July 19, 2024

Big Ten coach rankings 2024: Ryan Day recaptures No. 1 spot as Lincoln Riley, Dan Lanning debut in top five

1 Ryan Day (2 overall): Ohio State’s shortcomings against Michigan in recent years have overshadowed a lot of positives, but that’s typically how things go in the rivalry between the Buckeyes and Wolverines. Day hasn’t won the Big Ten since 2020, but he’s still a remarkable 56-8 overall in five seasons and 39-3 in conference play. He enters the season at the helm of a team favored to win the Big Ten and reach the College Football Playoff. Last year: 2 in Big Ten 2 Dan Lanning (9 overall): Lanning’s first two seasons with Oregon have been impressive. He’s 22-5 overall, but the problem he faces is the teams to which he lost. The Ducks lost two games last season, both against the Washington team that won the Pac-12 and reached the College Football Playoff. It was par for the course; the Ducks have yet to beat Washington under Lanning but will continue to get chances in the Big Ten. Still, the work Lanning and his staff have done off the field compiling this roster is a primary reason he is ranked so high and why so many think the Ducks are Ohio State’s primary threat to win the Big Ten this year. Last year: N/A in Big Ten 3 Lincoln Riley (10 overall): Riley’s reputation took a big hit last season, and deservedly so. USC had the reigning Heisman Trophy winner and No. 1 draft pick, Caleb Williams, and wasted him with an abysmal defensive performance. Still, Riley has won four conference titles in seven seasons as a head coach and played for a fifth. He’s been to the playoff thrice and has developed three Heisman winners and three No. 1 picks. There are few coaches in the sport’s history with that kind of resume. He’s also overhauled his defensive staff this season, which is a better-late-than-never situation, to be sure, but I wouldn’t write Riley off completely based on one disappointing season. Last year: N/A in Big Ten 4 James Franklin (11 overall): It’s been argued no coach’s reputation stands to benefit more from the expanded playoff than Franklin’s, who, over the years at Penn State, has struggled to break through Ohio State and Michigan but would’ve earned numerous playoff berths if the expanded field had existed the entire time. I don’t know how different things would be because he’s well-respected already! He’s fourth in the Big Ten and 11th among coaching in the Power Four. After a couple of disappointing seasons, the Nittany Lions have rebounded to go 21-5 the last two years and are now finally free of being in a division with the Buckeyes and Wolverines. Last year: 4 in Big Ten 5 Luke Fickell (17 overall): I’ve no doubt Luke Fickell hoped his first season at Wisconsin would’ve gone better, but changing a program’s entire identity isn’t a quick fix. One 7-6 record does nothing to change my mind about the likelihood of success in the long run. It was only a few years ago that Fickell built a Cincinnati squad strong enough to be the only Group of Five program to play in the four-team College Football Playoff. You don’t do that by accident or with luck. It’s not a matter of if, but when will Fickell get the Badgers to the playoff. Last year: 3 in Big Ten 6 Kirk Ferentz (18 overall): You can call him old-fashioned, and you can call him stubborn, but there’s another adjective that describes Ferentz that’s far more important to his ability as a football coach. You can call him a winner. Ferentz has made it routine to get the absolute most out of his Hawkeyes. You can complain all you want about the way the they go about it, but they just had their third 10-win season in the last five years. How changes to the league will impact things moving forward remains to be seen, but Ferentz and Iowa look to be ready to make some adjustments on offense this year. They’ll still be Iowa, just a different version. Last year: 8 in Big Ten 7 Jonathan Smith (27 overall): Speaking of coaches who get the most out of their rosters, Smith’s overall record of 34-35 with Oregon State may not wow you, but the Beavers went 25-13 over the last three years and produced a lot of NFL talent in that time. Now, Smith will get a crack at Michigan State, a school with deeper pockets than what was available in Corvallis, Oregon. Smith has an innovative mind and is a smart play-caller. He’s also an excellent developer of quarterbacks, a combination that has long proven valuable in a football coach. The Spartans haven’t had a QB drafted since Connor Cook in 2016, and he’s the only one taken since Kirk Cousins in 2012. I guarantee you that we’ll see much better QB development under Smith than Michigan State has had for the last decade. Last year: N/A in Big Ten 8 Matt Rhule (29 overall): This will be an interesting one to follow. I rate Matt Rhule highly and think he’s an excellent coach but wonder how the national perception could change. The Cornhuskers went 5-7 last season, but the expectations weren’t very high, so nobody is holding it against Rhule. This summer, I’ve heard a lot more about how Nebraska is poised to take a step forward, and there was a lot of positive momentum built during the offseason. So what happens if Nebraska struggles again? To be clear, I firmly believe the Cornhuskers are going bowling and could do some damage, but I’ve also seen this story play out in Lincoln before. Last year: 7 in Big Ten 9 Jedd Fisch (31 overall): I can’t lie. I’m as big a Jedd Fisch fan as anybody, but I am surprised to see him ranked this highly compared to the rest of the league. Yes, he is coming