Anybody can do power rankings. Anyone and everyone will have some sort of ranking of college football coaches. Simply ranking coaches without much explanation is easy and far too common.

Instead of doing that, we went into detail about the tenures of every B1G coach. We looked at their biggest win, their most embarrassing loss, their top recruiting class and most importantly, why they were ranked where they where. We’ll go in depth with each coach until we get down to No. 1.

With that in mind, let the #B1GCoachRank debate begin:

Coach — No. 2 Mark Dantonio (Michigan State)

Record — 87-33 (52-20 in B1G)

Record vs. top 25 — 17-20

Where team was when he was hired — Here are some stats about MSU football in the pre-Dantonio era:

  • Before he got to East Lansing, the program hadn’t had consecutive nine-win seasons since 1966, and it took 21 years before the next one happened. Dantonio accomplished that feat in six of his nine seasons at MSU, including five of the last six.
  • In the 14 seasons that preceded him, the Spartans finished in the top three of the B1G once. Dantonio won the division or won the conference outright four times.
  • Before Dantonio, MSU had lost at least two conference games every year since 1988. In five of the last six seasons, the Spartans have one or fewer conference losses.
  • MSU had lost nine straight games against Michigan and Ohio State prior to Dantonio’s arrival. After losing to both of them in his first year, Dantonio is 10-4 against them since.

Ok, so you get it.

MSU was a sub-par program when Dantonio was hired. Three straight seasons of sub-.500 records and a 7-17 conference mark were proof of that. He made it a point to get back to a more traditional style on offense and defense. The former MSU assistant (1995-2000) might not have been viewed as the splashy, game-changing hire at the time, but that certainly proved to be the case.


Biggest win — Nov. 21, 2015 at No. 2 Ohio State

If there was one game that defined Dantonio’s MSU tenure, it was the OSU win. While everyone was talking about the regular-season finale between Michigan and OSU, nobody gave MSU a chance. Some went so far as to say that the Spartans wouldn’t even score a point on the road against the defending national champs and winners of 23 straight. And when it was announced that Connor Cook wasn’t playing, surely there was no way MSU was going to hand the undefeated Buckeyes their first home B1G loss in the Urban Meyer era.

But the Spartans, who were 13-point underdogs, shocked the world. And fittingly, it happened exactly the way MSU’s defensive-minded coach wanted. His defense held the star-studded Buckeyes to 132 total yards, which was the worst offensive output in Meyer’s entire head coaching career.

Michael Geiger’s game-winning kick instantly became one of the greatest moments in the history of MSU athletics. Getting revenge against Ohio State squashed any notion that MSU was a good, but not great program.

Even better, it paved the way for MSU to make more history. The Spartans took control of their own destiny to the College Football Playoff and muscled their way to the final four for the first time. If MSU didn’t get that victory against OSU, some might have questioned whether the Spartans’ golden era was behind them.

Instead, that monumental win set up the pinnacle achievement of the Dantonio era. So far.

Most embarrassing loss — Sept. 12, 2009 vs. Central Michigan

Since Dantonio took over in 2007, MSU has only lost four games at home to unranked teams. Three of those were to B1G teams, the last of which happened in 2012 (MSU’s only season without 11 wins in the last six years).

What was the only one that wasn’t? That would be the disaster against Central Michigan in 2009.

The only non-conference home loss to an unranked team in the Dantonio era was a tough one. MSU was a 14-point favorite against the in-state MAC school. Even though it was a one-possession game throughout, it was in the bag. CMU’s failed two-point conversation with 32 seconds left, which would’ve gave the Chippewas the one-point lead, should’ve ended it. Instead, Andrew Aguila converted an onside kick and followed it up by booting the game-winning field goal in the final three seconds.

At the time, it was a crushing blow. MSU had appeared to be on the rise after a 9-4 season in 2008. The CMU loss turned out to be a sign of things to come. The Spartans lost five games by one possession in 2009. Maybe it was an easier pill to swallow after CMU went on to have a 12-2 season and it served as the launching point for Butch Jones’ career.

