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Roundtable: Big Ten, Power 5 outlook post-Stoops

NCAA Football: Ohio State at Oklahoma Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Ed: Hey, guys. This is my first roundtable taking over for Nick, so go easy on me. If this thing starts to derail, just make a quick-witted joke and get it back on the tracks.

Okay, let’s jump right into it and start off broad. How does the overall health of the Big Ten look heading into 2017?

Nick: Go hard on him, guys!

Actually, I really like the Big Ten right now. The blue-blood teams are doing well, and some of the less historically successful clubs like Indiana and Northwestern are doing well too. You’ve got the clubs like Michigan and Ohio State, that have huge fanbases and spend a lot of money, and you’ve got teams like Wisconsin that take a different approach but do fine as well. It’s a nice mix. And then there’s Rutgers.

I think the big deciding factor in our favor right now, and that could go against us if we’re not careful, is making sure the conference has great coaching. The ACC’s done a very good job the last couple years of adding Justin Fuente, Mark Richt, and Pat Narduzzi. We’ll have to keep up the coaching quality if we want to compete.

Andrew: We’ll ease you into it Ed, no worries! Just don’t do a player rankings with Mo Hurst behind a waterboy and we’ll be fine.

I agree with Nick. I love the direction the Big 10 is currently trending. I view it like a house. You have the top floor teams: Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, Wisconsin, and most years Michigan State.

The next floor consists of Northwestern, Minnesota, Iowa, Indiana, and Nebraska. These teams are always on the verge of greatness and over the next five years, we could see a few of these teams becoming elitists. I struggled with placing Indiana here, but they always rise to the occasion, especially against Michigan and I respect their gamesmanship.

The basement is comprised of Maryland, Rutgers, Purdue, and Illinois. Yes, Maryland made a bowl and are on their way to the next level the fastest, but I can’t elevate just yet. The other three have the most work to do to become relevant within the conference and tying it back to Nick’s point, it begins with coaching.

NCAA Football: Murray State at Illinois
Even the cellar teams in the Big Ten have encouraging coaches trying reclamation projects. See: Lovie Smith at Illinois, D.J. Durkin, and Jeff Brohm.
Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

Maryland hired D.J. Durkin who is leading his group out of obscurity and in as little as three years, they could be a force. Illinois made the move with Lovie Smith, but it is yet to be seen if that will pay off. Jeff Brohm, formerly of Western Kentucky, has taken control over Purdue and he will have his hands full this season. Chris Ash’s Rutgers team cannot be worse than last year, especially with Janarion Grant healthy.

The Big 10 is trending up, but the lowest level teams must close the gap if the conference can be seen as the best. 78-0 final scores aren’t cutting it.

Ed: Coaching is key—I completely agree. Maybe that’s why the big news last week about Bob Stoops retiring from Oklahoma was such a shock. I’m like every other college football fan out there. How does that move impact the Big 12—or more importantly, how does it affect the national landscape?

Nick: I don’t think I remember another coach in recent memory who did so well and yet was scrutinized or disliked as much as Stoops—except probably Les Miles. But maybe I’ve just been listening to the wrong fans.

NCAA Football: Sugar Bowl-Auburn vs Oklahoma Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

I think, as with anything, it’s what the Big 12 makes of it. Football’s so addictive because you get to see terrific players walk out the door, and a fair amount of the time good coaches find a way to replace them. So when you talk about the broader health of the conference, it’s really about the Big 12 member institutions, and whether they can find some common ground going forward for the health of their own … yeah, I just realized they’re in trouble. That’s not going to happen.

But, Lincoln Riley is a good coach, and he’s a really interesting guy—much like Tom Herman—to potentially be in that next wave of coaching pedigree. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was very successful.

Andrew: I expect Oklahoma to remain a force this season and for the foreseeable future. Lincoln Riley is an excellent offensive mind and he has Baker Mayfield steering the ship. The September 9th clash between the Sooners and Buckeyes will be a great early season snapshot of where Oklahoma stands.