off a strong season at Arizona, but it was the only winning season Fisch has had as a head coach. He’s also taking over a Washington team that looks nothing like the squad that reached the title game last season. Yet he’s ranked above a few coaches with conference titles and multiple 10-win seasons on their resumes. Last year: N/A 10 Bret Bielema (36 overall): Last year, Bielema was ranked fifth in the Big Ten as the Illini were one of the biggest surprises of the 2022 season. One disappointing 5-7 season later, Bielema falls in the rankings. Bielema and his staff have done an excellent job of developing NFL talent in their three seasons, but the 2022 season is the only time they’ve finished with a winning record. There’s no question he’s raised the floor of the program, but the improvements must continue. Nobody expects playoff berths, but consistently reaching bowl games should be the expectation. Last year: 5 in Big Ten 11 P.J. Fleck (39 overall): If we remove the crazy 2020 season that saw Minnesota riddled with injuries and positive COVID tests, Fleck’s Gophers went 29-8 over three seasons, including a mark of 18-9 in Big Ten play. One 6-7 season later, Fleck is tumbling down our rankings. It’s a bit harsh, isn’t it? All that said, it’ll be interesting to see how the departure of defensive coordinator Joe Rossi impacts the program moving forward. While the 11-2 record of 2019 isn’t likely to become the norm, there’s no reason to think this team can’t win eight games per year. Last year: 6 in Big Ten 12 Greg Schiano (40 overall): Dare I say there’s a buzz about Rutgers this summer? The Scarlet Knights are coming off a 7-6 season, the best record they’ve posted since their first season in the Big Ten (2014). They’ve also been crushing it on the recruiting trail lately and won’t have to play Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State or Oregon in 2024. It’s taken time, but Schiano has slowly built this program to a place where opposing fans can see that red “R” on their schedule and count it as a win. And if there’s one coach ranked outside the top 10 this year that I’d bet on being in it next season, it’d be Schiano. OK, I’d probably bet Sherrone Moore, too, but he’s at Michigan. It’s a little different! Last year: 12 in Big Ten 13 Mike Locksley (41 overall): There have been plenty of good results for the Terrapins under Locksley. They’ve posted winning records for three straight seasons and won three straight bowl games. However, Maryland is yet to finish a season with a winning conference record under Locks, though perhaps that will change in 2024 now that the East division is no more. I’m also interested in seeing what, if any, changes Maryland could make offensively now that Taulia Tagovailoa has left. Locksley may be able to get a little deeper in the offensive bag. Last year: 11 in Big Ten 14 Curt Cignetti (43 overall): I loved the Cignetti hire for Indiana. He’s the profile of coach Indiana needs if it wants to gain ground in the Big Ten and become a perennial bowl threat. But I’d be surprised if it happens right away. Cignetti has done a lot of work to overhaul the roster in his first offseason and has also kept some top talent in Bloomington, but it’s a long-term project. He’ll probably drop a spot or two in these rankings next summer, but I’m high on the long-term potential of this move. Last year: N/A in Big Ten 15 Sherrone Moore (52 overall): Moore is only ranked this low due to the lack of overall experience as a head coach. That said, he already has wins over Ohio State and Penn State on his resume, and there aren’t many coaches ranked above him who can say the same! This is a fascinating spot for Moore because, on the one hand, it will not be easy to step out of Jim Harbaugh’s considerable shadow, but he’s also inheriting a team that won a national title. Sure, some key players are gone, but a lot of significant pieces are back, too. Oh, and everybody seems to be writing off the Wolverines. We’ve never seen a team rally around the disrespect angle before, right?! Last year: N/A in Big Ten 16 David Braun (53 overall): Braun was one of the biggest surprises last season, not only because he exceeded expectations but because nobody thought he’d be a head coach a month before the season began! Hired to serve as defensive coordinator in January 2023 six months later Braun was named interim head coach after Fitzgerald’s firing. The interim tag was removed after the Wildcats went 8-5. Now, Braun has had an entire offseason to put his stamp on the program, but it’s not as if Year 2 won’t have challenges. The Wildcats will be calling their practice field home for most of the season. Last year: N/A in Big Ten 17 Ryan Walters (65 overall): It was a rough introduction for Walters in his first season at Purdue. The Boilermakers went 4-8, allowing a league-worst 30.4 points per game. Not great when you hire a defensive-minded head coach! It was unrealistic not to expect some bumps in the road as Purdue moved from Jeff Brohm to Walters, and the hope is Year 2 will bring progress, much the same way it did with Walters’ defense at Illinois. Last year: 14 in Big Ten 18 DeShaun Foster (68 overall): Somebody has to be ranked last, and it’s no surprise it’s the lone man yet to coach a game as the head coach. Foster’s first season will be a challenging one, but perhaps his lack of experience as a head coach will be to his benefit. After all, you don’t have to worry about learning an entire new league when you were never the head coach in your last league. Last year: N/A in Big Ten