Obviously, the biggest story facing the Big Ten this bowl season is what its Rose Bowl representative, Wisconsin, is going to do after losing head coach Bret Bielema to Arkansas less than one month before kickoff. It seems insane that someone would rather coach no bowl game for an SEC team than coach in the Rose Bowl for a third straight year, but here we are.
So Wisconsin's got some options at this point. Does it try to make a permanent hire as soon as possible? Does it promote an assistant to interim head coach and let that ride through to bowl season? And what's to make of the athletic director, who just so happens to be Barry Alvarez, the only coach in Wisconsin history to win more games than the departing Bret Bielema?
Regardless of what Alvarez and Wisconsin do in the hiring process, do not expect a grand departure from what Wisconsin does on either side of the ball. Recall what Bielema said after he led his players to that 70-31 shellacking against Nebraska in the Big Ten Championship:
"We stuck to the success of what makes us good," Bielema said. "We don't deviate. We've got a plan that we stick to. We talked about working together as a group, offense, defense, special teams. Where we've been all year, we've been on the cusp of it. We played a four quarter game, just didn't have it. I knew we had a chance this week. We were healthy for the first time in a long time at all positions, and that was a big part of the game."
They don't deviate. And they're not going to start deviating between now and January 1, regardless of whether Bielema's the head coach.
Wisconsin football is its own thing now. It outlasted Barry Alvarez's tenure as head coach, it's about to outlast Bielema's tenure as head coach and unless Alvarez has a completely unorthodox hire in mind, it's probably going to outlast the next guy's tenure as head coach too.
So what's to be done then? Do not discount the probability of seeing Alvarez on the sidelines in Pasadena. He is an administrator now, and has been for years, so between that and his 66th birthday coming days before the Rose Bowl, do not expect him to return to coaching full-time come next season.
But he is still a guy who enjoyed great success in bowl games—and the team knows it. Remember this quote from a current player:
One UW player in a text: 'We would love Barry to coach us in Pasadena.' Me: 'Why?' Player: '3-0'— Benjamin Worgull (@TheBadgerNation) December 4, 2012
Yes, Barry Alvarez is 3-0 in the Rose Bowl. If anybody A) knows bowl prep, and B) is capable of being there for the Badgers come January 1, it's Alvarez. That's why this news about Alvarez from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is not exactly a surprise:
One of the sources close to the program said late Tuesday that Alvarez will oversee the team in the interim and might coach UW (8-5) when it faces No. 8 Stanford (11-2) in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1 in Pasadena, Calif. Alvarez went 3-0 in the Rose Bowl in 16 seasons as UW's head coach. His teams beat UCLA in the 1994 and 1999 Rose Bowls and beat Stanford in the 2000 Rose Bowl.
Earlier Tuesday, Alvarez issued a statement:
"I was very surprised when Bret told me he was taking the offer from Arkansas," he said in the release. "He did a great job for us during his seven years as head coach, both on the field and off. I want to thank him for his work and wish him the best at Arkansas. . . .
"Along with finding a new coach, my other main objective is to make sure that our student-athletes, specifically our seniors playing in their final game as Badgers, have a tremendous experience in the Rose Bowl. We will do everything within our power to make that happen."
The emphasis at the end is ours. Not only did Alvarez not close the door on coaching the team for the Rose Bowl, he left it swinging wide open. And you know what? That'd be fantastic. Well, presuming Wisconsin wins, anyway. If Alvarez leads them into battle and it ends with a 55-3 drubbing, that's not so fantastic. But we don't expect that to happen.
Regardless, the Wisconsin team that we saw this season and the previous 20 seasons or so is going to be the same Wisconsin team that shows up at the Rose Bowl. It'll probably even have a familiar face with it. The more things change, eh?