The winds of change are fiercely blowing across the Midwest plains this fall. With turmoil on and off the field for Ohio State, the tragic saga playing out in Happy Valley and not one team from the Big Ten in the Top 10, finding sunshine in the carnage is difficult.
Rest easy, what looks bleak now will actually be a blessing down the road in Big Ten country.
The Big Ten’s maturation into the modern college football world began last year when it added Nebraska, formed two divisions and inserted a conference championship game. The next step in the evolutionary process will be hiring well-known, accomplished coaches at OSU, Penn State and Illinois.
If the Big Ten is serious about becoming the best conference again, it starts with coaching.
Just look at the SEC. Saban, Miles, Chizik and Spurrier have won titles, and Richt and Petrino are accomplished even without the hardware. Understanding why the SEC has a firm hold on the top spot is easy: Great coaches plus elite level talent equals championships.
The Big Ten is standing at the proverbial fork in the road. On the left is the Woody Hayes/Bo Schembechler era. On the right is the Saban/Miles era. One needs to be remembered for all of its glory. The other needs to be emulated to raise the crystal ball trophy.
The opportunity is there. Do they have the guts to make the right decision?
Interim head coach Luke Fickell was handed a very difficult situation, and he has handled it admirably. Unfortunately, the lack of experience on the offensive side of the ball coupled with offensive coordinator Jim Bollman’s blatant unwillingness to take risks will cost Fickell any shot at winning the job permanently.
He’s a prime candidate for an opening at a smaller school where he’ll get a longer shot at proving his worth.
Leading Candidate: Urban Meyer
There is nothing shocking about his name popping up this past weekend, or his denial. His credentials are incredible—two BCS titles and a 104 victories in just 10 seasons as a head coach. Meyer was born in Ohio and was an assistant at OSU in the late 80s—divine qualities necessary to walk the sidelines for the Buckeyes.
The only knock is that he left the Florida program in shambles. That’s forgivable to the Scarlet and Gray faithful.
Other possibilities: Mark Dantonio, Bo Pelini, and Chris Petersen
The school is definitely in a chaotic state with the Jerry Sandusky mess long from resolution, but hiring the right coach will stabilize the program as it begins the long journey back to restoring its reputation and respectability.
Leading Candidate: Gary Patterson
There are some obvious roadblocks in considering Patterson. Patterson has built TCU into a powerhouse—the school is joining the Big 12 next year, and he has no connections to Penn State.
Regardless, he is still the ideal candidate to take over the Penn State program. Beyond the wins and championships, Patterson runs a clean program. Furthermore, his teams are always strong on the defensive side of the ball, which aligns nicely with PSU’s tradition. He is a perfect fit.
Other possibilities: Al Golden, Greg Schiano and K.C. Keeler
Illinois is certainly not on the same level as OSU and PSU, but there is no reason why Illinois can’t be a consistent Top 25 program. The recruiting bases of Chicago and St. Louis provide enough talent regionally for the Fighting Illini to get to seven wins regularly. They just need the right guy to take them to the next level.
Leading Candidate: Mike Leach
Despite the bad ending at Texas Tech, Leach is a proven winner. He will build an explosive offense, recruit Texas religiously and add some much-needed flare to an extremely stale program. Illinois needs to pull Leach from the NCAA doghouse, and watch its program rise to level it will never see under perennial underachiever Ron Zook.
Some will point to Rich Rodriguez' failure at Michigan to argue that Leach’s brand of football does not work in the Big Ten. That would be a mistake.
Ignoring the defensive side of the ball doomed Rodriguez. Leach’s defenses were generally Top 50 in total defense and scoring defense, which is comparably better—considering the offenses in the Big 12 were far better than the offenses in the Big 10 during his coaching tenure.
Other possibilities: Mark Farley, Kirby Smart and Kevin Sumlin