Cincinnati Bearcats head coach Luke Fickell and quarterback Ben Bryant (6) take the field for the first quarter of the NCAA American Athletic Conference game between the Cincinnati Bearcats and the East Carolina Pirates at Nippert Stadium in Cincinnati on Friday, Nov. 11, 2022.

East Carolina Pirates At Cincinnati Bearcats Football

Conflicting report: Will Luke Fickell or Jim Leonhard coach Wisconsin?

Will Luke Fickell or Jim Leonhard emerge as the next head football coach at Wisconsin?

ESPN reported Sunday that Wisconsin is making a “strong push” to lure Fickell away from Cincinnati, which he led to the College Football Playoff following the 2021 season.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, however, reported Sunday that sources close to the program “have not wavered in their view” that Leonhard will get the job on a permanent basis. Leonard has served as interim coach since Paul Chryst’s firing on Oct. 2. He guided the Badgers to a 4-3 mark after a 2-3 start under Chryst, who was 67-26 in eight seasons as head coach.

Wisconsin (6-6, 4-5 Big Ten) is bowl eligible. The regular season ended Saturday with a disappointing 23-16 home loss to Minnesota.

“I hope I’m given the opportunity to push this program forward in all areas here in the near future,” Leonhard told reporters Saturday after the game. “Big task, but I’m excited for the opportunity.”

The Journal Sentinel said Sunday that Wisconsin considered Fickell, Baylor head coach Dave Aranda and Kansas head coach Lance Leipold for the opening but moved on from all three. Leipold wasn’t offered the job, and the other two chose to stay at their respective schools, per the report.

ESPN, however, said the Badgers want to hire Fickell in the next few days. He has turned down chances to be considered by other schools in the past, deciding instead to stay at Cincinnati because of a preference for the Midwest.

Fickell, 49, coached one season in the Big Ten, serving as interim coach at Ohio State in 2011 after the firing of Jim Tressel. The Buckeyes were 6-7.

Hired at Cincinnati in 2017, Fickell has a 57-18 record with the Bearcats. With a 9-3 record this season, Cincinnati is headed to a fifth straight bowl game.

–Field Level Media

Oct 22, 2022; Madison, Wisconsin, USA;  Wisconsin Badgers head coach Jim Leonhard during warmups prior to the game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Report: Wisconsin close to removing Jim Leonhard’s interim tag

Jim Leonhard is on the verge of being named the permanent football could at Wisconsin, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Friday.

The university fired Paul Chryst on Oct. 2 and replaced him with Leonhard. He has guided the Badgers to a 4-2 mark after a 2-3 start under Chryst, who was 67-26 in eight seasons as head coach.

Wisconsin (6-5, 4-4 Big Ten) is bowl eligible. The Badgers’ regular-season finale is Saturday at home against Minnesota.

The official deadline to apply for the head coaching position, according to the university’s job listing, is Saturday. The Journal Sentinel reported a quick hiring — as soon as Sunday or Monday — is expected.

“They want to get moving as soon as they can,” a source told the newspaper.

Leonhard, 40, is a native of Tony, Wis., and a Wisconsin football legend. He was inducted into the school’s athletic Hall of Fame in 2015.

An undersized safety, he walked on to the team in 2001. After four seasons, he was a three-time, first-team All-American. In his career in Madison, he intercepted 21 passes — tying for the most in school history — and broke up 50 others. His 11 interceptions in 2002 are a school mark.

He wasn’t selected in the NFL draft but played 10 years (2005-14) in the league with the Buffalo Bills, Baltimore Ravens, New York Jets, Denver Broncos and Cleveland Browns. In 142 career games, he made 14 career interceptions.

Leonhard joined the Wisconsin coaching staff as secondary coach in 2016 and was promoted to defensive coordinator in 2017 — the role he held until he was named interim coach.

He said earlier this week he was focused on finishing the season and not a promotion.

“I don’t really want to get into much of that right now,” he said, per the Journal Sentinel. “This week to me is about this season, this group of players. … I don’t want that attention for our guys. …

“Going to have some conversations this week and hopefully it leads in the direction I want it to go.”

–Field Level Media

Oct 22, 2022; Madison, Wisconsin, USA;  Wisconsin Badgers head coach Jim Leonhard during warmups prior to the game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Badgers, Gophers set to renew college football’s longest-running rivalry

More than Paul Bunyan’s Axe will be at stake when Wisconsin hosts arch-rival Minnesota on Saturday in Madison, Wis.

It is the nation’s longest-running football rivalry, covering 131 games dating back to 1890. Wisconsin leads the series 62-61-8 and has won 16 of the last 18.

