- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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Earlier today, the Maxwell Football Club named 16 semifinalists for its national coach of the year award. That list included three Big Ten coaches: Wisconsin's Gary Andersen, Michigan State's Mark Dantonio and Ohio State's Urban Meyer.
All three have done tremendous work. Meyer, of course, has won all 22 of his games with the Buckeyes, including this season's 10-0 start. While coach of the year awards typically go to those who exceeded expectations, what Meyer has done in maintaining perfection is a remarkable achievement worthy of reward.
Dantonio has guided a team with some serious questions on offense to a 9-1 overall record and undefeated mark in the Big Ten. After being criticized for riding the quarterback carousel earlier in the year, Dantonio looks smart for going with Connor Cook, who has helped stabilize the entire unit. That maligned offense is averaging better than 30 points per game, and the defense remains one of the best in the country.
Andersen is 8-2 in his first year as head coach of the Badgers, a record that could be even better with a little competency from Pac-12 officials. He wisely did not reinvent the wheel for the Wisconsin offense, sticking with a power running game that has his team employing one of the best rushing and scoring attacks in the nation. And the Badgers' defense is a top-10 national unit.
So all three are very worthy candidates for Big Ten coach-of-the-year honors. But there's one team missing from that list: Minnesota.
No one expected the Gophers to be 8-2 and in the Top 25 at this point, especially not after head coach Jerry Kill took a leave of absence to deal with his epilepsy. Acting head coach Tracy Claeys has guided the team to four straight Big Ten wins for the first time in 40 years. Kill has returned to work and is coaching from the press box on game days while providing inspiration to the players.
In a normal year, the head coach of a team that has exceeded projections as much as Minnesota has might run away with the coach-of-the-year award. But who do you vote for when considering these Gophers? Is it Claeys, who after all has taken over the reins on game day? Or is it Kill, who built the foundation for this team and still surely has enormous input on the weekly game plan?
This situation is reminiscent of the 2012 NFL coach-of-the-year voting. Bruce Arians won the award for filling in for Chuck Pagano and helping lead the Indianapolis Colts to the playoffs while Pagano battled leukemia. Pagano finished second in the voting.
Big Ten voters for the Dave McClain/Hayes–Schembechler coach of the year could have a similar choice to make between Kill and Claeys. They could end up splitting votes. [UPDATE: Minnesota says Kill's name will be the only one from the Gophers on the ballot, not Claeys]. Or voters could simply decide that they prefer the jobs turned in by Dantonio, Andersen or Meyer. And, of course, there are two more weeks for each coach to build his case.
But we want to know who you think the Big Ten coach of the year through 12 weeks. Vote now in our poll.