Tonight at 7, the Big Ten will continue its quest to actually attract viewers to the Big Ten Network for a non-football game by announcing the rest of the Big Ten awards, such as offensive and defensive player of the year, rookie of the year and coach of the year.
Ohio State's Braxton Miller is basically a guarantee for offensive player of the year and Penn State's Deion Barnes will probably win rookie of the year. For defense, I'd say it could go a few different ways. Michael Mauti might have a shot after being named linebacker of the year, but the leading candidate is probably Ohio State's John Simon.
The closest call may be coach of the year. Both Bill O'Brien and Ohio State's Urban Meyer are solid candidates. Ohio State finished the conference in first place at 8-0, and Penn State finished in second at 6-2. Both had to deal with NCAA sanctions, though O'Brien's were tougher this year because of the transfer rule.
So how does one define a "coach of the year?" I'll toss out a few variables and give an edge to either O'Brien or Meyer.
Record: As stated earlier, Ohio State was 8-0 this year. Penn State was 6-2. Ohio State beat Penn State soundly at Beaver Stadium. Edge: Meyer
Team improvement from last year: Ohio State finished 6-7 overall and 3-5 in the conference. Penn State was 9-4 and 6-2 in conference. By those metrics, Ohio State clearly had the better improvement. But let's also look at statistics. Last year, Penn State ranked 11th in scoring offense, 10th in total offense and ninth in pass offense. This year, Penn State ranked sixth, fourth and second in those categories. Defensively, the Nittany Lions went from first last year to fourth in scoring defense. Ohio State last year ranked 11th in scoring offense, 11th in total offense, 12th in pass offense and fourth in rush offense. This year the Buckeyes were first, third, eighth and second in those categories. Basically, Meyer's team continued doing what it did last year - rushing the ball - but did so with much better efficiency, leading to more yards and points. O'Brien overhauled Penn State's entire offense. The rushing attack stayed middle of the road (eighth in 2011 and ninth this year), but the passing offense improved substantially. Edge: Meyer
Overcoming adversity: Any team that faces NCAA sanctions, especially knowing they can't compete for bowls or a conference title, has a tougher test than your average bear. But, as Michael Mauti put it before Penn State played Ohio State, Penn State didn't exactly feel solidarity toward Ohio State. Its probationary period is greater and more severe. It had to deal with the detritus from the worst scandal in college sports history. And it had to deal with transfers. Until classes started in late August, anyone could've left Penn State in the middle of the night and gone wherever he wanted. That's not exactly what you want when you're preparing to win football games. Edge: O'Brien
Success relative to expectations: Ohio State entered this season ranked No. 18 in the top 25. The Buckeyes were ranked behind Michigan, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Nebraska. They defeated all those teams. Predictions from Penn State ranged from complete doom to mediocrity to 7-5ish, with most skewing towards doom or mediocrity, especially after the season opened with two losses. Judged by the amount of negativity clouding the program, Penn State rose dramatically, ending the year 8-2. But in truth, Ohio State had about as equal or more of an ascension. If not for the bowl ban, Ohio State could conceivably be playing for a national title. A team that is considered the fifth best in its conference to start the year that goes undefeated and plays for a national title has significantly surpassed expectations. Edge: Meyer
Maximizing talent level: Ohio State does not have anywhere near the talent Urban Meyer had at Florida, but the Buckeyes had a rushing offense bolstered by Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde and defensive line with John Simon and Johnathan Hankins. While Penn State lost players like Anthony Fera, Justin Brown and Silas Redd left, the Nittany Lions returned a strong front seven with players like Mauti, Gerald Hodges and Jordan Hill, not to mention an offensive line that featured two All-Big Ten performers. But just look at the quarterbacks. Meyer succeeded with a star in Braxton Miller. O'Brien helped transform Matt McGloin from a part-time starter to the leading passer in the Big Ten, throwing to a sophomore wide receiver who entered this season with three catches. Edge: O'Brien
In the end, "coach of the year" comes down to an individual's definition of the award (or actually a consolidation of these individuals' definitions). Does it go to the best coach on the best team? Does it go to the coach who made the most out of lesser talent? Do the Sandusky scandal and NCAA sanctions weigh heavier than standard improvement metrics?
For me, I'll lean toward O'Brien. "Coach of the Year" is also about the best story. A first-year head football coach entered a tough situation, held onto most of his players and won eight games with a thrilling offense.
Also, don't be surprised if the Big Ten cops out and awards a "Co-Coach of the Year" honor. Seems like a very Big Ten Network thing to do.
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