[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]National Columnist Mike Farrell is here with the 3-Point Stance, taking a look at the head coaching rankings in the Big Ten, the running back tiers in the ACC, and five true freshmen linebackers to watch.[/vc_column_text][vc_separator][vc_column_text]— Let’s continue to rank the millionaires as we head to the Big Ten where the coaching rankings are difficult to say the least.
1. Ryan Day, Ohio State
It's a little closer between Day and Fitzgerald than most people think (more on that in a minute), but you have to respect how consistently Ohio State has won under Day. He's 34-4 overall and 23-1 in-conference. The Buckeyes recruit as well as anyone in the nation and are in the title hunt every year.
2. Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern
Has anyone consistently done more with less year in and year out than Pat Fitzgerald? There was a very long stretch of time not too long ago where Northwestern was the worst program in the country, yet now the Wildcats are a threat in the Big Ten West most seasons despite a ton of extra hurdles when it comes to recruiting. Fitzgerald will more than likely never leave his alma mater either.
3. Jim Harbaugh, Michigan
Expectations had not been reached entering 2021 for Harbaugh, but the former Wolverine quarterback had the best season the program had seen since their national title in 1997. He's becoming a more effective CEO-type, and their recruiting is on the uptick as well.
4. Mel Tucker, Michigan State
Tucker is the original master of the transfer portal, and he turned around a Michigan State team in very short order since taking over. He's got another long list of transfers who are expected to contribute in 2022, but his stock has never been higher as a coach.
5. James Franklin, Penn State
There have been zero issues with recruiting under Franklin - he's done a great job of bringing in highly coveted talent. But the results haven't entirely followed on the field. That being said, the Nittany Lions are competitive every year, and are a team that could pop if everything breaks right for them.
6. Kirk Ferentz, Iowa
The longest-tenured head coach in the country, Ferentz is the epitome of stability. He's 178-110 in 23 seasons and has the Hawkeyes in a place where you can pencil them in for at least eight wins every season. You know they'll always have a nasty offensive line and lock-down defense. So while the ceiling isn't as high as some Hawkeyes fans would like, his floor is as high as anyone year in and year out.
7. Paul Chryst, Wisconsin
Chryst, much like Ferentz, is about as steady as they come. The Badgers have won the West in three of his seven seasons at the helm, and he's 65-23 in that timespan. But there is definitely slippage when it comes to play-calling, and he's hoping that an overhaul to nearly the entire coaching staff will be able to resurrect some of the magic he had when he was a coordinator with the Badgers.
8. Bret Bielema, Illinois
This is more of a career achievement than a reflection of the current state of Illinois football. Bielema took Wisconsin to three consecutive Rose Bowls in the early 2010's, and although he did not get Arkansas over the hump, it's rare that anyone can build any consistent winner in Fayetteville.
9. Greg Schiano, Rutgers
Schiano is trying to recapture the magic of his first go-around at Rutgers, and he's been doing a really nice job of rebuilding a program that completely collapsed after his departure for the NFL. Rutgers is one of the tougher jobs in the country, and he's the only coach who has been able to win there in the past half-century.
10. Jeff Brohm, Purdue
You could make a case for Brohm being higher on this list, but for now, he's still under .500 as a head coach. He's put together some outstanding offenses, and 2022 could be another vintage year for the Boilermakers with a proven QB back under center in Aidan O'Connell. But until his defenses are able to turn the corner, it's going to be tough to rank him in the top half of the conference.
11. PJ Fleck, Minnesota
I know that PJ Fleck has a better record than Brohm, but he's also had more talent to work with on his Minnesota rosters than Brohm ever has. What he did during his time at Western Michigan was great, but he's still under .500 in conference play and we've seen Tanner Morgan regress under his tutelage.
12. Tom Allen, Indiana
Oh how things have changed in just one year. Last year at this time, we were coming off of one of the best seasons in Hoosier football history, and they were on the precipice of finishing with double-digit wins for the first time in school history. Now, Allen finds himself in a complete rebuild once again, and not a ton of talent to work with.
13. Mike Locksley, Maryland
It is hard to be as bad of a head coach as Locksley was during his stint at New Mexico. He was 2-26 in a little more than two seasons before going to the Nick Saban school of coaching rehabilitation. Last season was his first finishing over .500 at Maryland, but even then he only went 3-6 in conference.
14. Scott Frost, Nebraska
Frost's coming home party has not lived up to expectations by any stretch of the imagination. He's 15-29 in four seasons with zero bowl appearances. His undefeated season at UCF seems like decades ago at this point, and it's beginning to look like that season was a complete fluke. To date, it's his only season with a winning record.[/vc_column_text][vc_separator][vc_column_text]— The running back tiers in the ACC are pretty clear to me. And a lot of it isn't pretty.
