So as some of you may know, I have just recently returned from my honeymoon. What none of you know is that I sat on a beach for a week, but did not bring any books to read for myself. Thus, I hijacked my wife's Kindle and read the best options that she had on there. It turned out that the Hunger Games were the only books that were of any interest to me. It also helps that their author, Suzanne Collins, was a double major in Drama and Telecommunications at Indiana University. So naturally, I felt that the Hoosier demanded my attention and patronage.
For those of you who are unaware, The Hunger Games is a trilogy set in a time where a central power has dominated the country. The Capital rules over twelve other previously rebellious districts with an iron fist. Every year the 12 districts are required to send 2 tribunes, a male and female to the Capital for a gladiatorial type event. This event is set in a arena that appears natural and all 24 tribunes are left out there to fight the elements and each other until there is only one left standing.
Of course, the sadist in me got to thinking, what about the Big Ten? What if we had the Big Ten football coaches and Big Ten basketball coaches as Tribunes of the twelve universities sent to conference headquarters for a hunger games. Which coaches would thrive in the kill or be killed competition? Well you're in luck, The Crimson Quarry is here to speculate on that very question.
Illinois: Tim Beckman and John Groce
Illinois has quite a strong unit that could fight together for some time before falling. Tim Beckman's background as a Texas native and Auburn graduate suggest that he has some ability to survive in the wild even if he weren't much of a fighter. The Hunger games is just as much about surviving the elements as it is about fighting to the death. Beckman would be a fine survivalist if he could lean on his fellow Illini John Groce for backup.
Groce is a guy that I can see winning it all. he's the youngest in the field at 41 years old and certainly has the fiery personality that translates into downright intimidating when you're squaring off for a fight to the death. The best thing Groce has going for him is of course his upbringing. Groce is a Muncie, IN native, so we know he has zero problem cutting a fool. Also being Hoosier born and bred, we know that if you get him a bow, he's a hell of a shot from range.
Indiana: Kevin Wilson and Tom Crean
Here is our first dark horse in the competition. Kevin Wilson is mean, imposing and intimidating. A collegiate football player himself on North Carolina's offensive line, we know he knows how to train to be a physical force. He's also proven to have the brains to turn an Indiana offense into one of the best in the conference which we know is no easy task. Add in the fact that Wilson probably has a missile silo buried in his back yard and has been training for an apocalypse type scenario for several decades now and you're looking at a hone and skilled war machine.
Tom Crean on the other end is likely going to have to rely on his social skills to survive. Likely the IU duo will be quite competitive. Crean is going to recruit a hell of an alliance to start out the games and will bring Kevin Wilson along as a teammate. This gives Wilson the advantage of not having to go it alone from the get go and provide him some allies to help out early in the game. As time goes on though and numbers start to dwindle that talented alliance is going to have to turn on itself. Tom Crean will be the first to go as the rest of the coaches will be fed up with his incessant clapping.
Iowa: Kirk Ferentz and Fran McCaffery
I have a soft spot for Ferentz as a Royal Oak, MI native. I was born there so I look to him as a brother in arms. However, I don't see how he survives long in this dystopian world. Currently on the hot seat at Iowa and not handling it well, his team is undisciplined and running rampant through the streets of Iowa City. Ferentz would be much of the same. In every hunger games the players start surrounding a "cornucopia" filled with all the supplies you need. It is there to entice a large brawl as soon as the whistle blows to start the game. The smart tribunes know to stay away from it from the get go, because it is certain death. Ferentz will run straight to it.
Fran McCaffery would likely be more of the same. A fiery personality is his strongest asset, but it is also his greatest weakness. He expects perfection and would likely run after Ferentz screaming at him for not sticking to the plan to get out of the opening brawl with their lives. Playing in this game without an ally means certain death. It would only be a matter of time. McCaffery is a guy that you would expect to be strong late in the game, but likely won't make it past the early stages.
Michigan: Brady Hoke and John Beilein
Brady Hoke if not for his size would be another tough competitor in this competition. His physical stature is a bit concerning but his background is encouraging. Like John Groce he knows what it is like to experience the hard knock life on the streets of Muncie. A linebacker at Ball State, if he could get into a better physical shape and back down to his playing weight, I think he'd have a shot.
John Beilein on the other hand will have some issues. Coming in at 60 years old he's getting up there as one of the oldest competitors in the games. Raised just across Lake Ontario from Canada we know he has some institutional knowledge about surviving in the wilderness. Unfortunately at his age, combat isn't an option unless he gets by on setting traps. That might take the first one or two by surprise, but eventually he's going to run into a competitor that knows better.
Michigan State: Mark Dantonio and Tom Izzo
Dantonio is a guy that I just don't know much about. He's just not a major public figure in the Big Ten coaching circle. He's brought Michigan State into a realm of conference relevance which isn't the easiest of tasks so he obviously knows what he's doing. But he's just one of those also ran types. For anyone who saw the first Hunger Games movie, there was a girl who survived deep into the game until she accidentally ate some poisonous berries. That's who I think of when I think Mark Dantonio. Death by berries.
Tom Izzo on the other hand, despite his advancing age is a power player. His teams are known for their strength and tenacity and I see Tom Izzo reflecting those traits in the arena. It seems like everyone owes who they are in some sort of six degrees of separation to Izzo. He'll be a man with a lot of allies and when it comes time for them to turn on each other, everyone will be shocked to see Izzo make it further than he should.
