This has been a great year for college football. It's had Hail Mary passes in the final seconds of regulation. It's had tough overtime losses and wins. It's had shuffling of teams in the top 10, and it's had administrative shuffling under some bizarre circumstances.
With all the hype about guys like Urban Meyer, it's easy to miss the fact that there were some administrative changes last year. It's easy to lose the difference-makers in the sea of articles about next year.
This article is to reward those who made a difference this year. For that reason, all but one of the coaches in this article are new hires at their schools. I have loosely ranked them, but opinion was really the only requirement.
This is not his first year at Oklahoma State, but it's certainly his breakout year. Last year, he went 11-2 and didn't make it into a BCS bowl.
The two years before that, he went 9-4 including non-BCS bowl losses. Gundy has been increasingly successful at OSU and has put them on the national stage. This is most definitely his breakout year, and he capped it off with an overtime defeat of the Stanford Cardinal in the Fiesta Bowl.
He may be on his way to playing in a national championship in the near future. We will see what happens come NFL draft day. In the meantime, he can enjoy his spot on this list and his perfect BCS bowl record of 1-0 for at least another year.
In his first year at Stanford, David Shaw went 11-2 with a Fiesta Bowl loss to Oklahoma State in overtime.
After last year's Orange Bowl win over Virginia Tech, this doesn't really seem like an improvement. The truth is, Oregon kept Stanford out of the BCS title game this year and last year. This year, though, the BCS No. 2 team has one loss, as did Stanford.
This was an excellent breakout year for Shaw, showing that he has what it takes to keep Stanford near the top. Next year will be a huge trial, as he will be doing that without Andrew Luck.
Don't forget one important factor coming next year. Lane Kiffin and USC will be out from under sanctions. That will help the Pac-12 strength of schedule a lot.
If you're looking for a most-improved record award, it goes to this guy. Last year, Arkansas State went 4-8 falling far short of a bowl game. This year, under Hugh Freeze, the program completely turned around.
Going 10-2 and earning a berth in the GoDaddy.com Bowl, Hugh Freeze is a welcome addition to the Red Wolves family. Earning a Sun Belt title on the way wasn't too shabby, either.
The smile in the picture says it all to me. He's laid back and comfortable. I think Arkansas State can get settled in for an era of winning with this guy at the helm.
The Vanderbilt Commodores have been a punching bag for the SEC for quite a while now, and they finally hired a coach that seems to be able to do something about it. Last year, the Commodores were 2-10.
This year, Franklin led them to a 6-7 record after a close game against Cincinatti in the Liberty Bowl. Vanderbilt had only been in one bowl (2008 Music City) since 1982. That is, until Franklin arrived.
I don't see Franklin taking any steps backward next year. He took a 2-10 team to 6-7 because the players buy what he's selling. He's only had a year to implement his system, and he's not going anywhere soon.
It's almost scary to think that Vanderbilt could be a powerhouse in the SEC East in just a few short years.
Michigan had a 7-6 record in 2010, ending in a loss to the Mississippi State Bulldogs in the Gator Bowl.
This year, Brady Hoke has taken the Wolverines to an overall 11-2 record after an overtime victory over the Virginia Tech Hokies. Michigan has been uncharacteristically absent from the top-tier during bowl season recently.
Brady Hoke has given the Wolverines something they haven't had in a while: hope. Hope that the next few years will only get better. Michigan could very well end the 2011 season in the Associated Press top 10.
Who knows how high they will come into the 2012 season?
Time will tell, but the season opener against Alabama is a season-maker for either team. The winner will likely enter the top five, if they weren't already there before.