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Big Ten Coaches Talk Anonymously About Conference Foes for 2017

Ohio State Buckeyes Football

Ohio State Buckeyes Football

It's not easy getting college football coaches to honestly comment on another coach, player or team. Most coaches don't want to give opposing teams billboard material, which is why there is a lot of coach speak or overused cliches used during the year.

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In order to get an accurate assessment of teams heading into 2017, Athlon asked coaches in the Big Ten to talk anonymously about their opponents.

Related: Big Ten Football Predictions for 2017

Note: These scouting reports come directly from coaching staffs and do not necessarily reflect the views of Athlon's editorial staff.

Big Ten Coaches Talk Anonymously About Conference Foes for 2017


“The Lovie (Smith) thing is interesting. It’s still too early to tell if he can leverage his NFL name in recruiting."

College Football Rankings: Illinois

"I think a lot of career college guys questioned the timing of Lovie coming in and the school’s decision to fire Bill (Cubit) because that staff was well-respected, but no one should’ve been shocked. That was the best chance Illinois has had at national attention."

"Is Mike Dudek still injured? That’s the only offensive player I can name off the top of my head, and that’s the problem."

"(Offensive coordinator) Garrick (McGee) might have to lean on their running game this season."

"When you watch their tape you don’t see the depth or the talent that it takes to win in this conference. We didn’t have to change what we liked to do on defense in any area against them."

"They have to get a pipeline going from out of state because they can’t survive on the in-state kids they land, not even close. The first class they signed was decent, but it’s not the return on what Lovie was supposed to provide." 

"The bottom of the league is going to get better, especially after this offseason. This is the program that could be left behind.”


“It’s always a hard place to win and has been for 50 years."

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"Kevin Wilson didn’t work with the culture, and that got him in the end."

"Tom Allen can do what Indiana needs to win because he’s more like Bill Mallory than any coach that’s been there since. He’s worked in the state before, and he gets it — because you have to really ‘get’ Indiana to be successful. He’s got the character Wilson didn’t have to manage the Indiana people and get players to trust you."

"Wilson sold his offense to try and get better talent in there. Besides Ohio State, we didn’t see an offense that had the kind of ceiling Indiana’s did. Mike DeBord runs something that’s as appealing as Wilson’s offense when it comes to recruits. DeBord is so efficient as a coordinator. His offenses show so much confidence and great timing on film. It was a great hire for Allen."

"Defensively, they’re going to be even better. Allen was a great coordinator before he got the head job. We looked at his defense at USF last offseason against particular passing attacks. Indiana was better coached on defense, finding fits, making tackles, than we’d seen in years. We saw them identify things we wanted to do pre-snap.”


“As long as Kirk Ferentz is there, Iowa isn’t going to change much of anything. They’re going to average out at around eight wins a year — some years they’re going to win 10, some maybe 11, and a bad year is six."

College Football Rankings: Iowa Football

"Ferentz is locked up on that deal for a reason; he’s one of the most consistent coaches in America at elevating mediocre talent. They shouldn’t be able to compete the way they do."

"You play an Iowa team and they’re going to want to fight you, the offensive line and their defense especially."

"Iowa today reminds you a little bit of the old Nebraska but without the big names. They specialize in tough football players, not stars, for better and for worse."

"Desmond King is hard to replace, but they’re deeper than you might think in what they can do in the secondary. They’ve for some reason always had good corners."

"This isn’t a Rose Bowl year but they’ll be solid."

"They just need some stars. No one can explain why they can’t win a big recruiting battle once in a while. They have so many tough, fundamentally sound players. They’ve never had one or two exceptional skill guys to put them over the top against the best teams in the league.”

Related: Ranking the Big Ten's Best RB Tandems for 2017


“This might be a program to watch because they’re making big strides in recruiting, and they have one of the most experienced staffs in our league. Who knows if you can make Maryland a contender in that division, but if you’re going to, it has to be with big-time talent."

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"They were a pain in the butt last year. That’s a compliment. Well coached, aggressive. And they were really young at most spots."

"I think the kids have bought in with DJ (Durkin) because he’s very demanding."

"You can see them forming an identity right away. They’re different from the other first- or second-year programs in the league. I could see a jump up on defense for them this year."

"They aren’t going to do anything that surprises you on offense, at least they haven’t yet."

"After a few years, it’s obvious this is the expansion team that could make a mark in the league."

"Why are they playing Texas? They’re out-talented in their division enough; they need to schedule smarter than that." 

"This league has a really bad imbalance between the divisions. I think Maryland might suffer most from that especially if Penn State is now a consistent 10-win program, because they’re playing and recruiting next door to those guys.”


“Everything Jim Harbaugh does is for a reason. The media falls for his stuff, but every time he’s out there in public he’s communicating to his team or to recruits, and maybe sometimes he’s sending a message to other coaches."

College Football Top 25: Michigan

"The team is starting to reflect Jim — you could see it more last year."

