Big Ten bloggers Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett will occasionally give their takes on a burning question facing the league. We'll both have strong opinions, but not necessarily the same view. We'll let you decide which blogger is right.
The Big Ten assistant coach carousel is still spinning but many key vacancies have been filled. Today's Take Two topic is: Who is the most important assistant coach hire in the Big Ten this year?
Take 1: Adam Rittenberg
It comes down to which Big Ten unit needs the most help entering 2013. The answer seems pretty clear to me: Illinois' offense. Almost nothing went right for this group last fall. Illinois finished last in the Big Ten in both scoring (16.7 ppg) and total offense (296.7). When you look only at Big Ten games, those numbers drop to 11.8 ppg and 272.1 ypg. Yuck. Bill Cubit has a ton of work to do as Illinois' new offensive coordinator. For that reason, he's my pick for the Big Ten's most important assistant coach hire.
Illinois head coach Tim Beckman went from two inexperienced coordinators (Chris Beatty and Billy Gonzales) to a veteran in Cubit, who spent the past eight seasons as Western Michigan's head coach and also has been an offensive coordinator at Stanford, Rutgers and Missouri. Offense wasn't the problem for Cubit at Western Michigan, and he developed quarterbacks like Tim Hiller and Alex Carder in Kalamazoo. Illini players like quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase have had to adjust to new offenses throughout their careers. Cubit has to install his system without overwhelming the players. Illinois needs playmakers on the edges and chemistry with an offensive line that struggled mightily last season and loses its top two players. If Beckman gets a third season in Champaign, Cubit will be a big reason why. He's an incredibly important addition for a reeling Illini program.
Take 2: Brian Bennett
I would say Michigan State's offensive coordinator hire is the most vital, except I presume Mark Dantonio will keep that in house and we won't see a lot of changes with the Spartans' attack. He could prove me wrong. I also believe Andy Ludwig will be under a lot of pressure as the new offensive coordinator at Wisconsin, where fans have come to expect a certain style of play.
But I'm with Adam in thinking the most important hire comes down to which unit needs the most help. That's why I'm going with Indiana's replacement for co-defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Mike Ekeler, who announced Friday he was leaving for USC. Kevin Wilson has some a strong option on the current staff with Doug Mallory, who was co-defensive coordinator last season. But defense remains the main obstacle between the Hoosiers and respectability. Indiana has a dynamic passing attack and an offense that scored over 30 points per game last season, but its defense was once again last in points and yards allowed. Improvements on that side of the ball could get the program back to a bowl game. Ekeler also did well on the recruiting trail and helped land some exciting young talent like Darius Latham and Antonio Allen in this year's class. Now, Wilson has to find the right assistant to help mold that into a defense that can hold its own against the better teams in the Big Ten.