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Even at top Big Ten programs, first-year coaches require patience

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Herbstreit: 8-4 best outlook for Michigan (1:20)

Kirk Herbstreit predicts Michigan will get to eight wins in Jim Harbaugh's first season, but even he admits that's an optimistic approach. (1:20)

In the golden years of Big Ten football on through the era of Woody and Bo, surely the league enjoyed many eventful offseasons. None could have matched these past eight months for hype, though.

Every bit of information out of Ohio State, of course, was inhaled. A storyline just as big were the December hires of Jim Harbaugh at Michigan, Mike Riley at Nebraska and Paul Chryst at Wisconsin.

Amid the storm of predictions for success and proclamations of change, here's a consideration I never heard voiced:

What if they all lose this week in their debuts?

It's a gloomy thought -- but entirely possible. All three new coaches face strong opposition in Week 1, leading programs at Nebraska and Wisconsin that lost their top playmakers or, in the case of the Wolverines, have yet to identify them.

(Bill Cubit is also set to make his Illinois head-coaching debut this week, albeit under much different circumstances than the others.)

And that's not to mention the discouraging reality of new coaches' early fates. With a few exceptions, they sputter at the beginning. Last season, of 20 FBS coaches to start with new programs -- we'll include Bobby Petrino in his second stint at Louisville -- 11 won their openers.

In games before Oct. 1, first-year coaches went 43-50 in 2014.

Even the season-opening victories were struggles. Just ask James Franklin at Penn State, who escaped Ireland with a two-point win against Central Florida, or Chris Petersen at Washington, which won 17-16 at Hawaii.

Of the first-year coaches to win in Week 1 a year ago, only Petrino, whose Cardinals whipped Miami on Labor Day, scored a victory in the same realm as Michigan over Utah or Nebraska over BYU.

Wisconsin over Alabama would far eclipse anything accomplished by a first-year coach in a season opener since, well, let me know if you can find a victory on par.

"It's not about me," said Chryst, who lost his first game at Pitt in 2012 to Youngstown State. "I've never gone into a game where I felt that it was about me."

Thing is, it has, in fact, been all about the new coaches in the Big Ten this offseason. Not so much Chryst, who can often hide in plain sight around Madison with his understated personality.

Riley lives in the fishbowl. And Harbaugh was a rock star in Ann Arbor before he took the job.

The first-year Michigan coach said Tuesday he does not believe the mountain of attention he's received this offseason negatively impacted anything about his team's development.

"Our mindset is that we win as a team," Harbaugh said. "There's nobody above the team. No coach. No player. Everybody does a little and it adds up to a lot."

That sounds nice, but it does not add up to a win for Michigan on Thursday night unless the Wolverines buck the trend of Harbaugh losses in his first game at a new school. He lost to Azusa Pacific in his debut at San Diego in 2004 and to UCLA in his first game at Stanford.

The Utes are expecting a wild atmosphere to greet perhaps their best team in five years as a Pac-12 member. And they've noticed the Harbaugh hype.

Other than Illinois, which hosts Kent State, Nebraska gives the Big Ten its best chance at victory with a new coach on the sideline. But be wary of BYU, which spoiled the UConn debut of Bob Diaco last year and followed with a 41-7 win against Texas and first-year coach Charlie Strong.

Riley won his 1997 debut at Oregon State over North Texas and the first game of his 2003 return to the Beavers over Sacramento State.

Despite months of work, 15 practices in the spring and preseason camp, nothing replaces the connection forged between a staff and its players in actual games.

In the opener, Riley said, "there's always some mystery involved."

"I think everybody continues to learn. Over the course of time, players know what to expect. Coaches know what to expect."

That's just it -- in Week 1, almost no one knows who to expect, especially when it's also Year 1.

At Michigan, Nebraska and Wisconsin, the fans are well known for their loyalty and numbers, though not necessarily for patience. This week -- and likely for much of this season -- that patience is a virtue.