"They want to outwork you. That was the whole satellite camp thing last offseason. He wanted to send a message to the SEC and other schools that he will outwork you to make up for any advantage you might have over Michigan."

"They’re scouting opponents better than anyone in our league. They’re at Alabama’s level of prep and analysis, and as they’ve started to fit talent you’re seeing the effects. It’s hard to surprise them."

"Let’s see how they can replace that secondary. It should be interesting because now it’s about how those big recruiting classes translate. Let’s see how fast we notice (Jabrill) Peppers being gone. If they’re going to seriously challenge Ohio State, that’s how you do it — by rolling in new playmakers every single year.

"How much do they trust (quarterback) Wilton Speight? He loses a lot of his targets. Are they going to ask him to do more?”

Related: Ranking All 130 College Football Teams for 2017

Michigan State

“The Spartans are a team to watch for rival coaches. Maybe the team to watch. We all want to see what they’re going to do, how Mark Dantonio and his staff can come back after that season."

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Michigan State

"They’ve proven they can build a great team, but can they make it through all the adversity? With the aggressive hires in the conference, those programs are on the rise and could really, really put MSU in danger."

"The offense needs new ideas. Take risks. Do something fresh and different. They’re in a rut with play calling."

"This is a team that should’ve been recruiting at the level of Michigan and Ohio State and didn’t, for whatever reason."

"Their defensive front seven declined from that playoff team at a rate where you have to blame the coaches for not prepping. We could see they weren’t ready to compensate for the injuries they suffered."

"They’re coming off conference title games, a Rose Bowl, and they’re not in on the top players in their own state in some instances. You can recruit against them easily.

"Jim Harbaugh’s success will directly impact how MSU recovers and maneuvers from here on out. This is a different league than the one Dantonio started in.”


“P.J. Fleck is walking into some good talent at Minnesota. Jerry Kill and his staff and Tracy Claeys had some players on those teams. It wasn’t enough for the new A.D. I guess, but they’ve been able to win some games and scare great teams." 

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"Fleck has proven himself in a certain way. Not as a Big Ten coach, obviously. But he’s proven he can build a program around all that character. He took WMU to the Cotton Bowl. That means he’s doing something right. He’s proven he can recruit, but now he has to win real battles. At WMU he was the king of taking the ‘best of the rest’ in Michigan. The Big Ten is different. But he’s coming in with a lot of confidence. He’s got that kind of enthusiasm that, even though us as coaches think it’s corny, it works with the players."

"Can they run a pure spread option outdoors in Minnesota? It’s not impossible, but it could get interesting. Trying to be Wisconsin was never going to work because they can’t get the same kind of players or create that level of consistency."

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"They have good running backs. I’d expect they’ll build out the attack from those guys."

"He stepped into a really smart situation, and they could win that division if some games break the right way.”


“How is Mike Riley managing it? We don’t know. They lost three games in the regular season and took Wisconsin to OT and they’re probably on the hot seat. I’m not sure Riley in Lincoln is any less strange as time goes on."

Nebraska's college football logo

"That job is a lot worse than it was a few years ago, and no one in the administration seems to recognize it."

"(New defensive coordinator) Bob Diaco is a huge risk with a huge upside. He’s a guru more than a coach. When Notre Dame could put top-level talent out there he could play the mind games and be all rah-rah, but this isn’t that kind of environment. Some players might buy in, but they’re simply not good right now. Against really strong offenses, they fell apart fast and lost their technique, almost like they played down to better talent — and that’s coaching."

"So far it looks like Riley hasn’t figured out what Bo Pelini couldn’t figure out, how to make the Nebraska culture happy on offense and recruit to that. This year they should have a stronger O-line. Get behind that and go. Tommy Armstrong leaving is a good thing for their scheme, but they’re young in the backfield."

"They’re not (recruiting) in Florida and Texas and California the way they did in their glory years.”

Related: College Football's Top 30 Coordinator Hires for 2017


“(Pat) Fitzgerald has that thing as good as they can probably ever get."

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"Fitz is talking about how frustrated they were after last season, and they still went to a bowl. No one else could do that in that environment."

"They go out and get their guys and teach them their way. That might not work at any other school in the league, but they seem to have it figured out."

"The offense can be tricky to deal with at times. They motion well, and they read pretty well, but they can’t hurt you passing the ball. They haven’t been able to create as many legit pass options as they need."

"We’ve looked at their pre-snap work for a couple years now; they keep changing up their communication and the players seem to pick it up quickly." 

"Defensively, they do some great stuff. They put guys out there who can adjust quickly. You see them using their eyes. That’s sort of a smart-kid school thing, but they really do read and react extremely well; they don’t get confused by your stuff before the snap."

"The quarterback (Clayton Thorson) is back and is experienced enough to where they can run a lot of things well. He’s slowly improved year over year, making better decisions.”

Ohio State

“The culture Urban Meyer has built will use the playoff shutout to their advantage."

