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Ranking Big Ten Football’s Most Intense Coaching Rivalries in the New Alignment

Posted on February 23, 2011 by JA Allen

The New Big Ten Divisions for 2011.

The Big Ten expansion to twelve teams and two divisions will set the stage for more intense coaching rivalries as Division races settle into place and the terrain becomes more familiar.

The Big Ten race slid into unknown territory as the teams realigned and faced new scheduling rigors.

Obviously, greater emphasis will be placed on intra-divisional contests.

For example, it’s more important—in terms of the Big Ten race—for new coach Kevin Wilson and his Hoosiers to defeat Purdue than it does for Indiana to defeat Kirk Ferentz’s Hawkeyes since Iowa plays in another division.

How this all plays out is yet to be seen, but there will undoubtedly be familiar rivalries lighting up Saturday afternoons with new faces leading the troops on the sidelines.

It will be an exciting new beginning for all Big Ten football teams and their fans.

Legends: Teams and Head Coaches

Iowa-Kirk Ferentz; Michigan-Brady Hoke; Michigan State-Mark Dantonio; Minnesota-Jerry Kill; Nebraska-Bo Pelini; Northwestern-Pat Fitzgerald

Leaders: Teams and Head Coaches

Illinois-Ron Zook; Indiana-Kevin Wilson; Ohio State-Jim Tressel; Penn State-Joe Paterno; Purdue-Danny Hope; Wisconsin-Bret Bielema.

This is the first time since 1993 that the Big Ten has enlarged its line-up.

Each Big Ten team plays eight conference contests which includes every team in their respective division, plus three conference games outside their division called crossover contests.

In total, every Big Ten team plays twelve regular season games beginning on September 3, 2011.

Big Ten football division play concludes with the Big Ten Championship game on December 3, 2011, in Indianapolis at Lucas Oil Stadium.

A true Big Ten champion will be crowned with the best in each Division vying for the title.

The Big Ten Coaching Shuffle:

In anticipation of the upcoming season, the newest head coaches will be trying to stack the deck to their advantage.

Currently, coaching assistants continue to play “Upset the Fruit Basket,” diving for the best current openings as part of the Big Ten Shuffle.

No coach wishes to be left standing when the dust settles.

To date, nine different full-time football coaching assistants have taken exact or similar positions with different schools in the Big Ten.

Even part-time or coaching interns are following suit.

This movement is frustrating some established coaches and could add another level of intensity to some new and established Big Ten coaching rivalries.

It makes sense that head coaches are hoping to gain some advantage by hiring coaches who knows their rivals best.

The only coaches who have not added to or subtracted from their coaching ranks are Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz and Penn State’s Joe Paterno.  Go figure.

10. Bret Bielema of Wisconsin vs. Mark Dantonio of Michigan State

Bret Bielema head coach of the Wisconsin Badgers.

Last year in the Big Ten opener, the Wisconsin Badgers lost their only regular season game to the Michigan State Spartans.

At the time, the Badgers were ranked No. 11 as both teams entered the game undefeated.

Michigan State was ranked No. 24 and played with fire and determination as their head coach Mark Dantonio remained hospitalized after suffering a mild heart attack following the Spartans’ great overtime win against Notre Dame on September 18.

Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins and the Spartans turned in a gutsy, inspired performance to win the game. Playing at home with the local fans urging them on, the Spartans took it to the maximum without hesitation.

During this game, Bielema and his Badgers played poorly on special teams and looked sluggish on defense. However, they did not lose another game until their Rose Bowl contest against TCU.

Wisconsin will expect to even the score against this Legends team even though the Badgers must face Ohio State and Penn State to win their own Leaders Divisional title.

This coaching rivalry should heat up as these teams face each other in October of 2011—both with something to prove.

No. 9: Pat Fitzgerald of Northwestern vs. Ron Zook of Illinois

Both of these programs want to blast out from the middle of the pack and move into the upper echelons of the Big Ten.

Last year, Ron Zook managed a winning season and won a bowl game while his rival, Pat Fitzgerald, dialed up an upset victory over Iowa after losing his starting quarterback, Dan Persa.

In the fallout, Northwestern lost its last three games of the season.

For Fitzgerald, after the Iowa win, his Wildcats stopped trying and fighting for that extra yard. Restoring the fight back into the Cats will be a priority for Northwestern’s coaches in 2011.

Illinois expects Zook, who received a pay increase but not a contract extension, to continue to improve.

It would have been easier for Zook if running back Mikel Leshoure had not elected to forgo his senior year, but Zook can still count on versatile quarterback Nathan Scheehaase to keep the Illini moving in the right direction.

Both teams hail from the State of Illinois but are in separate Big Ten Divisions.

These two in-state rivals play each other in the 2011 Big Ten opener for the Land of Lincoln Trophy.

A victory will get one of these coaches off on the right foot.  Expect this rivalry to continue to boil as the 2011 season gets underway.

No. 8 Bo Pelini at Nebraska vs. Jim Tressel at Ohio State

Bo Pelini head coach of the Nebraska Cornhuskers.

