Perhaps no league in college football is as top-heavy as the Big Ten. The conference is home to three of the elite programs in college football in Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State, but you can make a strong argument that middle and lower tiers of the league lag behind several of other Power 5 leagues.
Ranking the jobs for every FBS conference is no easy task. After all, the rankings are subjective based upon numerous factors, but we have ranked every college football program in the country, based on the attractiveness of the position from a coaching perspective. We considered many factors — tradition, facilities, location, money, ability to recruit talent — but in the end, we simply asked ourselves the following question: Where would we want to coach?
Ranking the Big Ten Coaching Jobs
Rutgers has one key ingredient needed to win in a Power 5 conference — a strong recruiting base. But that’s about all the program has going for it. And even if you can get things rolling a bit, is it realistic to believe Rutgers can ever be better than Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State?
There are plenty of schools that have been able to succeed in both basketball and football. Indiana is not one of them. The last IU coach to string together at three straight winning seasons? Clyde Smith from 1944-47.
There are no doubt some positives — new football facilities, relatively new stadium, the only FBS program in the state — but Minnesota is a tough job. The recruiting base is small, and it’s difficult to lure kids from the South to play in the Twin Cities.
This was historically one of the worst Power 5 programs in the nation, but the Wildcats have found their niche over the last 25 years. The stadium is old, but the new football facilities — right on Lake Michigan — are as good as it gets. Like the other private schools in P5 conferences, Northwestern is a good job for the right guy.
Illinois’ shocking lack of success — the school has won only three Big Ten titles (two outright) since the early 1960s — is one of the big mysteries in college. Access to players surely isn’t the problem. This isn’t to suggest that the program should be on par with the likes of Ohio State and Michigan, but there’s no reason it should be irrelevant in the Big Ten.
Purdue recently received a badly needed financial commitment from the school to upgrade the program’s facilities. History suggests is difficult to sustain success in West Lafayette, but this is a job with some potential. The fan base is underrated, and the location gives the coach access to players throughout the Midwest and down into the mid-South.
The move from the ACC to the brutal Big Ten East hasn’t been ideal, but Maryland has always been regarded as program that has underachieved. The reason? The recruiting base is outstanding. Good coaches (Ralph Friedgen, Bobby Ross, Jerry Claiborne) have been able to win in College Park.
Iowa has been remarkably consistent for a program that does not have fertile recruiting in its backyard. That is the only significant mark against this job. The tradition is strong, the facilities are good and the fan base is outstanding. And with apologies to Iowa State, the Hawkeyes are the top program in the state.
6. Michigan State
Michigan State has everything in place to be a major player both in the Big Ten and on the national scene. It had the reputation as an underachiever until the past decade — a reputation that is no longer merited after Mark Dantonio has guided the Spartans to at least a share of four Big Ten East titles in the past nine seasons. There are two things that hurt this program: It will always be No. 2 in its own state (yes, we know about the head-to-head record with Michigan of late), and the Big Ten East is the far more difficult of the two divisions.
Barry Alvarez transformed Wisconsin form a Big Ten afterthought into a significant player in college football. While the Badgers have yet to flirt with a national title, they have had 17 straight winning seasons and have been ranked in the final AP poll 12 times in the past 15 seasons. Madison is a great place to live, and Camp Randall Stadium is an outstanding venue.
Nebraska is a unique coaching position. You have everything in place to win big — except a local recruiting base. How big is that hurdle? Significant but not insurmountable. This is no longer a top-10 job but still a desirable place to coach.
3. Penn State
Penn State checks almost every box. Great tradition. Passionate fans. Tremendous gameday atmosphere. Solid recruiting base. Really, the only strike against it — other than the fact that it’s not located in Florida, Georgia or Texas — is that it’s in the same division as Ohio State and Michigan.
Michigan has as much tradition as any school in the country. The program’s success and the school’s academic reputation allow the Wolverines to be a major player in recruiting both in the Midwest and nationally. Plus, Ann Arbor is a great place to live. There is a lot to like about coaching at Michigan.
1. Ohio State
There are eight FBS schools in Ohio, but there is only one named The Ohio State University. The Buckeyes have been a consistent force on the field and in recruiting since Woody Hayes took over in the 1950s. Few programs can make the following claim: It’s harder not to win at Ohio State than it is to win.