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Big Ten Football: Post-Realignment Coach Power Rankings

David LutherFeatured ColumnistNovember 26, 2012

Big Ten Football: Post-Realignment Coach Power Rankings

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    It appears the college football conference shuffle isn't quite over, as the Big Ten has announced the addition of the Maryland Terrapins and Rutgers Scarlet Knights to the fold.

    There are reasons for the move on both sides: Maryland gets a bump in prestige in conference affiliation, while Rutgers makes a huge leap in that department, and the conference is now in the No. 1 and No. 8 media markets in the U.S., expanding the cash-cow Big Ten Network's footprint by tens of millions of television sets.

    The addition of the two new programs also means we have two new coaches to talk about—and rank.

    So, why not get an early jump on things? We've decided to skip ahead at least a season or two and try to figure out where each coach will find his program once the realignment dust settles.

Unknown, Purdue

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    Bringing up the rear—for now—are the Purdue Boilermakers.

    Purdue is just one of several programs to finish the 2012 college football season with a head coaching vacancy, due to termination for lack of performance.

    In West Lafayette, Indiana, that has been a bit of an understatement, with Danny Hope at the helm.

    While a 6-6 record in 2012 likely gets Purdue to a bowl game, it wasn't enough to save Hope's job after four seasons and a 22-27 record.

    Purdue was seen as a possible Leaders Division contender this season, and a narrow defeat against a very good—and BCS National Championship Game-bound—Notre Dame team could be seen as a moral victory.

    But since that game against the Fighting Irish in Week 2, it was mostly downhill.

    The Boilers never put together much momentum, and the powers that be at Purdue had seen enough.

    Purdue thus gets the last spot on our list, not only due to a lackluster performance, but also because the Boilermakers now have to start all over with a new coaching staff.

Tim Beckman, Illinois

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    Taking the second-to-lowest spot on our Big Ten coach power rankings list is Illinois's Tim Beckman.

    Beckman inherited a tough situation, and there wasn't much left when Ron Zook was ushered out of town after seven markedly unsuccessful seasons.

    But if Beckman wants to fix what's wrong with the Fighting Illini, it's going to take more than his coaching skills.

    Unlike some of his compatriots, Beckman was not able to engineer a first-season improvement, and the Illini finished 2012 with a 2-10 record that saw them winless in the Big Ten for the first time since Zook's first season in 2005.

    And we saw how well Zook did (34-51).

    If Illinois is to get things back on track, it will be on the strength of Beckman's recruiting—and we're just not sure he has all the tools he'll need at Illinois to get the job done.

Kevin Wilson, Indiana

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    The Indiana Hoosiers are the No. 1 team in the nation—in basketball.

    That right there should tell you all you need to know about the football team.

    Indiana is, without shame, the Duke of the Big Ten. The school's athletic pride is tied directly to the hoops team, and there's nothing wrong with that.

    But we're dealing in football cred here, and when it comes to the pigskin, Indiana is about as lowly as it gets in the Big Ten.

    We're perfectly willing to give coach Kevin Wilson his due. He's a die-hard Indiana man. He defends his team and his program and his university to anyone at the drop of a hat.

    Good for him.

    Although alienating local talk radio hosts might not be the best way to build buzz about a sagging program, we have to admit the guy has cojones.

    His indignation of those who criticize might go a bit further, though, if he weren't 5-18 through two seasons.

Kirk Ferentz, Iowa

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    We're about at the end of our rope with Iowa Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz.

    After 14 seasons, Ferentz always seems to be rebuilding a part (or all) of his team, and the results have been somewhat predictable on the field.

    Under Ferentz, Iowa has never won an outright Big Ten title, has never played in the Rose Bowl Game and has finished ranked in the final AP Top 25 just five times.

    What's more, Iowa will miss a bowl game this season for the first time since 2007.

    So, uh, Coach. When will that rebuilding be done?

    Ferentz has shown us no reason to believe anything is about to change at Iowa. The Hawkeyes are, for the most part, a non-factor in the Big Ten these days, which is why they finish in the bottom third of our power rankings.

Jerry Kill, Minnesota

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    We really didn't want to put Minnesota Golden Gophers coach Jerry Kill this low in our power rankings, but we couldn't let our heart overrule our brains, regardless of how hard we tried.

    Jerry Kill has been an absolute force of nature at Minnesota, battling recurring seizures while trying to rebuild the program into a winner in the Big Ten.

    Kill got his coaching start back in the 1990s with the Division II Saginaw Valley State Cardinals (coaching against arch-rivals Grand Valley State Lakers, which were then under the direction of a guy by the name of Brian Kelly), before finding his way to the FCS Southern Illinois Salukis via the FCS Emporia State Hornets.

