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P.J. Fleck's Presence Adds a New Degree of Difficulty to the Already Competitive Big Ten West


P.J. Fleck is rowing his boat to the Twin Cities.

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Minnesota has plucked the Western Michigan coach — one of the hottest young names in college football — from the cozy confines of the MAC and inserted him into the wild and underrated Big Ten West.

For the Gophers and the Big Ten Conference in general, this is a great move. It's yet another splash in terms of coaching hires that keeps the old conference in the headlines. For Minnesota, it puts Gopher football on the map in a way it has not been in a very long time.

Fleck's high energy and contagiously positive attitude are going to go a long way in luring recruits to play at Minnesota. A new stadium and a hip, modern metropolis — even if it may be on the cold side for most of the year — will be integral assets for Fleck as he attempts to turn Gopher football into a hot program.

Given that the Gophers are the only FBS program in the state, it's not a stretch to think Fleck can lock down the borders and turn Minnesota into a Wisconsin-like program rather quickly.

As good as that sounds for the University of Minnesota and their supporters, that is a scary thought for any player, coach or fan of any other team in the Big Ten West.

The division has been sort of a punchline in recent years, but the record shows it being one of the more wide-open and competitive in all of the Power Five. Nebraska, Iowa and Wisconsin are already viewed as teams that can come out on top every year. Northwestern has established itself as a player and a tough out annually. Lovie Smith is in the process of rebuilding an Illinois program well within driving distance of St. Louis, Chicago, Indianapolis and Memphis.

You could argue that there is more parity in the Big Ten West than any other division in college football. Fleck's presence in Minnesota only adds to it.

Moving forward, Fleck — even if only temporarily —  is going to make programs like Nebraska, Iowa and Wisconsin question themselves. Do they have all of the elements and necessities in place — including in their head-coaching positions — to go to war on the recruiting trail with a young, charismatic motivator with great coaching pedigree and a recent track record of turning a dormant program into a New Year's Six Bowl qualifier?

Regardless of the answer, it's a safe bet that winning the Big Ten West just became a more difficult task for six teams and a more realistic one for another — all because of what appears to be the best coaching hire of the young (almost) offseason.

— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. His work has appeared on,, Yahoo! and Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.

(Photos courtesy of Getty Images)