With Nebraska entering the Big Ten, it seems inevitable that the perennial Big Ten top dog, Ohio State, will run into the proverbial favorite Nebraska Cornhuskers.

An intense rivalry between these two coaches just must materialize as they meet inevitably during the season.

Their first contest will be in Lincoln on October 8, 2011. Expect the fans in Lincoln to give the Buckeyes their traditional opponent’s welcome at Memorial Stadium—a very intimidating place to play.

Ohio State remains ruled by the cool, collected Jim Tressel while the Cornhuskers are led by the often excitable Bo Pelini.

Nebraska fans remain awed by Pelini’s success but often seem skeptical of his methods on the sideline and with the media.

Nebraska and Ohio State are in different divisions, but the expectation for both these storied programs is that they will meet in the finals to determine the Big Ten Championship.

2011 will be the testing ground to prove whether this will be the reality of the new Big Ten alignment.

No. 7: Jerry Kill at Minnesota vs. Kirk Ferentz at Iowa

The Upper Midwest Border Battles will heat up as Minnesota vs. Iowa on the gridiron.

Minnesota, who most often faced Iowa in the last contest of the year, always seemed to find a way to make their neighbors suffer.

This was true even when Iowa had a better team and a better record coming into the annual game.

New Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill will find one of his fiercest in-division competitors as Iowa comes calling in 2011.

One envisions that Kill and Ferentz, who play their cards close to the vest and rule their emotions with an iron grip, both understand that this rivalry will become fierce in the upcoming years.

In 2011, Iowa will be seeking revenge for their upset loss at the end of 2010 to the lowly Gophers. It was an embarrassing finale for the disappointed Hawkeyes.

The Hawkeyes, of course, will seek to recapture the annual trophy, Floyd of Rosedale, which goes to the winner of the Iowa vs. Minnesota football game. Floyd is a bronze pig who has been traveling between the two schools since 1935.

Minnesota will be seeking to prove that the Gophers are legitimate contenders for the Big Ten title again. Another victory over Iowa will represent a big step in accomplishing that feat.

No. 6: Brady Hoke at Michigan vs. Mark Dantanio at Michigan State

Brady Hoke new head coach of the Michigan Wolverines.

Interstate football rivals Michigan and Michigan State comprise one of the biggest rivalries in the Big Ten.

Nothing suggests this will not continue into the future.

Both teams are members of the Legends Division in the Big Ten and they are scheduled to meet each other on the gridiron on October 15, 2011, in Lansing.

This will be Brady Hoke’s first road trip to Lansing as Michigan’s head coach.

The two teams play for the Paul Bunyan Trophy which has resided on site at Michigan State since 2008.

Retrieving the trophy is something Hoke and the Wolverines will wish to correct right away.

In the series contesting the trophy, Michigan leads 34-22-2.

Of late, Michigan State has ruled on the football field, but that has not lessened the intensity of the annual conflict.

Now both teams reside as members of the Legend Division, both fighting it out for a spot in the Championship game in December. It will make this rivalry hotter than ever.

No. 5: Kevin Wilson at Indiana vs. Danny Hope at Purdue

Kevin Wilson new head coach of the Indiana Hoosiers football team.

New Indiana football coach Kevin Wilson has had some real problems since arriving in Bloomington.

Trying to assemble a coaching staff to replace Bill Lynch’s assistants has the man scratching his head. It seems every time Wilson signs a new coach, another Big Ten coach lures him away.

Wilson comes to Indiana with excellent coaching credentials as the offensive coordinator for the Oklahoma Sooners since 2002. He also served as the offensive coordinator for Northwestern, helping the Wildcats win a share of the Big Ten title in 2000. Indiana is in real need of an influx of winning, having suffered through three losing seasons. In 2010 the Hoosiers went 5-7 with only one Big Ten win in the books.

The new Indiana coach hoped to return to the Big Ten someday, and Lynch’s firing gave Wilson that opportunity just when a new divisional and conference championship game made the conference look all the more enticing.

Wilson promised to bring a high-powered offense to the foreground which was what Lynch worked toward as well.

The issues for Indiana, besides assistant coaches and recruits, will be restoring a solid defense. Wilson, of course, is well aware of this challenge.

As members of the same division, Indiana vs. Purdue will continue to reign supreme on the campuses at Purdue and Indiana.

This rivalry has always been the best in the state and one of the best in the country, even though both programs have fallen on tough times.

But with Danny Hope at Purdue and newly ensconced Kevin Wilson at Indiana, expect this rivalry to come alive again as they battle each other on the sidelines.

Both teams will end the 2011 regular season hoping to claim the Old Oaken Bucket.

No. 4: Bo Pelini at Nebraska vs. Joe Paterno at Penn State

Both storied programs have a history against each other going back to the days when Tom Osborne was coach of the Big Red, pacing the sidelines.

Osborne ruled Nebraska with an iron fist, electing option play on the field.

Joe Paterno, of course, was the Nittany Lion coach even back then—before the BCS ruled over college football post-season play.

As Nebraska prepares itself and its fans for Big Ten action, expect Pelini and staff to revive their old rivalry with Penn State.

