The Big Ten Power Rankings that accompany this column each week serve as a good visual for the league’s current coaching hierarchy.
Every team in the bottom half, from spots 8-14, has either fired its coach (Illinois and Maryland), seen its coach retire (Minnesota) or has a coach who’s either on the hot seat or feeling serious heat (Nebraska, Purdue, Rutgers and Indiana).
Darrell Hazell will reportedly return next year for a fourth season at Purdue, despite being just 2-18 in Big Ten play. His seat cooled last week with a victory over Nebraska, but it remains to be seen if defensive coordinator Greg Hudson will survive.
The Cornhuskers aren’t going to fire Mike Riley in his first season, but plenty of fans are calling for his head, with the Cornhuskers at 3-6 for the first time since 1958.
Equally alarming for Nebraska fans is the fact Riley’s old team, Oregon State, is 0-5 in Pac-12 play so far under former Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen.
Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst, also under fire, issued a statement supporting Riley that said, in part, “I am confident the future is bright because I see it in the eyes of our players, coaches and staff and I am impressed by what I know is going on behind the scenes.”
The Cornhuskers first five losses came by a combined total of 13 points, and then starting quarterback Tommy Armstrong missed the Purdue game because of a toe injury. Nebraska lost the turnover battle to the Boilermakers 5-0, a recipe for disaster in that 55-45 loss. Next up for Riley’s beleaguered squad: undefeated Michigan State.
Rutgers drew heavy criticism in September for suspending fourth-year coach Kyle Flood, instead of firing him, for contacting a professor multiple times, trying to improve a player’s grades. Flood used a personal e-mail account, hoping to avoid public scrutiny.
He can’t hide his team’s on-field issues. Rutgers was holding its own in the Big Ten before getting pounded 97-17 the past two weeks by Ohio State and Wisconsin. On Saturday, the Scarlet Knights play at Michigan.
Indiana lost to Rutgers 55-52 three weeks ago, cranking up the heat under fifth-year Hoosiers coach Kevin Wilson. Indiana hasn’t made a bowl game since 2007, and Indiana might be ready for another change if it can’t finish 6-6.
The Hoosiers went 4-0 in nonconference play and now sit 4-4 heading into this finishing stretch: Iowa, Michigan, Maryland and Purdue. Those last two look winnable, but they’re also on the road, and Wilson hasn’t won a Big Ten road game since 2012.
One thing that could help both Flood and Wilson is the national coaching landscape. There are already 10 openings in the FBS, including Southern Cal, South Carolina, Virginia Tech and Miami (Fla.).
Gophers insiders predict interim coach Tracy Claeys will have the interim tag removed very soon, perhaps within days.
At Illinois, interim coach Bill Cubit knocked off Nebraska before losing three games in a row, including last Saturday’s 39-0 beatdown at Penn State. It’s uncertain what the Illini plan to do long-term.
That’s still an attractive job, but the Maryland one might be even better, with Under Armour pouring money into the schools athletics facilities and the strong recruiting base in the Maryland-D.C.-Virginia area.
The drawback is trying to compete in the Big Ten East against Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan and Penn State.
But with the right hire, Maryland could make that division even stronger.
• Few would argue it’s tougher to win the Big Ten East Division than the Big Ten West. But in terms of each division’s strength top-to-bottom, it’s worth noting that the West was 7-7 against the East last year in interdivision matchups.
• So far this season, the East leads the West 4-2 in interdivision play. This will be a big week for bragging rights, with five crossover matchups: Iowa at Indiana, Wisconsin at Maryland, Minnesota at Ohio State, Michigan State at Nebraska and Penn State at Northwestern.
• The Penn State- Northwestern clash seems like a particularly good litmus test for the West. Penn State is 7-2, but the Nittany Lions have feasted on a weaker schedule. Northwestern has victories over Stanford, Duke, the Gophers and Nebraska.
• The Gophers’ strong showing against Michigan lowered the Wolverines stature atop some national defensive statistical categories.
Wisconsin now ranks first nationally in scoring defense (11.0), with Michigan second (11.4). Michigan dropped from first to second in total defense (241.9), with Wisconsin third (267.1).
• Penn State defensive end Carl Nassib, a former walk-on, leads the nation in sacks per game (1.6) and tackles for a loss (2.1), and ranks third in forced fumbles (0.5).
Big Ten Power Rankings
1. Ohio State (8-0, 4-0 Big Ten): Debuted at No. 3 in the College Football Playoff rankings, a reminder there’s still work to do.
2. Michigan State (8-0, 4-0): Spartans play at Nebraska and host Maryland before the Nov. 21 showdown in Columbus.
3. Iowa (8-0, 4-0): Kirk Ferentz reminded everyone this week that his team’s Big Ten slate is only half finished.
4. Michigan (6-2, 3-1): The Gophers gained 461 yards last week, the most the Wolverines had allowed all season.
5. Wisconsin (7-2, 4-1): Corey Clement returned from sports hernia surgery, but the offensive line remains dinged up.
6. Northwestern (6-2, 2-2): The Wildcats are making due, despite ranking last in the Big Ten in scoring offense (20.9).
7. Penn State (7-2, 4-1): James Franklin called the 39-0 victory over Illinois his team’s most complete game in two years.
8. Illinois (4-4, 1-3): After a strong start, the Illini have averaged just 67.2 rushing yards per game in Big Ten play.
9. Nebraska (3-6, 1-4): Huskers have committed the most penalties in Big Ten and rank 13th in turnover margin (-8).
10. Gophers (4-4, 1-3): “Finally played like we thought they’d play all year long [vs. Michigan],” former coach Glen Mason said.
11. Purdue (2-6, 1-3): Freshman quarterback David Blough had five TDs — four passing — in big victory over Nebraska.
12. Rutgers (3-5, 1-4): The Scarlet Knights gained just 102 yards through three quarters against Wisconsin.
13. Indiana (4-4, 0-4): It’s an old story, but the Hoosiers are awful on defense again this year.
14. Maryland (2-6, 0-4): If Nebraska’s turnover ratio looks bad, double it for the Terrapins, who are at -16.