Each Tuesday, Matt Hayes tackles the 10 hottest topics in the B1G.

1. The B1G story

They sat at the podium late Sunday night in Madison, trying to calm the nerves of a program in shock.

If you didn’t see this coming — as recently as February of this year — you weren’t reading the room.

Wisconsin doesn’t want to lose Jim Leonhard. That meant Wisconsin had to fire Paul Chryst.

“Very emotional day for myself,” said Leonhard, who was named interim coach at Wisconsin, his alma mater, after the Badgers fired Chryst, a successful and beloved coach, midway through his 8th season. “A huge determining factor in coming to Wisconsin was coach Chryst.”

Now he’ll replace him.

Forget about coaching searches or best fits or an influx of cash flow from the new Big Ten media rights deal (more on that later) changing the dynamics of hiring a coach. Wisconsin has its coach.

The Badgers aren’t letting Leonhard get away.

Just like they didn’t let him go to the NFL in February, when the Green Bay Packers tried lure him to run their defense. Leonhard, who played 10 years in the NFL, got a $500,000 raise — from $1 million annually — to stay at Wisconsin.

He’s young (he turns 40 on Oct. 27), he’s dynamic and charismatic and has proven to be an excellent recruiter despite the small sample size. He is everything Wisconsin wants from its head coach: a loyal son of Wisconsin, who grew up 3 hours northwest in Ladysmith and walked on to play for the Badgers.

Four years later, he was an All-American safety in his senior year — when he finally was given a scholarship — and the ironclad definition of a Wisconsin football player.

More important: Leonhard has proven to be an elite defensive coach, and Chryst has raved about his management and organizational skills.

“We want more. We want better,” Leonhard said. “I’m up to that task, and I’m excited for that journey that we’re about to go on.”

2. The timing of the move

This perfect storm that led to firing Chryst began with a team that should have won the Big Ten West Division last year and didn’t, and with the sudden stumbles this season.

Then the college landscape began to shift, and 4 Power 5 coaches were fired in the first month of the season. That meant 4 programs who would come after Leonhard — more specifically, Nebraska with its similar ideals and culture.

Or as a Wisconsin source told me Sunday, “we weren’t losing (Leonhard).”

So the struggles this season, the 3 losses in 3 games against Power 5 opponents — Washington State and Illinois in Madison — only supported the idea of making a change and protecting Leonhard from other suitors.

Even if it doesn’t work, if it goes spectacularly bad — which no one at Wisconsin believes it will — the argument can be made (and more than likely will) that Leonhard needs time to build the program his way. That’s how committed the university is to this transition.

3. Change is never easy, The Epilogue

This is what $80 million annually buys you.

Make no mistake, Wisconsin isn’t firing a coach who has spent 2 decades of his playing and coaching career in Madison, who won 9 games last year and had a 43-18 career Big Ten record, who was a 2-time Big Ten coach of the year and went to 3 New Year’s 6 bowls (won 2) in 7 1/2 years, if the Big Ten’s new media rights deal didn’t support, per reports, an $11 million buyout.

If you think it’s difficult to coach in the Big Ten or SEC now, wait until the media rights money kicks in 2 years from now. It will be absolute cutthroat.

“Shocked. Are you kidding me?” a Big Ten coach told me Sunday. “If Wisconsin does that to Paul, what can the rest of us expect?”

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To be fair to Wisconsin, Chryst probably stayed tied at the hip too long with uneven quarterback Graham Mertz. The biggest QB recruit in program history, Mertz has never reached his potential in 3 1/2 seasons in Madison, and the program suffered because of it — and that’s a direct reflection on Chryst, the team’s quarterbacks coach and play-caller.

Much like Scott Frost at Nebraska was tied to Adrian Martinez and his uneven play, Chryst — despite a considerably more successful level of production than Frost — should’ve moved on from Mertz earlier.

Chryst recruits the quarterbacks for the program and develops them. So you can’t blame the player if — for whatever reason — it’s not working.

Chryst could’ve recruited another quarterback and played him if he felt Mertz couldn’t win games that matter — and after the Minnesota loss last year prevented the Badgers from playing in the Big Ten Championship Game, it looked like that would be the case.

But Chryst lost out to USC for Oklahoma transfer Caleb Williams, and there was no backup plan. Or at least, no quarterback worth bringing in the program ahead of Mertz.

The quarterback position is too important in today’s football — at any level — to invest 4 years into development and get next to nothing in return.

4. Boiler Up .. and down

Here we are again, with another opportunity for Purdue to back up a significant upset in the Jeff Brohm era.

After winning at unbeaten and No. 21 Minnesota last weekend, Purdue travels to Maryland to play one of the Big Ten’s most improved teams. If Purdue truly believes it can win the West Division — that has been the plan the past 2 years — these are the games where it can’t stumble.

These are the games in previous seasons— a week after a big win — where Purdue has done just that.

— 2018: Beat No.2 Ohio State at home, lose at unranked Michigan State.

— 2018: beat No. 16 Iowa at home, lose to unranked Minnesota a week later in Minneapolis (and to unranked Wisconsin a week after that).

— 2021: Beat Iowa on the road, lose to unranked Wisconsin at home.

