Penn State lands in Tier Three
Driven by some K. John assertions about “tiers” in college football, especially with respect to coaching positions, we’ve had a perennial argument on this blog about what tier Penn State belongs in and why. Obviously, our Nittany Lions are Tier One in all of our hearts, but sometimes our hearts overrule our mental processes. We all have opinions, and as I frequently expostulate, you know what they say about opinions.
In this connection, ESPN has spent a few minutes attempting to rank the best coaching jobs in college football. A premier collection of know-it-all college football sportswriters and analysts sitting around a dinner table drinking Romulan Ale wound up ranking Penn State 17 out of the 65 Power Five schools they considered for ranking, putting the Nittany Lions job in the dreaded Third Tier.
The Third Tier, man! How the mighty have fallen! Of course, I know, you’ll all be like, “Like, it’s ESPN, man! The folks who brought us Keith Olbermann, who like totally dissed Thon. This is bull shit! Like, WTF do they know, man! They haven’t given us a damn break since the Sandusky Scandal hit the front pages. Hell, man, they never have given us a break. They’re like anti-Penn State, man!” We are… Penn State! We hate… ESPN! Buncha money-grubbing attention whores, man!!
There! That’s out of my system. LOL. I’m mocking what I know will be some reactions from mah slappies so the aforementioned slappies don’t hafta bother. I’m also writing like a teenage Twitter addict, but I sure as hell don’t know why. Maybe I’m channeling Olbermann!
So, like why is Penn State not in the First Tier? I dunno. Ask K. John. He’ll tell you that we didn’t have a 7-6 season and we weren’t 2-6 in the Big Ten, using some arcane logic that only he can comprehend. Don’t get me wrong. I find it intriguing to attempt to follow his logic but I lack the mental capacity to make the great leap of faith necessary to fathom his self-assured rectitude. We’re always First Tier in his mind for whatever arbitrarily incomprehensible reasons he proffers.
OK, I admit it. I’m an instigator. None of this means anything. Like all opinions, this straw man should just make you think. Then, of course, no one will care about what you think because they’ll all be thinking what they think. But that’s the wonderful world of sports, ain’t it? I just wanted to add some dubious data points to our ongoing debate about college football coaching “tiers.”
Let’s look at some of the high and low points of the ESPN survey, which partitions the 65 schools of the Power Five into ten tiers. Tier Ten contains such winners as Iowa State and Washington State, but no Big Ten schools, thank God. You have to actually reach Tier Nine to find Purdue, Indiana, and Northwestern. Wait, what? About NWU, the vaunted writers say:
There’s a reason decades of its football history were veiled in obscurity until the mid-1990s. It’s possible to win there, but nearly impossible to sustain success. Pat Fitzgerald and others have been able to get some solid players on campus, but as we’ve seen the past couple of years, depth is sorely lacking when injuries do occur.
Rutgers, Minnesota, and Illinois made it to Tier Eight: The Marginalized. Probably no surprises there. Maryland sits alone among Big Ten teams in Tier Seven: The Underdogs, which also includes Pitt; Iowa is the only Big Ten school ranked in Tier 6: The Crossroads. No B1Ggies in Tier Five: The Upstarts.
In Tier Four: The Not-Quites, we have Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Moo U. About the last of these, the ESPN geniuses opined:
Spartans fans understandably didn’t like the idea that their team’s window of high-end success might be closing (or is closed), now that Urban Meyer-led Ohio State is title-ready and Michigan has hired Jim Harbaugh to kick-start that beleaguered-but-promising program. Even if Michigan State winds up being the third-best team in the division, it’s not as if it should close its doors. It has the potential to be a perennial top-15 team that can, every few years, compete for a Rose Bowl and/or playoff berth.