Oklahoma State is the only proven threat in the Big 12 heading into 2017, but teams such as West Virginia (if you buy into the Will Grier hype), Texas (if you buy into the Tom Herman hype), and Kansas State (if you buy into Bill Snyder building a huge wall around Manhattan to keep players from transferring) could make some noise this season.

The Big 12 is in a recession of talent and shadowed by scandal (referring to the repulsive charges filed against Baylor), but Herman and Riley could be the building blocks of the future.

Also, I cannot write about the Big 12 without referring to Mike Gundy’s amazing hair. Respect the mullet.

Ed: A big coaching name leaving a big program in the Big 12 is one thing, but how about the bigger picture? There’s been a lot of shakeup in the Power 5 conferences over the last several years (and it doesn’t necessarily look to be over yet). How has this realignment impacted the national picture and do you think it’s been a good thing for college football and the Power 5 conferences?

Nick: You know, good question. It seems like fans have gotten comfortable with the whole “Power 5” thing, and I wonder if the Big 12 as it is now is going to hang on just long enough to make the eventual realignment all the more painful. I mean, there are a lot of traditions and rivalries that end up getting squashed by these things. Who knows how, in 10 years, teams like Memphis, BYU, or Houston will look—or how teams like Iowa State or Kansas State will look.

I am fascinated, in the short term, by the AAC, which is giving the Big 12 a run for their money.

Andrew: Realignment is interesting because some of these smaller conferences are gaining traction FAST on the Big 12 and Pac 12 (whom I consider the bottom 2 of the Power 5).

NCAA Football: Oregon Spring Game Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

The AAC is no joke and Quinton Flowers at USF is one of the most overlooked players in the country. The Mountain West churns out a few good teams every season and serves as a stepping stone between smaller conferences and Power 5 teams. Even the MAC (you’re welcome to all the CMU grads I work with) and Conference-USA have emerged as top-heavy non-conference competition to any Power 5 team.

The depth of talent throughout college football is abundant and these smaller schools are capitalizing. Who has more schools ranked at the end of the season, the Big 12 or AAC?

Ed: That’s actually a good point about the AAC. As a conference they have been lobbying for a “Power 6” label. Not sure they are quite there yet, but like you said earlier, we may be looking at more of a “Power 3” and “Next 3 or 4” scenario.

Now, let’s bring this back to our own conference and end with some foresight. The Big Ten got a lot of hype last season as potentially the best conference in the country (having four top-10 teams in the final polls). The national experts can chatter all they want, but I want to hear from you guys, who know the conference best. Where does the Big Ten rank among Power 5 conferences currently?

Poll

Where does the Big Ten rank among Power 5 conferences?

This poll is closed

  • 40%
    Best in all the land
    (99 votes)
  • 10%
    Second behind ACC
    (25 votes)
  • 36%
    Second behind SEC
    (89 votes)
  • 13%
    Third...or worse
    (34 votes)
247 votes total Vote Now

Nick: Maybe this is a safe bet, but I will say second. I think it’s the ACC, actually, in first, then the Big Ten and the SEC in that top tier, and below that you’ve got the Pac-12, Big 12, and AAC.

The ACC already has Clemson and Florida State as nationally respected, big-name programs, but Virginia Tech (after a 10-4 season in Fuente’s first year) is quickly getting back into that regular, top-tier contention. And then you’ve got a few more candidates, one or two of whom could be ready to break into that top level—take your pick from Louisville, Miami, Pitt and North Carolina—and then there’s Duke and Georgia Tech hanging around, too.

I think the ACC is definitely going to be a threat and will get a lot of respect from national polls this year.

Andrew: My list mirrors Nick’s exactly. The Big 10 is on the right track, but is still behind the ACC. The ACC’s depth is what separates them from any conference and is what the Big 10 is seeking to emulate.

The Big 10 has the talent at the top to compete with anyone, but the bottom three teams are still too weak. I am bullish on mid-level 2017 teams to break through, such as Minnesota and Northwestern, but Rutgers, Illinois, and Purdue must take the next step for the Big 10 to secure intergalactic collegiate football dominance.