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Ohio State

"Ohio State’s locker room and the overall dynamic between coaches and players is one of the best in college football outside of maybe Alabama. Urban does such a good job keeping the staff accountable to the players."

"J.T. Barrett is back, and the line is basically the same. We think they’ve been really aggressive about changing their run game, nothing fundamental but a little change for change’s sake will help with the players’ mentality."

"They’ve missed Tom Herman and it showed. (New offensive coordinator) Kevin Wilson will give them an edge, an earned cockiness they looked like they were missing since Herman left. Wilson is smart, but he’s also aggressive." 

"The biggest problem they have on defense is finding playing time for everyone. (Defensive coordinator) Greg Schiano is close to Urban, him already being around last season means he’s going to be familiar with what worked and what didn’t."

"They have some guys to replace in the secondary, but once they fit the talent they’ll be one of the best defenses in the nation."

"Their recruiting is off the charts.”

Related: College Football Bowl Projections for 2017

Penn State

“Trace McSorley could be a Heisman candidate this year."

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Penn State

"That offense will show new things this season because they got ahead of schedule, which is impressive considering how thin they were coming off sanctions."

"This looks like the first true Big Ten O-line they’ve had since before (Joe) Paterno was fired."

"The Rose Bowl run didn’t surprise other coaches because James Franklin has been projecting that attitude and expectation since he got there. He’s got swagger, and he doesn’t care how that projects across the league. The energy he brings has been there, but they’ve had serious depth issues and had to make some crucial changes on offense."

"When you watch film on Joe Moorhead’s offense it looks simple, but that’s his trick. It looks simple because they’re getting more and more smooth in their routes. Simple means well-executed."

"(Defensive coordinator) Brent Pry had a thin unit last season, but the offense helped hide some issues."

"People talk about Paterno in context of the scandal, but they were behind on so many other football things like conditioning and analyst work and overall player development. This finally looks like a modern football program.”


“You have to give the school credit for making a great hire in Jeff (Brohm) because that job became as unappealing as any I can think of in the Power 5. That’s not to say Jeff can’t win there because he’s a damn good coach who didn’t get enough attention for what he did at Western (Kentucky). This is a hire that if things work out even halfway, it will make the league better by bringing up the floor."

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"I don’t think they’re going to be able to replicate Western (Kentucky) on offense anytime this coming season. It will take some time because that roster is deficient for what you need to score in the passing game."

"Nick Holt is a great defensive coordinator, but I don’t know what you do right away other than break everything down and start over. We saw guys on (Darrell) Hazell’s roster who wanted to work and bust their butt. Start there, then you start recruiting out of state better."

"The quarterback (David Blough) doesn’t have any targets, and he’s not really what fits that offense, but he’s their best option."

"We’re interested to see what (Brohm’s) staff can put out there in Year 1 at receiver.”

Related: College Football's Top 25 Breakout QBs for 2017


“The most positive thing you can find right now is that they’ve gone out and sold themselves well in recruiting. ‘Come here and play right away in the Big Ten.’ That’s the sell."

College football rankings: Rutgers

"They’re committed to blowing everything up. What worked for the program happened outside of the Big Ten, and they haven’t done anything since they got here. So they’re committed to Chris Ash and committed to doing everything different because they have to."

"It’s a coin flip which side of the ball needs more work, but they could end up starting a freshman at quarterback, so offense might be it."

"(New offensive coordinator) Jerry Kill can help a lot, and that move is a good reflection on Ash as a head coach. Young head coaches who aren’t afraid of having more experienced assistants usually end up doing really well."

"They don’t look like a Big Ten program on defense. They need everything up front — more size, more technique, more athleticism."

"They’re at least one more year away in terms of depth and development, and in that division maybe longer." 

"This is an easier area in recruiting than Purdue or Indiana, but it might be in worse shape as a program."

"Ash is still the guy to get it done; he’s extremely well respected.”


“Maybe the most consistent program in the nation at this point. They’re always going to be ready, they’re always going to compete for the conference title." 

College Football Top 25: Wisconsin

"There’s an innate toughness with Paul Chryst that goes back to the Barry Alvarez days. Barry’s made sure that philosophy doesn’t change when the coaches do."

"They believe in pounding on you and they can. That consistency starts with how they develop offensive line play."

"Alex Hornibrook is a Wisconsin system QB through and through in that he won’t lose you games, and he can make the basic passes."

"Bradrick Shaw could have a breakout year running with that line, to the point where some SEC coaches will wonder how he got out of the territory."

"Defense should be interesting to watch. It’s now three coordinators in three years with some fairly different concepts thrown in on the players. That probably weighed on the decision to promote Jim Leonhard."

"I bet they’re going rally around that fourth-down play against Penn State and come back as one of the best rushing teams in the country."

"You talk about other programs in the league who don’t recruit elite talent but are fundamentally sound, Wisconsin is the best of those by far.”