I don't have a vote on the Big Ten's Coach of the Year ballot or for the All Big Ten ballots, but if I did, I would look at things objectively. I try to do that, even though I publish a website called HawkeyeNation.com and a magazine called Hawkeye Nation.
I take pride in calling things like I see them.
Sometimes, people might think that I tow the company line with the things that I write, but in all honesty, those are my opinions.
If I did have a ballot for Big Ten Coach of the Year, I would write down Kirk Ferentz's name without blushing or apologizing.
With all due respect to John L. Smith, Joe Tiller and Lloyd Carr, Kirk Ferentz's 2003 Iowa Hawkeyes battled more adversity than any of those teams. The 2003 Iowa football team lost more key personnel to graduation, or an early departure here or there to the NFL than any of those teams.
Those four coaches would be the men that I would chose from for the Big Ten Coach of the Year.
And the 2003 Iowa Hawkeyes had less talent to work with than any of those clubs, if the experts are to be believed.
Iowa's 1999 recruiting class was ranked dead last in the Big Ten by Bill Hodge of Fans Only. Hodge has been in the business a while. He ranked Michigan's class #8 overall that year, Michigan State's #20 and Purdue's 5th in the Big Ten.
In 2000, Michigan State came in at #10 nationally, Michigan #13, Purdue 6th in the Big Ten and Iowa's 10th.
In 2001, Michigan had the #2 class in the nation, Purdue #26 and Iowa #30.
In 2002, Michigan ranked 10th nationally, MSU #31 while Iowa and Purdue did not make Hodge's top 40.
In 2003, Michigan was 7th nationally, with Iowa and Purdue in the 28-40 range.
So when you look at seniors and juniors in the mix, those Hawkeye classes were picked at or just below last in the league.
Then take a look at the returning starters for those teams this year, using Phil Steele's Preseason magazine as my reference:
Purdue: 8 Offense, 9 Defense
Michigan State: 7 Offense, 8 Defense
Michigan: 7 Offense, 6 Defense
Iowa: 4 Offense, 7 Defense
Recruiting rankings are not the end all be all measuring stick. Iowa has shown that to be true. They are a decent gauge, but they do not measure a program's ability to identify diamonds in the rough and then to develop those players once they get to campus.
Is there a better coaching staff in college football at identifying and developing talent? If you can think of one, email me, because I don't believe that there is.
Michigan won the Big Ten, but they were supposed to win the Big Ten. Their lone league loss was to Iowa in Iowa City.
Purdue finished 6-2, but in my opinion, they should have been right there where they were, fighting for the league title, as they returned 17 starters and did not take anyone by surprise. They finished 9-3 overall, losing to Michigan and Ohio State on the road (no shame there) and to Bowling Green at home.
Michigan State finished 5-3 in the league, same as Iowa. They beat Iowa in East Lansing, but they finished 8-4 overall and lost to Louisiana Tech. And Michigan State always has talent on their teams.
And then you have to factor in some of the other aspects of the season, like injuries.
There is no team in the Big Ten outside of Illinois that could make the claim that they had more injuries that affected their team than Iowa.
Yet, Iowa was still able to keep things together and move on from game to game with new (and for the most part, as we have pointed out, not highly regarded players from a recruiting standpoint) faces. The ‘Next Men In' this year were Ramon Ochoa, Tyler Luebke, Matt Melloy, etc. You will not find any recruiting ranking by those players names when they were seniors in high school.
So to me, it comes down to Ferentz or Smith. Michigan State put up some great numbers and it's hard to argue with Smith if he wins the award. I really think it is a toss up of sorts.
And given that Smith didn't know who Penn State's Michael Robinson was on last week's Big Ten conference call, that swings the pendulum in Ferentz's favor in my book.
OK, that should not be a voting factor, but come on, coach. I wish I had saved the audio of that one.
Maybe this might be a good tiebreaker: Iowa is ranked 12th & 13th in the nation in this week's ESPN and AP polls, respectively and they have been ranked in the top 10 on three separate occasions this year. Michigan State did not crack either top 25 polls this week.
The pre season magazine predictions, when averaged together, had Iowa finishing in 6th place. Iowa finished in a tie for fourth. They had Michigan State in 8th place and they too finished in a tie for fourth. Both teams overachieved from where the ‘experts' felt they would finish.
Both coaches are deserving of the award.
Kirk Ferentz was the AP National Coach of the Year in 2002, and I say that the job that he and his staff did this year was better.
I only hope that the voters waited until after the final league games to cast their ballots.