Ranking the Big Ten's Coaches
How something is set up is usually very important. For example, ranking the Big Ten's coaches from #1-14, instead of grades or levels or adjectives, is going to be a little incendiary. Very good coaches, who their fan bases like and who are good for the programs they lead, are going to be stuck half-way down the list. This is a bad, bad avenue for ranking a coach's value to their program.
But we're going to do it anyway.
1. Mark Dantonio, Michigan State Spartans
Mr. Focused Aggression himself. Dantonio has been good for Michigan, in the long run, and very good for the rivalry. He's been good for the state, during some tough times economically. He's been good for the Big Ten, winning with three-star athletes and sending kids to the NFL who might not have had a chance otherwise. And he hates Michigan. He really, really hates Michigan.
His specialty is defensive backs, but Michigan State has been able to do it all: offensive line, tailbacks, quarterbacks. Their linebackers are consistently some of the best in the Big Ten. Now, with that said - we have to start playing with them deep into the fourth quarter. In fact, everybody else in the Big Ten would do well to take a page out of Dantonio's playbook - and they are in the process of doing that.
2. Urban Meyer, Ohio State Buckeyes
Meyer gets a lot of hype; at the same time his ability to turn a program into an immediate contender is undeniable. His flair for the exciting aside, he builds his team with the fundamentals - coaching the special teams, for instance, and building an offense to maximize a dual-threat quarterback's abilities while limiting both risk and turnovers. He's a genuine person and a hard worker. Unfortunately, he does not fear the season-ending game against Michigan as a wrecker of all his plans. Michigan will have to work on that.
T-3. Jerry Kill, Minnesota Golden Gophers
Kill doesn't get enough respect for building up a program with lower-star recruits than what Dantonio has had, for a program with less prestige that's further up north. He's made Minnesota an intriguing team to watch, and he's made old-fashioned road grading interesting to watch.
After an 8-2 start last year and then losing two of their stars and leaders on defense, there were some questions about how the team would respond for an encore, both in terms of effort and in terms of leadership and establishing those clear, important goals and team accountability. The Gophers have answered that call. Kill's steady hand and lofty expectations give the Gophers everything Alabama players have with the Process, and new players seem ready to step in to the shoes of RaShede Hageman and Brock Vereen. Minnesota still isn't getting respect in the West, but the good news is they can change that.
T-3. Gary Andersen, Wisconsin Badgers
Andersen has been terrific at managing his roster to put athleticism on the field and put his players in a position to succeed. Some wondered how Andersen would be able to adapt to the Big Ten after running a spread offense at Utah State, but GA specializes in being flexible around his personnel. He recruits nationally, is trying to build up the team's brand in the South, and he very possibly could be as good as Bret Bielema at developing lower-star recruits. Meanwhile, Arkansas is paying Bielema $5 million a year. Stockpiling great coaches (hi, James Franklin) is a very nice way to get back to the top, or close to it. Wisconsin has a good one in Andersen.
5. James Franklin, Penn State Nittany Lions
Franklin's a bit of an unknown outside of his amazing work at Vanderbilt, where he gathered assistant coaches who similarly knew what they were doing and built their schemes around the players they had. Now, Franklin is rustling feathers, making news, and recruiting like a madman.
Under O'Brien, the Nittany Lions survived poor roster depth to stay competitive in the Leaders Division. Perhaps it would be foolish to think roster depth will submarine them this time, or perhaps their luck will have started to wear out. At any rate, Franklin's first task will be to keep his defense and his offensive line healthy, and then make the best offense he can with unproven, young receivers and a trio of nice tailbacks.
6. Kevin Wilson, Indiana Hoosiers
Wilson has done two separate, equally important things to Indiana's identity - he's made the offense exciting enough to catch people's attention, and he's brought a gruffness that manages to communicate to the fan base, without words, what separates IU's football from its basketball.
His first year was an interesting one; he rubbed quite a few people the wrong way and set out to quickly establish a different tone and the right attitude (and went 1-11 in the process). However, in three short years, expectations are such that Wilson is on the hot seat if he doesn't lead the team to a bowl in his fourth season. For the losingest program in Big Ten history, Wilson has done exceptionally well.
He's also lightened up on the gruff persona. Taking extra time to talk with reporters, and having interviews with players and coaches during the spring practices, he has tried to bring a tepid fan base around to knowing and loving the game he coaches. While most coaches are gruff, recalcitrant, and hate talking to the media, he is gruff, recalcitrant, and loves talking to the media.
