Not too long ago (Nov. 18, 2006 to be exact) the Big Ten was at the top of the College Football world. That day, #1 matched up vs. #2 and both teams were in the Big Ten. That was the day Ohio State beat Michigan 42-39. For a couple weeks after that, there was even debate that these two whether or not these two should play in a rematch for the National Title. This carried over into January 8, 2007 when Ohio State was a heavy favorite against Florida in the national title game, that many still said should feature Michigan rather than Florida.
Everything started out great for the Big Ten as Ted Ginn returned the opening kick for a touchdown. However, by the end of that night Ohio State lost 41-14. That coupled with USC blowing out Michigan in the Rose Bowl and the Big Ten became overrated and slow.
This carried over into the following year when Michigan opened up with a loss at home to D1-AA Appalachian State, and Ohio State went on to lose another National Title game, this time to LSU.
Since then, Lloyd Carr stepped down (asked to leave) as head coach of Michigan, and Ohio State and Penn State remain atop the Big Ten, but both have not fared well in BCS games since this whole “Big Ten is weak” debacle started in 2007. The two have combined for an 0-4 record since January 2007 (3 losses by Ohio State and 1 by Penn State) in BCS games.
For 2009 it seems that Penn State and Ohio State will be atop the Big Ten again, however the national perception is that being in this position in the Big Ten means you don’t match up well with the top teams of the other conferences (mainly Big 12, SEC and USC, of the Pac 10).
Last year Michigan had its worst ever season going 3-9. Many fans are not being patient and ready to call the Rich Rodriguez experiment a failure after just 1 season. However when looking a little closer at his career, there is reason to believe that given time, Michigan may end up being his most successful stop.
At his last 2 stops, (Glenville State and West Virginia) Rodriguez’s teams finished with just 1 in conference win in his first year. Last year he managed 2, which is extremely below standard at a school like Michigan. In his second year at Glenville State he won 3 in conference games, and at West Virginia he won 6, finishing second in the Big East. He spent 7 seasons (14 total years) at both schools combined, and by his 3rd at each he didn’t finish below 3rd in each conference and won the conference a total of 8 times (4 at each school).
The key to his success is recruiting. Rich Rodriguez is considered the creator of the no huddle spread option offense. Since 2002, his offenses have had basically a 70/30 split of running/passing plays called. Most of these are called with the quarterback set in a shotgun formation. By definition, this offense is a run-first offense which requires a quarterback that can also be a runner, a mobile and athletic offensive line, and receivers that who are good blockers. Given all these detailed needs, Rich Rodriguez needs a couple of year to recruit these players that fit his style.
At West Virginia, Rich Rodriguez was able to improve their recruiting during his time to include 10 to 15, 3 and 4 star ranked players coming out of high school (according to rivals.com). In his fourth season at WVU, 2004, he got his quarterback in Pat White and went on to win the school’s first BCS game in 2005 over heavily favored Georgia.
At Michigan, in his first full year as coach, he has managed to recruit 14 4 and 5 (and I am not counting how man 3 star players he recruited because Michigan has higher standards than West Virginia) players, and already has 5 on tap for 2010. The talent level is already greater than that of the players he got at WVU.
In 2008, his first full year recruiting, Rodriguez landed Tate Forcier who was in the top 2 mobile quarterbacks coming out of high school that year and in the top 5 overall position rank (rivals.com). If this is his guy, and there is no reason to believe he is not, Coach Rodriguez may have landed his quarterback 2 years earlier then he did at West Virginia.
I believe that the only reason Forcier may not succeed as fast as Pat White did at West Virginia is because the level of talent around him may not be there just yet. For this offense, a specific style of offensive line is the key, and that may not be in place just yet. However by year 3 and 4 of Forcier’s career, it’s safe to say that with Michigan’s clout and Rodriguez’s style of play and recruiting, all the pieces will be in place.
Each power conference, SEC and Big 12 specifically, has 3-4 teams that are considered elite every year. The SEC has Florida, LSU, Georgia, Alabama and this year Ole Miss has been added to the mix. (Tennessee is a classic school but is in a similar position to Michigan and needs to return to prominence to be in this mix.)
In the Big Ten, if Penn State, Ohio State and Michigan along with Michigan State, Illinois and Iowa can manage to stay around the top 25-30 teams in the nation; this will help get the Big Ten its credibility back. This will help the top team in the conference each year not get slack when/if they make a BCS bowl game, or are eligible to make the national title game.
The obvious missing piece in all of this is Michigan, and the key to their success is how fast Coach Rodriguez can get the pieces in place.