The boogeyman is gone. The one Big Ten coach who could align all others against him — for something they all do.

Jim Harbaugh, you see, just did it more creatively.

So here we are, post Harbs and his sign stealing drama (among the many sideshows), and the coaching lineup in the Big Ten is as new and unsettled as it has been in decades. USC, UCLA, Washington and Oregon join the Big Ten in 2024, and 5 new coaches join a conference completely different from the Pac-12 they left.

We begin the offseason with a ranking of the Big Ten’s coaches by tiers, and with the reality that the league’s top 2 coaches could both be staring at make or break seasons:

Championship elite

1. Ryan Day, Ohio State

The now: It’s hard to argue against a coach whose only flaw is losing to Michigan in each of the past 3 seasons.

The problem for Day: Tt’s Michigan (duh), and it prevented the Buckeyes from winning the Big Ten — and from reaching the Playoff in 2 of the seasons. But how many other programs would do backflips to go 56-8 in 5 seasons?

The future: He’ll have a new athletic director (Ross Bjork) in July, and he’ll face a new coach at Michigan (more on him later) in late November.

It’s not out of the question that the Big Ten’s best coach might not make it past 6 seasons at Ohio State if the Buckeyes can’t beat a depleted Michigan team — without Harbaugh. Crazy? Sure.

But that’s what this rivalry does to each side.

2. Lincoln Riley, USC

The now: Don’t let the one hiccup in Riley’s coaching career change an impressive body of work.

USC went 8-5 in 2023 with the reigning Heisman Trophy winner (QB Caleb Williams) and a defense that couldn’t stop anyone. Sound familiar?

The Sooners had Heisman winners (Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray) and a Heisman finalist (Jalen Hurts), and couldn’t play defense in big games to save themselves. It’s hard to argue against a coach who has won double-digit games in 5 of his 7 seasons.

The future: USC didn’t back up a brinks truck and pay off Riley’s home in Norman, and set him up with a Top 5 salary, and give him everything he could possibly want and need to be successful, to have him lose 5 games.

So yeah, 2024 is important on many levels. The first Big Ten season, and the first opportunity for USC to see if it can play bully ball in its new conference — or if the roster isn’t ready to compete.

3. Dan Lanning, Oregon

The now: Lanning has quickly turned Oregon into a scaled down version of Georgia. The lines of scrimmage are fast and athletic, and the offensive skill is dangerous.

He and his staff are recruiting at an elite level and completely changed the fortunes of QB Bo Nix in 2022-23. Now they have one of the most prolific quarterbacks in college football history (Dillon Gabriel) playing his final season in Eugene.

The future: Georgia had to figure out how to beat Alabama under Kirby Smart. Now Oregon must figure out the Washington problem — while transitioning into a new league of programs just as physical as the Ducks.

One step away

4. James Franklin, Penn State

The now: Another 11-win season, and another season of fans complaining that (take your pick) Penn State couldn’t beat Ohio State and/or Michigan, and Penn State couldn’t reach the Playoff.

The latter of those issues will be an easier lift from here out with the new 12-team Playoff.

The future: He’s 3-17 vs. Top 10 teams, and 4-16 vs. Ohio State and Michigan. He signed a significant extension after the 2022 season, so it’s not likely Penn State is looking for a way out. He simply has to figure out how to win those big games.

5. Kirk Ferentz, Iowa

The now: Relax, everyone. Ferentz hired an offensive coordinator (former Western Michigan coach Tim Lester), and the days of bashing his son, and former offensive coordinator, Brian, are gone.

Now maybe we can focus on how in the world Ferentz won 10 games with an offense that couldn’t string together first downs — or how many more games Iowa would’ve won if the offense averaged more than 25 points per game.

The future: Ferentz didn’t want to fire his son, and only time will tell just how aggravated (and insulted) he felt being forced into it. Maybe he gets Iowa to the Playoff in one last push, and then walks away.

6. Matt Rhule, Nebraska

The now: The most high-profile rebuild in the Big Ten, and it’s not getting any easier after the last month of the 2023 season.

Rhule turned programs around at Temple and Baylor, and had Nebraska primed to pull out of a 6-year postseason drought before 4 straight losses — by a combined 16 points — to finish the season.

The future: It’s difficult to place the rebuild at the feet of a true freshman quarterback, but that’s the task ahead for both Rhule and QB Dylan Raiola. The top 10 recruit was a critical signing for Rhule — who needs a quarterback, and needed to prove to other elite recruits that Nebraska is a realistic option.

7. Luke Fickell, Wisconsin

The now: Fickell arrived with a new philosophy (the Air Raid offense) to push old school Wisconsin into the 21st century. In a word, it bombed.

Less than 60% of passes completed, only 14 TD passes (5 INTs), and an average of 6.1 yards per attempt. Woof.

The future: There’s too much to like about Fickell’s history at Cincinnati — and OC Phil Longo’s success at North Carolina — to think it won’t turn at Wisconsin. The Badgers need a quarterback, but is Miami transfer Tyler Van Dyke the answer?

8. Jonathan Smith, Michigan State

The now: Considering the drama and uncertainty within the state of the program, Michigan State couldn’t have landed a better coach to replace Mel Tucker.

