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Big Ten First Quarter Review: Four Big Ten Coaches On The Hot Seat

Kristofer Green

Big Ten conference play will kick off on Saturday.

For many teams the start of conference play offers an opportunity to start anew after a hiccup or two in non-conference action. For others, the start of conference play has much more serious connotations.

For some coaches, the way their team performs this season in Big Ten play will go a long way to determining how secure their job will be once the season comes to an end.

For some coaches, another poor showing in a wide open Big Ten title race will only solidify the opinion of those who doubt and strengthen a case for dismissal.

These are the coaches who find themselves on the hot seat heading into the weekend's "new" season.

The coaches who must win or face the consequences.

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1. Mark Dantonio, Michigan State

Yes, the Spartans did lose a tremendous running back in Javon Ringer. And yes, the team also had to find a new signal caller when Brian Hoyer left for the New England Patriots.

Those are not the reasons Michigan State currently sits at 1-2 in the Big Ten standings after two consecutive and avoidable losses to Central Michigan and Notre Dame.

Just a year after being praised for taking the Spartans to back-to-back bowl games, Mark Dantonio now finds himself squarely on the hot seat. In this moment and because of questionable coaching and even more questionable play calling.

Suddenly the impossible has happened. Dantonio's "change the culture" attitude seems hollow now after two performance where the Spartans looked more like John L. Smith's teams than the gritty, but sound bunch that too the field last season or the overachievers that played in 2007.

The good news for Dantonio's bunch is that there is time to right the ship this season. The teams goals are not tarnished and with the start of the Big Ten season comes a new opportunity to prove that the culture has indeed changed.

The schedule doesn't do the Spartans any favors though. The next five games--at Wisconsin, Michigan, at Illinois, Northwestern and Iowa--will tell the tale on this group of Spartans.

And while Dantonio's job is most likely safe, unless the Spartans get past their silly mistakes and compete in Big Ten play, it will be safe to say that the honeymoon will be over for Dantonio in East Lansing.



2. Bill Lynch, Indiana

To the surprise of most, the Hoosiers currently sit atop the Big Ten standings, undefeated heading into Big Ten play on Saturday. A closer look at the three teams the Hoosiers have defeated reveals just how much further the Indiana football program has to go.

Wins over FCS eastern Kentucky and MAC schools Western Michigan and Akron are not exactly praiseworthy for a Big Ten school.

Unlike Dantonio, Indiana coach Bill Lynch entered the season on the hot seat and though it may have cooled a bit after a fast start, Lynch must show that he can compete in the Big Ten to survive.

Easier said than done. The Hoosiers must travel to Michigan, Virginia, Iowa, Northwestern and Penn State and face Ohio State, Illinois, Wisconsin and Purdue at home to close the season.

A 3-9 season seems very possible for this team. For Lynch's sake, the Hoosiers must overacheive and steal a couple wins when no one is looking.



3. Bret Bielema, Wisconsin

The Badgers are another team that is currently sitting atop the conference with a deceptive 3-0 record.

Wisconsin has been taken to the wire by two of the three teams they have played. The Northern Illinois Huskies mounted a furious comeback that fell just short and a double overtime thriller against Fresno State showed the Badger's weaknesses.

In fact, if it weren't for two spectacular interceptions by safety Chris Maragos the Badgers could very well be sitting at 1-2.

Bret Bielema, though apparantly fully supported by athletic director and Wisconsin coaching legend Barry Alvarez, began his career with a flurry of wins that had Badger fans convinced that their new coach would continue the legacy left by Alvarez.

Instead, the Badgers record and on-field play has dramatically slipped over the years that Bielema has been in charge. This season is crucial to Bielema's future as the head Badger.

With the talent in place to at least be slightly more than competitive in Big Ten play, Bielema must improve from last season's abysmal slip from Top Ten to oblivion. The next four games should give us an idea of where this team is.

With home dates against Michigan State and Iowa, as well as road games at Minnesota and Ohio State, the Badgers will have the opportunity to challenge out of the gate. But will the coaching get in the way?



4. Ron Zook, Illinois

After a brutal first season in Champaign, Ron Zook's Illini rose from the ashes to defeat No. 1 Ohio State in the Horseshoe on their way to a 9-3 season and a Rose Bowl appearance in 2007.

In 2008, the Illini fell back to earth. Many, including myself, called the drop-off an aberration, but after a dismal showing in the 2009 season opener it became clear that maybe 2008 wasn't the aberration.

Maybe, just maybe the 2007 Rose Bowl team was the aberration.

The knock on Zook has never been his ability to recruit. The Zooker is one of the best recruiters in the country. Just ask Urban Meyer.

Instead, Zook's ability to coach those talented players has come under fire more than once and with the talent he has assembled in Champaign (especially on the offensive side of the ball) the Illini should be winning more games.

So why can't they do it? Perhaps coaching is the problem and 2009 could be Zook's last chance to prove himself worthy of the pre-season hype his teams have received year after year.

If it is going to happen for the Illini this season, it must begin now. The next three games--at Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan State--offer no refuge and a 0-3 Big Ten start could spell disaster for the Zooker.



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