[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image source="featured_image" img_size="large"][vc_column_text]National Columnist Mike Farrell is here with the 3-Point Stance ranking the Big 12 head coaches, ranks the Big Ten running back rooms and gives you five true freshmen tight ends to watch.[/vc_column_text][vc_separator][vc_column_text]
— Ranking coaches is always fun right? Not always. But I have to do it anyhow and I’ll start with the Big 12.
1. Dave Aranda, Baylor
Any doubts about Aranda's ability as a head coach have been completely erased, as the former LSU and Wisconsin defensive coordinator led the Bears to the Big 12 title last year. We all knew that he was a defensive savant, but the fact that he has Baylor back at the top of the conference in such short order after taking over is simply astounding. If a blue blood program needs a new coach, Aranda is going to be on the short list.
2. Matt Campbell, Iowa State
Campbell has long been rumored to be high on the list of coaches who could make the jump to the NFL or to a bigger program, but he doesn't seem like he really wants to be anywhere but Ames. And that's great for the Cyclones, as he's been their best coach in decades. When he took over in 2016, it had been 7 years since Iowa State had a winning record. All he's done since is post five consecutive seasons above .500, including a top-10 finish in 2020.
3. Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State
Say what you will about Gundy and his mullet, but the man simply wins. He has led his alma mater to 15 straight bowl games and three Big 12 title games despite being the little brother program in their own state. Yes, his record against Oklahoma is abysmal (3-14), but otherwise he's been the model of consistency in his nearly two decades at the helm of the Cowboys.
4. Lance Leipold, Kansas
All Leipold has ever done is win at every level he's coached at. He won six national titles in eight years at D-III Wisconsin Whitewater before turning around a moribund Buffalo program and leading them to two division titles and three consecutive bowl games. Now he has arguably the biggest rebuild in all of Power Five on his hands, and he already got a signature win at Texas last year. If he can get the Jayhawks bowling, he's going to be one of the hottest names in the country.
5. Chris Klieman, Kansas State
Like Leipold, Klieman dominated at a lower level (in his case at FCS North Dakota State) before arriving in the Sunflower State. So while his coaching track record isn't quite as long, he's still shown that he can win at a high level and be very innovative with his play calling. Just look at how the Wildcats use Deuce Vaughn, and you'll see the ingenuity.
6. Sonny Dykes, TCU
I put him here a bit reluctantly because I don't love the hire in a vacuum - I think he underachieved at SMU given the talent that he had. But he has done a great job of assembling a quality staff around him for his first season in the Big 12. I just don't know if he's really the offensive whiz kid that a lot of people seem to have labeled him as.
7. Joey McGuire, Texas Tech
McGuire is a certified legend in the state of Texas for his exploits at the high school level, and that will go a very long way to helping put the Red Raiders back on the map. I can't put him too high on this list simply because we don't know how long it's going to take to get things up to speed, but his ability to connect with players and coaches in the state is going to be huge for Texas Tech.
8. Brent Venables, Oklahoma
Don't get me wrong, Venables was an incredible assistant coach at Clemson, where he had some truly elite defenses. But he's the only coach on this list who has never been a head coach at any level, and that has to matter. There's a very good chance that when I'm re-doing this list a year from now, he's in the top three, but right now, I just can't put him higher than where he is simply because of his inexperience as a head man.
9. Steve Sarkisian, Texas
2021 could not have gone much worse for Sark in his debut season in Austin, which culminated with that aforementioned disastrous loss to Kansas at home. After finishing with a 5-7 record, he has all the pressure in the world on him, especially with the acquisition of five-star quarterback Quinn Ewers. For his career, he's only 51-42, which is pretty rough considering the amount of talent he had at USC. If the Longhorns have another season at or below .500, he will be looking for a new gig in 2023.
10. Neal Brown, West Virginia
Someone has to be last, and in this case it's Brown, who is the definition of mediocre. He's 17-18 in three seasons in Morgantown, and the program seems to be rudderless right now. Don't be surprised if he's among the first coaches fired this season unless the Mountaineers magically turn it around.
— Quarterback rooms are hard to judge because some teams have a clear starter and others are going through battles. But running backs? That’s where depth is huge. Here are the tiers of the Big Ten in running backs.
Tier 1: The Elites - Michigan, Ohio State, Wisconsin
All three of these teams return a ton of production and are set up for the future at the position. Ohio State's Treyveon Henderson was the best true freshman running back in the country last season, and the only guy who could push him for that claim is Wisconsin's Braelon Allen. Both of those programs have to feel great about where they stand, and both also have quality depth with youngsters Miyan Williams and Evan Pryor at Ohio State and veteran Chez Mellusi at Wisconsin.
