Three of the most prominent programs in the Big Ten are under new direction heading into the 2015.
With Jim Harbaugh and Paul Chryst returning to their Alma Maters (Michigan and Wisconsin) and Mike Riley taking over Nebraska after a 12-year stint with Oregon State, there’s been plenty of speculation of how each program will grow under new leadership.
Expectations for Michigan have rapidly grown since the Harbaugh hire, many believing he’s the answer to restore the Maize and Blue’s significance nationally.
Chryst is expected to pick up where Bret Bielema and Gary Andersen left off, consistently recording double-digit win seasons, competing for Big Ten championships and chances at the College Football Playoff.
In Lincoln, the verdict is still out on how Riley, who finished 93-80 in Corvallis, can turn Nebraska from a mediocre bowl team into a conference contender.
Over the long haul, each program has a reason for optimism. That doesn’t necessarily mean the upcoming year won’t have some bumps in the road, however.
The idea that Chryst will experience the most success from a wins and losses standpoint at Wisconsin is doubtful to receive much resistance. As a former offensive coordinator for the Badgers under Bielema, Chryst is familiar with the style of play that produces 10-win results in Madison. He has a flurry of talent on both sides returning to the field.
Most importantly, Wisconsin has appeared in three of the four Big Ten Championship games and hasn’t had any real controversy swarming around Camp Randall Stadium.
The same can’t be said for the Wolverines and the Huskers.
Since Lloyd Carr’s 13-year reign ended in 2007, Michigan’s success on the football field has suffered, experiencing minimal success over the past seven seasons.
Harbaugh, who turned Stanford from a bottom-dweller in the Pac-12 into a championship-caliber regime in four seasons, will be expected to do the same thing at a school that posted a combined 46-42 record under Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke.
The positive is that a Michigan defense that surrendered only 22.4 points per game last season looked strong in the spring game and should be an asset in the fall. Offensively, the inconsistency and the lack of explosiveness will hinder the Wolverines and is what could ultimately keep Harbaugh and his staff from experiencing a multitude of success in his first year back in Ann Arbor.
745 miles from the Big House, Riley and his inherited Huskers may experience the same turbulence.
Nebraska hasn’t had much trouble winning games over the seven years, posting at least nine wins in every season under former coach Bo Pelini. After a few questionable tirades and remarks and the occasional blowout loss in a significant contest, the athletic department made the decision to go another route.
While Riley has been put into a good position considering the talent returning to Nebraska next season, the pressure he will face is tremendous.
The goal will not only be for Riley to be a respectable and positive face for the university and program, but to revive the Huskers into the national power they once were under legendary coach Tom Osborne.
Certainly Riley and company have the resources and opportunity to elevate Nebraska’s play in the next few years, but it’s unlikely that a team that has lost impact players like Ameer Abdullah, Kenny Bell and Randy Gregory to dominate an improving conference so quickly.
Of the three newbies in the Big Ten coaching camp, it appears that Chryst has been blessed with the easiest transition. Replacing Melvin Gordon won’t be easy and improving Joel Stave at quarterback might be a difficult task, but Wisconsin’s strength has always been in the trenches.
That will be the Badgers’ strength again next season.
Harbaugh, Riley and Chryst all have an incredible amount of pressure and are expected to produce results in a relatively small time frame. The success of 2015 for these guys may not dictate the growth and development of these three programs in the near future.
Chryst is likely to experience the most immediate success. But who can sustain it long-term is the biggest question among the conference.