Gary Andersen went 19-7 in two seasons at Wisconsin after replacing Bret Bielema, who also unexpectedly quit to coach another school. (Andy Manis/Associated Press)

Gary Andersen surprised the college football world, including his own school, apparently, by quitting as Wisconsin’s head coach in order to take the same job with Oregon State. Andersen informed Badgers officials of his decision Wednesday afternoon, and the move is immediate, meaning that he will not be coaching Wisconsin in its bowl game against Auburn on Jan. 1.

Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez, a former coach of the football team, said that he would begin searching for a new coach right away, but it is not outside the realm of possibility that Alvarez himself will prepare the team for the Outback Bowl. That situation occurred just two years ago, when Andersen’s predecessor, Bret Bielema, left the program for Arkansas ahead of the the 2013 Rose Bowl.

In a

, Alvarez said, “I want to thank Gary for his two years and commend him on the way his team performed on the field, in the classroom and in the community. I wish him the best at Oregon State.”

Andersen issued his own statement thanking Alvarez “for the opportunity to coach” at Wisconsin, where he went 19-7, but by many accounts, his decision to leave came as an unexpected blow, just two years after Bielema pulled a similar move. In both cases, a coach at Wisconsin, one of the better Big Ten programs, left for a school that’s largely been an also-ran in a different conference, leaving questions about what may be the problem in Madison.

The reason that there was an opening at Oregon State to begin with is that Mike Riley left that school to become head coach at Nebraska, a Big Ten school. The Badgers have won their past two games against the Cornhuskers by a combined total of 129-55.

There were already conspiracy theories out there that Alvarez, who also is a member of the selection committee for the first-ever College Football Playoff, had something to do with the fact that Wisconsin got trounced so thoroughly in the Big Ten championship game. Ohio State propelled itself past TCU and into the playoff largely on the strength of its 59-0 manhandling of the Badgers Saturday. Andersen’s seemingly sudden departure is sure to feed into that and other conjecture about Wisconsin’s program.

It’s also possible that Andersen may have simply wanted to move back west. He is from Salt Lake City and coached at Utah State before accepting the job at Wisconsin. At a press conference, Alvarez speculated that geography could have played a role in Andersen’s decision.