Who's the best Big Ten football coach ahead of the 2024 season?

Dec 28, 2023; Arlington, Texas, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Ryan Day speaks during a press
Dec 28, 2023; Arlington, Texas, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Ryan Day speaks during a press / Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA

Big Ten football is going to look plenty different this upcoming season. The conference not only added four new teams (Oregon, USC, UCLA, and Washington) but it also lost arguably the best coach that it had as Jim Harbaugh left for the Los Angeles Chargers job in the NFL.

With the Harbaugh departure, the conference will now need a new top dog. He had won the past three conference titles and led Michigan to its first national title in nearly three decades in 2023.

Who will be that new top dog?

It's hard to say who the best coach in the conference will be now, but the best team has to be Ohio State. Does that automatically mean Ryan Day is the best coach? Maybe, but he has to prove that he can beat Michigan again and get Ohio State back to winning Big Ten titles regularly. Until then, the jury is still out on him but he might be the default choice.

Outside of Day, who would be up for consideration when it comes to the best coach in the conference?

Well, with the new teams coming in, there are two legitimate candidates from the old Pac-12: Dan Lanning and Lincoln Riley. If it wasn't for Riley's meltdown in 2023 which saw USC fall short of every single preseason expectation, I would have him in the top two, but I think Lanning is either No. 1 or No. 2 right now.

Don't think that I forgot about the coaches who were already in the Big Ten like James Franklin or Luke Fickell. Both of those guys have a chance to be the best but I think Franklin is known for choking under the spotlight and Fickell needs to prove himself in the conference after a mediocre year one with Wisconsin after starting out ranked.

Then there are guys like Jedd Fisch and Jonathan Smith who are also newcomers. They could be in that top 5-6 range.

I think Kirk Ferentz is also in that range.

In the middle of the pack are guys like Bret Bielema, PJ Fleck, Matt Rhule, and Greg Schiano. They're all solid, but they just haven't proven to be anything more than above-average coaches.

If I were to choose the best head coach in the conference as of February 2024 before the four new teams officially take the field, I'd have to go with Day by a slim margin over Lanning and Riley.

By the end of the season, however, I could see Lanning taking the top spot.

Am I crazy? Maybe.