With news breaking that Bret Bielema has left Wisconsin to become the new head coach at Arkansas (first reported by Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports), speculation now turns to who will become the next head coach at the UW.
Here's a list of candidates listed from most likely to least likely to be named the next head coach of the Badgers...
Pitt head coach Paul Chryst
Why it makes sense: Chryst was the offensive coordinator at Wisconsin from 2005 to 2011 first under athletic director Barry Alvarez and then under Bielema before leaving for Pitt. Seeing as he's only been gone for a year, he'll hit the ground running. Most of the players on the roster are already familiar with him, and it would be a rather seamless transition. The offense thrived under Chryst who runs a pro-style offense that will attract recruits wanting to play in the NFL. He has a reputation of grooming quarterbacks such as Scott Tolzien and Russell Wilson who are now on NFL rosters. The list of running backs and offensive linemen that have been produced at Wisconsin under Chryst's watch are pretty impressive too. The odds that he could convince highly-respected Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive line coach Bob Bostad to be his offensive coordinator are high.
Why it doesn't: Would Chryst want to jump ship at Pittsburgh after only one year. If he were to bolt for the Badgers, Pitt would literally be on their seventh head coach (counting interim head coaches) since Dave Wannstedt resigned in December of 2010. Chryst is intimately familiar with the criticism Todd Graham received after leaving the Panthers for Arizona State just last year. Pitt surged late this season to qualify for a bowl game, but Chryst's team got off to a sluggish start to the year, including a loss to Youngstown State of the FCS to open the season.
North Carolina State Head Coach Dave Doeren
Why it makes sense: Doeren was the defensive coordinator at Wisconsin from 2006 to 2010 before taking over the head coaching gig at Northern Illinois, which suggests another transition that would be rather painless. In just two seasons leading the Huskies, Doeren has put together a record of 23-4 and two MAC conference championships. The Huskies qualified for a BCS bowl game this season, the first ever from the MAC. Despite having a defensive pedigree, his offense did an amazing job by replacing quarterback Chandler Harnish and a couple offensive linemen who are now playing in the NFL. Doeren's quarterback at NIU in 2012, Jordan Lynch, was one of the best players in the nation.
Why it doesn't: Doeren literally was introduced as NC State's new head coach on Saturday. Can he get out of that contract and can he afford to do so? Like Chryst, he may not want to be perceived as someone who jumps from program to program so quickly.
Akron Vice President of Strategic Engagement Jim Tressel
Why it makes sense: Given Wisconsin's newfound rivalry with Ohio State and its head coach Urban Meyer, is there anyone more appropriate and capable of going toe-to-toe with Meyer in the Leaders division than Tressel? While at Ohio State, Tressel went 94-22 including a national championship in 2002 and four more as the head coach at Youngstown State in the division formerly known as I-AA. He knows the Big Ten, the landscape and knows how to recruit.
Why it doesn't: It's hard to overlook the scandal at Ohio State under Tressel's watch in which Ohio State players received improper benefits. The scandal led to Tressel's firing and caused Ohio State to suffer in the form of a one-year postseason ban, a reduction in scholarships and players leaving the program, notably quarterback Terrelle Pryor.
Seattle Seahawks Offensive Coordinator Darrell Bevell
Why it makes sense: Bevell is a Wisconsin legend, having quarterbacked the Badgers to a Rose Bowl victory in 1994, their first appearance in the Grandaddy of Them All since 1963. And his ties to athletic director Barry Alvarez are strong. Bevell broke into the NFL with the Green Bay Packers as as assistant from 2000 to 2005 making his ties to the state even stronger. Since leaving the Packers, Bevell has climbed up the coaching ladder as an offensive coordinator first with the Minnesota Vikings and now in Seattle where he's helped develop Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson and helped the Seahawks to a 7-5 record this season.
Why it doesn't: There will be questions whether Bevell is out of touch with the college game seeing as he's been coaching professional football for the past dozen years. In the NFL, he doesn't have to recruit, whereas at Wisconsin, it's not only a necessity, he'll have to do it well in order to win. Bevell also rubbed some Wisconsin fans the wrong way by leaving the Packers for the division rival Vikings.
Cincinnati Head Coach Butch Jones
Why it makes sense: Jones is also being courted by Colorado and Purdue, so he's a commodity in demand. After exceeding expectations as the head coach at Central Michigan where he put up a 27-13 record and three straight bowl appearances, he's done the same thing at Cincinnati where he's gone 23-14 and tied for a share of the Big East championship in each of the past two seasons.
Why it doesn't: Jones doesn't have ties to the Wisconsin program like the top names on this list. He's also reportedly been offered a lucrative contract at Colorado where they've committed to upgrades in the facilities and the stadium. A bird in hand is better than two in the bush.
Notre Dame Defensive Coordinator Bob Diaco
Why it makes sense: The last time Wisconsin hired the defensive coordinator at Notre Dame in the year after it played in the national championship game, the results were pretty good (Barry Alvarez was the defensive coordinator for the Irish under Lou Holtz in the 1989 Fiesta Bowl). Diaco has played an integral part in the Irish's rise to prominence this season as they're ranked first in the nation in scoring defense and have one of the best front sevens in the college game, led by dynamic linebacker Manti Te'o. Diaco's coaching career has spanned a better part of the Midwest and is a disciple of Hayden Fry, like Alvarez.
