Ash's unit was the main reason Wisconsin is heading back to Pasadena for a third straight season. Although some late scores against the second-team defense skewed the average, Wisconsin's defense gave up more than 21 points in regulation only three times this past season (twice coming against Nebraska and the Huskers' conference-best rushing attack). Wisconsin held eight opponents to 14 points or fewer in four quarters, including six straight.
Last season in his first as co-defensive coordinator, the Badgers ranked 13th in the country in scoring defense (19.0 points per game) and 15th in the nation in total defense. It was the first time since 2006 that Wisconsin had allowed fewer than 20.0 points per game. Ten of the Badgers' 14 opponents failed to score more than 17 points.
UW allowed just 163.6 yards per game through the air in 2011 to rank fourth in the NCAA in pass defense. That was the second-best mark for Wisconsin's defense in the last 20 years. Oregon State, Michigan State (twice) and Oregon were the only teams to pass for more than 180 yards against the Badgers.
Five UW defenders earned All-Big Ten honors, including four first-team selections. Linebackers Mike Taylor and Chris Borland finished 1-2 in the conference in total tackles, with both finishing in the top 10 in the country. Taylor's 150 tackles were the most by a Badger since 2001. Defensive backs Aaron Henry and Antonio Fenelus tied for second in the conference with four interceptions apiece as UW ranked second in the Big Ten with 16 INTs.
Before those criticize UW hiring a coach without head coaching experience, look how Alvarez's last head coaching hire turned out.
Chryst earned acclaim as one of college football's finest teachers and strategists, as UW compiled a 60-19 record (.759) during his six seasons overseeing the offense, which annually ranked among the best in the country.
In 2011, Chryst helped Wisconsin to an 11-3 record and its second consecutive Big Ten title and Rose Bowl berth. The Badgers featured a prolific offense that set no fewer than a dozen school records, including points per game (44.1 avg.), total offense per game (469.9 avg.), total rushing yards (3,298) and total passing yards (3,280).
Over the past three seasons (2009-11), Wisconsin achieved the Big Ten's best record (32-8, .800) while averaging 39.2 points per game during that span. Chryst also coached the UW quarterbacks and was named a finalist for the prestigious Broyles Award, annually presented to college football's top assistant, each of the past two seasons.
"My vision is making it fit the guys," Chryst told Pittsburgh's athletics website after he was hired. "One thing that you have to be careful of is that your system has to fit the players. Football is a tough, physical game and I like that part of it, but I think you accommodate your players. You are a better coach with better players, and better coaches give their players a chance to be successful. So you have to be careful trying to put a square peg in a round hole. We're not just going to say we're going to be a `pound it' type of team. We want to be balanced."
UW athletic director Barry Alvarez has spoken openly about the disappointment he had that he couldn't retain Chryst after the 2002 season. Chryst had come to UW after three years with the San Diego Chargers and left to go to Oregon State.
Since Dave Wannstedt left in Dec. 2010, the Panthers have had five head coaches. Chryst is the overwhelming fan favorite to bring back his offensive flair back into Camp Randall, but has a high buyout in his contract instituted by Pittsburgh to prevent another coaching search.
Northern Illinois will play in the Orange Bowl, but Doeren won't be there after being hired by the Wolfpack on December 1.
"I am honored and excited to join the Wolfpack. N.C. State has world-class facilities and fans that are second to none," Doeren said in a university release.
That was before he knew Wisconsin was going to be open for business.
Doeren spent five years at Wisconsin, where he served as defensive coordinator along with linebackers coach. During Doeren's time at Wisconsin, the Badgers posted a 49-15 overall record and played in the Champs Sports Bowl (twice), Outback Bowl and Capital One Bowl. In January of 2008, Doeren added defensive coordinator duties to his assignment as linebackers coach after spending his first two seasons in Madison as the Badgers' co-defensive coordinator, linebackers coach and recruiting coordinator.
Wisconsin's defenses were consistently ranked in the national top 25 in NCAA defensive categories. The 2010 Wisconsin defense ranked 20th in the country in total defense and in the Top 30 in both rushing and scoring defense. In 2009, Wisconsin led the Big Ten and ranked fifth in the country in rushing defense. The Badgers held each of their last 10 opponents in 2009 to less than 100 yards rushing, the longest streak in school history. Wisconsin led the nation in pass efficiency defense in 2006 and was the No. 2 scoring defense in the country.
Doeren has experience at multiple stops in addition to Northern Illinois and Wisconsin, as he served on successful coaching staffs at Kansas (2002-05), Montana (2000-01), USC (1998-99) and Drake (1995-97), his alma mater. In all, he helped take teams to eight bowl games and two national championship contests as an assistant.
Prior to posting a 28-22 record and three bowl appearances as the Hurricanes' head coach, Shannon was Miami's defensive coordinator for six seasons (2001-06). In five of those years, the Hurricanes ranked in the top seven nationally in defense while placing in the top four in scoring defense three times.
Shannon's units were in the top 20 in turnovers gained four times and twice in the top 10 in turnover margin, including topping the nation in 2001 behind an NCAA-best 45 takeaways (nine more than the next-closest school).
Shannon was named the recipient of the 2001 Frank Broyles Award as the nation's top assistant coach. During his time as a player and assistant coach at Miami, Shannon took part in three national championships (1987, 1991, 2001) with the Hurricanes. Miami won the 2001 national title in Shannon's first season as defensive coordinator. The Hurricanes led the nation in scoring defense (9.4 points per game), turnover margin (2.4) and pass efficiency defense (75.6 rating) while ranking second in pass defense (138.2 yards per game) and sixth in total defense (270.9 yards per game).
Shannon worked as an ESPN analyst during the 2011 campaign and was a linebacker coach for TCU last season.
Louisville improved from 4-8 in 2009 to identical 7-6 records in 2010 and 2011, including bowl game appearances in the Beef `O'Brady's Bowl in 2010 and the Belk Bowl last season.
After winning a combined two league games in 2008-09, Strong led the Cardinals to three BIG EAST victories in 2010 and five on 2011. Playing with a large number of underclassmen and true freshmen this past season, Strong saw his young team get off to a slow start, but it was understandable with the large number of first-time performers.
Strong has coached in 20 bowl games as an assistant and has won a pair of national titles at Florida. He helped the Gators to national titles in 2009 with a win over Oklahoma and in 2007 with a dominating win over Ohio State.
He has also worked for three different head coaches who have won national championships in former Florida coach Urban Meyer, South Carolina's Steve Spurrier and former Notre Dame head coach Lou Holtz.
Prior to taking over at Louisville, Strong was considered one of the top defensive coordinators in the nation after coaching the Gators from 2003-2009 and building some of the nation's top defenses. He had four different tenures with the Gators from 2003-09; 1991-94 and 1988-89, and as a graduate assistant in 1983-84.
During his tenure at Florida, he has coached 13 All-Americans, a National Defensive Player of the Year, a Jack Tatum Award winner, two SEC Defensive Freshmen of the Year, two Thorpe Award finalists, two Nagurski Trophy finalists and the 2008 Chevrolet Defensive Player of the Year. He has developed seven first-round NFL Draft picks and 18 players that were selected in the third round or higher.
Not surprisingly, Strong is also a top choice for Tennessee, who continues to look for a head coach after firing Derek Dooley.