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Grading The Big Ten Coaches

Because there is still a month to go until the Rose Bowl and we have nothing better to do. This will be an eleven part series with a post dedicated to each coach in the Big Ten. We grade on a classic bell curve here so we'll hand out two A's, two B's, three C's, two D's, and two F's. Coaches will be graded based on two criteria. The first part will deal with how much improvement they showed from last year to this year. The second part will grade them against the expectations of their teams as determined by the highly scientific method of what I expected out of them this year. I think I was pretty in tune with what the media was saying before the season so I think I have a pretty good grasp on what the national perception of each program was before the season started.

We'll start at the top of the class with the best coaches and work our way down the ranks to the coaches who utterly failed. So without further delay, let's begin with...

Pat Fitzgerald

Top o' the arbitrary blog rankings, ma!

2007 Record: 6-6 (3-5) - No Bowl Appearance

BSD's 2008 Expectations - 7-5 (3-5) - Motor City Bowl

2008 Record 9-3 (5-3) - Alamo Bowl (Projected)

Wildcats Football Schedule

Syracuse Sat 08/30 W 30 - 10
@ Duke Sat 09/06 W 24 - 20
Southern Illinois Sat 09/13 W 33 - 7
Ohio Sat 09/20 W 16 - 8
@ Iowa Sat 09/27 W 22 - 17
Michigan St. Sat 10/11 L 20 - 37
Purdue Sat 10/18 W 48 - 26
@ Indiana Sat 10/25 L 19 - 21
@ Minnesota Sat 11/01 W 24 - 17
Ohio St. Sat 11/08 L 10 - 45
@ Michigan Sat 11/15 W 21 - 14
Illinois Sat 11/22 W 27 - 10

No coach in the Big Ten did more with less than Pat Fitzgerald. Everyone expected a slight improvement, but nobody outside of Evanston expected nine wins. And if not for one flat game against Indiana it could have easily been ten.

Northwestern's most drastic improvement came on defense where they went from giving up 31 points per game a year ago to just under 20 points per game in 2008. They also gave up forty yards less on the ground and thirty yards less through the air to improve their total defense ranking from #77 to #53 in the nation. Their most dramatic improvement came in the pass rush where the Wildcats went from being ranked #96 to #12 in the nation and leading the Big Ten in sacks.

On offense Fitzgerald abandoned the pass happy attack of 2007 and focused on creating more balance in the play calling. Their overall production dropped by 70 yards per game, but they gained an additional 28 yards on the ground and did not drop off much in their scoring. But what's most impressive is how Fitzgerald was able to overcome injuries on offense. Starting quarterback C.J. Bacher missed two games against Minnesota and Ohio State, and Tyrell Sutton missed the last four games of the year from Minnesota on. Yet the Wildcats were able to go 3-1 over their last four games with wins over upstart Minnesota, Michigan, and Illinois.

The schedule was pretty favorable as they missed out on playing Penn State and Wisconsin and the out of conference schedule was pretty weak. But they turned around the loss to Duke from a year ago and managed some impressive wins over Iowa, Purdue, Minnesota, and Illinois. Considering the expectations and results and everything they had to overcome, it's hard to argue against Pat Fitzgerald for Big Ten Coach of the Year.

Final Grade: A