Why it doesn't: While Diaco's defense has been deserving of praise, it's up for debate the impact he'll have on the offensive side of the football. As a school that's gained a reputation for running a pro-style offense while churning out big-name running backs and offensive linemen, Diaco is a wild card. He's also an alum of the University of Iowa, and Bielema's departure won't exactly have Wisconsinites clamoring for a Hawkeye.
Wisconsin Athletic Director Barry Alvarez
Why it makes sense: Alvarez is the winningest coach in Wisconsin football history with a record of 118-73-4. He led the Badgers to 11 bowl games during his tenure, including eight wins and three Rose Bowl appearances, all of them victories. He's been close to the program ever since stepping down in 2006, so the transition isn't a concern. After seeing what Bill Snyder has done for Kansas State since retiring and since coming back, Alvarez can't be ruled out.
Why it doesn't: At 65 years old, there's concern that the game will have passed Alvarez by. And even if he were to take the job, he wouldn't be the long-term solution at Wisconsin. Would recruits want to commit to the Badgers knowing that they'll have yet another head coach in a few years time. It's more likely that Alvarez would take over as the interim coach for the Rose Bowl, which would seem to be fitting and stroke his ego all at the same time.
Boise State Head Coach Chris Petersen
Why it makes sense: Petersen has done more with less than just about any college head coach in the country. He's gone an amazing 83-8 in seven seasons at Boise State, including two seasons in which he's gone undefeated, both of them ending in wins in BCS bowls. The future of Big East isn't stable, which makes Wisconsin potentially an attractive destination.
Why it doesn't: Petersen has turned down head coaching overtures in the past. The pressure at Boise State is a whole lot less than it is at other schools, and he's shown he's still capable of winning and winning big with the Broncos. Still, it doesn't hurt Wisconsin to make a phone call and ask.
Louisville Head Coach Charlie Strong
Why it makes sense: In three years as the Louisville head man, Strong has led the Cardinals to a 24-14 record. He has a share of the Big East championship in each of the past two seasons and has Louisville in a BCS bowl game this season. Strong also has a reputation as a great recruiter.
Why it doesn't: Strong has strong ties to the SEC and would probably be easier lured south instead of north. He's reportedly the leading candidate at Tennessee where his relationships and recruiting base are stronger.
Stanford Head Coach David Shaw
Why it makes sense: Shaw proved his success wasn't tied to quarterback Andrew Luck and an NFL-caliber offensive line at Stanford. After leading the Cardinal to an 11-2 record and a berth in the Fiesta Bowl in 2011 as the replacement to Jim Harbaugh, Shaw replicated the 11-2 record to go along with a Pac-12 championship and a Rose Bowl appearance.
Why it doesn't: The gig at Stanford might be on equal footing as Wisconsin given the recent string of success in Palo Alto. And could Shaw handle the pressure of leaving Stanford for its opponent in the upcoming Rose Bowl? He'd never be allowed in the Bay area again.
Former California Head Coach Jeff Tedford
Why it makes sense: Tedford is on the open market after being dismissed at Cal. His reputation in Wisconsin is stronger than most other places due to his relationship with Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. In 11 season at Cal, Tedford had a winning record in nine of them, which had a major influence in Memorial Stadium being renovated and facilities being upgraded in Berkley.
Why it doesn't: In the past three seasons at Cal, Tedford had complied a 15-22 record. Even during his best seasons with the Golden Bears, Cal could do no better than the Holiday Bowl. Wisconsin probably doesn't want to viewed as the type of place that's going to hire coaches of someone else's scrap heap.
Kent State Head Coach Darrell Hazell
Why it makes sense: In just his second year at Kent State, Hazell led the Golden Flashes to an 11-2 record and a MAC East division title. For a school that has had little success over the years, he has his team ranked for the first time since 1973 and going to their first bowl game since 1972. Hazell is also being pursued by another Big Ten opponent in Purdue and has experience coaching as an assistant in the Big Ten from 2004 to 2010 at Ohio State.
Why it doesn't: Hazell only has two years of head coaching experience at the lower levels of the FBS. The Badgers will likely be looking for someone with a better resume and a lengthier track record.
Packers Offensive Coordinator Tom Clements
Why it makes sense: Clements was briefly mentioned as a candidate for the Penn State head coaching gig last season. His profile in Wisconsin has been raised as a mentor to Rodgers who's become one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. And Clements has some ties to Notre Dame as a former player and coach, as does Alvarez.
Why it doesn't: Clements is climbing the ranks in the professional game, having been promoted from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator in the past year. He's been coaching football in the NFL since 1997 and doesn't have strong ties to the college game any more.
ESPN Broadcaster Jon Gruden
Why it makes sense: Gruden is tied to almost every open coaching job in the nation, college and pros. Why not add Wisconsin to the list? He has ties to the state of Wisconsin as an assistant with the Packers from 1992 to 1994.
Why it doesn't: If Gruden were truly interested in returning to coaching football, he could get a higher-paying gig at a place it's easier to win than Wisconsin.
TCU Linebackers Coach Randy Shannon
Why it makes sense: He has experience as a head coach at a major university and has ties to Alvarez through Donna Shalala at the University of Miami.
Why it doesn't: Shannon underwhelmed with the Hurricanes and let the Nevin Shapiro scandal occur under his watch.