In some ways, the Big Ten could argue it has become the best combined football-basketball conference in recent years.
True, the conference has produced just one football championship since 2002 and no basketball championships since 2000. But at the same time, the Big Ten has had more programs in the running for mix big prizes, especially since Kentucky has become the lone basketball power in the SEC.
Michigan State was in the College Football Playoff in 2015, the same year the Spartans were in the Final Four, also the same year Wisconsin reached the basketball national championship game. And of course, Ohio State won the college football national championship in 2014.
The Big Ten has produced at least one Final Four team in each of the last four years. Since 2007, only twice has the Big Ten been shut out of the Final Four.
Michigan State and Ohio State’s recent success notwithstanding, football has some catching up to do — and judging by the first calendar year of Harbaugh-mania, Michigan will be the next school to catch up.
As we start our college football-college basketball tandem rankings, it’s important to note that we are attempting to value balance — i.e., which schools have an above-average coach at both position? That’s why some programs with an elite football coach and a new (or struggling) basketball coach will be ranked lower than one might expect.
1. Michigan State
Football: Mark Dantonio
Basketball: Tom Izzo
Here’s what makes up an elite coaching tandem: In four of the last five seasons, the football team has reached a major bowl (two Cotton Bowls, a Rose Bowl and Capital One Bowl) in the same season the basketball team reached the Sweet 16 or better. Since Jan. 2014 alone, Michigan State has accounted for:
• A Rose Bowl win and Big Ten football championship,
• An Elite Eight appearance and Big Ten tournament championship,
• A Cotton Bowl win,
• A Final Four and
• A College Football Semifinal appearance and Big Ten title.
2. Ohio State
Football: Urban Meyer
Basketball: Thad Matta
In many years, Ohio State could get the nod as the top college coaching tandem. But Meyer, a year after winning the third national championship of his career, saw his chance to repeat end with a loss to Michigan State and Dantonio. Meyer still has an absurd 50-4 mark (31-1 in the Big Ten) at Ohio State. Matta is perhaps the nation’s most underrated coach, but his program is in a three-year downswing. The Buckeyes averaged more than 30 wins with a Final Four, an Elite Eight and two Sweet 16s from 2010-13. The Buckeyes haven’t topped 25 wins since and could miss the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2009.
Football: Jim Harbaugh
Basketball: John Beilein
Harbaugh has arguably transformed the Big Ten even more than Meyer. The Ohio State coach brought SEC-style recruiting to the Big Ten, and Harbaugh is one-upping even one of the most ruthless recruiters in the business. Oh, and he can coach, too. Michigan exceeded expectations in his first season as 10-win team and top-15 finisher. Michigan hasn’t matched the heights of the 2013 national title game and 2014 Elite Eight, but Beilein has reached the NCAA Tournament five times in seven seasons at Michigan — the best run since the Fab Five-fueled ‘90s.
Football: Kirk Ferentz
Basketball: Fran McCaffrey
This is possibly the most overachieving duo in the Big Ten. Ferentz led the football team to a 12-2 season and the Big Ten title game. True, Iowa won the easier division and the team may never has been as good as its top-10 ranking, but Ferentz’s fifth 10-win season comes after averaging 6.8 wins in the five seasons prior. McCaffrey has Iowa on pace for its third consecutive NCAA Tournament berth, the best streak for Iowa since 1991-93. If the Hawkeyes secure a top-two seed, it will be the first time for the program since 1987.
5. Penn State
Football: James Franklin
Basketball: Pat Chambers
Recruiting has raised the pressure on both coaches. Granted, recruiting to both Penn State football and Penn State basketball is a challenge for wildly different reasons. After going 7–6 in each of his first two seasons, Franklin will essentially re-boot with two new coordinators and a new quarterback in his third season. Chambers averaged just four Big Ten wins during his first four seasons, but he has a top-20 class signed for 2016-17.
Football: Kevin Wilson
Basketball: Tom Crean
Say this for Indiana’s duo: They will be entertaining. Both Wilson’s teams and Crean’s teams can score with anyone. Defense, though, is optional. Wilson has been on hot seat lists, but he led the Hoosiers to only their second bowl game since 1993. Crean, too, has been under pressure, but he led Indiana to back-to-back Sweet 16s in 2012-13 for the first time since 1991-94.
Football: Pat Fitzgerald
Basketball: Chris Collins
Northwestern’s 2015 football season may have been a bit of a mirage, but two 10-win seasons in a four-year span is a notable achievement for the Wildcats. Fitz, the school’s all-time wins leader, is two years away from being Northwestern’s longest-tenured coach. Northwestern basketball is a long way from making its first NCAA Touranment, but Collins could lead the Wildcats to their first 20-win season since 2011.
Football: Mike Riley
Basketball: Tim Miles
This might be the most congenial pairing in the Big Ten, but it’s not one that’s brought a ton of consistency. Riley’s first season was a series of unfortunate events at best, but it still ended with a bowl win thanks to a waiver allowing the five-win Cornhuskers to play in a bowl. We expected the basketball program to turn the corner after the 2014 NCAA Tournament appearance, but the Huskers are facing the possibility of a second consecutive losing season.
Football: Paul Chryst
Basketball: Greg Gard
In his first year, Chryst pieced together a 10-win season despite a shockingly inept run game. Now, he’ll have to find away to replace the coordinator (Dave Aranda) of a defense that carried his team. Gard may or may not be the permanent coach after the abrupt retirement of Bo Ryan, but he has the Badgers in contention for the NCAA Tournament, something the Ryan-version of the team couldn’t say this year.
Football: D.J. Durkin
Basketball: Mark Turgeon
The first two seasons in the Big Ten have been better than the last 12 in the ACC for Maryland basketball. In 2015, Turgeon led Maryland to its best season since the 2002 national title, and he has a team with Final Four potential this year. Maryland football has a major climb ahead of it in a division with Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State, but Durkin, a former Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh assistant, should understand the terrain better than most.
Football: Darell Hazell
Basketball: Matt Painter
After back-to-back losing seasons in 2012-14, Painter has Purdue on the upswing again. The Boilermakers have their best team since the Robbie Hummel era, which included back-to-back Sweet 16 appearances. Hazell is 2-22 in the Big Ten, and there’s little reason to believe that mark will improve anytime soon.
Football: Bill Cubit
Basketball: John Groce
With the hiring of a new athletic director, Illinois’ coaching duo could be facing some changes. Cubit went 5-7 as an interim head coach, and Groce is facing the worst season of his mediocre four-year tenure with the Illini.
Football: Tracy Claeys
Basketball: Richard Pitino
Minnesota made a continuity hire with Claeys, who went 2-4 after Jerry Kill’s sudden retirement last year. Meanwhile, Minnesota basketball has regressed in three seasons under the once-promising Pitino. The Gophers have gone from 25 wins to 18 and might not get to 10 wins this season.
Football: Chris Ash
Basketball: Eddie Jordan
Ash is a first-year coach from the Urban Meyer coaching tree who hopes to inject life into a program that sorely needs it. Rutgers basketball has had many bad seasons over the years, but this year’s Scarlet Knights are one of the worst Power 5 teams in decades.