“It’s the longest rivalry in college football,” interim Wisconsin head coach Jim Leonhard said. “If that doesn’t mean anything to you, then it’s hard. We’ve talked at length on what I feel about rivalries in college football. It’s what makes the game special.”

Wisconsin (6-5, 4-4 Big Ten) is coming off a 15-14 road victory at Nebraska, rallying with two touchdowns in the final 11 minutes to become bowl eligible for the 21st consecutive season and improve to 4-2 under Leonhard.

Shortly after the Badgers win over Nebraska, Wisconsin publicly posted the job opening for the permanent head coaching position. Leonhard was promoted from defensive coordinator to the interim job after Paul Chryst was fired the day after a 34-10 home loss to Illinois on Oct. 1.

Several Wisconsin players have lobbied on social media for Leonhard to get the permanent job and published reports say he is the front-runner.

Minnesota (7-4, 4-4) lost 13-10 to Iowa on Saturday on a field goal with 28 seconds left to fall a game back of the Hawkeyes and Purdue in the congested Big Ten West.

For Wisconsin, inconsistent quarterback Graham Mertz bounced back from a costly interception to direct the two touchdown drives against Nebraska, throwing for one score and then sneaking in from 1 yard out with 35 seconds left for the game-winner.

Braelon Allen, who leads the Badgers with 1,121 yards rushing, battled through a shoulder issue for 92 yards against Nebraska before leaving in the fourth quarter with an ankle sprain. Chez Mellusi, sidelined for four games after breaking his arm, returned to carry 21 times for 98 yards against the Huskers.

“They’re just really athletic at every position,” Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck said of the Badgers. “Whether they’re 325 pounds, or they’re 180 pounds, the whole team is athletic. Sometimes they’re really strong, big, physical — and they still are that — but very athletic across the board on both sides of the ball and special teams.”

Minnesota lost at Iowa despite Mohamed Ibrahim’s career-high 263 rushing yards. He has rushed for a Big Ten-leading 1,524 yards and 19 touchdowns.

Redshirt freshman Athan Kaliakmanis, who made his third start versus Iowa in place of injured Tanner Morgan, has completed just 34 of 73 passes (46.6 percent) for 547 yards with one touchdown and four picks. Morgan’s status for Wisconsin has not been announced.

–Field Level Media

Nov 19, 2022; Lincoln, Nebraska, USA; Wisconsin Badgers quarterback Graham Mertz (5) throws a pass against the Nebraska Cornhuskers during the second quarter at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dylan Widger-USA TODAY Sports

Wisconsin’s Graham Mertz leads fourth-quarter comeback against Nebraska

Graham Mertz threw a touchdown pass and ran for the winning touchdown with 35 seconds remaining as Wisconsin defeated Nebraska 15-14 in a Big Ten game Saturday in Lincoln, Neb.

The Badgers (6-5, 4-4), who never led until the final minute, took over at midfield with 3:11 left after a Nebraska punt.

Mertz’s 27-yard pass to Isaac Guerendo produced a first down at the 7 and three plays later, Mertz rushed 1 yard for the winning score.

Nebraska’s Casey Thompson threw two touchdown passes to Trey Palmer, but that wasn’t enough to prevent the Cornhuskers (3-8, 2-6) from losing their fifth straight game.

Wisconsin outgained Nebraska 318 yards to 171.

Both teams punted on their first possession of the second half before the Badgers put together their best drive of the game.

They drove to a first and goal at the 5 and reached the 1 before a false-start penalty and an incomplete pass.

The 14-play, 74-yard march produced Nate Van Zeist’s 25-yard field goal that trimmed the Huskers lead to 7-3 with 4:50 left in the third quarter.

Nebraska answered on the ensuing possession by driving 79 yards in nine plays with Thompson and Palmer connecting on a 19-yard touchdown pass that increased the lead to 14-3 at the end of the period.

Mertz threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Skyler Bell but a two-point conversion attempt failed, leaving the Huskers with a 14-9 lead with 10:07 left.

The first five possessions of the game ended with punts and the game was scoreless at the end of the first quarter.

The biggest play of the first half came at the 10:13 mark of the second quarter when Malcolm Hartzog intercepted Mertz and returned the ball 23 yards to the Wisconsin 37.

Eight plays later Thompson threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Palmer for a 7-0 lead that Nebraska took into halftime after Van Zeist missed a 39-yard field goal with 14 seconds left in the half.

The Badgers held the ball for nearly 18 minutes and outgained the Huskers 111 yards to 95 in the opening half.

