By Anna Kayser
While the Big Ten certainly isn’t the strongest college football conference in the NCAA, the experience of some of its head coaches moves teams closer to the playoffs.
From those who cover the Kinnick visiting team’s locker room floor to ceiling in posters of “Urban Decay” (The Daily Iowan’s headline for Iowa’s 2017 win over Ohio State), here are the top-5 best Big Ten football coaches entering the upcoming season.
Urban Meyer — Ohio State
There’s no better way to start this off than by talking about the reigning Big Ten champions, Ohio State, led by Urban Meyer. Since his inaugural season in 2012, Meyer has a whopping .901 winning percentage (73-8) with the Buckeyes. That’s fewer than two losses a season. Despite being run over by the Hawkeyes in a huge loss that more than likely kept Ohio State out of the College Football Playoffs, Meyer’s squad went on to overtake undefeated Wisconsin to win the conference.
In 2011, the Buckeyes were 6-7 and fourth in the Big Ten. Meyer turned that around in his very first season and has worked to build the winning culture that had surrounded Ohio State years before his reign.
Paul Chryst — Wisconsin
Wisconsin has long had a winning culture, placing either at No. 1 or No. 2 in the Big Ten for eight-straight years. Paul Chryst, after taking over in 2015, has won three-straight bowl games with the Badgers and has only seven losses in those years. In 2017, the only loss came to Ohio State and Urban Meyer after Wisconsin’s first undefeated conference season since 1912.
Despite losing major players on the field, with Wisconsin’s culture and Chryst’s record, people can expect his team to be a major player on both the conference and the national stage in 2018.
James Franklin — Penn State
Let me just clear the air right here by saying any Penn State coach without a scandal immediately following his name is a good one.
Penn State’s last losing season came in 2004, and similar to Kirk Ferentz, James Franklin has made his name by having middle-of-the-road seasons followed by the occasional gem. He has a 36-17 record with the Nittany Lions since the 2014 season. In 2016 and 2017, he improved the program, finishing in the national rankings with 11 wins. However, a narrow win over Iowa proved that Franklin can be out-coached, and late in the season, Penn State was upset by Ohio State and Michigan State in back-to-back games.
The question now is whether Franklin will continue to lead his team to highly ranked seasons or drop back to the middle of the road.
Jim Harbaugh — Michigan
No one can make a list of Big Ten football coaches without including THE Jim Harbaugh, right? Iowa’s pink visitor’s locker room makes him really angry; he covers the room in posters so there’s no pink left.
Anyway, the numbers show he’s a good coach. For one, he was a college coach for seven seasons (San Diego and Stanford) before taking over the San Francisco 49ers for four seasons (three NFC Championship games, one Super Bowl appearance). He returned to the NCAA and his alma mater, Michigan, before the 2015 season, and in his three seasons at the helm of the Wolverine ship, he has a 28-11 record. Not great, but not awful by any means, either. In his first season as head coach, he took a previous 5-7 team and turned it into a 10-game winner. Harbaugh then repeated the feat the next season (with no help from Iowa, which handed Michigan one of its three losses).
Mark Dantonio — Michigan State
As the longest running Big Ten coach on this top-5 list, it’s obvious that Mark Dantonio belongs in good company. His career with Michigan State began in 2007, and since then he has only recorded one losing season while running up a 100-45 record. In 11 seasons, Dantonio has led the Spartans to four No. 1 Big Ten finishes, 10 bowl games (5-5), and one College Football Playoff appearance.
Most notably, his team’s loss against Alabama in 2015 proved that as it stands, the Big Ten is nowhere nearly ready to compete with a seemingly different league in the SEC.
However, with the coaching talent in top teams in the underrated conference, that could soon change.