This rivalry heated to the boiling point in 1994 when Nebraska was awarded the National Championship over Penn State who also stood undefeated at season’s end.

The fact that Nebraska got the nod of sports writers was not received well by thousands of Nittany Lions fans.

A Lion never forgets. He gets even on the football field.

Even though in different divisions, Nebraska vs. Penn State will stir up intense feelings for both sets of fans.

It will, however, be more interesting to watch the coaches, Pelini and Paterno, pacing the sidelines and yelling at officials and players as the game grows tense and victory remains possible.

Look forward to this rivalry.

No. 3: Jerry Kill at Minnesota vs. Bret Bielema at Wisconsin

Jerry Kill is the new head coach of the Minnesota Gophers football team.

New head coach Jerry Kill brings a winning record with him to Minnesota which is something the Gophers need desperately.  As a head coach Kill has not had a losing record.

Minnesota’s new head coach, however, has not led a major college football program.

Even so, quiet and growing confidence builds that Kill will not stop until he gives Gopher fans a team worthy to take the field in the newly constructed TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

Kill has always built winners. His tenure at Northern Illinois produced an AP top 25 team which is an unusual result for a MAC team.

No one doubts that Kill will have his hands full turning around this Big Ten program, which is now in tatters. It may take him some time, the consensus is Kill will be up for the task.

Minnesota is a member of the Legends Division.

Beyond their division, however, expect the Gophers to try to pay back the Wisconsin Badgers who, many fans feel, really ran up the score 41-23 during their game in 2010.

The Badgers and the Gophers play annually for Paul Bunyan’s Axe, which is the oldest and longest rivalry in Division I football.  The trophy itself has been in existence since 1948 but the rivalry goes back to 1890.

The rivalry between Kill and Bielema should prove interesting since they once coached together in Kansas in the 1990s and remain friends today.

There are seldom, however, warm and fuzzy feelings between Badger and Gopher fans. This could prove to be one of the best coaching rivalries in the Big Ten.

No. 2: Bo Pelini at Nebraska vs. Kirk Ferentz at Iowa

Nebraska coach Bo Pelini, for his part, has taken steps to assure success on the football field in the Big Ten.

Pelini hired four new assistants–receiver’s coach Rich Fisher, linebacker coach Ross Els, offensive line and tight end coach John Garrison and defensive back coach Cory Raymond.

Pelini also expects the offense to operate smoother under the direction of Tim Beck, who moved up to replace Shawn Watson.

Nebraska promises a new look on offense, which seemed to be where the Cornhuskers stumbled last year—especially in the second half of the season.

Nebraska coaches and players are also studying their new rivals on film, viewing each Big Ten opponent in depth.

Actually Pelini is another top college football coach who started his career in Iowa City as a graduate assistant working under Iowa’s legendary coach Hayden Fry.

Pelini has that local connection to Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz who spent his early coaching days in Iowa City as well.

Bo Pelini and Nebraska have made the switch to the Big Ten in 2011 where the Cornhuskers will be part of the Legends Division with Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota and Northwestern

Look for Nebraska’s first big rivalry to materialize with their next-door neighbors, the Iowa Hawkeyes.

After all, there is no love lost between their respective fans who have seen Iowa pretty much dominated by Nebraska on the football field in past series.

These two Missouri River rivals play the last regular game of the season against each other.

Expect the fan action to heat up, as these two coaching rivals duel on the sidelines.

No. 1: Brady Hoke of Michigan vs. Jim Tressel of Ohio State

Jim Tressel is the head coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes.

Bo Schembechler vs. Woody Hayes was the greatest coaching rivalry ever––not only in the Big Ten, but perhaps in the history of college football—when Michigan took the field against Ohio State.

Maybe Barry Switzer vs. Tom Osborne as Oklahoma faced Nebraska came close—but when the contest is simply known as “The Game,” you know something special is about to unfurl.

Brady Hoke, former head coach at San Diego State and Ball State, is not really new to Michigan football because Hoke served as an assistant coach for the Wolverines from 1995-2002.

For Hoke, landing the Michigan job was a dream come true even though the big man hails from Ohio. His heart belongs to Big Blue.

During his days as an assistant coach with Michigan, Hoke served on Lloyd Carr’s staff where he coached the defensive line when the Wolverines won a National Championship in 1997.

Hoke turned around losing programs at Ball State and San Diego State in dramatic fashion.

One of the many knocks on the Michigan team by Rich Rodriguez was the lack of defense.

Quarterback Denard Robinson, as Michigan’s one-man wrecking crew, could pick apart opposing defenses, but the team’s defense seemed to sputter and die like a firecracker with a soggy fuse.

Hoke thinks that Michigan can simplify and be effective on defense while they build from the ground up.

According to Hoke, winning championships is what Michigan football is about.  Not being competitive and not winning means you failed.

Although Michigan is in the Legends division, look for its fiercest rival to remain the Ohio State Buckeyes whom the Wolverines will continue to play as the final game of the regular season.

Some good things just never change, and Michigan’s deep-rooted rivalry with Ohio State is no exception. Expect Brady Hoke to try to dislodge the unflappable Jim Tressel from his spot on the mountain top!


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