–Field Level Media

Nov 12, 2022; Iowa City, Iowa, USA; Wisconsin Badgers running back Braelon Allen (0) runs the ball as Iowa Hawkeyes defensive lineman Lukas Van Ness (91) looks to make the tackle during the fourth quarter at Kinnick Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Wisconsin out to push streak to nine over Nebraska

A pair of interim coaches will battle for one of college football’s newest rivalry trophies when Wisconsin visits Nebraska in a Big Ten Conference game on Saturday in Lincoln.

Established in 2014, the Freedom Trophy is up for grabs, and Nebraska (3-7, 2-5) will attempt to win it for the first time while snapping an eight-game losing streak to Wisconsin (5-5, 3-4).

The Cornhuskers clinched a sixth consecutive losing season, the longest stretch since finishing below .500 from 1956-61, with 34-3 loss at No. 3 Michigan last week. The ‘Huskers gained 146 yards, their fewest since netting 132 in a 2018 loss at Michigan.

Nebraska has dropped four games in a row after starting 2-1 under interim coach Mickey Joseph, scoring only 25 points in the past three games.

“I think overall the kids are playing hard under the circumstances they’re playing under,” Joseph said. “They’re not quitting.”

Wisconsin lost 24-10 at Iowa in its most recent game, dropping to 3-2 under interim coach Jim Leonhard. The loss kept the Badgers from joining what is currently a four-way tie for first place in the Big Ten’s West Division at 4-3.

“We’ve got to find a way to punch our way out of it,” Leonhard said after Wisconsin managed just 227 yards and turned the ball over three times. “You have to get comfortable in uncomfortable situations. We’ve got to learn from adversity with a loss.”

Sophomore running back Braelon Allen, who has six 100-yard rushing games this season, gave Wisconsin a 1,000-yard rusher for the sixth year in a row (not counting the COVID-shortened 2020 season). He’ll face a Nebraska defense that allows an average of 191 yards per game on the ground.

Nebraska enters another game with uncertainty surrounding the starting quarterback spot.

Chubba Purdy started his second straight game against Michigan but was pulled for Logan Smothers, while Casey Thompson — who started the first eight games — entered this week listed first on the depth chart.

–Field Level Media

Brent Moss (file photo) pictured in the 1994 Rose Bowl. The Wisconsin running back was MVP of the victory over UCLA.

Former Wisconsin star RB Brent Moss dies to 50

Former Wisconsin star running back Brent Moss has died at age 50.

Moss reportedly died on Sunday. Cause of death isn’t immediately known.

Moss rushed for 3,428 yards and 34 touchdowns from 1991-94. He was Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year in 1993 when he rushed for 1,637 yards and 16 scores.

Moss also was Rose Bowl MVP, rushing for 159 yards and two touchdowns during a 21-16 win over UCLA.

He had 833 yards and eight touchdowns in seven games in 1994 before being arrested for possession of crack cocaine. Then-coach Barry Alvarez suspended Moss and his college career was over.

Moss teamed up with Terrell Fletcher — who rushed for 996 yards in 1993 and 1,476 yards in 1994 — in a highly productive backfield.

Fletcher remembered Moss on his Twitter account.

“RIP Brent Moss… We did a thing in our day. I hate that we did not become friends in time appreciate our magic. But we did work it out in time. You were one of the best to ever do it. Respect. #RIP #RosebowlMVP #RBU #OnWisconsin #teammates,” Fletcher said.

Moss wasn’t picked in the 1995 NFL Draft due to the hit to his reputation. He briefly played for the St. Louis Rams in 1995, carrying 22 times for 90 yards but was released during training camp in 1996.

In 2017, Moss was sentenced to a year in prison due to felony possession of cocaine.

–Field Level Media

Oct 30, 2021; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; Wisconsin Badgers players celebrate with the Heartland Trophy following the game against the Iowa Hawkeyes at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Bronze beef and West leverage at stake as Iowa welcomes Wisconsin

Resurgent Wisconsin and host Iowa will put two-game winning streaks on the line Saturday when the Heartland Trophy is up for grabs in Iowa City.

The winner will remain in the thick of the congested Big Ten West, with the Badgers angling to claim the bronze bull trophy for the sixth time in seven tries.

Wisconsin (5-4, 3-3) scored a 23-10 victory at home over Maryland last week, while the Hawkeyes (5-4, 3-3) posted a 24-3 win at Purdue.

Iowa and Wisconsin are among a four-team logjam one game behind Illinois in the West Division after the Illini’s 23-15 loss at home against Michigan State.
Purdue and Minnesota also are 3-3 in the conference.

