Tuesday, October 29, 2013
Take Two: B1G coaches seek strong finish
By Adam Rittenberg & Brian Bennett
Big Ten bloggers Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett will occasionally give their takes on a burning question facing the league. We'll both have strong opinions, but not necessarily the same view. We'll let you decide which blogger is right.
November is just around the corner as the Big Ten season begins the stretch run. It's a critical time of year for players and coaches. We're focusing today on the men prowling the sideline. Today's Take Two topic is: Which Big Ten coach most needs a strong November to close out the regular season?
Take 1: Adam Rittenberg
There are several possibilities here, from a coach seeking another perfect season (Urban Meyer), to coaches on the hot seat (Bo Pelini, Tim Beckman), to a coach desperately seeking a turnaround after a horrendous October (Pat Fitzgerald). My answer might surprise you, but I'm going with Michigan's Brady Hoke. The 21st-ranked Wolverines enter November at 6-1, but they've had some struggles since an impressive Week 2 win against Notre Dame. They come off a four-overtime loss to Penn State, in which they largely beat themselves. Their November schedule begins with in-state rival Michigan State and also features division games against Nebraska (home), Northwestern (road) and Iowa (road), before The Game against Ohio State.
There are some big-picture questions to be answered about Michigan in November. What is the state of the program right now? Where are the Wolverines headed under Hoke? The recruiting success is undeniable, but it doesn't matter much if it doesn't translate to championships. The great thing about Hoke is he has made the expectations so clear for the Wolverines: Big Ten title or failure. By Hoke's own standards, he has failed for two seasons and the program has failed for nearly a decade. The Sugar Bowl championship in Year 1 was nice, and so was the streak-ending win against Ohio State, but Michigan benefited in both cases from extremely favorable circumstances. This is the month for the Wolverines to truly show they're taking the next step. They'll have a very hard time winning the division without beating Michigan State on Saturday. They could be challenged by Nebraska, Northwestern and Iowa before facing arguably the best Ohio State team they've seen since the 2006 season.
Hoke isn't coaching for his job, a national championship or a dramatic turnaround from a long losing streak. But he needs to show in November that Michigan is taking steps toward a championships on the field, not just on the recruiting trail.
Take 2: Brian Bennett
Hoke and his players definitely don’t want to talk about another “failure” in December. But I think November is even more important for Bo Pelini.
Remember Pelini’s “win out” mantra after last year’s Ohio State loss? It’s time to bring that back for the Huskers. If they manage to sweep the rest of their games, they’ll win the Legends Division and get back to Indianapolis for the Big Ten championship tilt. But that’s looking increasingly unlikely, especially after Nebraska was pushed around by Minnesota last week in as dispiriting a loss as Pelini has had during his tenure. It sure didn’t help him that, as colleague Mitch Sherman noted, several high-profile boosters made the trip to Minneapolis to see that performance.
The Cornhuskers still have to go to Michigan and face Michigan State at home, and Iowa looks like it could make the Heroes Game a little feistier this year. Nebraska is no guarantee to even beat Northwestern this week, though the Wildcats are an even bigger mess right now. Two losses in the month would leave the team at 8-4 and qualify as Pelini’s worst season in Lincoln -- not good timing, with a new athletic director in charge and after the release of that alarming audio tape in September. I’m not saying the school would or even should fire Pelini after a three- or four-loss season. But the option surely would be considered, and calls for someone else -- Scott Frost? -- to take over the program would grow louder.
Pelini can quiet all that noise by winning out in November. Anything less than that could create a very interesting December in Big Red land.