But fortunately for MSU, losses like that during the Dantonio era have been few and far between.

Best recruiting class — 2011

Dantonio’s recruiting classes are so difficult to evaluate because as you know, the star system means nothing at MSU. Look at the 2010 class and you’ll find guys like Le’Veon Bell, Jeremy Langford and Darqueze Dennard weren’t top 1,000 recruits. Or take a look at the 2012 group, and scroll to the very bottom, where you’ll find No. 8 overall pick Jack Conklin.

So fittingly, Dantonio’s 2011 group gets the nod, but not because of some lofty ranking. That class was only ranked No. 32 nationally, and at the time, it wasn’t even in the top half of the B1G. But the players that came from that group were responsible for the golden era of MSU football.

Here are the top 10 recruits from that class:

Screen Shot 2016-06-22 at 10.42.58 AM

That’s a combined 182 starts from those players alone. Six of those guys started at least two years at MSU, which was mainly during the 23-4 run from 2014-15. That doesn’t include Ed Davis or Darien Harris, who tied the MSU record for games played (54).

But wait, there’s more!

Here are three of the four lowest-rated recruits from that class:

Screen Shot 2016-06-22 at 3.39.35 PM

So yeah, one of the top defensive players ever at MSU, the program’s all-time winningest quarterback and a guy who was selected No. 11 overall — it was the highest draft pick in the Dantonio era at the time — were all part of that 2011 class.

No wonder MSU did unprecedented things the last two years.

What could get him fired — The only way this happens in 2016 is if a bunch of former players claim that they got extra benefits and that Dantonio covered up several violent crimes. So basically a Pete Carroll/Art Briles hybrid of corruption.


Why he’s at No. 2 — There are plenty of people who believe Jim Harbaugh is a better coach than Dantonio right now. One could make a compelling argument based on the fact that reaching a Super Bowl is a higher level of success than reaching a College Football Playoff semifinal. That’s true. If one wanted to argue that Harbaugh is a better recruiter than Dantonio, the numbers would support that as well.

But for me, Dantonio gets the slight nod for a few different reasons.

At each one of Harbaugh’s three previous stops, he left after turning it into a contender. But because of his career path and fallout in San Francisco, Harbaugh has never been at the same place for more than four years. He’s never had to endure the grind of sustaining success at one place. Will he at Michigan? Possibly, but that’s not a guarantee.

Not only did Dantonio stay at MSU when he could’ve went elsewhere, he continued winning. Until further notice, MSU is a yearly top-15 team. Even after facing major turnover after two of the best seasons in program history, the Spartans are still penciled in as one of the nation’s best. That’s a culture established by an elite coach.

On the field, Dantonio still has the upper hand on Harbaugh. Fluky play or not, MSU won in Ann Arbor in their only meeting. The win percentage stats also favor Dantonio. And for as much success as Harbaugh has had in his brief head coaching career, he still only has two wins against top-10 teams.

Dantonio had three last year alone.

The gap is slimming. Both are recruiting at an elite level — Dantonio actually just signed his highest-rated class ever at MSU — and don’t appear to be going anywhere anytime soon. Thankfully, both programs are prominent at the same time, which hasn’t happened much in their histories. All signs point to this being a back-and-forth debate for years to come.

But for now, the edge belongs to Dantonio.


No. 14 Darrell Hazell

No. 13 Chris Ash

No. 12 Lovie Smith

No. 11 D.J. Durkin

No. 10 Tracy Claeys

No. 9 Mike Riley

No. 8 Kevin Wilson

No. 7 Paul Chryst

No. 6 James Franklin

No. 5 Pat Fitzgerald

No. 4 Kirk Ferentz

No. 3 Jim Harbaugh

No. 2 Mark Dantonio

No. 1 — TBA