The Badgers improved to 3-1 under interim coach Jim Leonhard, promoted from defensive coordinator when Paul Chryst surprisingly was fired following a 34-10 loss at home to Illinois on Oct 1.

“I always loved playing at their place,” said Leonhard, a former Wisconsin and NFL player. “Great atmosphere. We know what they’re about, and they know what we’re about. It’s going to be a really exciting day.”

Wisconsin jumped to a 17-0 halftime lead against Maryland and held the Terps to 189 yards in total offense, 73 of which came on their only touchdown drive in the closing minutes. Maryland went into Madison averaging 454.4 yards per game.

Isaac Guerendo gained 114 yards on 12 carries, including a career-long 89-yard touchdown run, and Braelon Allen had 119 yards on 23 attempts as the Badgers piled up 278 yards on the ground in rainy, windy conditions that limited passing by both teams.

Allen is fourth in the Big Ten in rushing with 989 yards. Quarterback Graham Mertz, interception-prone in the Badgers’ losses, has nine touchdowns and one pick in his last four games.

Although last in the Big Ten in total offense, Iowa’s much-maligned attack has come alive the last two games. After averaging 227.3 yards in total offense through the first seven games, the Hawkeyes totaled 398 in a 33-13 win at Northwestern, followed by 376 yards against Purdue.

Freshman Kaleb Johnson carried 22 times for 200 yards and one touchdown against the Boilermakers, second most for a Hawkeyes freshman behind Marcus Coker’s 219 vs. Missouri in the 2010 Insight Bowl.

“After seeing the film, no question, I think it was our most complete football game as a team so far, so that was good to see,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said of the Purdue game. “Offensively, we showed more growth, played with good balance.”

Iowa is third in the nation in fewest yards allowed with 264.4 per game and fifth in scoring defense at 14.3 points.

“Tremendous amount of respect for the way they play defense,” Leonhard said. “It’s very different from my philosophy and what we do and how we do it. So any time you’re kind of looking at the complete opposite side of the coin and watching a team just consistently dominate, you gain an appreciation for it.”

Wisconsin has won five of the last six games against the Hawkeyes, whose last victory in the series was 28-7 at Iowa City in 2020.

–Field Level Media

Oct 22, 2022; Madison, Wisconsin, USA;  Wisconsin Badgers head coach Jim Leonhard reacts to a call during the fourth quarter against the Purdue Boilermakers at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Maryland aims to beat Wisconsin for first time

Already bowl eligible, visiting Maryland might be in its best position to record a first victory over Wisconsin on Saturday at Madison, Wisc.

In their most recent outings, Maryland (6-2, 3-2 Big Ten) defeated Northwestern 31-24 while Wisconsin (4-4, 2-3) upended Purdue 35-24. Each team enters off a bye week.

“We’re 6-2 but still aren’t playing our best football,” Maryland coach Mike Locksley said. “And to me, that’s kind of the encouraging thing for us, to be 6-2 at kind of the midway point for us.”

The Badgers are 3-0 all-time against Maryland, including a 38-13 win in Madison in 2017 in the most recent meeting.

This season, Wisconsin has yet to win two consecutive games. The Badgers are 2-1 under interim coach Jim Leonhard, who was promoted from defensive coordinator to interim head coach after Paul Chryst was fired the day after a 34-10 home loss to Illinois on Oct. 1.

Leonhard said this week that he believes he’s ready for the permanent coaching position.

“I know I’m capable of it,” he said. “I would be excited for the opportunity. It’s fun to get the chance to really affect some change this season and see what we can get done, knowing that a lot of the big changes that would have to happen are really coming after the season if I were to get this position.”

Wisconsin and Maryland are similar statistically. Each has outscored its opponent by about 10 points per game, with Wisconsin averaging 31.8 points and allowing 21.9, while the Terps average 34.1 and give up 24.1.

Maryland averages 455.0 yards per game, 28th best in the nation, and allows 380.2. The Badgers average 389.9 on offense and give up 342.9.

Maryland quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa, who missed the Northwestern game, has thrown for 2,001 yards this season, completing 72.5 percent of his passes with 13 touchdowns and five interceptions. Rakim Jarrett has 33 receptions for 371 yards and three TDs.

Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz has nine touchdown passes and only one interception in his past three games. Overall, he has completed 119 of 188 passes for 1,630 yards and 17 TDs, with six interceptions.

Braelon Allen needs 130 yards to reach 1,000 rushing yards this season. He averages 5.8 yards a carry.

