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Wisconsin should have stability with new Coach Paul Chryst

Wisconsin should have stability with new Coach Paul Chryst
Coach Paul Chryst could be the first Wisconsin coach in three seasons to still be with the team heading into their bowl game. (Paul Beaty / Associated Press)

The Times' annual college football countdown continues its march toward No. 1 with our pick for No. 16.

It will be a stable season at Wisconsin so long as Barry Alvarez does not have to lead the Badgers out of a tunnel at a bowl game.

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Alvarez was a formidable coach in his day who, in 2005, thought he was becoming the school's full-time athletic director.

Two times in the last three years, though, Alvarez had to drop everything around the holidays and rescue a team abandoned by the head coach.

The first was Bret Bielema's rude departure for Arkansas in 2012, a month before the Rose Bowl game against Stanford.

Bielema was thought to be the first coach ever to choose a pig over Pasadena.

Alvarez dusted off an old playbook from 1923 and conservatively coached his team to a breathtakingly boring defeat.

A second coach, Gary Andersen, quit Wisconsin last December after only two seasons to take the Oregon State job.

Alvarez stepped in again and led the Badgers to a jubilant, triumphant win over Auburn in the Outback Bowl.

Secretly, Alvarez reveled being back on the field, in all his throwback glory, but knew this was no way to run an athletic department.

Good news: The Badgers stand a decent shot this year of playing in a bowl game with the coach who started the season.

When Andersen bolted Alvarez turned to a familiar face, Paul Chryst, who is not going to leave Madison any time soon. He's a former Wisconsin quarterback and offensive coordinator who returns home after going 19-20 in three seasons at Pittsburgh.

Wisconsin finally has stability at the quarterback position in senior Joel Stave, a sometimes starter who has battled all sorts of obstacles since arriving in 2011.

This time last year, Stave was struggling through a severe case of the throwing "yips." He couldn't throw a 10-yard practice pass from me to you and had to temporarily go to the bench while he worked through his mental block.

Stave actually arrived at Wisconsin before Russell Wilson, who has already taken the Seattle Seahawks to two Super Bowls.

Stave has had three head coaches and four quarterback coaches, but is now reunited with Chryst, who was still in Madison when Stave first arrived.

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Chryst has put Stave's mind at ease by entrusting him with the starting position.

"I think he's earned that right," Chryst said.

Wisconsin returns only four starters on offense and six on defense, but the program's psyche appears sound after it rebounded from a 59-0 loss to Ohio State in the Big Ten title game with the upset over Auburn.

The Badgers have a huge hole to fill at tailback with the departure of Melvin Gordon, a dynamo tailback who rushed for 2,587 yards last season.

Wisconsin has another good one in the pipeline in Corey Clement, who supplemented Gordon's output last year with 949 rushing yards.

"I think he's confident he can add to that list," Chryst said of Wisconsin's tailback pantheon.

The defense is led by superstar safety Michael Caputo.

Wisconsin will be the underdog in its Sept. 5 neutral-site opener in Texas against Alabama, but a lot has changed since the Badgers gaffed last year's opener against Louisiana State.

The Big Ten no longer cowers to the Southeastern Conference after Ohio State and Wisconsin took down Alabama and Auburn in bowl games. The Badgers also reside in the tamer Big Ten West Division.

There are only four true road games — at Nebraska, Illinois, Maryland and Minnesota — and the Badgers miss three tough schools from the East (Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State).

All signs point to a 10-win season in which Wisconsin players can carry their coach, not their athletic director, off the field after a bowl victory.

The top 25 so far: 25. Michigan; 24. Nebraska; 23. Utah; 22. Missouri; 21. Arkansas; 20. Tennessee. 19. Boise State; 18. Oklahoma; 17. Notre Dame.

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