As reported everywhere yesterday, Bret Bielema is leaving his head coaching position at Wisconsin to become the head coach at Arkansas.
Bielema’s in his seventh year at Wisconsin, and he took the Badgers to a bowl game every year. When Wisconsin appears in the Rose Bowl this January, it will be the school’s third consecutive trip to Pasadena. Ten or fifteen years ago, a record and trajectory like this would cement the forty-two year-old Bielema’s (68-24 career record) destiny to become a legendary coach at Wisconsin and a top-echelon coach in college football’s historic conference. Today, it makes him plan B for a 4-8 team that went 2-6 in conference and itself lacks a consistent historical conference and regional identity.
To be fair, Arkansas was a top-five team last year, and had Bobby Petrino and his mistress not crashed his motorcycle, the Razorbacks probably would’ve contended for a national championship this year. Instead, another former Big Ten head coach rode the Hogs hard into the ground. (Then again, he’s got an acknowledged history of that.)
As much as Bielema’s decampment to Fayettville reflects the diminished stature of the Big Ten and affirms the completed rise of the SEC (and it’s hard to imagine the former’s recent expansion to fourteen teams didn’t play a role here), one has to wonder whether the Big Ten’s realization that the SEC is college football’s premiere conference actually indicates that we’re at some point on the downside of Peak SEC.
Whatever Bielema’s decision indicates about the state of college football, one thing seems clear: any complaints from the new Hog coach about recruiting tactics are going to fall on deaf ears in SEC land.