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Great Moments in Alternative Badgers History: 2016 Pinstripe Bowl

Chryst’s Panthers knock off Wisconsin as Bielema departs for warmer climate.

Great Moments in Alternative Badgers History look at back at great Wisconsin games that never, ever happened.

Dec. 28, 2016

NEW YORK — Chryst has risen, indeed.

Five years after departing Wisconsin for Pittsburgh, Paul Chryst has exacted a measure of revenge on his former employer, knocking off the Badgers and head coach Bret Bielema 24–10 in the 2016 New Era Pinstripe Bowl.

In doing so, Chryst ushered out the end of the Bielema era at UW. Saying he’s ready to take on a program where he “will be able to win national titles,” Bielema announced after the game that he would be departing Madison for Ole Miss, where he will replace recently-fired Hugh Freeze.

Pitt freshman quarterback Alex Hornibrook led the way with 159 yards passing and two touchdowns. Junior running back Chris James broke the century mark, gashing the Wisconsin defense for 122 yards and a score.

Wisconsin junior running back Joe Mixon did his best to keep the Badgers in the game, rushing for 156 yards and a touchdown, but it was not enough as Wisconsin’s anemic passing game once again left much to be desired.

The Badgers went up early, jumping out to 7–0 and 10–3 leads in the first quarter before Pitt took control of the game early in the second, never looking back. Coordinator Chris Ash’s defense once again sagged against a balanced offense, giving up a pair of 40-yard rushes to James and senior back James Conner along with a 55-yard Hornibrook touchdown strike to receiver Quandree Henderson.

With the victory, Pitt (9–4) ends its third consecutive year with nine wins along with back-to-back Pinstripe Bowl crowns.

For the Badgers (8–5), it was a third straight bowl loss and the eighth in Bielema’s 11 seasons (the last win coming in the legendary “Stave dropkick game” in the now-defunct O’Reilly Auto Parts Carburetor Bowl). The defeat ends an up-and-down season that saw blowout losses to LSU, Ohio State, and Big Ten champion Michigan as well as quality wins at Michigan State and Iowa.

Bielema leaves Wisconsin with a mixed legacy. After three consecutive Rose Bowl losses in 2010–12, the Badgers never finished higher than third in the Big Ten Leaders/West. Consistently among the top Power Five schools in APR, Wisconsin has maintained a clean and respectable program during Bielema’s tenure, but a spate of 8–5 and 7–6 seasons have left fans grumbling.

Much has been made of Bielema’s frequent controversial comments and his inability to replicate the offensive success the program had when Chryst was offensive coordinator. Despite those concerns, Bielema’s brand of defense and smash-mouth football clearly appealed to Ole Miss, a school desperate to escape Freeze’s year-long sexscapade scandal that saw #rebelyelp turn into a national punchline, including a prominent reference during President-elect Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s now-infamous “If You Smell” acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention.

With Bielema’s departure, rumors swirl that Chryst may make a return to Madison. Other early names bandied about for the Wisconsin coaching position include Utah State’s Gary Andersen, Oregon State’s Mike Riley and national championship runner-up Western Michigan’s P.J. Fleck.