Now that the Big Ten media days are over, training camps opening for the 2015 season are just days away. There were three coaching changes in the conference after last season, all from Big Ten blue bloods. Michigan, Nebraska, and Wisconsin made changes for different reasons. Michigan traded incompetence for what they hope is a return to prominence with favorite son Jim Harbaugh. Nebraska traded Bo "consistently good but not great" Pelini for steady Mike Riley, hoping he gets them to an elite level. And Wisconsin had to replace Gary Andersen, who left abruptly to replace Riley at Oregon State. Former Badger quarterback and assistant Paul Chryst returned home, taking on the task of keeping Wisconsin at the top of the West division.
As we head into this coming season, there are several coaches that find themselves on the hot seat. While its unlikely, as many as eight head coaches could find their jobs at risk if their seasons end badly. These rankings are based on job security, starting with the most secure coaches headed into this season and ending with the least secure. Past history, current status and expectations are all factors.
Coaches Hot Seat Rankings:
14) Urban Meyer - Ohio State
Defending Big Ten and national champions. A 38-3 record in three seasons. On his way to potentially securing the top recruiting classes for both 2016 & 2017. Potential dynasty in the making. Best job security in college football.
13) Mark D'Antonio - Michigan State
11 wins in four of the past five seasons. That run started with solid recruiting classes that outperformed their rankings. D'Antonio preaches discipline and identified tough players willing to buy into his system. Now his success is leading to more top tier recruits. How he handles Michigan's potential resurgence will be interesting. They do have a very difficult schedule this season with Oregon at home and road games at Michigan, Nebraska and Ohio State. Another 11 win season will solidify D'Antonio as one of the best coaches in college football.
12) Jim Harbaugh - Michigan
Michigan's favorite son returns, promising to restore the winning legacy of the football program. Harbaugh is preaching a renewed focus on Bo Ball, the hard nosed style of football that led Michigan to its best seasons under Hall of Fame coach Bo Schembechler. Harbaugh is making himself the talk of the Big Ten with his social media antics and recruiting style. Early signs are showing its working as he is on his way to securing a top ten recruiting class. Headed into his honeymoon season, he does not have a full deck to play with. Expectations for his tenure are sky high but will he be able to exceed 8 wins and a mid-tier bowl in his first season? If he does, Michigan will be on the fast track to a return to prominence.
11) James Franklin - ttfp
The darling of Happy Valley, Franklin is making his name on the recruiting trail attracting top ranked talent. Last season's 7-6 season was below expectations. However, with scholarship limits still in play after the sanctions from the Sandusky scandal, Franklin can continue to tout the future. This season ttfp will be favored in its first six games, five of which are at home. Rutgers should be its toughest opponent during that stretch. With Christian Hackenberg at quarterback and a defense expected to be dominant once again, anything less than 8 wins would be considered a disappointment.
10) Mike Riley - Nebraska
Mike Riley had a 93-80 record over two stints and fourteen seasons at Oregon State. He won 10 games only once. And yet Nebraska, upset with Bo Pelini's seven straight seasons of 9 or 10 wins, pushed him out and hired Riley. At Nebraska the goal is championships and Riley is tasked at bringing them to a level Pelini never did. It will be interesting to watch Riley's tenure and whether he can meet those expectations. If Riley only matches the 9 win mark or falls below, the locals will grow restless quickly in husker nation. With Tommy Armstrong back at quarterback, Riley needs a good start to his tenure.
9) Paul Chryst - Wisconsin
Paul Chryst returns, replacing Gary Andersen after just two seasons. Andersen went 19-7 and won the West division last season. Our friends at Bucky's 5th quarter covered his departure here. The reason Chryst is ranked ninth on the hot seat rankings in only his first season is that he inherits a team built to win this season. His honeymoon won't last long if he fails to meet or exceed 10 wins, something the program has accomplished in four of the last six seasons. In addition, the Badgers don't play Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan or ttfp from the East. With the exception of the season opener against Alabama, Wisconsin could be favored in every other game this season. Although he is a another former quarterback returning to lead his alma mater, he will be expected to win right away.
8) Jerry Kill - Minnesota
Jerry Kill is entering his fifth season at Minnesota. After starting his tenure with a 9-16 record his first two seasons, he led them to back to back 8-5 seasons. This season is critical, with quarterback Mitch Leidner returning, for the Gophers to continue that progress. Anything below fourth place in the West would be a disappointment. Any step back would make Kill's seat much hotter by season's end.
