Predicting B1G Coach of the Year
Predicting a coach of the year isn’t simply picking the best coach. If that were the case, Urban Meyer and Mark Dantonio would be locks for the award every year.
Predicting a winner in this category is more about who will rise above expectations. Jerry Kill was that guy last year. Nobody thought that Minnesota would be playing a Big Ten semifinal in Madison for the West Division crown.
Since 1989, every winner of the award has finished the season with at least eight wins. While teams like Northwestern and Purdue could surpass preseason expectations, they likely have to be playing a New Year’s Day bowl game to be in the conversation.
Taking those factors into account, here are my two picks to click.
James Franklin, Penn State
In case you can’t tell, I’m all in on Penn State in 2015. That, of course, starts with the man running the show. In their first season without postseason sanctions, Franklin led the Lions to a Pinstripe Bowl victory. That, however, was just a launching point for what the future holds for Penn State. Franklin has a track record for maximizing a team’s potential, like when he led Vanderbilt to back-to-back nine-win seasons in the SEC. For a team that had never been to consecutive bowl games, Franklin led the program on a historic run. Why? Because he’s one of the best recruiters in the country — as shown by his loaded 2016 class — and he knows how to run an offense. Last year’s offensive struggles were the result of a depleted offensive line, one that was handed to Franklin upon his arrival. This year, with an improved group up front, we’re really going to see what Franklin can draw up for Christian Hackenberg and the Penn State offense. Sure, they have to battle in the ruthless East Division. But Franklin will lead Penn State back to national relevance, and receive some hardware when it’s all said and done.
Jerry Kill, Minnesota
When was the last time someone repeated as Big Ten Coach of the Year? That would be 1996 when Gary Barnett was leading Northwestern to a Rose Bowl. Kill could be the next to do so. There are certainly more expectations in Minneapolis than in years past. That’s what happens when you nearly win the division. But in the wake of the Norwood Teague scandal, the next several months are going to be a tumultuous time for Minnesota athletics. That story isn’t going away any time soon. What’ll help shift the conversation will be the Gophers competing for another West Division title, and Kill will be the one steering the ship. The odds aren’t necessarily in the Gophers’ favor. The Big Ten’s toughest schedule kicks off the season against No. 2 TCU and features a crossover showdown in Columbus. On top of that, the Gophers have unproven pass-catchers and a starting quarterback in Mitch Leidner who hasn’t shown he can lead an offense. This year’s team will need Kill’s magic touch even more than last year’s. We saw what he can do with a team when he’s healthy and able to stay on the sidelines. In 2015, we’ll see it again.