Building a successful football college football team starts with the coach and the quarterback. There are, of course, many other factors involved and it is generally true that both receive too much credit or blame, but mostly programs have been elevated or deflated due in large part to who is leading the team on the sidelines and on the field. This post lists “From The Couch” ratings of returning coaches and QB’s. Newbies are not included as I have not seen enough to comment.
I’ve rated eleven, but there are actually only five “full time” starting quarterbacks returning. The remaining six have all started at some point, or have at least seen significant playing time. These ratings are not necessarily projections of what type of statistics I think a given quarterback will put up this season. Numbers are often influenced by the surrounding talent and the type of offense a team runs. The criteria used here is based on who is the better college quarterback.
1. Braxton Miller, Ohio St.- Last season I said I needed to see more to give him a high ranking. I’ve seen enough. Still room for improvement in his passing game. Delivered in the clutch on several occasions.
2. Taylor Martinez, Nebraska- Silenced those criticizing his throwing motion by passing for over 2500 yards and 23 touchdowns last season. But like Miller, his biggest asset is his running ability. Prone to costly turnovers, though. He needs to understand that extra care is required when handling the football deep in his own territory.
3. Trevor Siemian, Northwestern- He probably won’t even start but personally I think Northwestern is better with both Siemian and his counterpart, Kain Colter, on the field. Siemian is one of the better passers in the league and has proven he can come through in the clutch. Doesn’t run nearly as well as Colter, but he’s mobile enough.
4. Kain Colter, Northwestern- Last season he made it clear in an indirect way that he wants to play quarterback as opposed to all-purpose back /slot receiver. Although I rank him behind Siemian as a passer, Colter is the better runner and consequently fits the “dual threat” description. Really, either quarterback will suit Northwestern’s purpose. I just think both are too good to be watching from the sidelines.
5. Andrew Maxwell, Michigan St.- Maxwell is battling for his job as the starter due to the Spartan’s disappointing season last year. A classic case of the “too much blame” side of the cliché about quarterbacks. On paper, criticism of Maxwell seems justified as his 52% completion rate was the worst in the league among regular starters. But having watched most of the games from the couch it was obvious that the kid had little help around him. The pass protection was porous and one publication cites that Spartan receivers dropped an estimated 66 passes. And I remember many of them as they were drive-killers. If Spartan receivers don’t drop passes, Maxwell’s percentage jumps to a league BEST 67%.
6. Nathan Scheelhaase, Illinois- There’s a good quarterback in there somewhere. Which, unfortunately, most likely won’t be visible. Scheelhaase has had to learn a new system nearly every season during his tenure at Illinois. And now he’s buried in a losing environment which will probably further stunt his growth as a quarterback.
7. Devin Gardner, Michigan- Many would rate Gardner higher and that may be justifiable. But given his late season entry as a starting quarterback, I just don’t feel as though we’ve seen enough. Expectations weren’t that high as Gardner appeared to be a last resort when the Wolverine’s coaching staff moved him from wide receiver to replace the injured quarterbacks on the roster. And topping his predecessor as a passer wasn’t that challenging. So when he did come in and display some accuracy, there was nothing but pats on the back all around. I have a good feeling about him but still want to see how he does as the incumbent.
8. Tre Roberson, Indiana- Another that’s in a pre-season battle for the starting position. Roberson missed virtually all of last season due to injury so I have to use the prior season (and my memory) as my reference. I believe his status as a legitimate dual threat will win him the majority of the playing time at quarterback.
9. Joel Stave, Wisconsin- Went down to injury last season so another here that we don’t have much to go on. I liked what I saw, though. Solid decision maker and accurate enough as a passer.
10. Cam Coffman, Indiana- He’s battling with Roberson for the starting position and it could go either way. Along with Nate Sudfeld, he filled in well enough to be strongly considered for the starting job.
11. Phillip Nelson, Minnesota- Took over the starting job late last season as a true freshman. Started off well enough, but faded toward the finish. I think he shows promise but obviously will have to see more.
There are ten coaches returning, and only three have been in the conference for more than two seasons. One thing that should be said about big time college coaches; they are all good and they are all qualified. Some are just better than others.
1. Urban Meyer, Ohio St.: (12-0, 100%, 1 year)- There’s a new sheriff in town. Only one year in the league but considering Meyer’s track record, this is an easy choice. When compared to the short-lived Luke Fickell era, it becomes obvious that Meyer has an attention for detail and is more than capable of making the right decisions on game day. Despite the perfect record, the Buckeyes weren’t all that dominant last season. But Meyer always had his team prepared enough to pull the Buckeyes through some close games.
2. Bill O’Brien, Penn St.: (8-4, 67%, 1 year)- Maybe it’s premature to rank O’Brien ahead of some the veterans in the league, but I can’t help but be impressed with the way he used kids recruited for Paterno’s conservative offense to successfully execute a sophisticated passing game. Perhaps most of the credit should go to former QB Matt McGloin, but the job O’Brien did in transforming him into one of the top QB’s in the league last season was phenomenal. And his team’s intensity was unmatched by any team in the league. Last season was his first as a HC, so the rocky start is understandable. But he’s improving at an astonishing rate. I look for big things if he can maintain the momentum.