That brings us to Tier Three: The Comebacks. Here is where we find Penn State in a tie for #17 with UCLA (purportedly the new home of Tom Bradley), and this is the narrative:
However far this job plummeted amid the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal and fallout, it’s now on the way back up. But it has been a long road, both in terms of public perception and roster construction (resulting from the NCAA-mandated scholarship reductions). Bill O’Brien’s work as coach to guide Penn State through the darkest hours was commendable, and James Franklin’s enthusiasm has and will go a long way in continuing to shift and build momentum. So if the job were open tomorrow, the footing would be much firmer than a year ago — and certainly than it was a year before that. “There were only a handful of guys who would have gone there [just after the scandal],” a Power 5 coordinator said, pointing out that the job went to an NFL assistant instead of someone from the college level. “Now, who wouldn’t want it? The worst is behind them, you’d have to think, right?”
The state has always been strong for recruiting, and Joe Paterno made Penn State a national name. The program still resonates with high school coaches and players across the country; it was never irreconcilably damaged. And Franklin’s attitude definitely helps to assuage whatever ill feelings it does encounter. The upgrades to Beaver Stadium, now about a decade old, still make it one of the country’s finer venues. Fan support never waned throughout the recent trials. The Lasch football building is due for upgrades, and the school has looked into the possibility of updating it in the near future. State College is seemingly tucked away from the rest of the state, but it’s a relatively short ride to Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and even New York. It’s also one of the top college towns in the country. Penn State is moving back toward being a top-15 job. It’s again a destination job. In reality, the depth of the Big Ten East might be the thing that holds it back the most.
I think that’s a pretty fair assessment of the Penn State job, but I’m sure some of you predisposed ESPN-haters will find something in there that sticks in your craw.
And now, the big boys of the top two tiers, according to the damn fool sportswriters at ESPN.
Tier Two: The Next-Best includes Michigan (14), Auburn, Oregon, Texas A&M, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Georgia, Florida State, and LSU (6). Comments on Michigan:
Harbaugh hasn’t even coached a game at the Big House yet, and it can be said with some certainty that the NFL is the biggest threat to Michigan’s long-term success. If he gets the itch to again chase an elusive Super Bowl ring, the Wolverines could be left in the lurch. But let’s say he does leave in two, three, four years. How much can he do in the interim to prop up the injured brand? How much better will the job be?
All that can be done at this point is speculate, but he has momentum. He has been a successful coach wherever he has been. There’s arguably unprecedented administrative support, as evidenced by how aggressively and intently Michigan pursued Harbaugh. The academic side will always have a football aversion, but it does not appear prohibitive in any way to success. Construction will continue to elevate Michigan’s facilities, which were lavishly praised just last week by Jameis Winston after the Heisman winner worked out there. Winston also said he wishes he could have played for Harbaugh. Imagining the new coach gets a few Winston-level talents along the way, Harbaugh will assuredly leave Michigan in a far better place than he found it.
Tier One: The Best includes Florida (5), Ohio State (4), USC (3), Alabama (2), and Texas (1). I don’t think anyone can bitch too much about this top tier, can they? Here’s what they said about Ohio State:
When Meyer landed at Ohio State, there was a collective “uh oh” emanating from the rest of the Big Ten and college football’s powers. It was a match that seemed as if it would quickly yield results, and it has. If not for NCAA restrictions, including a postseason ban, the Buckeyes might have been in title position sooner. Then again, the run-in with the NCAA is what prompted the coaching change and led to Meyer’s hire. The Woody Hayes Athletic Center was ahead of its time in 1987, and regular updates have kept it among the country’s best facilities. Similar upgrades along the way continue to make the Horseshoe one of college football’s most iconic places to watch a game. To no one’s surprise, Meyer and his staff are leveraging OSU’s positives to recruit at an absurd rate — especially compared to the rest of the league. The Buckeyes have signed 40 ESPN 300 recruits in the past three classes while the other six programs in the Big Ten East have added a total of 62. The talent gap in the league is as wide as it has ever been. Beyond the focus on the three quarterbacks, Ohio State has as much returning in 2015 as anyone in college football. It didn’t lose a single underclassman to the draft. Meyer would be a tough act to follow, but with those players and those resources, it’d be worth a shot.
Let the debate begin!