After yet another undefeated run through the Big Ten, and a top five finish at the end of the regular season, Ohio State is starting to wrack up the well deserved accolades.
Their quarterback, J.T. Barrett, was fairly named the Big Ten's Freshman, and Quarterback of the Year, and probably should be a Heisman finalist, thanks to his record-breaking statistics. Ohio State's Joey Bosa was named the Defensive Lineman of the Year, and the Defensive Player of the Year for the conference, also well deserved. Multiple Buckeyes nabbed spots on the All Big Ten first or second teams. The best performers on Ohio State's team got the recognition that they deserved.
Except one. Ohio State coach Urban Meyer. Despite running through the league undefeated, with a division title, and despite all the adversity that Ohio State faced this season, he lost the award to Minnesota's Jerry Kill.
And that's crap. Actually, it's worse than crap. Simply put, Urban Meyer got screwed.
This isn't a new thing for Ohio State coaches. Jim Tressel, the last Big Ten football coach to win a national title, and who completely dominated the 2000s, never once won the award. Neither did John Cooper. In fact, Ohio State, despite being far and away the most successful Big Ten football program of the last 20 years, hasn't had a coach win the award since 1979.
Nobody can credibly look at Ohio State over that tenure and claim they never had the best coach in the conference. Jim Tressel was the best coach in the conference for most of his tenure with the Buckeyes after all. Ohio State continues to get the shaft here because this award isn't about the best coach. It isn't about who did the best coaching job. It's about which coach with low expectations marginally exceeded those the most. And in the Big Ten, there are plenty of low expectations to go around.
There seems to be this idea that Ohio State can't turn in an excellent coaching job because coaching at Ohio State is somehow easier to win at than anywhere else, and that Ohio State has so much better players. The Buckeyes do have better players, but talent is not assigned in the Big Ten because of some sort of lottery, or Bolshevik allocation system. Talent is recruited, and that comes down to coaching, and it just so happens that Ohio State has the best coaches and recruiters in their conference. Penalizing a coaching staff because they completely excel at that part of their job is completely ridiculous. This conference is mediocre in football, in large part, because other coaches don't measure up in that department.
But even if we put that aside for a second, this particular Ohio State coaching job has dramatically ratcheted up the degree of difficulty. You may recall that before the season started, the Buckeyes lost their starting quarterback, and potential Heisman candidate, Braxton Miller, for the entire season due to injury. Very few teams in this conference could sustain losing their starting QB for an entire season and enjoy any kind of success. Ask Indiana. Try to imagine Penn State without Christian Hackenberg. Do they win four games? Michigan State certainly isn't a top 15 team without Connor Cook.
All Ohio State did was take a redshirt freshman who had never taken a snap for the Buckeyes and turn him into the single season Big Ten record holder for most TDs. All Ohio State did was take J.T. Barrett and turn him into one of the best quarterbacks in the entire country. And that's supposed to be easy?
Of course, that wasn't the only player Ohio State lost. People forget that the Buckeyes lost one of their best defensive players, defensive end Noah Spence, for the entire season. Spence, who was projected by some to be a first round draft pick type talent, was suspended again before the Kent State game, and is now permanently suspended by the Big Ten. Again, few teams could lose their first or second best player on defense without facing enormous consequences. Ohio State had another player lead the Big Ten in sacks, and won the defensive player of the year award anyway, even without a hugely important running mate in the pass rush.
Then Ohio State lost their fastest, and perhaps their most dynamic playmaker, in Dontre Wilson, to a broken foot halfway through the year. They had four new starters on the offensive line. They were forced to start underclassmen at wide receiver, at H-back, at running back, at defensive back, and at linebacker. Even for a team with four stars all over the roster, that level of inexperience and concerns about depth could be an disaster for anybody. Ask USC. Or Notre Dame. Or Michigan.
Instead, Ohio State went 11-1, and won every single Big Ten game. They steamrolled the preseason favorites, Michigan State, on the road. Outside of Penn State, they won every conference game mostly comfortably. They occasionally struggled with turnovers or sluggishness (or the elements), but rarely were they in honest, serious doubt of losing.
And that doesn't win you coach of the year? Name one other coach in this league, even given Ohio State's roster, who could pull that off.
And what of Jerry Kill and the Golden Gophers?
Minnesota did finish 8-4 on the year, and for a program that had struggled recently, it makes a nice feel good story. But that record is empty. The Gophers beat exactly two teams this season with winning records, and only one of them, Nebraska, was ranked at the time. The athletic department staff was so disappointed in the Cornhuskers losing that they fired their coach (who had a better record than Kill) in part because of that game.
Minnesota's wins came against a 5-7 FCS team, a 6-6 MTSU team (84th in F/+), a 3-9 SJSU team (111th in F/+), a 5-7 Michigan team (58th in F/+), a 5-7 Northwestern team (65th in F/+), a 3-9 Purdue team by a single point (74th in F/+), and then a decidedly pedestrian 7-5 Iowa team (53 in F/+), and their single good win, a 9-3 Nebraska squad (25th in F/+).
So Minnesota beat a single good team. Furthermore they lost to a below average Illinois squad (79th), along with losses to Wisconsin, TCU and Ohio State. For most of the Big Ten season, Minnesota didn't even look that good. They were very fortunate to beat Purdue, and easily could have lost to Northwestern.
The fact that Minnesota is 8-4 is a nice story. But it has far more to do with the fact outside of Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin, the league mostly struggled this season. The Gophers beat the bad teams, lost to the good ones -- and that deserves high praise? That should be their baseline expectation. After all, Minnesota won eight games last year too. In fact, Glen Mason got fired at Minnesota not that long ago for turning in seasons not altogether dissimilar from this one.
If the Big Ten wants a most improved award, that's fine. They should just call it that. It's completely stupid to rule out the school that's had excellent coaches simply because they're good. They're good because of those coaches. Rewarding coaches who are simply doing what should be expected of any decent team is another outward expression that the Big Ten is okay with just being good enough, and it's that mentality that leads to getting blasted by conferences who have higher standards.
The best coach in this conference was Urban Meyer. He was dealt an exceptionally tough situation, and turned a team that could have been excused from turning in an 8-4 performance like Minnesota did and turned them into a College Football Playoff contender.
If all of that doesn't mean anything, than the Big Ten needs to scrap this award and acknowledge it for what it is.