The Voice: Bielema all about finding ways to win

The_Voice_Matt_Lepay_200.jpgLast Saturday the Badgers beat Minnesota for the ninth-straight year, matching the longest winning streak for either team in major college football's oldest rivalry.

It also improved Wisconsin's home winning streak to 21 games, and the victory gives Bret Bielema's teams a 44-3 record at Camp Randall Stadium. The 44 wins on the home turf is the best among FBS teams since 2006.

There is one other note that has gone a bit under the radar. In University of Wisconsin football history, there have been 27 head coaches. With Saturday's result, Bielema has led his teams to more victories than all but one.

I am pretty sure you have heard of the coach who tops the list.

Now in his seventh year as the Badgers' head coach, Bielema's record is 66-21, with a Big Ten mark of 36-16. His winning percentage is top-five among active coaches, ahead of well-known figures such as Mark Richt, Brian Kelly, Les Miles and Nick Saban.

It is dangerous, if not reckless, to compare Bielema's first half-dozen-plus years with Barry Alvarez, whose 118 wins leads the pack at UW. The circumstances were much different. In 1990, Alvarez inherited a mess. In 2006, Bielema moved from being Barry's defensive coordinator to the head man of a program coming off an impressive bowl victory against Auburn.

Still, Bielema inherited a set of expectations, and the pressure that goes with it. The record shows he is handling it quite well, thank you.

Bielema coaches aggressively, and at times does things many would consider outside the box, be it a trick play or his use of timeouts. When those decisions work, observers consider him innovative. When they backfire, observers often have a different description.

This season has a long way to go, with perhaps the best defense Wisconsin will see all year coming to town on Saturday. Yet the fact remains the Badgers are very much in the chase to win a third-straight Big Ten championship, which would be a first in school history.

In August, many already had them at least getting to Indianapolis, if not Pasadena. By the end of September, there was reason to wonder. The offense was scuffling, and Purdue became the new sexy pick to win the division. Now that has changed, and everyone is talking about the improvement going on in Madison.

The offensive line, injuries and all, is coming together. The tight ends and fullbacks are picking up their overall play. Montee Ball (both Mon-tay and Mon-tee) and James White are running with force, and the defense continues to be among the top 20 nationally.

There is enough credit to go around, but since the head man gets the blame when things are going wrong, he probably should get some credit for what is happening now. Bielema saw something on his staff that he believed needed fixing, so he fixed it.

He saw a couple of positions that he believed needed a change in personnel, so there were changes.

The timing of such moves might be out of the norm, but to this point, the returns are encouraging.

We get to find out together how the second half of the conference season will unfold. Maybe the Badgers win out, maybe they lose out, or perhaps they will end up somewhere in between. However it plays out, my guess is Bielema will continue to do things his way, regardless of how -- as he calls it -- the "outside world" reacts.

Can't say I blame him. It seems to be working out OK.

No matter where you stand, the numbers speak loudly. In year seven, Bret Bielema is the second winningest coach in Wisconsin football history. Bielema said Alvarez told him he would be very happy to see his successor move up one more notch.

Only 53 wins to go, right?