Bowl game or bust? The pressure is on for three B1G coaches to reach the postseason
The coaching carousel never stops turning in college football. Though it’s been relatively slow over the last few years, there are a few coaches who may find themselves in hot water if they don’t reach the postseason this fall.
Lovie Smith (Illinois), Chris Ash (Rutgers) and Tom Allen (Indiana) are all hoping to reach the postseason for the first time in their careers as a head coach. Smith and Ash are entering Year 4 at their respective programs while Allen is about to begin his third season. There’s plenty of pressure on all three to play in a bowl game at the end of the year.
But will falling short of that six-win mark cost any of the three coaches their jobs after the 2019 season comes to an end? The answer is different for each guy.
Tom Allen, Indiana
Record: 10-14 (2 years)
Bowl or bust? No
Here’s why: Indiana was in great shape when Allen inherited the program. When Kevin Wilson and the university parted ways, the Hoosiers were coming off back-to-back bowl appearances, something that hadn’t happened since the early 1990s. In Allen’s first two years, IU has finished 5-7, losing the Old Oaken Bucket Game to Purdue and falling short of a postseason bid.
While it’s been a bit of a disappointing start to Allen’s era at Indiana, this is a program that hasn’t enjoyed much success on the gridiron. And while the Hoosiers had the talent to reach a bowl game each of the last two seasons, Allen has the Hoosiers trending in the right direction.
Six of Indiana’s 10 highest-rated recruits have committed to the program since Allen has been in charge. He’s flipped prospects from the likes of Florida State, USC and Ohio State over the last three recruiting cycles. IU may not be a contender in the East regularly, but it’ll certainly have the talent to compete each and every week.
Eventually, Allen’s teams are going to have to start winning on the field, pull off a few upsets and play in some bowl games. But the athletic department was patient with Wilson, and it’ll likely give Allen a few more years, barring an utter disaster this fall.
Chris Ash, Rutgers
Record: 7-29 (3 years)
Bowl or bust? No
Here’s why: Ash might seem like the candidate who has the most to prove in 2019, and while that’s true to an extent, it doesn’t necessarily mean he has to get Rutgers to a bowl game this year. In all reality, four or five wins might be enough to buy him another year in Piscataway.
Rutgers AD Pat Hobbs has voiced his support of Ash several times in the past. Certainly a 1-11 campaign like last year won’t be acceptable, but considering how awful the Scarlet Knights have been, any sign of growth and progress should be enough to keep Ash around.
The bottom line is Rutgers was a complete mess when Ash walked in. He made no promises that the program would be a quick fix and has repeatedly said it will take years to get it to the level where it’s competing against the bluebloods on the conference on a regular basis. The administration seems to be fine with that mindset.
If Rutgers follows a 1-11 year with a two or three-win campaign, Ash could easily be pushed out the door. But if the Scarlet Knights are more competitive and at least flirt with the possibility of a postseason berth, we wont see a change on the sideline for another year.
Lovie Smith, Illinois
Record: 9-27 (3 years)
Bowl or bust? Yes
Here’s why: The first order of business for Josh Whitman when he was named the athletic director at Illinois was to fire Bill Cubit and hire Lovie Smith. It was a big-name hire that some loved while others were skeptical. So far, the skeptics have been proven right through three seasons.
Illinois has dealt with a lot of issues during the Smith era. Not only have the Illini failed to produce on the field, but there have been dozens of transfers and a plethora of injuries that have derailed the program. While some of that is obviously beyond Smith’s control, it’s slowed the progress and put Illinois behind the 8-ball.
Whitman said earlier this year that he expects Illinois to take that next step and start participating in bowl games. He’s called it a realistic goal for the upcoming 2019 season. And in a wide-open West division, it’s hard to argue again.
Smith has done some really good things on the recruiting trail and has done a good job building interest in the program among talented prospects. But if the Illini don’t produce this season, with a relatively mild schedule, Whitman will probably be looking for a new candidate to take over the program.