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 — but in the end, we simply asked ourselves the following question: Where would we want to coach?
(Note: Current or impending NCAA sanctions were not a factor in these rankings.)
1. Ohio State
Pros: There are eight FBS schools in Ohio, but there is only one school 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 early 1950s.
Cons: Expectations are extremely high in Columbus. Consider the case of John Cooper: In 13 seasons, Cooper went 111–43–4, winning 10 games or more five times. But he went 2–10–1 against Michigan and lost his job after the 2000 season.
Final Verdict: Everything is in place to win a national championship at Ohio State. The facilities are top-notch, the fans are passionate, and the recruiting base is outstanding. Just don’t lose to Michigan.
2. Penn State
Pros: Penn State is an enormous state university in an extremely fertile recruiting area. The Nittany Lions play in the second-largest facility in the country (Beaver Stadium, capacity 107,282), and they have won two national championships in the past 30 years.
Cons: Only one man has served as the head coach at Penn State since 1966. Every coach that follows will have to deal with Joe Paterno’s legacy.
Final Verdict: Coaching Penn State is a tremendous opportunity for any coach, but don’t dismiss the Paterno factor. Alabama is on its seventh coach since Bear Bryant retired in 1982.
Pros: Michigan has as much tradition as any school in the country. The Wolverines have been a national power since the 1890s and they play in one of the largest venues in the country, 109,901-seat, newly renovated Michigan Stadium. The program’s success and the school’s academic reputation have allowed Michigan to be a major player in recruiting both in the Midwest and nationally.
Cons: Michigan is an old-school program that is very set in its ways. A coach who comes in with a new philosophy — for example, Rich Rodriguez — will have a tough time being accepted.
Final Verdict: Michigan is no doubt an elite job, but as we have seen in the past few seasons — Rodriguez won a total of 15 games in three years — you have to be the right fit to win big in Ann Arbor.
Pros: Strong tradition. Amazing facilities. Passionate fans. Those three things don’t guarantee success, but they are a nice place to start. The Big Ten Legends Division has some good programs — Michigan, Iowa and Michigan State — but Nebraska should be in position to compete for a division title on an annual basis.
Cons: The Huskers won three national titles in the 1990s, but the program slipped a bit over the past decade. The state of Nebraska does not produce many high-end BCS conference players each year, and the program no longer has the sex-appeal to steal elite players from the East Coast like it did in the 1970s and 80s.
Final Verdict: 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. The Huskers are no longer a top 10 job but still very desirable.
Pros: Wisconsin has been transformed into a football school over the past two decades. Badger faithful pack 80,321-seat Camp Randall Stadium each week and create one the best environments in the nation. Madison also is a great place to live.
Cons: The school’s local recruiting base isn’t strong; the state has not produced a national top-100 player in the past four seasons. Also, the Badgers have only been relevant on the national scene since the early 1990s. Wisconsin lacks the tradition of many of its Big Ten rivals.
Final Verdict: Barry Alvarez turned Wisconsin from a Big Ten afterthought to a significant player in college football. But the Badgers’ place as a top program is far from secure. Wisconsin, more than most of the other schools ranked in the top 25 on this list, needs the right coach in place to remain successful.
6. Michigan State
Pros: Michigan State seemingly has everything in place to be a major player in the Big Ten — great fan support (averaged 73,556 per game in ’10), good facilities, strong recruiting base and decent tradition.
Cons: Despite all of the positives listed above, Michigan State has only won one Big Ten title — last season — in two decades and has only averaged 5.7 wins in the 44 seasons since claiming a share of the 1966 national championship. Also, there’s the Michigan thing: No matter how much success the Spartans enjoy, they will always be the second school in the state behind Michigan.
Final Verdict: Michigan State is a chronic underachiever and will never be the No. 1 program in its own state. Still, it’s a good job. If you can change the culture in East Lansing — which every coach believes he can do — there is no reason Michigan State can’t contend for Big Ten titles on a semi-regular basis.
Pros: Three key elements make Iowa an attractive job — it’s the top school in the state (sorry, Iowa State), it has a strong tradition of excellence (five Big Ten titles since 1981, two BCS bowls since ‘03) and it has great fan support (70,585 per game in ’10).
Cons: Iowa might be the top dog in the state, but the hunting grounds aren’t very fertile. To remain competitive, the Hawkeyes’ staff will always have to go into other teams’ home states to recruit.
Final Verdict: It’s difficult for a school that doesn’t have a strong local recruiting base to compete for national title. It can be done — Nebraska won three titles in the 1990s — but that is a very big hurdle to climb.
Pros: Illinois’ local recruiting base — from Chicago down into St. Louis — is among the best in the Big Ten. The facilities (weight room, practice facility, locker rooms, etc.) are strong, and the stadium recently received a $200 million upgrade.
Cons: Basketball is — and will always be — the top sport at Illinois. Football, for whatever reason, has never been much of a threat to break into the upper echelon of the league. Also, the fan support at Illinois isn’t as strong as the top programs in the Big Ten.
Final Verdict: Despite being the fifth most populous state, Illinois checks in No. 8 in our list of the Big Ten’s most attractive coaching positions. There is a lot to like about the job, but there are also reasons why the school has only won three Big Ten titles (two outright) since the early 1960s.
Joe Tiller had the Boilers rolling for a while.
New stadium makes this job more attractive, but the Gophers will always struggle against Big Ten’s elite.
Cats have found their niche in the Big Ten.
Support is weak; recruiting base is poor.
More Big Ten Content:
Athlon's 2011 All-Big Ten Team
Athlon's 2011 Big Ten Predictions
Who will Coach Ohio State in 2012?
Wisconsin - The New Favorite in the Leaders Division
2011 Big Ten Champs: Nebraska