7) Kyle Flood - Rutgers
Entering his fourth season as head coach, Kyle Flood has a 23-16 record with three bowl appearances. He received a contract extension early last season to help with recruiting efforts. This season is critical for Flood and Rutgers to prove last season's 8-5 record wasn't a fluke. Respect is still low. The team was barely picked above Indiana for sixth place in their division in the Big Ten media poll. Early on, with games against Washington State at home and at ttfp on the big ten network in prime time, Rutgers needs to fare no worse than 1-1. Losing both could lead to a disastrous 2-8 start, with Indiana being the only opponent during that stretch that RU wouldn't be a double digit underdog against. However, wins against both and Rutgers has a great shot at starting at 5-1 in consecutive seasons. With a visit to West Point for Army and Maryland at home for the season finale, seven wins would be attainable without considering any potential upsets. Like last season, Rutgers will need to beat everyone on its schedule they are better or even with on paper. Failure to do so would result in missing a bowl game, leading to calls for Flood's job.
6) Kirk Ferentz - Iowa
Kirk Ferentz has been the head coach of Iowa since 1999 but is only 34-30 in his past five seasons. Iowa finished last season losing five of its last seven games. They have lost to their in-state rival Iowa State three of the past four seasons. The schedule is such that anything less than 8 wins would be a disappointment. They play Maryland and Indiana in their crossover games against the East division. Ferentz is one of the highest paid coaches in college football. Whether he continues to be one at season's end remains to be seen.
5) Randy Edsall - Maryland
Entering his fifth season, Edsall has a 20-30 record. He does have back to back 7-6 seasons to build off of, but with only 10 starters returning, a decline this season is a concern. Maryland should start 3-0 but could easily be underdogs for their next seven games, including West Virginia and multiple Big Ten powers. Winning the recruiting battle for quarterback Dwayne Haskins was huge, but if a losing record derails that commitment, Edsall will be in serious trouble.
HOT TO THE TOUCH:
4) Pat Fitzgerald - Northwestern
After Fitzgerald started with a 50-39 record in his first seven seasons, he has stumbled with back to back 5-7 campaigns. This season doesn't get any easier, with non-conference games against Stanford and Duke as well as ttfp and Michigan from the East division. A third straight losing season could be the end of Fitzgerald's tenure in Evanston, who was the best defensive player in program history.
3) Darrell Hazell - Purdue
The former Rutgers assistant has had a rough start in West Lafayette, Indiana. With only one win in his first season, Hazell won three games last season, highlighted by the upset of Illinois. Year 3 is so important for Hazell, as he must show the program is making progress under his direction. With games against Marshall, Indiana State, Bowling Green, Northwestern, Illinois and Indiana, a 6-6 record is not impossible. However, three wins or less and Hazell would be done.
2) Tim Beckman - Illinois
Coach Tim Beckman is 12-25 entering his all important fourth season with Illinois. He has improved from two wins to four to six in his three seasons and earned his first bowl appearance with the program last season. However, recent allegations regarding mistreatment of players might sink Beckman regardless of record. The schedule is not easy as they play Ohio State and ttfp from the east as well as at North Carolina in non-conference play. 1,000 yard wide receiver Mike Dudek tore his ACL and is out until at least mid-season. Beckman needs a fast start in non-conference play. Wins against Purdue and Northwestern give them a shot at matching the six wins from last season. Anything less and Beckman is a goner. Depending on the university's pending investigation, wins and losses may not matter.
1) Kevin Wilson - Indiana
Kevin Wilson is 14-34 in four seasons at Indiana and went 4-8 last year. The biggest factor in Wilson getting one more season was the injury suffered by quarterback Nate Sudfield, which resulted in him missing half the season. It is bowl game or bust for Wilson this season. They have a relatively easy non-conference schedule with games against Southern Illinois, Western Kentucky, Florida International and Wake Forest. He needs a sweep of those games plus wins over Purdue and Maryland in their final two games of the season to clinch a bowl. Rutgers visits Bloomington on October 17th and it will be a challenge to leave with a victory. The Hoosiers will be going all out to win on Homecoming, playing for their coach's job. There are no easy wins in the Big Ten.