    After turning around the Salukis from a 1-10 program in 2001 to a 12-2, national semifinal participant in 2007, Kill was asked to do something similar with the Northern Illinois Huskies.

    By his third season, the Huskies had won the MAC-West, and Kill was hired by Minnesota, which hoped the magic had not run dry.

    Kill does have the Gophers bowl-eligible this season, but 6-6 doesn't buy you a lot of time in the Big Ten these days—just ask Danny Hope.

    What's more, we can't help but be continuously concerned over Kill's health.

    First and foremost, Jerry Kill needs to take care of himself, but he strikes us as a guy who puts his program first. While that's a very admirable trait and buys him a ton of goodwill from Gophers fans and administrators alike, it may not be the best thing for all concerned in this situation.

    Minnesota needs a full-time coach who can focus 100 percent of his attention each and every day on the program. As the old saying goes, the spirit is willing...

    If Kill really wants to put the program first, it may be time to take a long, hard look at what his sporadic health problems do to his team: Can we really blame college football players for missed plays when they worry about an absent coach?

    Perhaps it's time for Kill to really put his program first and step back, at least until his health improves.

Kyle Flood, Rutgers

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    After six seasons as the offensive line coach at Rutgers, it didn't take long for Kyle Flood to find his footing as the guy with the big office.

    The Scarlet Knights are 9-2 in 2012, just one win (over the Louisville Cardinals) away from capturing a Big East title and earning a trip to a BCS bowl in January.

    So, why is Flood so low on our list?

    First, we're still getting to know this new head coach.

    One season a career does not make. We have seen far too many flash-in-the-pan coaches over the years to get super excited about Flood based on one season coaching a team someone else put together.

    Second, we have seen it before at Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights, try as they might, just haven't been able to capture any lasting, year-on-year nationally-relevant success in Piscataway, New Jersey.

    Since that breakout 2006 season, Rutgers has been a nine-game winner each season (with a 4-8 season in 2010 thrown in there just to confuse everyone), but we are talking about the historically weak Big East.

    Just how questionable have the Scarlet Knights been against the Big East over the years? Consider this: the Knights have not beaten both the Cincinnati Bearcats and Louisville in the same season. Ever.

    Now what are we supposed to expect from Rutgers, when its schedule includes the Michigan Wolverines and the Nebraska Huskers or Ohio State Buckeyes and Wisconsin Badgers each and every season (depending on where the divisional lines fall after realignment)?

    Can the Scarlet Knights find some success in the Big Ten? Sure.

    Will they?

Bret Bielema, Wisconsin

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    It's hard to see where Wisconsin goes from here.

    The Badgers won at least a share of the previous two Big Ten championships, only to fall completely flat this season. Just when you thought Wisconsin might be on the cusp of something great, too.

    Bret Bielema has been an unqualified success in Madison, Wisconsin, posting a 67-24 record as head coach. But there still remains some lingering doubt as to whether or not he can win the “big game.”

    We're placing Bielema in the middle of the Big Ten road here for two connected reasons.

    First, he seems unable to win the big out-of-conference games (like the past two Rose Bowl Games), making us wonder if Wisconsin has hit the ceiling under his leadership.

    Second, Bielema's approach to coaching—and by extension, recruiting—is almost as rigid as you'll see in the FBS today.

    Wisconsin has always been a run-it-down-your-throat kind of team, and that has been successful in the Big Ten for a long time. But Wisconsin has only been able to separate itself from the rest of the conference when a top quarterback comes along. Even then, the Badgers struggle out of conference.

    It really makes you start to wonder if Bielema is the right guy to take Wisconsin to that next level...

Randy Edsall, Maryland

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    After guiding Connecticut to its first-ever BCS bowl appearance in the 2011 Fiesta Bowl, Randy Edsall didn't stick around to see what else he might accomplish with the Huskies.

    Edsall beat a hasty exit to take over the sagging but still respected Maryland Terrapins and see if he could right the ship.

    He's off to a somewhat rocky start, finishing 4-8 this season (on the heels of 2-10 in 2011), but four wins is better than two.

    What's more, Maryland is starting to show signs of once again bringing in those blue-chip recruits that once made Maryland a feared opponent in the ACC.

    How Maryland's recruiting tack changes has yet to be determined, but if Edsall can continue to bring in players like Stefon Diggs, you can bet the Terps will win their fair share of Big Ten games once their move to the new conference is complete.

Bill O'Brien, Penn State

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    There's no question that Bill O'Brien drew a tough hand when taking over as the head coach of the Penn State Nittany Lions.