–Field Level Media

Oct 15, 2022; West Lafayette, Indiana, USA; Purdue Boilermakers quarterback Aidan O'Connell (16) throws a pass during the second half at Ross-Ade Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Goddin-USA TODAY Sports

Purdue faces Wisconsin, tries for fifth straight win

Quarterback Aidan O’Connell continues to play a leading role in Purdue’s surge to a tie atop the Big Ten West.

He welcomed a new running mate to the cause last week.

While O’Connell passed for 391 yards and four touchdowns, Devin Mockobee did plenty of damage on the ground, rushing for a career-best 178 yards and a score as the Boilermakers stretched their winning streak to four with a 43-37 victory against Nebraska.

Purdue (5-2, 3-1) will look to keep rolling when it visits Wisconsin on Saturday.

“I just think he has proven everybody how good of a running back he can be,” Boilermakers coach Jeff Brohm said of Mockobee, “especially that he continues to work and get better and bigger and stronger.”

Wisconsin (3-4, 1-3) is coming off a 34-28 loss at Michigan State in double overtime.

“We fought hard, man,” Badgers linebacker Nick Herbig said. “That’s something I haven’t seen out of the guys in a while. We fought until the very last play. We didn’t give up, fold or throw in the towel when things got rough. We buckled up and fought for each other.”

As Wisconsin continues to jell under interim coach Jim Leonhard, who took the reins of the program after five games, the team hopes to produce more steadiness.

Although Braelon Allen rushed for 123 yards and two scores against Michigan State, he also lost a fumble. Quarterback Graham Mertz threw for two scores to go with an interception.

The Badgers realize they’ll need to be sharp defensively against the Boilermakers. While Mockobee enjoyed a breakthrough effort, receiver Charlie Jones merely kept up appearances during a standout surge.

Jones had 12 receptions for 132 yards and two touchdowns, recording the fourth 100-yard receiving day of the season.

Wisconsin boasts 15 consecutive wins in the series. The Boilermakers haven’t defeated the Badgers since 2003.

“This team presents challenges for us,” Brohm said. “They’re very good on defense. They always have been. They have a great scheme. They are coached very well. They play hard and make you earn it.”

A Purdue win would give the program bowl eligibility and its first five-game winning streak since 2007.

–Field Level Media

Oct 8, 2022; Evanston, Illinois, USA;  Wisconsin Badgers quarterback Graham Mertz (5) throws a pass in the first quarter against the Northwestern Wildcats at Ryan Field. Mandatory Credit: Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports

Wisconsin visits Michigan State aiming to build on key win

Wisconsin will look to build on an emotional first victory under interim coach Jim Leonhard when the Badgers travel to East Lansing, Mich., to face Michigan State on Saturday in a matchup of Big Ten teams looking to salvage their season.

Wisconsin (3-3, 1-2) is coming off a 42-7 road victory over Northwestern in its first game under Leonhard, who was promoted from defensive coordinator after head coach Paul Chryst was fired following the Badgers’ 34-10 home loss to Illinois the previous week.

Michigan State (2-4 ,0-3) was routed at home by then-No. 3 Ohio State 49-20, the Spartans’ fourth consecutive loss.

Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz threw five touchdown passes against Northwestern, including three to Chimere Dike. Mertz completed 20 of 29 passes for 299 yards without an interception. He has thrown four of his five picks this season in Wisconsin’s three losses.

Braelon Allen, held to 2 yards on eight carries in the loss to Illinois, bounced back for 135 yards on 23 attempts vs. Northwestern. He also threw a 23-yard scoring pass. Allen is averaging 6.1 yards per carry this season.

The Badgers outgained Northwestern 515-342 and were 10 of 14 on third-down conversions.

“I was extremely proud of the ways guys responded, and to go get a victory like that was a lot of fun,” Leonhard said. “We know there’s big challenges ahead, and we need to turn the page fast.”

Michigan State, ranked 11th after opening with two wins, was torched by Buckeyes quarterback C.J. Stroud, who threw six touchdown passes. Ohio State totaled 614 yards while holding the Spartans to 202, including just 7 on the ground.

“We did do some good things in the game but not enough,” Michigan State coach Mel Tucker said. “We have to be able to — offense, defense and special teams — we need to be able to string several good plays, several positive plays together in a row to be able to be successful. And that’s what we haven’t been able to do on a consistent basis.”

Spartans quarterback Payton Thorne is averaging 206 yards passing per game this season but has thrown seven interceptions vs. nine touchdowns.

Wisconsin is traveling to Michigan State for the first time since 2016, when the Badgers won 30-6. In the most recent meeting, Wisconsin rolled to a 38-0 victory at home in 2019.

–Field Level Media