football flex scheduling … They didn’t bother painting the end zones at the Big Ten Championship … Dan Connolly’s kick return was 10 years ago today … Ranking the most dangerous wild-card teams ahead of the playoffs.

Suspension-Worthy Trash

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