We have a problem with Bret Bielema. It isn’t necessarily PJ Fleck’s problem, but he is going to have to be the one to fix this.
Bielema has been a head coach at 3 different Power 5 programs, with varied levels of success. He was the hand-picked successor by Barry Alvarez to replace Barry Alvarez in 2006. He spent 7 seasons leading the Badgers. In that span, he never lost to Minnesota. To be fair, most of those were up against Tim Brewster, but the undefeated record speaks for itself.
In a surprising decision, he left the Badgers to take the job at Arkansas following the 2012 season. His tenure there was less successful. He made 3 bowl games in 5 seasons but also earned himself an 11-29 SEC record. And he was relieved of his duties. His record against Minnesota in those 5 seasons? He was 0-0, the two teams obviously never faced each other. Of course, the Gophers continued to lose to Wisconsin, but none of those wins can be attributed to Bielema.
After a few years of bouncing around position jobs in the NFL, Bielema returned to the Big Ten West, taking the Illinois job. He took over a program that was in really rough shape but he managed to put together a couple of decent seasons, beating Minnesota both in 2021 and 2022.
Do you see the common theme here? Bret Bielema has never lost to Minnesota as a head coach. He is 9-0 as a head coach and has a 12-game win streak over the Gophers going back into his assistant coaching days. His last loss to Minnesota coming in 2000 when he was the linebackers coach for the Hawkeyes.
This is the Bielema problem, and it needs to be rectified. Looking back at the 9 losses to Head Coach Bret, most of them haven’t been pretty.
- 2006 - 12-48 loss in Madison in Mason’s last season
- 2007 - 34-41 loss at home, Tim Brewster’s first season was a disaster that nearly ended with a huge rivalry win...but it didn’t
- 2008 - 32-35 loss at Madison where Brewster’s Gophers had a 4th quarter lead...that they blew.
2009 - 28-31 loss at home in the first year of TCF Bank Stadium. A halftime lead
and a chance to win the Big Ten West, bothsquandered.
- 2010 - 23-41 loss in Madison, this one was not close in Tim Brewster’s second to last game as a head coach.
- 2011 - 13-42 loss at home as we welcomed Jerry Kill to this rivalry and Russell Wilson threw for 4 touchdowns. This was arguably Bielema’s best team.
- 2012 - 38-13 loss in Madison, even Joel Stave had no problems with the Gophers.
2021 - 14-6 loss at home when the Gophers were sitting at 6-2, 4-1 in the Big Ten and considered the favorite to win the West.
Remember, this loss is to Illinois and it was their ONLY BIG TEN WIN of the season.
- 2022 - 26-14 loss at Illinois and it may not have been that close. This loss also kept us out of the Big Ten Championship game.
So those are 9 losses to Bielema and
3 2 of them were the primary reason Minnesota did not win the Big Ten West.
Again, this isn’t entirely Fleck’s doing, this run of Bret losses spans 4 Gopher coaches, but it is his problem to solve.
Now, once again the Gophers are in a position to take the West and we face an Illinois team that we are favored to beat.
After the Iowa game, Fleck was quoted as saying that he be Bielema were having a conversation in the offseason for what the formula is to beat Iowa. Do we think that PJ asked what the formula is to beat Minnesota? Because Bielema has that one figured out too.
This has to be the year to end it.