Jim Leonhard has the Wisconsin Badgers firing on all cylinders after beating Purdue 35-24, and that’s bad news for the Big Ten.
As we all know, the Badgers were down bad after a 34-10 home loss to Illinois. The abysmal performance cost Paul Chryst his job, and saw Jim Leonhard installed as the interim head coach.
Many people around the college football world simply couldn’t understand the Chryst firing. After all, Chryst won 72% of his games, was 6-1 in bowl games and had won at least 10 games in four of his seasons with the team. Chryst’s winning percentage was substantially higher than James Franklin’s 67.3% at Penn State and slightly behind Jim Harbaugh’s 73.9% at Michigan. On paper, it didn’t make much sense to fire the coach with the third highest winning percentage in the conference.
However, true fans could see the writing on the wall. In Chryst’s last 25 games, the Badgers were 15-10 and it was clear regressing was happening. In a shocking move, Chris McIntosh fired Paul Chryst, elevated Jim Leonhard to interim head coach and the race was on to find out what we had in Madison.
Well, after a blowout win over Purdue, I think it’s safe to say Jim Leonhard appears to be the man for the job.
Now, let me address the critics right away. Jim Leonahrd is 2-1 as the interim head coach. He has wins over Northwestern and Purdue. He also lost in double OT to Michigan State.
The critics will say we lost to a bad Michigan State team and beat a Northwestern team without a pulse. Both criticisms are fair, and you won’t hear me refute them.
However, Purdue is a good team that entered the day 5-2 and has an NFL QB in Aidan O’Connell. In fact, O’Connell is the second best QB in the B1G. Only C.J. Stroud is better.
In Purdue’s two losses, they got beat by Penn State and Syracuse by a combined seven points. The Boilermakers are having a great season.
Yet, despite all that, Purdue got thrown around by the Badgers. It was ugly for the vast majority of the game, and one of Purdue’s TDs came on one of the worst calls in recent memory.
There’s no doubt what Wisconsin did today was incredibly impressive.
What does it mean for Jim Leonhard, Wisconsin and the Big Ten.
The Badgers have the luxury of playing in the Big Ten West. It’s a bad division. Instead of being loaded up against Michigan and Ohio State, nobody in the B1G West is a historic power. Iowa can be good, but the Hawkeyes lack consistency.
Everyone had jokes when the Badgers were 2-3. Now, the Badgers are 4-4 with games against Maryland, Iowa, Nebraska and Minnesota. As weird as it sounds, finishing 8-4 or 7-5 isn’t just possible. It’s probable.
Stop and think about that for a second. Wisconsin fired our coach five games into the season, and we could still win eight games. If that happens (I’m cautiously optimistic), the Badgers will have successfully switched to the heir apparent without suffering much of a down year.
Yes, 8-4 isn’t great, but it could be worse. If you make an in-season change and still go 8-4, you should count your blessings.
What seems to have changed under Leonhard?
Why should the Big Ten be nervous about what fans are seeing right now from Wisconsin? The answer is pretty simple, and it’s the offense.
Prior to Chryst taking over, Wisconsin averaged just 15 points a game against P5 teams. That’s terrible. It’s embarrassingly bad.
Since Jim Leonhard took over, Graham Mertz and the offense have really opened things up. It looks like a different team. In Wisconsin’s last three games, the Badgers have averaged 37 points a game.
From 2010 through 2012, the Badgers won three straight B1G titles. In 2011, we had our best offense in school history and in 2010, the offense was very respectable. If history has taught fans one thing, when our offense is above average, good things happen. A Big Ten West title is the minimum at that point.
Right now, our offense looks like the best it’s been since at least 2019. For those you might have forgotten, we won the B1G West and went to the Rose Bowl that year. The defense will always take care of business. It’s the offense that never seems to be consistent. Now, it appears Jim Leonhard isn’t afraid to take some shots, and it’s clearly paying off.
History proves that when Wisconsin is rolling, it results in Big Ten West and Big Ten conference titles. For the first time in years, the Badgers look capable of scoring. As anyone who knows their history is well-aware, that’s bad news for the rest of the conference.