    Embroiled in one of the most shocking scandals ever to rock a college football program, everyone in the world could see the giant hammer of the NCAA hurtling down on Happy Valley, Pennsylvania. When it landed, there was a resounding thud of massive sanctions, fines, bowl bans and scholarship limits.

    With an embarassing 0-2 start and massive player defections, no one would have blamed O'Brien if the Nittany Lions had finished 2012 with an 0-12 record.

    But O'Brien—and his entire program—showed what “We Are Penn State” really means and fought tooth-and-nail to an impressive 8-4 finish.

    There are still three seasons' worth of sanctions ahead for O'Brien and the Lions, and we've only just begun to see what those penalties will do to the program. But with O'Brien's leadership through these very dark days at Penn State, we're fairly confident Happy Valley will live up to its name once again.

Mark Dantonio, Michigan State

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    Were it not for 2012, Mark Dantonio might be at or near the top of this list.

    In 2010 and 2011, Dantonio had done what no other Michigan State Spartans coach had ever done: win 11 games in two consecutive seasons.

    Heck, no coach had ever done it once, much less twice.

    With newfound success and a share of the 2010 Big Ten championship, MSU has thrown off the mantle of constantly living in the shadow of “big brother” Michigan, and Dantonio has made the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry front and center in his designs for the Spartans.

    So far, it's hard to argue he hasn't been successful against Michigan: the Spartans are 4-2 against the Wolverines under Dantonio.

    We still have yet to see whether or not 2012 will be an aberration, but if MSU rebounds over the next few seasons, you can expect Dantonio's stock to soar in East Lansing, Michigan.

Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern

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    If there has been one great success story in the Big Ten over the past seven seasons, it has to be the Northwestern Wildcats' coach Pat Fitzgerald.

    Fitzgerald became the youngest head coach in the FBS at the time of his hiring at his alma mater, and in relatively short order, he has done something no one thought possible in Evanston, Illinois: lead the Wildcats to five consecutive bowl games.

    This season has easily been Fitzgerald's best, with the Wildcats finishing the regular season at 9-3. He has also managed to field impressive teams while not making much noise during recruiting season, showing his ability to do more with less of what was once the annual lap dog of the conference.

    While people still snicker at the inability of Northwestern to find fans to put in its own stadium, no one is laughing at the actual team any more these days. With Pat Fitzgerald leading the way, that's not likely to change.

Bo Pelini, Nebraska

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    If there's any reason for excitement at Maryland and Rutgers, you need only to point to Nebraska as example.

    The Cornhuskers are heading for their first Big Ten championship game in just their second season in the conference, thanks in large part to the leadership of head coach Bo Pelini.

    Okay, so neither Maryland or Rutgers brings the instant football cred that Nebraska does, but Pelini has proven that it can be done.

    Pelini has become a sufficiently big enough name in the Midwest to start drawing some serious looks from the top prospects from anywhere in the conference footprint, while maintaining traditional recruiting ties in the Huskers' former Big 12 region.

    If the Terrapins and Scarlet Knights can do the same, they may also see a Big Ten title within reach sometime in our lifetimes.

Brady Hoke, Michigan

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    Brady Hoke blew into Ann Arbor, Michigan like a fresh spring breeze.

    Or maybe it was just trying to cover that salad-y taste with a big, thick steak.

    Whatever the metaphor, the Michigan Wolverines are finally feeling like the Michigan Wolverines again these days, thanks to the hiring of a Schembechler-Carr devotee. We can expect Michigan football to look very much like Michigan football again over the next few seasons, and Hoke has already proven himself capable of restoring some of that past glory in short order.

    Nationally top-ranked recruiting classes will only further cement Michigan's place at or near the top of the conference each and every season, and the 2012 Sugar Bowl won't be the last BCS berth for the Wolverines in the near future.

    And while Maryland and Rutgers will now have access—in theory—to the vast Midwest talent pool, other Big Ten teams haven't been able to crack the top of the conference on a yearly basis quite like Michigan and Ohio State.

    So what makes anyone think that's about to change?

Urban Meyer, Ohio State

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    The unchallenged king of the Big Ten, at least right now, is Ohio State.

    And if we've learned one thing about the Buckeyes in the last decade or so, it's that you should never sleep on Ohio State.

    Even in the midst of scandal-induced sanctions, Ohio State still managed to figure out a way to go 12-0 in Urban Meyer's first season as head coach. And with the renewed excitement in the program (did it ever leave?) due to his arrival and leadership, you can bet this won't be the last time we're talking about a 12-win Ohio State team.

    Meyer will be challenged at every recruiting turn by Brady Hoke and a few others, but Ohio State is one of those programs that doesn't need a big-name coach to draw big-name recruits.

    Actually, having that big-name coach just makes things that much easier.

     

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