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B1G 2014 // Wisconsin's Smartest Guy in the Room

Badgers HC Gary Andersen prepares for his second year at the helm.

Christian Petersen

Wisconsin's introduction to Gary Andersen came the season before his hire, as Andersen brought his upstart Utah St. Aggies to Camp Randall and made Badger fans sweat from start to finish. It took benching Danny O'Brien, Bret Bielema having the fortitude to fire a horrendous choice for offensive line coach in Mike Markuson after only two games, and a late missed Aggies field goal for Wisconsin to eke out a 16-14 comeback win. That game (as well as two lackluster performances leading up to it) left the Badger faithful less than optimistic about the season to come, but the experience also left Andersen enamored with Wisconsin and would go on to play a large role in Andersen's hiring the next season.

Andersen most aptly fits under the Urban Meyer coaching tree. Meyer hired Andersen as his defensive line coach at Utah in 2004, and the Utes went on to post an undefeated record and finish the year ranked #4 in the country. When Meyer left Utah for Florida following that season he wanted to bring Andersen with him as his defensive line coach, but Andersen opted to stay at his alma mater and take a promotion as defensive coordinator.

Following a successful four-year stint at coordinator for Utah, Andersen took the head coaching job at Utah State in 2008, a school on the shortlist of candidates for worst football program in the country at the time. The Aggies had not won more than three games in the previous six seasons and hadn't enjoyed a winning season since it went 6-5 back in 1997, and they played a distant third fiddle to Utah and BYU in a state not known for fertile recruiting grounds. The task at hand was daunting, and the ensuing results were remarkable. By his fourth season in 2012, Andersen had taken Utah State from the college football cellar and turned it into a Top 25 program with long-awaited wins against BYU (2010, first since 1993) and Utah (2012, first since 1997) along the way. Imagine someone taking over at Directional Michigan and within four years having them ranked with wins over Michigan and Michigan State, and you've got the Midwestern version of what Andersen achieved out West.

In Wisconsin, Andersen found a BCS coaching gig without the typical rebuild/reboot process that comes with it. After inheriting a program with a proven winning formula and coming off three straight conference titles going into his first season, Andersen's philosophies have been implemented more through tinkering than through complete overhauls. The lone major shift has been from a 4-3 base defense to Dave Aranda's 3-4 scheme, and Wisconsin's veteran roster made it easier to make that transition last season. After that, look for Wisconsin to evolve through its future recruiting classes. Though the offensive line and tailbacks will remain as Wisconsin as ever, as the roster evolves you can expect quarterbacks with dual-threat skills (though with mostly pocket passing tendencies, save for a few read option plays) and more speed from the wideouts and the secondary. Andersen's recruiting strategy reflects as much, as he has begun to shift pipelines to Florida, Georgia, and Texas for skill position players in particular, and he is working to establish relationships at traditional powerhouse high schools around the country as well.

Andersen's abilities as a major head coach will reveal themselves in the coming years, but he has already been embraced by Badger fans. Many already prefer Andersen to Bret Bielema despite the latter's superb tenure at Wisconsin, as Andersen's down-to-earth personality seems to mesh much more naturally with Midwesterners than the sometimes abrasive, cocky swagger Bielema brought to the table. With a solid coaching track record, improved recruiting plan, and a friendly demeanor, Gary Andersen has optimism running high on the streets of Madison.