The moxie is still there, though. A few people have pointed out how gutsy it was to switch base defenses in a year when hot seat talk has been attached to his name. But Wilson felt it was the right direction, and that's the direction he went. Recruiting is up on the offensive side, and the defense has outshone the offense in spring and fall camp (the defense usually does that, but still). Indiana football has occasionally been a joke in the Big Ten over the last few decades, but if the defense is able to gel in their first year in a 3-4, they are easily one of the better teams in the Big Ten.
7. Brady Hoke, Michigan Wolverines
Hoke has made some mistakes during his time on the sidelines - and none of them involve frequency of headset wearing. He probably should have tried to snag an extra lineman or two in 2011 and 2012. He probably shouldn't have moved Jack Miller to the bench in 2013 given the gaping chasm of doom that was opened up at left guard, all while Glasgow struggled with snapping effectively. He favored seniors a little too often, and sometimes player consistency has been an issue.
He runs a good program, though, recruits amazing athletes, and he knows a lot more than what he lets on with his 'aw shucks' persona. He also was given a difficult situation to work through when he got here, and he has re-established the standards of Michigan and taken his lumps with the media - sometimes intentionally, such as when he declined to clarify in the week before the Alabama game what the status was for Fitz Toussaint. Ultimately, there are no politics with Hoke; he will do what he thinks is best for the people in the program and for Michigan.
8. Bo Pelini, Nebraska Cornhuskers
Pelini's a good coach. He was a great defensive coordinator at LSU, and he's proven to be adept at developing players at Nebraska. His teams work hard, and handle adversity, but they have also been plagued for years now by untimely turnovers and penalties. While Pelini has pointed out that these problems plague any football team, they do seem to happen to the Cornhuskers more often than usual, even accounting for Abdullah's famous struggles with not turning it over.
There is also a larger question of his ceiling. Pelini is not a home-run recruiter, and his teams have never cracked the 3-loss barrier despite playing a few favorable schedules. Nebraska fans expect to be in the mix nationally, and they fear that they are slowly turning into a regional team. Coaches like Hoke and Wilson have been hurt somewhat by establishing certain expectations and then not reaching them, but at least those programs are expecting more than what they were when those coaches walked in the door. That might not be the case with Pelini.
T-9. Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern Wildcats
Fitz has been given a lot of credit for working at a difficult location and producing some extremely solid teams. The program does seem to be on an uptick overall, largely thanks to recruiting, but Fitz has sacrificed some recruiting gains and on-field talent for team cohesion. While the move may work out just fine, there was no word at all as to what happened with Venric Mark or why he was suspended. And given the questionable comments Fitz has made about recruiting - suggesting some extremely pro-program changes to how recruiting is done - I'm not as liable to give Fitz the benefit of the doubt.
T-9. Kirk Ferentz, Iowa Hawkeyes
"We're not USC." Ferentz has given Iowa something they've craved, a brand and a stability to match any other team in the Big Ten. NFL scouts can know without looking at an Iowa player that they're going to work hard and be an asset in the locker room. There's a lot of value in this, but Ferentz, who is one of the better talent developers in the Big Ten, loses points for not taking the next few steps and gaining some speed on the outside.
11. Randy Edsall, Maryland Terrapins
Edsall, like Flood and potentially Hazell and Beckman, is a solid coach. His Terps are expected to make some noise because his program has been able to recruit some speed and talent, but not so much of either to take away from his need to develop what players he has left. We'll see how he does in that regard.
12. Kyle Flood, Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Flood reminds me of Fitzgerald - abrasive at times, a good man overall, but also struggling with a program that has to work twice as hard as Penn State or Michigan. After a successful first season two years ago, Flood did not have good replacements for all the Scarlet Knights who left via the NFL Draft. We'll see how good of a developer, or recruiter, Flood turns out to be. He'll have a chance with Hayden Rettig on the roster.
13. Darrell Hazell, Purdue Boilermakers
A very quick way to sink to the bottom in football is to struggle in the trenches, and the Boilermakers did just that, falling from 6-7 to 1-11 in Hazell's first year. Of course, Kevin Wilson did the same, too. Barry Alvarez and Kirk Ferentz went 1-10 in their first years at Wisconsin and Iowa, respectively. Lou Holtz had gone winless in his first year at South Carolina. Sometimes this happens.
However, it is hard to look at a season this bad and not raise serious questions about the entire program from Hazell on down. It wasn't just that Purdue was bad. It was that Purdue wasn't even competitive and couldn't perform the most basic tasks a college football team is asked to perform. The returning players from the Hope era somehow got worse and there were no all-star freshmen to immediately replace them. The 2014 recruiting class, barring some major miracles, is not looking like a program-changer on paper, either.