Minnesota: Jerry Kill and Richard Pitino
Jerry Kill unfortunately would not last long in this situation I fear. His well documented issues with his health would probably result in his quit exit from the tournament. In remission from kidney cancer and suffering from seizures on the sideline during football games, his health just isn't enough to compete.
Richard Pitino would step in to represent Minnesota though. By far the youngest competitor at 30 years old, Pitino has youth on his side. Add in the fact that he was raised by Rick Pitino and we know that he's capable of doing a lot of things most people couldn't. His youth, inexperience and newness to the conference would make it difficult for him to find allies among the coaching tree, but perhaps he can find a way in with the Illinois guys who are newer to the conference themselves.
Nebraska: Bo Pelini and Tim Miles
Bo Pelini is another coach that you would expect up there in the top echelon of this competition. Born and raised in the gritty steel town of Youngstown, Ohio, Pelini knows how to handle himself. A former starting safety for the Ohio State Buckeyes he has the physical tools to compete at a high level still. Pelini is a guy that everyone should watch out for. He handles his business and doesn't deal in nonsense.
Tim Miles is not quite the imposing figure. He's a well respected nice guy and family man that can turn it on when his team hits the court. When it comes to the social game he may be the only one capable of rivaling Tom Crean. He's always been very good at meeting you and keeping minute details stored away for a later date. Fortunately, Miles is also capable of avoiding that cliff where such a personality becomes a detriment like Crean has a tendency to do. If we're looking for another power duo in the field, Nebraska may be your guys.
Northwestern: Pat Fitzgerald and Chris Collins
Ah, the young guns of Northwestern. Pat Fitzgerald helped lead Northwestern to a Rose Bowl in 1996 at Linebacker so you know he can make the impossible possible. Fitzgerald had a stellar athletic career in his youth so the physical tools are there. He also happens to be an avid baseball card collector, so I feel pretty good about his attention to detail. My only concern with his ability is his survival instincts. He was raised in Orlando Park, Illinois just outside of Chicago and I'm not certain he's ever seen anything that can qualify as wilderness.
Duke point guard Chris Collins is another newby to the conference but he comes with a certain set of skills. He also was a fantastic college athlete and we know that as a point guard he can make a lot of the right decisions in the blink of an eye. Something that is essential when you're fighting to the death. He's also a suburb kid and likely doesn't have a ton of survivor skills, but he was an assistant for the Detroit Shock for a year, so he knows what its like to live in a war zone.
Ohio State: Urban Meyer and Thad Matta
Urban Meyer is definitely one of the best thinkers in the field. He's proven time and time again that he can out think some of the best at their own game. Crafty yet confident Meyer can run with the best of them. However, he has had some health problems in the past and if his headaches flair up he'll be a sitting duck for even the most incapable contestant.
Thad Matta once dropped his chewed gum on the floor, picked it back up and started chewing again. He's a monster and we know he'll eat anything. That's a plus in this sort of competition. Growing up in a small town in Southern Illinois he knows how to survive. His biggest problem will be making friends. Sure he has John Groce in his coaching tree but everyone else seems to have had a run in with him at some point or another.
Penn State: Bill O'Brien and Pat Chambers
Penn State brings to the table two of the three guys to have been born outside the Midwest. Bill O'Brien being the greatest outcast. Massachusetts born and raised, O'Brien is going to struggle to fit in with the decidedly Midwest culture of this group. A defensive end at Brown we know he's smart and strong enough to survive, but he's going to likely have to do it on his own.
Pat Chambers is also going to have his own difficulties. He'll be the guy that no one roots against and will be excited to see him start off well, but the dude has terrible luck. You just know he's going to be walking through the woods and break an ankle just as things are starting to look up for him. In the world of the Hunger Games, luck is a huge component. Pat Chambers has none.
Purdue: Darrell Hazzell and Matt Painter
Hazzell is the other "outsider" to this field, being born and bred in New Jersey. However, he has an advantage over the Penn State players. Nearly his entire professional/college career after high school has been served in Ohio, Michigan or Illinois. He gets the culture necessary to fit in with an alliance. Other than that I don't know much about him, however he did take a Kent State team to an 11-3 record a year removed from 5-7. He definitely has convictions.
Matt Painter is an interesting character. In years past his health would have been a major concern, but in the last year he's lost quite a bit of weight and is looking fit. Another Muncie kid (that's the third, damn Muncie!) he knows how to brawl. A guard in a former life he has a high IQ to make those split decisions. He may not be personality plus but he can work a crowd when it counts.
Wisconsin: Gary Andersen and Bo Ryan
Gary Andersen is a fighter. As a D-Coordinator, he took a Utes team to an undefeated season and 2009 Sugar Bowl victory to finish #2 in the nation. So he knows how to do more with less. He also possesses a bachelor's degree in political science, so he gets the art of diplomacy. As a guy that always seems to be smiling though, I wonder if he has that killer instinct to get the job done in gladiatorial combat.
Bo Ryan is our final contestant of the Big Ten Hunger Games. If this were 10 years ago I would feel better about his chances but he's getting up there in age and my confidence in his ability to survive against a younger field is waning. Fortunately for all the anti-Tom Crean people out there we at least know he'll take out Crean before falling prey himself.
So there you have it. There is the field for the first Big Ten Hunger Games. Who do you think has the best shot at winning this bad boy? Can a dark horse pull it out and win it all or will everyone roll their eyes when predictably the youngest and fittest wind up on top. Cast your vote for who you think winds up on top. If you ask me, I'd say the smart money is on John Groce.