Smith never would’ve left Oregon State had the Pac-12 stayed together. He believed in what he was building, and believed he could get to the Playoff with the Beavers — who won 18 games in the past 2 seasons.

The future: The geographic recruiting footprint is different. The financial commitment is, too.

Smith is recruiting a different player at Michigan State, and has the ability to land elite high school and transfer portal players. Watch QB Aidan Chiles, a transfer from Oregon State — he’ll be one of the best players in the Big Ten by the end of the 2024 season.


9. PJ Fleck, Minnesota

The now: For the first time since Fleck arrived at Minnesota, there is hesitation.

His choice at quarterback (Athan Kaliakmanis) didn’t work, and he transferred to Rutgers. The offense struggled, and the defense — for the first time in 3 seasons — did, too.

Minnesota won 5 games, and reached a bowl because of its academic prowess — and beat outmanned Bowling Green to get to 6 wins.

The future: The offense will change with QB Max Brosmer, an FCS transfer from New Hampshire. The defense will, too, with new DC Corey Hetherman.

10. Jedd Fisch, Washington

The now: It took 3 years, but Fisch turned around the Arizona program and won 10 games in 2023 — and parlayed it into a plum job.

A longtime college and NFL assistant, Fisch made it work in his first head-coaching job because there was nowhere to go but up. What happens when the only way to go is down?

The future: Washington, like Alabama, has dealt with significant portal defections since the loss of its head coach.

But Fisch made a big move in getting Mississippi State transfer QB Will Rogers to reaffirm his commitment to Washington. At the very least, Fisch has a quarterback. Can he find enough pieces in Year 1 to build around it?

11. Chip Kelly, UCLA

The now: He more than likely saved his job with a win over rival USC — a week after losing to a gutted Arizona State team at home.

A bowl win over Boise State helped secure the idea of continuity, as did the reality that moving into a new league (Big Ten) with a new coach isn’t exactly optimal.

The future: UCLA must make a decision. Is 8 wins enough, or is this Kelly’s final chance to prove he can make it work in Westwood?

12. Bret Bielema, Illinois

The now: A strange 2023 after a breakout season in 2022. The Illini could’ve — and probably should’ve — won at least 8 games.

Instead, the 5-win season followed the late swoon of 2022, and Illinois is 6-11 in its past 17 games under Bielema.

The future: Was 2023 an anomaly? Bielema has recruited well, and has the program on solid footing. But is Illinois trending toward the same way it ended at Arkansas for Bielema: full of 1-possession losses.

13. Mike Locksley, Maryland

The now: For the first time in 2 decades, Maryland had back-to-back seasons of at least 8 wins. A big step for a program that has been treading water in the Big Ten.

The future: Locksley’s teams are 1-12 vs. Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State, only beating Penn State in the 2020 COVID season. Even with the end of divisions, Maryland still must prove it can beat Ohio State or Michigan to take the next step under Locksley.

14. Greg Schiano, Rutgers

The now: The hope that Schiano could recapture the glory of Rutgers in the old Big East has faded fast.

It’s a difficult lift that has been compounded by a lack of consistent quarterback play.

The future: One the bright side, 2023 was Schiano’s first winning season at Rutgers in his second tenure. But those 7 wins could also be a high-point, especially with 4 new, legit programs added to the annual slog.

The early stages

15. David Braun, Northwestern

The now: Braun could’ve been named coach of the year — in the nation — and the honor would’ve been well-deserved.

You don’t walk into turmoil where you’re not expected to win a game, and then win 8 — including wins over your rival (Illinois) and in a bowl game (Utah).

The future: Former coach Pat Fitzgerald built for the 2023 season and had an experienced team and a veteran quarterback.

But Braun still held it all together despite problems on and off the field. How does it work moving forward? Can Braun recruit and develop as well as Fitzgerald — and get his teams consistently ready to play despite the talent discrepancy.

16. Sherrone Moore, Michigan

The now: Harbaugh told Michigan president Santa Ono that Moore was ready for the job, and that he deserved it.

All Ono had to do was look at how Moore guided the Wolverines in 3 critical wins — Penn State, Maryland, Ohio State — while Harbaugh served a 3-game suspension.

The future: Taking a ready-made championship team — that was fully motivated by past failures and the 2023 drama surrounding Harbaugh and the program — and steering it in the right direction was the easy part.

Consistently recruiting and building, year after year in a loaded conference, is the heavy lift moving forward.

17. Curt Cignetti, Indiana

The now: Guided JMU through the transition from FCS to FBS, and won 19 games in the last 2 seasons. A wildly underrated reality of the last 2 college football seasons.

The future: Was the 2020 COVID season an anomaly, or the potential of what could be when Indiana gets a hot quarterback and hits on a couple of recruiting classes?

Or is Cignetti destined to the fate of every other IU coach: the job is a tombstone or a steppingstone.

18. Ryan Walters, Purdue

The now: November wins over Minnesota and rival Indiana plugged the many leaks. Then the transfer season hit — and Walters lost impact players on both sides of the ball.

The future: Purdue needed to hit big in the portal, and landed a solid class. But Walters can’t keep losing elite players (Edge Nic Scourton, WR Deion Burks) and hope to build something that lasts.