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Hot Reads: The Big Ten West Just Got More Interesting

November 29, 2018

I wonder if Scott Frost and Jeff Brohm are friends. Seems like they would be given how much they have in common. Their rises as head coaches aren't quite parallel –– Brohm's a few years older and became a first-time head coach two years before Frost did –– but they're pretty close. Both were quarterbacks. Both run offenses that will riddle a defense with points. Both showed that ability at the G5 level and are now doing it in the Big Ten West.

And now both know what it's like to feel the special pressure of having to tell your alma mater yes or no, to have been presented with the "dream job" at a less-than-ideal time.

Frost, of course, said "yes" a year ago this week when Nebraska offered him the chance to run the program at which he played. Brohm, this week, said "no" to Louisville. 

"While going home was very appealing and meaningful to me, the timing was not ideal. I believe that remaining at Purdue is the right thing to do, and I am excited for the challenges ahead," Brohm said in a statement to Journal & Courier

The situations aren't identical. Brohm didn't just play at Louisville, he was born in the city, was a high school star in the city. He was also choosing between two Power 5 schools, neither of which gets to sit at the elite table at the college football family picnic. (I still don't believe Louisville is a better job than Purdue, which seemed to be the prevailing sentiment. The Cardinals have an all-time winning percentage of .527, but have only been in a "power" conference since 2013. Purdue is at .520 and has been in the Big Ten since 1896. Remove Brohm's link to Louisville and this is a toss up at best.)

The timing "was not ideal" for Frost either, but at least the upside was clear. If you look at what Miami and Florida State were before those schools became football powers, there's really no reason to think UCF couldn't do the same. (Though it would probably need to be an independent to do it.) But that would require excellence over a decade or more. Nebraska's all-time standing is already established, it’s a program that’s already proven.

Perhaps that's why the two coaches made the decisions they did. Whether that was a factor or not, Frost and Brohm certainly have something to talk about the next time they're in the same room.

"What was it like when you got the dream call?" one could ask.

"It was great other than it interrupted a really good dream I was already having," the other could say.

Maybe it would only get deeper from there. Or maybe it would quickly become about Xs and Os. Either way, I'd love to observe that conversation.

This much is certain: Brohm's decision to stay in West Lafayette made the Big Ten West a whole lot more interesting. Let's just quickly recap where each team stands right now as we eye 2019.

ILLINOIS: All in on Lovie Smith, which might feel a bit strange to outsiders but a very young Illini team was at least a bit better in 2018. Smith made a good hire in offensive coordinator Rod Smith, but needs to figure out the defense. Still, relative to the rest of the division, this is the team you pencil in a win against each year until further notice. Three years ago, that was Purdue.

IOWA: Still Iowa. The Hawkeyes will beat you up in the trenches while auditing you. It's neither fun nor exciting for anyone involved, but it works and tends to give Iowa a chance to win just about any game.

MINNESOTA: A very young Minnesota team has already jumped 38 spots in the S&P+ rankings this year to last. If the record doesn't really suggest that P.J. Fleck's making gains in Minneapolis, that could. The Gophers are trending towards the classic spoiler spot. They won't start out many seasons ahead of the traditional division powers, but they'll be capable of beating any of them (but probably not all of them in a season).

NEBRASKA: Has the quarterback, has the coaching staff, has the offense and now has the ideal Year 1 for an expected rise. The Huskers were better than their record showed in 2018, which, as it pertains to future gains, is perhaps the best spot to be even if it means some initial disappointment.

NORTHWESTERN: Division champs. Even if it involved a series of unlikely events, I'm viewing this West Division title as a reward for everything Pat Fitzgerald has done to this point at Northwestern. The Wildcats have been a good football team for a long time now. Great? No, not that, but a team any opponent has to beat. That won't change any time soon.

PURDUE: Has Brohm and his ultimate vote of confidence in the program. Has Rondale Moore. Has the offense. Perhaps most important here: Purdue now has confidence.

WISCONSIN: Coming off a disappointing year, but nobody should be writing off the Badgers just yet. It will take more than one season to prove Wisconsin's still not the king of the division.

Things are about to get really interesting in a division that's been dismissed as often as any other in college football.

The Grab Bag

  • With Paul Johnson’s retirement at Georgia Tech, college football may have just lost an option team and that makes me sad.
  • Four Huskers earned All-Big Ten honors on offense.
  • Six Huskers earned All-Big Ten volleyball honors.
  • Which Husker makes “The Leap” in 2019? We tackled that question and more in the latest mailbag.

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