Elite: Syracuse, Clemson
In a bit of a shock, it's Syracuse who can stake a claim as having the best running back room in the conference. They've got 2021 ACC leading rusher Sean Tucker coming back for his redshirt sophomore season, and landed transfer Juwaun Price from New Mexico State who was outstanding as a true freshman for the Aggies last year as well. They complement each other very well, and will set the tone for the Orange.
Will Shipley showed flashes as to why he was a five-star recruit for the 2021 class during last season, as he eventually became the full-time starter midway through the year. His backup Kobe Pace averaged over six yards per carry last year as well.
Good but not Great: Louisville, Boston College, Pittsburgh, Miami
The Cardinals are right on the borderline here, as they have a nice set of complementary backs in Tennessee transfer Tiyon Evans and Jalen Mitchell. Neither of those guys however is quite on the same level of Tucker or Shipley, and there's still questions about how effective they're going to be if there's no downfield passing threat without Tyler Harrell around.
Outside of Sean Tucker, no back emerged in the ACC in 2021 like Boston College's Patrick Garwo III. He topped 1,000 yards and proved to be one of the toughest guys to tackle in the country. His primary backup Alec Sinkfield returns as well, meaning that the Eagles should be able to continue to move the ball effectively on the ground.
Pittsburgh's Israel Abanikanda got lost in the shuffle last year with all of the attention being paid to Kenny Pickett and Jordan Addison. But with both of those guys now gone, he's the number one show in town. That being said, his backup Vincent Davis is no slouch either, and they are going to make life easier for new quarterback Kedon Slovis.
In Miami, Jaylan Knighton and Ole Miss transfer Henry Parrish will more than likely split carries which should be effective for the Hurricanes. Both backs have game-breaking ability, but neither has proven to be able to stay fully healthy and available for a full season. However, their combined upside is as high as anyone. There is also depth here.
That'll Do: UNC, Wake Forest, Florida State
The Tar Heels have to find a new lead back for the second consecutive year as Ty Chandler is off to the NFL. British Brooks has shown that he can break the big run, as he averaged 9.5 yards per carry in a reserve role last season. DJ Jones is an intriguing player as well, but doesn't have the same big-play ability.
Christian Beal may be gone, but Wake Forest still has two solid options in Christian Turner and Justice Ellison. Neither may be an all-ACC level back, but Ellison definitely has the higher ceiling of the two. None of that really matters though, as they will live and die by the play of superstar quarterback Sam Hartman.
Florida State has an interesting competition on its hands with Oregon transfer Trey Benson and incumbent Treshaun Ward battling out for the starting job, but that is going to run through fall camp. Behind them though, CJ Campbell is a guy to be on the lookout for. The redshirt freshman really turned some heads this offseason.
Cross Your Fingers and Pray: NC State, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Duke, Georgia Tech
While their roster is very strong at nearly every other position, there is a glaring hole at running back for NC State. Their top two backs from last season - Zonovan Knight and Ricky Person, Jr., are both gone and they bring back almost zero experience. They also didn't get anyone from the transfer portal, so they're hoping that Jordan Houston and Demie Sumo-Karngbaye can step up.
The Cavaliers are in a tough spot, with Mike Hollins the only back with any experience returning to their roster. They need to hope that Miami transfer Cody Brown can live up to his promise coming out of high school because they are very unproven.
Like their cross-state rivals, Virginia Tech is very thin at running back. Malachi Thomas is the only back who returns with experience, but he has not really stood out in a meaningful way yet. Unlike the Hoos, however, the Hokies have not brought in any reinforcements through the portal.
Like nearly every position on the Duke roster, the running back room is neither talented nor deep. Mataeo Durant is gone, and he was effectively their entire offense last season. It's a true open competition in Durham, but expect Jaquez Moore and Jordan Waters get the bulk of the carries.
Losing Jahmyr Gibbs hurts a ton for a Georgia Tech team that does not have a ton of talent left in the cupboard. Dontae Smith and Louisville transfer Hassan Hall will look to try to replace Gibbs and true freshman Antonio Martin is the future of the position in Atlanta. To me it all comes down to Buffalo transfer Dylan McDuffie who could be a surprise.[/vc_column_text][vc_separator][vc_column_text]— And I continue my look at true freshmen who could impact with the linebackers.
Lander Barton, Utah
He’s going to be an absolute star at Utah before long, just watch. His diagnosis of plays is well ahead of his age.
CJ Hicks, Ohio State
He’s a quick twitch athlete who can get to the ball fast and in a Jim Knowles defense that is rewarded.
Dasan McCullough, Indiana
He could impact at many positions if he wanted to especially running back and he’s just too athletic to keep off the field.
Harold Perkins, LSU
Perkins has as high a ceiling as anyone on this list and was a huge recruiting get down the stretch. He will see plenty of playing time.
David Bailey, Stanford
He’s more of a hybrid and an EDGE but he’s great playing standup football and is the rare early enrollee for Stanford who looked good in the spring.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]