The winds of change are definitely blowing in Big Ten Country. The biggest change this season is the hiring of Rich Rodriguez at Michigan. Not only does it end a coaching era but also brings another spread offense into the Big Ten. The days of 3 yards and a cloud of dust in the Midwest are coming to an end as more and more teams try to adapt to the up tempo style of play that is now becoming the rule in the college game.
But this isn't the only potential change in the Big Ten this year. There is questions about job security for a few other coaches so here is my look at the conference coaches.
Illinois: Ron Zook
Zook has always been an amazing recruiter but who knew he could coach? Certainly not anyone in Gainesville but he did lead his Illini to a Rose Bowl and that is saying something. He also led his team to a big upset win over Ohio State in 2007 which makes him a favorite of mine. He continues to steal players in the recruiting war but his coaching chops will be tested this year with the loss of Rashard Mendenhall who he leaned heavily on last year. I think Zook will be a staple in Champagne for a while.
Indiana: Bill Lynch
Lynch did an excellent job rallying the Hoosiers during a tough season after losing coach Terry Hoeppner to cancer. He got the Hoosiers to "Play 13" with a bowl game appearance in the New Years ever Insight Bowl against Oklahoma State. He has strong Indiana Roots having coached at Ball State and did admirably last year. I think he can get another 7 wins this year and into another bowl game. He won't get a ten year contract like B-ball coach Tom Crean but I think he will have a very good opportunity to stay with IU for a long time.
Iowa: Kirk Ferentz
Ferentz was once the Golden boy of Big Ten coaches. He took the the Hawkeye's to 6 straight bowl games from 01-06 but his team faltered last year finishing 6-6. There offense finished last in the Big Ten in 2007 and 108th nationally. They only averaged 18.5 points per game and finished the season with a stunning loss to a 5-7 Western Michigan team. I would say that Ferentz is probably sitting on the hottest of seats going into this season.
Michigan: Rich Rodriguez
Rodriguez built himself a powerhouse in West Virginia who began to consistently challenge for the national title. He brings an exciting fast paced offense to Ann Arbor but other than that no one really knows. This season might be a little rough trying to Michigan to learn a completely new offense and if he is successful quick the legions of fans may turn there back on him quick. If he can beat Ohio State though all will be well again in the world. One thing is for certain, it will be a new game at the Big House this year.
Michigan State: Mark Dantonio
Dantonio is a good coach who brought a spark back to the Spartans in 2007. His 7-6 record didn't justify how much better the Spartans played. It is still early to tell on how things will pan out but I think Dantonio has what it takes to make the Spartans one of the top teams in the league in 3 years or less.
Minnesota: Tim Brewster
I have to be honest. I have no idea about Tim Brewster. The gophers went 1-11 last year so I don't think too many people know about him either but feel free to let me know if you from him.
Northwestern: Pat Fitzgerald
Pat Fitzgerald is in his third year as head coach after taking over for Coach Randy Walker who passed away. He was a very intelligent and high motor linebacker when he played and he brings those smarts and effort to his coaching. Northwestern always seems to be a dangerous team ready to beat any team that doesn't take them seriously enough and I think this will continue. They finished 6-6 last year but I think this year they will become Bowl eligible and Fitzgerald will be back next year.
Ohio State: Jim Tressel
Tressel has been a winner everywhere he has gone. He is a good coach and there shouldn't be a let down this year. That being said, as a Michigan fan I have to say that I don't like him. It might be sweater vest, I don't know, just something about him ain't right.
Penn State: Joe Paterno
First off Joe Pa is entering his 43rd year on the job. That should say enough. Has the game passed him buy? Probably. Is he even still in charge of the daily coaching duties? Doubt it. Is he still a threat to put together a team to win the Big Ten? Surprisingly so. Penn State is coming off a 9-4 campaign that included a win in the Alamo Bowl. If the team can find a really good parole officer that lets their whole team travel they can be dangerous. The off-season problems seem to continue but on the field they have some great athletes that at times can put it all together. Oregon State replaces Notre Dame on the schedule this year which may also cause some problems.
Purdue: Joe Tiller
Tiller has already announced that this will be his last year. That means one of two things; he will phone it in and Purdue will have a terrible team this year or everyone will come together and try to let their coach go out in style. Either way, they will probably start strong and fade at the end of the season when the winds start howling and the temperature drops like always.
Wisconsin: Bret Bielema
The hand picked replacement for Barry Alvarez has the Badgers where they always are, the top of the Big Ten Standings. After a 9-4 season last year and a preseason ranking of 17 the Badgers seem to be right back where they started. The toughest hurdle by far for Bielema will be a 4 game stretch where they play Fresno State, Michigan, Ohio State, and Penn State. Don't be surprised to see a tough game against Fresno who will be looking for a big win and the Badgers might be looking ahead. If they do get through this stretch 3-1 or 2-2 there schedule sets up nicely for a strong finish.
Off Campus: The Winds of Change in the Big Ten
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