With only a couple days left of June, we are in the heart of the summer which means one thing: it’s officially list season! There’s nothing like a good list this time of year to fill a content quota and spark discussion.
On Monday, Athlon Sports decided to rank all 130 Division I football coaches. Ranking anything is always subjective, and you may disagree with some of the placement (I know I do). But even so, this list provides the basis for a way to compare conferences based on how the Athlon writers value their coaches.
Taking into account all 10, 12 or 14 coaches from the Power 5 conferences, the ACC comes out on top with an average ranking of 30.9. The Pac 12 is second at 37.5, the Big 12 third at 43.8, the Big Ten fourth at 44.1 and the SEC brings up the rear (just barely) at 44.2. Not a great look for the Big Ten, huh?
However, a closer look at the rankings show that the Athlon writers are fairly high on most of the Big Ten with 11 coaches ranked in the top 60. It’s those other three – Lovie Smith at 106, Tom Allen at 107 and Chris Ash at 110 – that are dragging down the conference as a whole. If you look at just the top 10 teams of all five conferences, the Big Ten leaps all the way to second, still behind the ACC.
Nick Saban is No. 1 on their lost, understandably, but Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh are Nos. 2 ad 3, respectively, while Jimbo Fisher and Dabo Swinney, both of the ACC, round out the top five.
If you’re curious about Mike Riley. He’s down at No. 46, good for ninth in the 14-team Big Ten. One could quibble with his placement, but rather than do that I’m just going use it to show how strong of a coaching conference the Big Ten is.
Meyer and Harbaugh are two of the biggest names in the sport. James Franklin (No. 12) is one of the hottest coaches in the nation (after getting off to a slow start at Penn State). Mike Dantonio (13), Pat Fitzgerald (17) Kirk Ferentz (24) have all garnered plenty of praise over the years. Paul Chryst (31) has maintained the high standard at Wisconsin despite the departures of first Bret Bielema and then Gary Andersen. Finally, PJ Fleck (41) parlayed a strong run at Western Michigan into a Big Ten job after becoming one of the hot young coaches on the market after last season.
Speaking of Fleck, The Comeback’s Phil Harrison has Fleck as one of his Big Ten risers despite also listing Minnesota among his fallers. Harrison has faith in Fleck’s energetic personality to elevate the Gophers within the Big Ten West, but believes it will take more than one year to accomplish that feat. Iowa also made an appearance on the “Fallers” list as both Minnesota and Iowa will be working in new quarterbacks this season.
Can you think of another Big Ten team who is replacing its quarterback? Harrison seems to have more faith in Tanner Lee taking over in Nebraska coupled with the skill players around him (though proven) to keep him off the list. In fact, the only mention to Nebraska in the preview came at the end of the Minnesota section where he includes Nebraska in the same tier as Wisconsin and Northwestern in the West division.
Interestingly enough, his third Faller was Michigan, who most publications seem to be giving the benefit of the doubt despite losing 17 starters including 11 from a defense that was the strength of the team. Harbaugh has certainly recruited at an elite level, but will that young talent be enough, despite to almost complete lack of experience, to keep the Wolverines among the conference and national elite? I’m somewhat skeptical, but only time will tell.
The Grab Bag
- SB Nation’s Bill Connelly on Nebraska in his season preview: “With almost no projected senior starters on offense and few outside of the secondary on defense, this could be when the seeds of success are sown. Or it could be the year that gets Riley on the top of Hot Seat lists heading into 2018. I have no idea.”
- The Big Ten-ACC Challenge match-ups and dates on the women’s side were announced on Wednesday morning. The Huskers will host Clemson on Nov. 30.
- SB Nation’s Jason Kirk decided to go through every preseason AP poll and final season results since the very first poll in 1950 to find which teams had the biggest disparity from preseason expectations to final record. Nebraska made a couple appearances (2002 and 1951).
- Speaking of the AP, Ralph Russo included Tanner Lee on his list of six transfer quarterbacks who could make a big impact, but still seems somewhat skeptical about him.
- Yesh Ginsberg at The Comeback graded every nonconference game for the Big Ten West and then gave each team an overall grade for the out-of-conference slate. The Huskers scored an A overall.
- Pro Football Focus College’s podcast, PFF Drafts with Jordan and Josh, spent part of their Wednesday episode breaking down the Philadelphia Eagles’ draft, including the selection of former Huskers safety turned linebacker Nathan Gerry. Unfortunately, Josh has no clue how to say his name. However, both guys are quite high on Gerry’s potential.
- Former Huskers hooper Lance Jeter is looking for the next challenge after claiming back-to-back Dutch League MVPs and championships with Donar, where he played with another former Husker in Jason Dourrisseau.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.