B1G 40: Who will win Big Ten Coach of the Year?

B1G 40: Who will win Big Ten Coach of the Year?
July 24, 2014, 9:15 am
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Vinnie Duber

B1G 40

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As the dog days of summer arrive, the longing for football becomes all the more intense. Well, we here at CSNChicago.com are here to provide you with a summertime football fix. Over 40 days, CSN's Vinnie Duber will have 40 posts pondering the biggest questions heading into the 2014 Big Ten football season — the B1G 40 questions. Be sure to check out the entire B1G 40 series at csnchicago.com/big-ten.

Who will win Big Ten Coach of the Year?

Last year, it was Mark Dantonio. And rightfully so.

The Michigan State head coach led the Spartans to a nearly perfect season, the only blemish on the schedule being an early season trip-up against Notre Dame. Other than that, it was all roses, with a Big Ten title and a Rose Bowl championship now part of the trophy case in East Lansing. Dantonio oversaw a solid offense and one of the nation’s best defenses. The Spartans surpassed all expectations and were the best team in the conference and one of the best teams in the country.

[B1G 40: Can Northwestern return to 10-win glory days?]

This season it won’t be as easy to surpass to expectations, which have only grown bigger for the Spartans.

That’s usually the requirement for winning Coach of the Year honors: surpass expectations. Last year’s award could have as easily gone to Minnesota’s Jerry Kill or Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz. But Dantonio reigned supreme following a tremendous season for Michigan State.

So who will it be this year? Here’s a look at some of the candidates.

James Franklin, Penn State. Franklin is already making plenty of noise at Penn State after just a few months on the job, bringing in one top-notch recruit after another and changing the vibe to a positive one in State College. Bill O’Brien did great things in his two-year tenure leading the Nittany Lions — he was the Big Ten Coach of the Year in 2012 — but if Franklin can build on it, turn in an unexpected nine-win season, let’s say, he cold grab this honor. He’s trying to bring Penn State back to the national forefront, and the sooner he does it, the more likely it becomes he’s the Coach of the Year.

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Kirk Ferentz, Iowa. Ferentz’s Hawkeyes pulled a terrific turnaround last season, flipping their 4-8 record from 2012 to an 8-4 a year ago. Ferentz has been at Iowa a long time, and he’s taken them to BCS bowls and he’s seen three- and four-win seasons, too. This year figures to be a good one with the Hawkeyes contending for a Big Ten West Division title. If they beat out heavily favored Wisconsin for a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game, consider expectations surpassed and Ferentz a favorite for this honor.

Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern. The same that went for Ferentz goes for Fitzgerald. Like Iowa, Northwestern has a bevy of returning starters and could challenge Wisconsin in the Big Ten West. What could boost Fitz’s chances is the poor showing his team had last season. The Wildcats failed to meet really high expectations a year ago, therefore making the expectations lower heading into 2014. But Northwestern should be a pretty good team, and if the Cats reach the conference title game, Fitz is a prime candidate for the award.

[B1G 40: Can lightning strike twice for Bill Cubit, Illini?]

Randy Edsall, Maryland. A lot of prognosticators like the Terps to be one of the conference’s surprise teams, and coaches of surprise teams are always good for inclusion on lists such as this one. Maryland has a solid returning offense, and if they can pull off some wins against traditional Big Ten powers like Michigan and Penn State (even if those teams are in down periods right now) and maybe even finish third in the difficult Big Ten East, Edsall could grab this award.

Gary Andersen, Wisconsin. If the Badgers go undefeated, Andersen could win the award. Playing this year’s Dantonio role, the Badgers might be favored to win their division, but a real remarkable season highlighted by some massive wins against the likes of LSU and whichever team they’ll face in the Big Ten Championship Game would be a big deal. Wisconsin has lost a lot of talent, and actually pulling off a dream season would be a big achievement, even if the Badgers are expected to be there in December.