The Wolverines lost one-half of their outstanding one-two punch from last year with Hassan Haskins now in the NFL, but they still have Blake Corum, who exploded onto the scene last year, as well as redshirt freshman Donovan Edwards, who, by all accounts, had a tremendous spring and is ready to make the leap.
Tier 2: Good but not Great: Minnesota, Penn State, Michigan State, Illinois, Northwestern
Coming into the offseason, you could argue that the Gophers had the deepest running back room in the country with four guys who could make some claim to being the starter. Two of those players - Mar'Keise Irving and Ky Thomas - are now playing at Oregon and Kansas, respectively, but they've still got Mo Ibrahim, who was outstanding before an injury cut his season short, as well as Trey Potts who has shown flashes.
Penn State and Michigan State do not have backs that are as proven as Minnesota, but they have as much upside as anyone. Penn State makes tier 2 simply as a bet on Nicholas Singleton. He's going to be special for the Nittany Lions, even as a true freshman. He's that good. Meanwhile, Mel Tucker is hoping to strike gold again with a transfer running back, this time with former Badger Jalen Berger. The former top-100 recruit fell out of favor with coaches in Madison but still possesses outstanding ability in the open field and is an asset as a pass-catcher as well.
Illinois brings back their top three backs from last season, including Chase Brown who broke 1,000 yards as a sophomore in 2021, as well as Josh McCray and Reggie Love. Love was a big time get for Bret Bielema as a four-star back in the 2020 class, and could very well be the future of the position in Champagne.
Tier 3: That'll Do: Northwestern, Maryland, Rutgers, Iowa
Like Illinois, Northwestern also brings back a 1,000 rusher in Evan Hull as well as his primary backup Andrew Clair. The Wildcats aren't particularly deep though at the position, so an injury to their bell-cow Hull could spell disaster for Pat Fitzgerald's crew. Maryland has two solid but unspectacular options in their backfield in Challen Faamatau and Colby McDonald, but they'll definitely miss the veteran presence of the recently graduated Tayon Fleet-Davis.
Rutgers' Kyle Monangai and Aaron Young both struggled to get anything consistent going last season, and both averaged under 4 yards per carry while backing up Isaih Pacheco. However, that in-game experience will help them as Greg Schiano continues to rebuild this program. Iowa always has a seemingly excellent rushing attack, and despite the losses of both Tyler Goodson and Ivory Kelly-Martin, you know as well as I do that they'll have a solid if unspectacular ground game in 2022. Gavin Williams and LeShon Williams should get the first crack at the starting job, but don't be surprised if four-star true freshman Kaleb Johnson sees a fair bit of action. The Hawkeyes' flipped him from Cal late in the process and he could be the next big thing in Iowa City.
Tier 4: Cross your fingers and pray: Indiana, Purdue, Nebraska
Purdue finished 2021 dead last in yards per carry in the entire country. So even though leading rusher King Doerue returns, it's not like it's really moving the needle for one of the worst rushing attacks in the country. Indiana, on the other hand, has effectively zero experience returning from last season - 22 carries for 74 yards, and 0 TD's between the only two backs on the roster who saw any time last year. They've brought in transfer Shaun Shivers from Auburn, but even he was buried on the depth chart on the Plains.
As the Cornhuskers continue their rebuild, they're going to need to get more out of the running back position than they did last season. They're hoping that Florida State transfer Anthony Grant can help their young position group that is currently headed by Gabe Ervin and Rahmir Johnson, both of whom have some game experience but have not shown that they are ready to be every-down backs.
[/vc_column_text][vc_separator][vc_column_text]— And I continue my look at impact true freshmen with five tight ends to keep an eye on next season.
Ryan Otton, Washington
He’s not slated to be the starter and it’s yet to be determined how much the TE will be used in the offense, but this is Cade’s brother and he has a chance to be very good very early.
Jake Johnson, Texas A&M
He’s one of three TEs in the 2022 class for the Aggies and Donovan Warren is rated higher by most, but as an early enrollee who looked impressive, he’s the guy I’m betting on.
Jaleel Skinner, Miami
Will Mallory is the guy but there’s a reason why Alabama wanted Skinner so badly and why it was such a big deal for Mario Cristobal to flip him. He’s a potential star downfield.
Keyan Burnett, Arizona
An Arizona legacy, he played at a big-time program at Servite and had the size and great hands to impact immediately in this rebuilding offense.
Jason Llewellyn, Oklahoma
The tight end situation at OU is wide open without a ton of experience and this state champ from Texas can block and catch at an advanced early level.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]