3. Mark Dantonio, Michigan St.: (51-28, 65%, 7 years)- I had Dantonio ranked first last season and I still have him ahead of everyone on last season’s list. But now that Meyer and O’Brien have been in the league for a year and qualify, Dantonio drops to third on this season’s version. Last season was disappointing for his Spartans, but it isn’t like they were embarrassed by any of their opponents. If Spartan receivers don’t drop some passes at key moments, a couple of those close losses may have turned out differently. And some questionable officiating played a significant part in one of the tougher defeats to absorb; against Nebraska. Not sure the coach can do much about either of those issues. Dantonio has put this program on solid ground and I expect him to have the Spartans back in contention for the title this season.
4. Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern: (50-39, 56%, 7 years)- Fitzgerald’s stock is on the rise in my book. Thrown into the fire at a young age, has annually progressed from “learning the ropes” to becoming one of the better coaches in the conference. The rate of improvement has to level off at some point, but until it does I’ll continue to look for even better things from Fitzgerald. His win percentage isn’t as glossy as others, but it should be considered that Northwestern usually isn’t a five-star recruit’s first choice. And then there’s those pesky academic standards.
5. Kirk Ferentz, Iowa: (100-74, 57%, 14 years)- I’m still not ready to give up on Ferentz, but it has been a while since the Hawkeyes were contenders. I don’t believe coaches “lose their touch” until maybe late in life so I’m not sure what the problem is here. The university seems to be willing to give him plenty of rope and I don’t blame them. But if the current trend continues, I’ll be willing to move him even further down the list. Assuming he’s still on the list, of course.
6. Brady Hoke, Michigan: (19-7, 73%, 2 years)- I haven’t yet seen other “coaches” lists, but I assume I’m ranking Hoke well below the consensus. Last season’s 8-5 record is sub-par for a program like Michigan and his inaugural 11 win season was compiled against a schedule of mostly inferior teams or programs suffering a “down” year. At this point, the 2011 victory over Nebraska is about the only victory Hoke can point to with pride unless you count a six point victory over the “Luke Fickell” version of Ohio St. But, to his credit, he wins the games he’s supposed to, a feat not easily accomplished in college football. This upcoming season will be defining for Hoke. His inheritance of dual threat QB Denard Robinson left him waffling between running his own offense or one that suited the dynamic Robinson’s skills. Now that Robinson is, for lack of a better phrase, out of the way, we’ll get a clear look at the Hoke system and its effectiveness.
7. Bo Pelini, Nebraska: (49-20, 71%, 5 years)- Pelini’s win percentage would suggest a higher rating than I’m giving him here, but his inconsistency during his two years in the conference keeps me from doing so. I tend to think a team’s potential is not always being reached when it beats some upper echelon teams and gets blown out by others. And Pelini has some head-scratchers on his resume: last season’s championship game, at Ohio St., and the second half meltdown at UCLA. 2011 includes the trips to Wisconsin and Michigan, and a home loss to Northwestern. In most of these games it’s not so much that the ‘Huskers lost, it’s that they were blown out. That should be a rare occurrence at a program like Nebraska.
8. Jerry Kill, Minnesota: (9-16, 36%, 2 years)- I didn’t see anything last season to move Kill higher up the list. Considering it’s Minnesota and the condition the program was in upon his arrival, I didn’t see anything all that discouraging either. Like many successful coaches, Kill has a history of turning programs around during his third season on the job. Year three coming up.
9. Kevin Wilson, Indiana: (5-19, 21%, 2 years)- I don’t understand why this guy is getting such great reviews. So far his shining moment is a home victory against an Iowa team that finished 2-6 in conference play. Maybe it’s because the Hoosiers four wins last season look good on paper compared to the previous season’s (Wilson’s first) lone victory. But a closer look reveals that aside from the Iowa game, the victories came against a non-FBS opponent and arguably the two worst teams in the FBS. And you’ll find me shaking my head with arms crossed when someone tries to sell the three point loss to undefeated Ohio St. as a step forward. Having actually watched the game, I’m here to tell you that after the first half Indiana was never close to winning against the disinterested Buckeyes. Indiana has an offense that can score against anyone in the conference and a swiss-cheese defense that will eventually lose the game for them. Wilson’s predecessor got fired for the same formula and at this point, when compared to the previous regime, I don’t see any improvement and maybe even a slight drop off. Wilson is entering his third year, a pivotal one for coaching, so not fair to be too critical at this point. But also not fair to rate him any higher.
10. Tim Beckman, Illinois: (2-10, 16%, 1 year)- The good news is things can’t possibly be worse than last season. Rough patches are expected during the transitional years of a coaching change. But, considering this is not Beckman’s first gig as a head coach, the fact that the Illini were still struggling at the season’s end to get a play off without a penalty has to be cause for alarm. Illinois did the right thing in giving Beckman’s predecessor, Ron Zook, every opportunity to be successful. Even if it was obvious he wasn’t going to be. But given where the program stands right now, I’d say it would be fair to require a significant amount of improvement for Beckman to keep wearing the Illini hat. And that doesn’t necessarily mean a big ten victory. I’ve said it before; I think Beckman seems like a good guy and an enthusiastic coach so I hope he turns things around. But right now, even after one year, this ranking is as obvious as placing Meyer at the top.