Within minutes of each other, we learned that Bret Bielema will leave Wisconsin for Arkansas and Gus Malzahn will depart Arkansas State and return to Auburn. Bielema's move to Arkansas is widely considered the most stunning news of the coaching change season, and Malzahn to Auburn is the least stunning.
Beilema went 68-24 in seven seasons in Madison, leading the Badgers to an unprecedented three straight Rose Bowls. Beilema's teams are known for a thunderous, straight ahead running game which figures to be in lock-step with he dominant teams of the SEC but in conflict with the team built by former Razorbacks coach Bobby Petrino.
Lest we forget, however, that Bielema rose through the ranks as a defensive coach, coaching linebackers at Iowa and as a defensive coordinator at Kansas State and Wisconsin before his promotion to head coach. The Badgers ranked 13th nationally in total defense and 19th in scoring defense, allowing just 19.1 points per game. Wisconsin was eighth in total defense and sixth in scoring defense during its 11-2 season in 2011. Even if the offensive transition goes through some growing pains, Bielema figures to improve an Arkansas defense that ranked 12th in the SEC in total defense and scoring defense this fall.
Meanwhile, SEC West foe Auburn is bringing Gus Malzahn back to the Plains. Malzahn famously served as the Tigers' offensive coordinator from 2009-11, where his work with Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton brought Auburn the 2010 national title. Malzahn spent the 2012 season as the head coach at Arkansas State, where he led the Red Wolves to a 9-3 record and Sun Belt championship.
Malzahn's return to Auburn figures to be a boon for Auburn quarterback Kiehl Frazier. Recruited to be Newton's successor, Frazier struggled in Malzahn's absence, completing just 62-of-116 passes for 753 yards with 2 TDs and 8 INTs. The TIgers were ranked 115th in total offense and 112th in scoring offense this fall, while Arkansas State placed 17th in total offense and 21st in scoring offense.
We will update with more details as they become available.