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Is Your Coach a Closer? Here's Who Wins the Close Games in the Big Ten

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Sixty-one of the B1G's football games came down to a touchdown or less last year. Some coaches won all their close games, some won none. Lucky or good? Let's see...

Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Sixty-one B1G football games came down to touchdown or less last year.

Some of the most important games in a season, or even a career, come down to a handful of points. In the right direction, you become a hero. The wrong direction...you are the goat.

Michigan Punt

The Michigan-Michigan State game was just an example of how big a one-score game can be. We all remember it. Luck or skill? Either way, if you can close those close games, you can be a champion.If you can't...you are Nebraska or Maryland or Purdue.

Close games were the difference for several teams. If they win the close games, Michigan's record would've been 12-1. Nebraska would've gone 11-2.

While most of you would pick the Michigan/Michigan State game as the iconic one-score game from 2015. I would point to Rutgers at Indiana last year. It was a nail-biter with lots of scoring, lots of turnovers, and nary a defender in sight. The final score was 55-52 in favor of Rutgers.

rutgers scores on indy

If Indiana has one letterman show up on defense in that game, they have a seven win season. If they close the deal on that one and two others, they have a nine-win season. Let that sink in for a minute. Indiana was just three scores away from a nine win season last year.

Ha ha ha (as Ice would say), just kidding. As you can see above, nobody shows up for In_iana football. They let rutger score 55 points. They don't have any lettermen on defense.

CBS Sports published an interesting look at college coaches and their ability to finish those close games. Only one B1G head coach lands in the top 10 coaches nationally: Urban Meyer finished second behind Bobby Wilder of Old Dominion.

Meyer's 34-13 career record in close games (.723 winning percentage) is best among the major schools. Brian Kelly of Notre Dame came in third. He managed a .669 record in a whopping 118 close games.

Here's how CBS ranked the B1G coaches:

1.       Urban Meyer (.723) 47 games

2.       Pat Fitzgerald (.618) 55 games

3.       Mark Dantonio (.600) 55 games

4.       Tracy Claeys (.600) 5 games

5.       Jim Harbaugh (.545) 33 games

6.       Mike Riley (.521) 73 games

7.       James Franklin (.500) 26 games

8.       Kirk Ferentz (.474) 97 games

9.       Paul Chryst (.400) 20 games

10.   Darrell Hazell (.333) 18 games

11.   Kevin Wilson (.280) 25 games

12.   DJ Durkin (No Data)

13.   Lovie Smith (No Data)

14.   Chris Ash (No Data)

I went back and pulled the data for last year's season to see how each team fared. We can all remember some close games. Here are my data for the teams:

School

Close Games

Wins

Losses

% Wins

Illinois

2

2

0

1.000

Northwestern

5

5

0

1.000

Michigan State

7

6

1

0.857

Iowa

4

3

1

0.750

Ohio State

3

2

1

0.667

Penn State

3

2

1

0.667

Wisconsin

5

3

2

0.600

Minnesota

7

4

3

0.571

Indiana

6

3

3

0.500

Michigan

4

2

2

0.500

Rutgers

4

1

3

0.250

Nebraska

6

1

5

0.167

Maryland

2

0

2

-

Purdue

3

0

3

-

We must acknowledge that Northwestern won all five of its close games last year. Say what you want, but Fitzy can close the deal.

So can Mark "The Scowl" Dantonio. He won six of seven close games last year. Seven. Seven Michigan State games finished within a touchdown or fewer points. You can say what you want about luck, but good coaches put themselves in the right place for luck to happen.

On the other side of the spectrum we have Nebraska. The Huskers had six games that finished within seven points. They derped their way to an unlovely 1 and 5 record. That's so bad you have to add Purdue and Maryland together to find that many close losses. It's almost as if Riley doesn't want to win the close games. I can hear his locker room speech after the game:

Well guys, that was a gutsy game out there. You played hard and I'm proud of you.

But those other guys, they tried hard too. And, well shucks, I just couldn't let them lose, now could I? That would make them feel bad and I just couldn't do that to ‘em.

You understand fellas, that's Nebraska Nice!

Minnesota had seven games that they were within a touchdown. They won more than they lost, which is good. But if they pulled a Fitzgerald, then their record is 9-4...a much better result. We need to put it into perspective to fully understand that.

You see, other than the 2003 miracle season, Minnesota football hasn't won 9 or more games since 1905. That's one season in one hundred and ten years. I'm trying not to curse in this essay, but you guys make it really tough. You were that close to a serious milestone for the University. That Close.

The hard part must be knowing that Pat Fitzgerald would've gotten it done...with a 3.2 gpa in Pre-med.

This is a fun, oversimplified slice of football statistics. We all know that those games can come down to fluky plays. A ball bounces one way and you win, the other and you lose. But sometimes preparation and situational awareness just looks like luck. If you have it, you are lucky.

If you don't...well then you are Jim Harbaugh.

Your Friend,

Townie.