2019 Big Ten coaching rankings: Who takes Urban Meyer's spot at the top of the conference?
Ranking all 14 Big Ten coaches entering the 2019 season
The Big Ten coaching landscape looks different heading into the 2019 season. CBSSports.com has been ranking coaches for the last few years, and Urban Meyer was always battling Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney for the best coach in the country, and as a result, he was always the highest-ranking coach in the Big Ten. But Meyer's gone now, and it's left an opening at the top of the conference.
Who has taken the Big Ten's Iron Throne? Will they even be able to sit on it before Jon Snow plunges a dagger into their heart? Oh, um, spoiler alert.
Anyway, when my colleagues and I ranked the Power Five coaches this year, there was an interesting result. While no Big Ten coach finished in the top 10 overall, the conference had seven coaches in the top 25, including four between 11 and 20. To me, this says the conference still has plenty of good coaches, but it's waiting for somebody to separate themselves and take advantage of Meyer's departure. Here's how the Big Ten coaches finished. You can see how they stacked up amongst their Power Five brethren here:|
|James Franklin: Franklin ascends to the top spot, and it makes sense. Meyer took over Ohio State in 2012, but the Buckeyes weren't eligible to for a conference title until 2013. Since then, only two other coaches besides Meyer have won Big Ten titles, and Franklin's one of them. He inherited a Penn State program that was in shambles following the Jerry Sandusky revelations, and Bill O'Brien's unexpected departure. After an (expected) slow start that saw Penn State go 14-12 in his first two years, the Nittany Lions have gone 31-9 the last three seasons, won a conference title and played in two New Year's Six bowls. Now, as 2019 begins, expectations will only get higher.|
|Mark Dantonio: The other coach to win the Big Ten during Meyer's tenure is Dantonio, who has won it not once, but twice. Michigan State has never been the program that's recruited at a ridiculous level. While Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State bring in a bunch of five stars, Michigan State gets some highly-rated recruits, but the foundation of its success has been its ability to develop lesser-known prospects that fit what it wants to do. And it's hard to deny the results. From 2010 to 2017, the Spartans won at least 10 games in a season five times. He's won conference titles in 2010, 2013 and 2015, including a College Football Playoff appearance. Sure, they were destroyed by Alabama, but only two Big Ten schools have ever been selected to the CFP. Dantonio's Spartans are one of them.|
|Jim Harbaugh: Harbaugh has done a lot correct at Michigan. He's revitalized a program that had been slipping from the national consciousness and helped restore some relevancy. He won 10 games in his first season in 2015, the first time Michigan had reached double-digit victories since 2011. He followed it up with 10-win seasons in 2016 and 2018 as well, giving him three 10-win seasons in four years. Michigan had only four such seasons in the 15 years that preceded his arrival. He's helped increase the talent level of the program as well. But it's what he hasn't done that hangs around his neck like an albatross. He is 0-4 against Ohio State. He hasn't reached a Big Ten Championship Game. At Michigan, accomplishments like these will be what ultimately defines Harbaugh's tenure, but while he's third in these rankings, Harbaugh could easily find himself at No. 1 here next season if 2019 goes as Michigan fans hope it will.|
|Pat Fitzgerald: He's one of the more underrated coaches in the country. As I've written before, the best way to summarize what Pat Fitzgerald has done at Northwestern is to point out how the Wildcats won the Big Ten West last season, have won 10 games in a season twice in the previous four years (three times since Fitzgerald took over) and it no longer seems like a big deal. It's almost expected. Do you know when the last time Northwestern had won 10 games in a season before doing so under Fitzgerald in 2012? It was that magical season in 1995 when the Wildcats went 10-2 and played in the Rose Bowl. Who played on that team? Pat Fitzgerald. Before 1995, the only time Northwestern had won 10 games was in 1903 in the Western Conference. That was 50 years before the Big Ten even formed. So, yeah, what Fitzgerald has done at Northwestern is nothing short of remarkable. You have to wonder what he'd be capable of at a bigger program. I say you have to wonder because Fitzgerald doesn't. He's a Northwestern lifer.|
|Kirk Ferentz: Ferentz is one of my favorite coaches and somebody who never gets quite enough credit. Iowa is not an elite program. It's not a program that enters the season with people picking it for Rose Bowls or CFP berths. But there's a consistency to it that speaks to the man running the show. Since Ferentz took over in 1999, the Hawkeyes have had four losing seasons: 1999, 2000, 2006 and 2012. That's remarkable for a program that isn't located in the heart of fertile recruiting grounds and generally isn't in the running for the nation's top high schoolers. Ferentz has won two conference titles at Iowa and nearly won a third in 2015. He's taken the Hawkeyes to two Orange Bowls and a Rose Bowl. He takes unheralded talent and consistently churns out NFL players. He might not have the rings or trophies, but he's put together a program Iowa fans can be proud of. And are.|
|Paul Chryst: The 2019 season is going to be very interesting for Chryst and the Badgers. Things ran very smoothly in Chryst's first three seasons. From 2015 to 2017, the Badgers went 34-7 and won two division titles. Then last season, Wisconsin went 8-5 overall and lost as many regular-season conference games as it did in Chryst's first three seasons combined. So what's going to happen in 2019? That will have a significant impact on Chryst's standing in the conference next season, as a couple of Big Ten young bucks are creeping up on him.|
