Looking back at the B1G's top one-year turnarounds of the last 20 years
It seemed like 2015 was the year of turnarounds in the B1G.
You had Michigan and Northwestern go from five-win teams to 10-win teams. Iowa went from a middling seven-win team to a 12-win team that earned a Rose Bowl berth.
All three teams improved by five games, which marked that sixth time in the last 20 years that happened in the B1G:
- 1999 Illinois
- 2010 Michigan State
- 2010 Northwestern
- 2015 Iowa
- 2015 Northwestern
- 2015 Michigan
But those six teams were not among the top six one-year turnarounds in the B1G in the last 20 years. Amazingly, four of those six turnarounds came with a coach in his first three years on the job. In other words, new coaches shouldn’t put a cap on turnarounds. All three of the seven-game turnarounds involved making it to a BCS game, too. So hey, Illinois/Maryland/Purdue/Rutgers fans, believe in 2016.
With that said, here are the top B1G turnarounds from the last 20 years.
1997 Purdue (+6)
- 1996 record — 3-8 (2-6 in B1G)
- 1997 record — 9-3 (6-2 in B1G)
Why they improved — Joe Tiller. The Boilermakers were a different team in 1997 with the first-year coach. Tiller’s spread attack revitalized the Purdue offense while Rosevelt Colvin led an improved defense. After laying an egg at Toledo in the season opener, Tiller helped the Boilers snap an 11-game losing streak vs. Notre Dame the following week. Purdue’s only losses the rest of the way came against No. 16 Iowa and No. 6 Penn State. Tiller’s offensive vision came to a head when Purdue rolled past Oklahoma State in the Alamo Bowl. It marked Purdue’s first top-15 finish since 1979, but unfortunately, the Boilermakers never exceeded nine wins in Tiller’s 12 seasons in West Lafayette.
2012 Ohio State (+6)
- 2011 record — 6-7 (3-5 in B1G)
- 2012 record — 12-0 (8-0 in B1G)
Why they improved — Urban Meyer showed up. The former Florida coach immediately established his culture in his first year in Columbus. In the fallout of Tattoogate, the Buckeyes were ineligible from postseason play, but it didn’t show. Meyer maximized the talent of what was still a loaded roster. The 2011 squad wasn’t as bad as a typical six-win team, but Luke Fickell’s Buckeyes looked a lot different than Meyer’s. Meyer took a team that was 3-5 in the B1G and made it the class of the conference like that. Credit should also be given to first-year offensive coordinator Tom Herman, who helped turn Braxton Miller from a good player to a great one. As a result, the Buckeyes bounced back in a hurry.
2013 Michigan State (+6)
- 2012 record — 7-6 (3-5 in B1G)
- 2013 record — 13-1 (8-0 in B1G)
Why they improved — The offense finally caught up to Pat Narduzzi’s defense in 2013. The 2012 group was probably a lot better than a typical 7-6 team, but the Spartans could never get that key late score. Five of their losses came by a combined 13 points in their first year without Kirk Cousins. With Connor Cook as the starter in 2013, the MSU offense took off. The Spartans won every game by double digits after dropping a heartbreaker at Notre Dame. How drastic of a turnaround was it? MSU went from unranked in late-October to No. 3 by season’s end. Any questions about Mark Dantonio as an elite coach were quickly answered.
2007 Illinois (+7)
- 2006 record — 2-10 (1-7 in B1G)
- 2007 record — 9-4 (6-2 in B1G)
Why they improved — In 2006, Illinois was the team that found a way to lose (excluding that massive upset of Michigan State). In 2007, Illinois was the team that found new ways to win. Ron Zook’s third year finally allowed his recruits to blossom. Rashard Mendenhall exploded in Zook’s spread offense and Juice Williams matured greatly. No game proved that more than Illinois’ stunning win at No. 1 Ohio State in which Williams threw four touchdown passes. It marked Illinois’ first win over a top-ranked team since 1956, and more importantly, it got the Illini to the Rose Bowl. Guys like Mendenhall and J Leman will always be remembered for one of the more improbable single-season turnarounds of the BCS era. Too bad that was the high point of Zook’s tenure at Illinois.
2005 Penn State (+7)
- 2004 record — 4-7 (2-6 in B1G)
- 2005 record — 11-1 (7-1 in B1G)
Why they improved — At a place like Penn State, seasons like 2005 are few and far between. Expectations were low after seasons with three and four wins. That 2005 group fed off that. Joe Paterno’s 40th season was a magical one, and surprisingly, it was the result of him changing his ways. The Lions used multiple receiver sets to stretch defenses and reaped the rewards. They averaged 35.3 points per game in B1G play behind the brilliance of B1G Offensive Player of the Year Michael Robinson. On top of that, the Lions defense took off. Paul Posluszny, Tamba Hali and Alan Zemaitis starred for one of Paterno’s best defenses ever. If not for a couple added seconds to the clock against Michigan, Penn State would’ve been undefeated and had a shot to play for a national title. Not a bad turnaround for a team that started B1G play 0-6 the year before.
2002 Ohio State (+7)
- 2001 record — 7-5 (5-3 in B1G)
- 2002 record — 14-0 (8-0 in B1G)
Why they improved — The man, the myth, the legend…Maurice Clarett. Before Clarett went off the deep end, he did some pretty special things in Columbus as a true freshman. He was a revelation for an offense that desperately needed to pick up the slack. The defensive stars were there. Tim Anderson, Mike Doss, Chris Gamble and Will Smith led a unit — don’t forget that Mark Dantonio was the defensive coordinator — that surrendered 20-plus points TWICE all season. That’s astonishing. That allowed Clarett and the talented Buckeye front to control the clock and wear every team down en route to a national title. Even if you think Miami got a raw deal on the pass interference call, OSU was still 13-0 and in double overtime against one of the most talented college football teams ever. Jim Tressel’s rebuilding job was an instant success. It set the bar awfully high for the rest of his time in Columbus.