The Boilermakers are now going to be less experienced on the line, but the two quarterbacks are entering their second seasons. Obviously, Hazell and the entire staff are knowledgeable about the game of football, and Hazell served as an assistant head coach at Ohio State under Tressel. In situations like this, it's possible that they are not able to communicate or teach the players in a way that actually reaches them. That's just a suspicion, however. But listening to some of the coaches, I have been underwhelmed.
14. Tim Beckman, Illinois Fighting Illini
Beckman is 1-15 in the Big Ten. Cubit has been terrific, and recruiting is on a slight uptick in Illinois. Still, this hire didn't impress me off the bat, and it hasn't born a lot of fruit since. Growth has been slow.
Hitting the Links Loves Big Ten Football
Braxton Miller to Return in 2015
There's been a lot of good talking about Michigan amongst the fans over the last year. To add to that, I also feel like there are some things to collectively be talked about (and emotions to be let out) regarding our rivalry with Ohio State. That's only something we can do as a collective, but in the meantime, here are some extra links about the Buckeyes, starting with some more coverage of Braxton Miller's injury and the fallout from that.
Before we get to that, however, here is one of the best reads out of MLive in quite some time.
The Buckeyes have been busy in the offseason, including some recent upgrades to OSU's stadium.
Meyer May Use A Platoon at Quarterback
Great coaches will find a way to maximize what they have available, and Meyer's gotten even stronger at that regard, adding Ash and Johnson.
Division predictions, Offensive and Defensive Player of the Year predictions, and dark horse candidates.
Ohio State's Receivers Preview
Nobody will probably make an All-Big Ten list (outside of Jeff Heuerman), but there are options and some very dangerous weapons in this group.
2016 Four-star Cass Tech Player Likes Ohio State
Still a long way to go, of course - two full seasons before 2016 Signing Day.
Assume the Position: Wide Receiver
Iowa does indeed look more stocked than it has been for some time.
Players to Watch: De'Vondre Campbell
This is a really cool feature TDG is doing. Look for Campbell to be a potential breakout player for Minnesota's linebacking corps.
Striking While The Iron Is Hot
The Champaign Room looks around at Northwestern and Notre Dame, and sees an opportunity.
I confess, I'm starting to really dislike Rutgers. We'll see if their prediction of impressing all of us will come to fruition.
Inside NU Ranks Big Ten Offensive Lines
This is a solid list, but I don't think I've seen one yet where Northwestern ranked itself lower than the upper half of the Big Ten.
Michigan State Previews Special Teams
Mike Sadler, the punter, was granted Second Team All-America by Sports Illustrated this past week. Also, that's a very nice fake punt.
Purdue Previews Offensive Line | Defensive Line
Purdue will go with more of a 4-3/3-4 hybrid, and the use of some 3-4 will give them some avenues to manufacture pass rush, potentially. The offensive line is the crux, though, and their season rests on that.
Notre Dame Analyzes Key Losses
I guess I'm including them as a Big Ten team. Read up on a ND fan's impression of how the suspensions affect the Fighting Irish, of the Big Ten West.
Michigan State Loses Connor Kruse to Injury
He should return at some point in the season, possibly early.
Kodi Kieler Snags Replacement Starting Spot
Next man up - they're a machine.
Coleman Scores Against Michigan
Very difficult to stop when Wilson sets up trips on the one side and runs Coleman up the middle.
This is a smooth-looking play on an 8-yard gain.
Here's some buzz around camp as the Badgers prepare for LSU.
Michigan State Previews Tight Ends
The tight end hasn't been a big part of Michigan State's game, but they'll be looking for a bigger role for the sophomore Price.
Off Tackle Empire is wrapping up its off-season previews; this also includes several links to earlier Michigan-related OTE material. Also, the OTE writers all give their predictions for how many wins Michigan will get.
Indiana Linebackers Are Confident, Aggressive
This will definitely be one of the more interesting defenses to watch this year.
Wes Lunt Named Starting Quarterback
Illinois used some creative offensive formations last year, to great effect: Nathan Scheelhaase jumped from 1,361 yards to 3,272 last year. Lunt could be making some noise, in other words, if Cubit is as good as he looked at offensive coordinator.
Penn State Monitoring Possible Volcano Eruption
It will be interesting to be able to watch Penn State play so early on August 30th (8:30 am on ESPN2).