When it comes to college football, it all starts at the top. A program is only as good as its leader: the one who is in charge of everything from recruiting to post game meals to pregame attire. Although the B1G conference has spent the past few seasons as the media’s whipping boy as far as results on the field, it is chalk full of up-and-coming coaches that are just getting started on their rebuilds. There are also more than a few established coaches who have already tasted the success of which many programs only dream.
As we approach the dog days of summer, Know It All Football isn’t preparing to go into the fetal position but rather supplying you with vital head coach ranking info that just might save your life. Ok, well…maybe not, but you’ll know a lot more about football.
1. Urban Meyer, Ohio State: Could there possibly be an argument here? Not really, as Meyer would likely be a top candidate for the #1 spot in any conference he coached. After an undefeated 2012 season that rewarded them nil, Meyer has the Buckeyes primed for greatness again in 2013. His team was forced to sit out a shot at the national title only because of sanctions imposed upon Ohio State, inherited by the previous coaching staff. The only thing left for Meyer to do at TOSU is defeat an SEC team in the title game and ride off into the sunset atop his player’s shoulder pads. He already owns 2 national titles and 4 conference championships (he may have had 5, had last year’s team been eligible) and a national Coach of the Year honor. You may not like his antics or his style but he’s #1 in the B1G and it’s not even really up for debate.
2. Brady Hoke, Michigan: First he turned around Ball State, then San Diego State, and now he has led Michigan back to where it belongs – a consistent contender for the B1G title every season. Hoke is 19-7 his first 2 seasons in the B1G and the reason he gets the nod as #2 on our list is the fact that he owns a BCS bowl game victory. The Wolverines defeated Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl to cap off Hoke’s first season and, while last year may have been a bit of a letdown, their schedule was brutal and Hoke was still able to secure a 6-2 conference record.
3. Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern: Some might have Fitzgerald higher than Hoke on their list (and it would be hard to argue) but he still lacks a conference title or a big bowl game victory. That might have more to do with Northwestern and who they are, than the job Fitzgerald has done. The Wildcats are 50-39 under Fitzgerald and have gone to 5 straight bowl games. They had a 10 win season in 2012. Pretty much unheard of at a school like Northwestern, which is known more for its academic accomplishments than its football prowess. Fitzgerald routinely brings in recruiting classes that rank near the bottom of the B1G and turns them into gems. Give credit to him and his staff for how well they recognize talent and develop it.
4. Mark Dantonio, Michigan State: It’s easy to forget about the job Dantonio has done at Michigan State after a disappointing 2012 season. While last year’s 7-6 record doesn’t scream #4 coach on our list, his red hot overall record of 51-28 in 7 years at East Lansing does. He guided MSU to back-to-back 11 win seasons in 2010 and 2011, including a share of the Big Ten title in 2010 and a spot in the first ever B1G title game in 2011. The Michigan State program has under achieved through most of its history until Dantonio and as long as he remains on the Spartan sidelines they are a threat to win the conference.
5. Bo Pelini, Nebraska: When I first started thinking about how I would rank the B1G coaches, I initially thought I would have Bo much higher. Pelini has led the Cornhuskers to 3 conference championship games in 6 seasons and in 2 different leagues. He has never posted fewer than 9 wins in a season and boasts a ridiculous 49-20 record while on the Nebraska sidelines. But that’s just it – he’s the head of one of the most powerful and prestigious programs in college football history, with every resource at his fingertips, and he’s known more for his uncomfortable sideline antics with his players and his down-right embarrassing losses in big games. Pelini has Nebraska back to competing at a highly respectable level but needs to take that next step to move further up our list.
6. Bill O’Brien, Penn State: I’ve seen a lot of lists that have O’Brien as high as #2 or #3 when ranking B1G coaches and I think that’s due to the fact that we have a media that revels in the greatness of the present and has a short memory. While O’Brien did a tremendous job year one at PSU, in the face of the worst NCAA scandal in history, the sample size is just too small. Much was made about winning 8 games under terrible circumstances and a depleted roster. Some might argue that his team actually underachieved and had the roster to go undefeated. He inherited a 5th year senior QB and a senior-led defense and his scholarship limitations don’t even kick in until the upcoming 2013 season. O’Brien may prove one day that he deserves to be higher on our list but his real coaching challenges still lie ahead.
7. Kirk Ferentz, Iowa: Just a few seasons ago, Ferentz would have been in the top half of this list but his team and job evaluation has been trending down since the Orange Bowl victory in 2009. Ferentz has led the Hawkeyes to 10 bowl games in 14 seasons, including two BCS appearances and two shares of the Big Ten conference title but, after a 4-8 2012 season, things have seemingly gotten stale in Iowa City. Ferentz has ushered in a lot of new faces on the assistant coaching staff in an attempt to jump-start a program that spent most of the last decade as the envy of the B1G conference. Remember when you always heard “nobody does more with less” about Ferentz? Well, now all you hear is “it might be time for him to go”.
8. Gary Anderson, Wisconsin: #8 might be high for a guy who has yet to coach his first B1G game but he gets the benefit of the doubt for the job he did at Utah State in 2012. Anderson took the Aggies from consistent WAC doormats to an 11-2 record in 2012 and helped the program finish in the AP top 20. He also steps into a great situation at a Wisconsin program that has recently seen some of the greatest seasons in school history. It’s a recipe for immediate success and he may jump up more than a few spots on this list in years to come.
9. Jerry Kill, Minnesota: Kill probably deserves to be higher on the list for what he’s done at Minnesota in such a short time. The Gophers were a mess when Kill got the job and he went from 3-9 in year one to 6-7 and a bowl trip in year 2. Some might even give Kill a lot of the credit for Northern Illinois’ Orange Bowl trip in 2012 as Kill coached the Huskies from 2008 to 2010 and recruited much of that team. But Minnesota is a tough job and until Kill proves that he can sustain a winning program, it’s hard to put him much higher on this list.
10. Kevin Wilson, Indiana: Wilson has quickly turned Indiana into an offensive juggernaut in the B1G but the jury is still out to see if he can make Indiana a winning program. Last season, the Hoosiers led the B1G in passing offense and won 4 games and are seemingly poised for their 2nd bowl game in nearly 2 decades in 2013. Wilson will have to prove that he can field a more formidable defense this coming season before he can be considered a top candidate in our rankings.
11. Darrell Hazell, Purdue: Hazell spent 25 years as an assistant coach before getting his first gig at Kent State and he pulled off what most considered a miracle at a program that had several losing seasons prior to his arrival. In just 2 seasons at KSU, Hazell won a divisional championship and a school record 11 games. To say he has his hands full at Purdue is an understatement but he has a proven track record as a recruiter and takes over a program that has shown they can breed a winning culture with the right guy under the helm.
12. Tim Beckman, Illinois: Nothing went right for Beckman in year one with the Fighting Illini – even the most pessimistic fan didn’t see a 2-10 season in 2012. Most people view Illinois as a sleeping giant in the B1G as far as recruiting grounds and potential and Beckman will have a short leash if immediate results aren’t seen in 2013. He’ll be coaching for his job this season and has an incredibly hard schedule in front of him.
BY RYAN OSBAHR ON MAY 2, 2013
Ryan Osbahr is the co-founder of KnowItAllFootball.com and the Lead College Football Writer for the site. Follow him on Twitter @ryanosbahr1