Breaking down 4 big developments of the Big Ten offseason so far
While we’ve all been focusing on Ohio State’s run to the national title game over the last few weeks, there’s been a ton of movement in the Big Ten.
I wanted to circle back and hit on some of the big developments since the regular season ended. Here are 4 that caught my eye:
Michigan’s bold move
I think a lot of people would’ve understood if Michigan moved on from Jim Harbaugh, who has lost 6 of his last 8 games. That’s just the way the sport works nowadays, right or wrong. Extending Harbaugh through 2025 even though the program is clearly declining in Harbaugh’s sixth year qualifies as a bold move.
The contract isn’t completely indefensible. In fact, you could argue it’s good business. Harbaugh was one of the highest-paid coaches in the country at about $8 million per season, but now he will make about $4 million annually (plus incentives). To fire Harbaugh will only cost Michigan $4 million after the 2021 season, and that figure drops by $1 million after each successive season. That’s a fraction of what Texas ($24 million), Auburn ($21 million) and South Carolina ($15 million) paid to swap out coaches just recently.
Harbaugh has never led Michigan to a division title, much less a conference title or national title — thus the constant criticism. But he has won at least 9 games in 4 seasons and finished in the top 20 4 times. The guy can obviously coach, as his history at Stanford and with the San Francisco 49ers suggests.
This contract will reward him if he does a good job, gives Michigan flexibility to move on if he does a bad job and keeps a strong recruiting class (that includes a 5-star QB) intact. Why aren’t more coaching contracts like this?
Again, Penn State?
James Franklin is not taking a rare down season lightly, as the firing of offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca after just one season was a shocker. Penn State was praised widely after luring Ciarrocca from Minnesota when Ricky Rahne left to take the head coaching job at Old Dominion. But Penn State’s offense struggled mightily with 6 straight games of less than 30 points, which is basically unheard of in college football. For an offense that averaged 35.8, that was an unacceptable step back, even if Penn State did put up 39 and 56 the last 2 games to finish third in the B1G in scoring.
The new OC, Mike Yurcich, has a great track record after excelling at Oklahoma State, Ohio State and, most recently, Texas.
The Nittany Lions have the pieces to bounce back, but personally, I think it’s going to be tough for that offense — particularly QB Sean Clifford — in the unenviable position of having 3 offensive coordinators in 3 seasons. Changing coordinators last offseason was tough because contact was so limited due to the pandemic — which could be the exact situation this offseason. It’s going to be tough yet again.
But if Franklin didn’t see the offense taking off under Ciarrocca, he had to cut his losses and move on.
Even though everyone got a free year of eligibility, I expected anyone with an NFL future to take the paycheck, but that hasn’t been the case thus far.
Given all of the opt-outs throughout this past college football season, I guess I’m just conditioned to believe that guys will go pro as soon as possible. And I don’t fault them for that. But I’m selfishly excited when they decide to come back. The more star power in the Big Ten, the better. And, oh yeah, there’s some star power coming back.
Minnesota’s Mohamed Ibrahim, who was third in the country in rushing yards per game, is coming back, and that one surprised me the most given how short the careers of running backs are at the next level.
Some of the league’s best wide receivers, such as Indiana’s Ty Fryfogle and Penn State’s Jahan Dotson, are returning. Arguably the best center in the country, Iowa’s Tyler Linderbaum, will be back. Penn State’s Jaquan Brisker and Nebraska’s Cam Taylor-Britt, who are 2 of the conference’s top defensive backs, are returning.
Wisconsin’s Jake Ferguson, one of the B1G’s top tight ends, will be back. Badgers teammates Jack Sanborn and Noah Burks, 2 of the B1G’s top linebackers, are also coming back. Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson will be back.
All of these guys could’ve gone to the NFL, and with how stressful the pandemic was for the players, I wouldn’t have blamed them f they wanted to collect a check in the offseason instead of staying in school.
And there will probably be more of these established players who choose to come back in the coming weeks. It will certainly be interesting to see who comes back for Ohio State. But this is already more guys coming back than I thought, so that’s a positive development.
An ominous sign for Nebraska
It’s one thing to lose guys to the NFL, but it’s another to lose your best skill position player over the last 2 years to another team. Wan’Dale Robinson starred as a freshman and sophomore, but he’ll play his junior year elsewhere after entering the transfer portal.
Robinson told ESPN that part of the reason was a desire to be closer to family in Kentucky, but he also mentioned frustration over how he was used. He wasn’t getting the types of touches that translate to the NFL, he said. This is a guy who was featured as a runner and a receiver in Scott Frost’s offense, but is looking for a better opportunity to showcase his skills.
While I don’t doubt that Robinson’s desire to be closer to family is genuine, it is another blow to Nebraska. If you’re not winning at Nebraska and your tape won’t translate to the NFL, why would future recruits go there? Michigan may not be winning like it wants to, but at least it is getting guys to the NFL. That’s all many recruits want — a path to the pros. If Nebraska can’t do that and can’t win either, yikes.
When you add in that 5 4-star recruits from the 2020 class already transferred before the season ended, this is just a bad situation in Lincoln.