|Scott Frost: There was plenty of hype surrounding Frost's first season at Nebraska. Too much hype for him to have any realistic chance of living up to it. Nebraska went 4-8 last season and started the season 0-6, including a home loss to Troy. The good news is the Huskers won four of their last six games, and they hope to bring that momentum into the 2019 season. Also, it's not like Frost hasn't pulled off a quick turnaround before. He took over a UCF team in 2016 that had gone 0-12 the year before and went 6-7 his first season. The next year the Knights went 13-0, maybe you heard about it? A six-win improvement is likely too much to hope for from Nebraska in 2019, but even if he's only seventh in his conference, Frost finished ranked in our top 25 Power Five coaches for a reason. He hasn't been around long, but he's proven to be quite capable so far.|
|Jeff Brohm: I love Jeff Brohm, and I've loved him for years. He's entering an interesting year at Purdue, though. When he took over in 2017 and went 7-6, it was a big deal because Purdue hadn't been to a bowl game since 2012, and had gone 9-39 in the previous four seasons. He reinvigorated the program. Last season, the Boilermakers had to replace a lot of production, and it showed, as they took a small step backward, going 6-7. Of course, they also beat Ohio State and introduced the college football world to Rondale Moore. Brohm's stepped up Purdue's recruiting game in a big way, and his program could be on the verge of taking another step forward in his third season.|
|P.J. Fleck: Fleck is one of the more polarizing coaches in the country. If you ask somebody for their opinion on him, odds are you won't just get a shoulder shrug or an "eh." People either love his enthusiasm, or they're annoyed by it. Wherever you land, it's hard to deny what he accomplished in four seasons at Western Michigan, going from 1-11 to 13-1 and an appearance in the Cotton Bowl. His first two seasons at Minnesota haven't been great, but it's hard to call them bad. The Gophers improved from five wins to seven in 2018, but are still only 5-12 in conference under Fleck. As the 2019 season approaches, the Big Ten West seems to be as wide open as ever, and it'll be interesting to see if Fleck's Gophers can make any significant noise.|
|Ryan Day: Day steps into an interesting situation. To paraphrase my CBSSports.com colleague, Barton Simmons, Day is like a kid waking up on his 16th birthday to find a Bugatti in the driveway. We don't even know for sure if he can drive yet, but he's got a hell of a car to learn in. Clearly, Day is set up in the best possible situation, and while he's 3-0 as a head coach, Urban Meyer was still involved with the program. Now Day is on his own and it's time for him to put his stamp on things, and it's important to remember it's not always as easy as it might seem. People could have argued that Luke Fickell was in a good situation in 2011. He inherited a program from Jim Tressel that had gone 12-1 the season before and had won at least 10 games in every season since 2005. Fickell went 6-7 and was then replaced by Urban Meyer. As nice as Ohio State is, it's not a self-driving car.|
|Lovie Smith: This is the most crucial year of Smith's tenure at Illinois so far. While the 2018 season was his third season, he was hired so late in the process before the 2016 season that it was a Year Zero situation more than a Year One. Smith has stripped the program down to the studs and has been in the process of rebuilding it from the ground up. Now, entering 2019 is when Illinois hopes to see some tangible results. They had flashes last season as the offense took a major step forward, but too often a young defense wilted late in games. The Illini are only 9-27 under Smith and 4-23 in the Big Ten. Still, there's talk about a bowl game in Champaign right now, and if the Illini fall short of that goal, it's not out of the question that we'll have a new coach listed under the Illinois logo in these rankings next year.|
|Tom Allen: Allen has operated in relative obscurity at Indiana. He's been the head coach for two full seasons and gone 5-7 in both of them, coming up just short of a bowl appearance. He's also only 4-14 in Big Ten play with half those wins coming against Rutgers and the other two against Illinois and Maryland. There's optimism that the Hoosiers will improve in 2019 and reach their first bowl game since 2016, though. That's not easy to do in Bloomington, as the Hoosiers have only been to three bowl games in the last 25 years.|
|Mike Locksley: Locksley takes over at Maryland, but while he hasn't coached the Terps without the word interim in his title yet, he does have a history as a head coach there. He went 1-5 as the interim in 2015, and in three seasons at New Mexico, he went 2-26. So, you know, it hasn't been great. But this was all before Locksley attended Nick Saban's School for Wayward Coaches and graduated with flying colors, helping take the Alabama offense to a new level. Locksley's always been a terrific recruiter but hasn't been able to put it together as a head coach yet. Still, if there's one job where I think Locksley can finally find the success he seeks as a head coach, it's Maryland.|
|Chris Ash: There isn't a shortage of people who will tell you that the only reason Chris Ash is still on this list is that Rutgers can't afford to fire him yet. There had been some optimism surrounding the program heading into 2018. Rutgers went 2-10 in Ash's first season and doubled their win total in 2017, all while going 3-6 in conference play. They then opened the 2018 season by crushing a bad Texas State team 35-7. Unfortunately, they followed that win with 11 consecutive losses, with only three of those losses coming by fewer than two touchdowns. Now there isn't much optimism heading into 2019, and Ash is one of the favorites to be the first coach fired in 2019.|
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