Now here comes Maryland, playing better than it ever has under coach Mike Locksley, after taking Michigan deep into the fourth quarter on the road, and last week beating Michigan State by 2 touchdowns.

The Terps no longer revolve around the arm of QB Taulia Tagovailoa. The run game is real with the tandem of TBs Roman Hemby and Antwain Littleton II, who have combined for 9 TDs and are averaging more than 6.5 yards per carry.

“There’s a long ways to go,” Brohm said. “We’re not going to look down the road ever. That’s a no-no for us. But we understand that every week matters.”

5. The Weekly Five

Five games against the spread, brought to you by our god friends at FanDuel.

  • Michigan (-21.5) at Indiana
  • Ohio State at Michigan State (+25.5)
  • Nebraska (-2.5) at Rutgers
  • Purdue at Maryland (-3.5)
  • Wisconsin at Northwestern (+9.5)

Last week: 3-2.

Season: 13-12.

6. Your tape is your résumé

An NFL scout analyzes a draft-eligible Big Ten player. This week: Ohio State OT Paris Johnson Jr.

“Big guy, long guy, plays hard. I don’t think he’s at the same level of the tackles in last year’s draft. Believe it or not — and I personally think this is crazy — there are some who believe he may be more of a guard because he has times when he struggles in space. A lot of that is reaching instead of using your feet, which can be coached. He is a strong run blocker and has a nasty streak. Unfortunately, he’s going to be compared to the (2022) tackle class, and that’s not going to go well. For him, or any other tackle in this class.”

7. Powered Up

This week’s Power Poll, and one big thing: Don’t panic, but …

1. Ohio State: Up 49-10 in the 4th quarter against bottom-feeder Rutgers and executing a fake punt? That’s a bad look, no matter the opponent’s formation.

2. Michigan: OK, let’s be picky (since we were with Ohio State, too): Opponents have been in the red zone only 8 times — but scored 6 TDs.

3. Penn State: Every B1G game is difficult. But playing down to Northwestern (17 points) after building significant momentum isn’t good heading into a 3-game stretch with games at Michigan, vs. Minnesota and vs. Ohio State.

4. Purdue: Considering the uneven pass protection, can QB Aidan O’Connell finish the season without missing games?

5. Minnesota: QB Tanner Morgan reverted to 2020-21 against Purdue. It’s 1 game — but it was the first true test for Minnesota and Morgan threw 3 interceptions.

6. Iowa: It’s going to get worse before it stabilizes: at Illinois, at Ohio State, Northwestern, at Purdue.

7. Maryland: The defense has forced 2 turnovers in 5 games.

8. Illinois: Pass protection has been shaky (11 sacks in 5 games). How much better is QB Tommy DeVito (9 TDs, 2 INTs) with better protection?

9. Wisconsin: How does this Wisconsin team, so invested with Chryst, respond to Leonhard?

10. Michigan State: Want to understand the regression in 2022? Spartans have given up 85 plays of 10+ yards. That’s 17 a game.

11. Nebraska: Opponents are converting 45 percent of 3rd-down opportunities.

12. Rutgers: Two Big Ten games = 20 points. Also: 84 yards per game rushing in both games. Woof.

13. Indiana: Offensive line has allowed 34 tackles for loss. Or 7 a game.

14. Northwestern: 107 yards rushing per game in 3 Power 5 games.

8. Ask and you shall receive

Matt: I just need to hear the truth, and nothing but the truth: Will Kirk Ferentz fire his son as offensive coordinator? — Dale Gates, Chicago.


Not a chance. And believe me, I know that’s not what you — and many other Iowans — want to hear. Ferentz sees offensive limitations, but he also believes his third-year quarterback (Spencer Petras) will turn it around, and more than anything, believes his son, Brian, isn’t the problem.

Trust me, if Ferentz thought his son were the problem, he’d make a change. At the end of the day, wins are still more important. Right now, Iowa (3-2) still controls its fate to win the Big Ten West Division. That’s what Kirk Ferentz sees.

He sees Petras missing throws, 2 in particular last week against Michigan that could’ve changed first-half momentum. He doesn’t see scheme and passing game concepts as limiting the Iowa offense from scoring, he see Petras — though he’ll never publicly say it because he never blames players.

In a perfect world, the Iowa offense rebounds in the second half of the season, the Hawkeyes then land a legitimate thrower from the transfer portal and the offense becomes what Brian Ferentz (and his dad) believe it can be.

That’s what you can hope for — unless Kirk Ferentz retires. But the competitive desire that has fueled Ferentz and the program for 2 decades is as strong as it has ever been.

9. Numbers

122.67. Think about that number, then read this: Wisconsin, for years the definition of a successful run game in all of college football (not just the Big Ten), is averaging 123.67 yards rushing per game against Power 5 teams. Want to know why it was easier for Wisconsin to make the move to protect Leonhard?

Because Wisconsin isn’t Wisconsin right now, and the 80,000 who pack Camp Randall know it. The offensive line isn’t the same, and the safe and efficient complementary passing game of years past isn’t the same, either.

10. Quote to note

Nebraska interim coach Mickey Joseph: “It’s the Wild (Big Ten) West right now. Everybody is fighting. The games are coming down to the 4th quarter. The West is wild right now.”