The Big 10 East has been super competitive for the past few years. Ohio State, with Urban Meyer won the national title in 2014, obviously. James Franklin and Penn State won the Big 10 championship in 2016 and Michigan State with Mark Dantonio won it in 2015. Jim Harbaugh hasn’t won the Big 10 championship, but he made his Wolverines competitive again with the big boys.
The jury is still out on the new coaches at Maryland, Rutgers and Indiana.
Over in the West, it’s been all about Wisconsin. Iowa upset Wisconsin in 2015 and then got destroyed in the Rose Bowl by Stanford and Christian McCaffrey.
Northwestern won 10 games this past season, but they’ve been up and down under head coach Pat Fitzgerald. Only Wisconsin has been consistent.
The Western division of the Big 10 is led by the Badgers, but followed by Northwestern and Iowa. The Wildcats have a brand new athletic facility right on the shores of Lake Michigan that is about as
good as anyone’s in the country. It’s simply incredible, and that’s going to help with recruiting in the future. But, the academics at Northwestern are not going to allow them to go totally bonkers like some schools located in the south.
Iowa is probably not going anywhere. But, at Nebraska, Purdue, Minnesota and Illinois it may be time for others to start paying attention.
Things may be changing in the Big 10 West and changing big.
Nebraska fans should be elated. After years of greatness under Bob Devaney and Tom Osborne, they’ve had to live with Bill Callahan, Mike Riley and to some degree, Bo Pelini.
Hiring Scott Frost will have them back in the national limelight and quickly.
The former Husker quarterback was the offensive coordinator at Oregon before being hired by the University of Central Florida to take over their ailing program. Frost took over an 0-12 team and in his first season on the job, the team was 6-7. This past season, the nation watched as the Knights of UCF beat Auburn in the Peach Bowl to improve their record to 13-0. Auburn can make excuses that they weren’t ready, or they underestimated the Knights, but UCF still beat them. Scott Frost prepared the team for the game while hiring a staff at Nebraska and recruiting. Frost was much more distracted than Auburn and his Knights knew he was leaving and they still beat Auburn. Frost was a former quarterback for Nebraska, but he started his playing career at Stanford and transferred back home to
the Cornhuskers. He’s a brilliant young coach and he’s also very intense and determined. The nation had better be prepared for a return of the Nebraska Cornhuskers.
I’ve written other posts about this remarkable young coach: Scott Frost
The Purdue Boilermakers haven’t been very good since the departure of head coach Joe Tiller. In most recent seasons, they have struggled to win three games. Personally, I was surprised to hear that the Boilermakers had lured former Louisville quarterback Jeff Brohm away from Western Kentucky. I had assumed he would wait on another job, or might feel that Purdue was too much of a challenge. Brohm hit it head on last season and took the Boilermakers to a bowl game, finishing the season with a 7-6 record. Sure, that’s barely past .500, but it’s a start and he still needs to recruit better talent.
But, even with the talent he had leftover, the change in the team was instantaneous. They lost a few games that they should have won and they have work to do before they are a serious contender. But, as long as Brohm is on the job, they will be competitive in most every game.
The coaching staff signed some more talent at quarterback and watch for a young kid by the name of Jack Plummer from Gilbert, Arizona who is the nephew of Jake Plummer. They also recruited a kid from Louisville, Kentucky named Rondale Moore who was committed to Texas before switching over to the Boilermakers. Purdue is a team to keep an eye on over the next few years and maybe even this season.
Not quite as well known is PJ Fleck at Minnesota, but he’s also a very clever hire by the Gophers. At Western Michigan, Fleck was able to coach the Broncos to a 13-0 regular season two years ago. But, they couldn’t quite get past Big 10 power Wisconsin in the Cotton Bowl so they finished 13-1. At Western Michigan, he took over a 4-8 team and promptly led them to a really bad 1-11 record. But, that record led to an 8-5 season followed by an identical 8-5 record before taking his team to a 13-1 MAC championship.
It might be corny, but Fleck’s Row Your Boat mantra works pretty well, apparently. It didn’t work immediately at Minnesota with the Gophers going 5-7 in his first season. But, excitement is growing and expect the team to improve greatly over the next couple of seasons. Minnesota is rarely going to
attract the big name 4 and 5 star recruits, but the amazing young coach Fleck is changing that.
While they only signed five 4 star recruits in this year’s class, they are still upgrading the talent over previous coaching staffs and the Gophers should be back in the national spotlight in the coming seasons. The one position that they must upgrade immediately is quarterback and they aren’t going to row many boats until they get quarterback figured out. PJ Fleck
Then, there’s former NFL coach Lovie Smith at Illinois. No, he hasn’t done much yet at Illinois, but he walked into a really difficult situation.
He was hired after national signing day and he had no chance to recruit his first class. He brought in a very experienced staff, but they didn’t have much to work with.
This past season, the Illini at times had 5 freshman starting in the offensive line. This was the first season that Smith had his own recruiting class.
Maybe he can hang on to one of the top recruits in the 2019 recruiting class in Isaiah Williams from St Louis. Williams is a 4 star quarterback and just the guy that could possibly revive the struggling Illini program. Lovie Smith has 3 commitments for the 2019 recruiting class and 2 of them are 4 star commits and very talented.
Chicago Bears fans may complain about Lovie Smith, but college football is another situation altogether than the NFL. I’ve been following Smith since his days in high school: Big Sandy
I feel fairly confident that he will get it done at Illinois.
It may be time to start getting excited, or worried, about the Big 10.