College Football: The 25 Most Influential People

Tom PerryCorrespondent IJanuary 26, 2012

College Football: The 25 Most Influential People

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    SEC commissioner Mike Slive is a shrewd businessman, but he's not alone.

    College football is loaded with individuals who wield a lot of power and they aren't afraid to use it when they need to.

    Do you think Nick Saban doesn't cash a few chips when he needs to?

    It's not limited to coaches and executives either.

    There are some players who also have the gravitas to make an impact, even if it's just for one season.

    So who are the 25 most influential people in college football right now? Let's see.

25. Oliver Luck

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    The father of Andrew Luck would probably have been happy to sit back and let his son get all of the headlines.

    But Oliver Luck also had a job to do as West Virginia's Director of Athletics, and he navigated the Mountaineers through the conference realignment nightmare this fall.

    Now he's promising everyone in the state that WVU won't be in the Big East as of July 1.

    Luck is definitely making a name for himself and it has nothing to do with Andrew.

24. Paul Finebaum

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    Paul Finebaum, a radio personality in the South, may be one of the most hated media folks out there, but he's on top of his game talking about the SEC and college football.

    He gets big-time guests, but most people tune in to see which of the regular callers will be on that day.

    Finebaum can move the needle, and college football fans love to tune in for his show.

23. T. Boone Pickens

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    T. Boone Pickens is Phil Knight-lite (you'll read about Knight later), basically because he doesn't make Oklahoma State wear a different uniform every game.

    Pickens has pumped a lot of money into the Oklahoma State athletic coffers and he expects results.

    Mike Gundy has delivered back-to-back banner years for the Cowboys, but you have to think the perfectionist that Pickens is that he's still smarting over that loss to Iowa State.

    Could you imagine the party Pickens would have thrown if Oklahoma State had made it to the BCS National Championship?

22. Chip Kelly

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    Chip Kelly, Oregon's innovative coach, just flirted with leaving for the NFL.

    He's a smart coach, which is evidenced by his decision to stay in Eugene, Ore.

    Kelly and the Ducks could potentially face some NCAA sanctions in the near future, but that doesn't take away from his influence.

    Kelly is recruiting some of the best talent in the nation to come to Oregon because of his high-octane offense and those wild uniforms that 18-year-olds just love to wear.

21. Jack Swarbrick

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    Jack Swarbrick, Notre Dame's AD, has a lot of say in if the Irish stay an independent or actually go down the dark road of playing in a conference.

    That's a lot of power.

    Despite what you may think about Notre Dame's relevance in college football right now, all it would take is one BCS National Championship or even one BCS bowl win and Irish football would dominate the airwaves.

    Swarbrick hopes Brian Kelly is the man to accomplish that goal.

20. Montee Ball

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    The Wisconsin running back decided to come back for his final season in Madison.

    It was a surprise, considering Montee Ball had a monumental season running the ball for the Badgers in 2011.

    Ball rushed for more than 1,900 yards and amassed a total of 39 touchdowns in 2011.

    That makes him an automatic Heisman contender, and possibly the best back next season.

19. Sammy Watkins

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    Sammy Watkins burst onto the scene last year, and everyone at Clemson is expecting even more in 2012.

    Watkins was the nation's best freshman, and you could make a case that he was the best player.

    He is also a threat on special teams, as he is normally the fastest player on the field.

    It will be interesting to see how much his game improves after one offseason.

18. Lane Kiffin

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    Lane Kiffin may be the laughingstock of college coaches, but he's the head coach at a potential top five program.

    Kiffin has recruited well and if USC could actually knock off the SEC for a BCS National Championship then no one will be laughing any longer.

    OK, you can laugh at him for wearing this crazy getup.

17. Landry Jones

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    Landry Jones' decision to return to Oklahoma has huge implications on the Big 12 and the national picture.

    If Jones can duplicate his 2010 season, then you have to think the Sooners will be a serious national title contender.

    It would also help if Oklahoma's defense is a bit more consistent, which might be a big reason why Bob Stoops hired his brother, Mike, to coach again in Norman, Okla.

    Still, a lot of the pressure and expectations for this upcoming season will fall to Jones.

16. Matt Barkley

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    Pretty much everyone had Matt Barkley going to the NFL after this past season.

    But the USC quarterback surprised a lot of folks and made his head coach extremely happy when he announced he would return for one more season.

    Barkley has passed on some serious money to give it one more shot at a BCS National Championship for the men of Troy.

    With the departure of Andrew Luck, Barkley is immediately the signature player in the Pac-12.

    He also has a talented group of receivers back, so it should be fun to watch him throw it around one more season in the college ranks.

15. Chris Petersen

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    Does any coach attract more attention from big-time programs when they are looking for a new coach than Chris Petersen?

    It's not even close. I think UCLA made about six different pitches, while Penn State tried at least three times.

    But the guy won't budge.

    I don't care what you think of Boise State and its soft schedule, Petersen is a classy guy and a special coach.

14. Tyrann Mathieu

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    There isn't a more polarizing player in the college game today than LSU's Tyrann Mathieu.

    The LSU fans love him for his passionate play on the field, and that special element he brings to the game.

    Opponents think he's cocky and dirty.

    Hey, the guy was a Heisman finalist as a sophomore and primarily a defensive player.

13. John Swofford

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    ACC commissioner John Swofford has made a living out of raiding the Big East, and promising big things from the conference.

    However, the ACC has not delivered a quality football product since the first raid and Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech came on board.

    Does anyone really think adding Syracuse and Pittsburgh is going to help?

    Still, Swofford has built a 14-team league that appears to be on solid ground.

    Of course, it's a basketball league trying to compete in a football world.

12. Urban Meyer

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    This time next year don't be shocked if new Ohio State coach Urban Meyer is ranked in the top five.

    Meyer is making a huge impact on recruiting and we already know how good of a coach he is.

    Next season could be a rough one, especially since the Buckeyes aren't eligible for the Big Ten championship or a bowl game.

    But it's Urban Meyer, so you know Ohio State won't be down for long.

11. Chuck Neinas

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    Big 12 commissioner Chuck Neinas took over in midseason and has proven to be a no-nonsense leader.

    Hey Texas A&M and Missouri, you don't want to be in the conference any longer?

    Good riddance.

    We'll get TCU and West Virginia and actually have a better football product.

    How long he chooses to remain in this role is up to him, but he's quickly become a power player again in college football.

10. John Marinatto

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    The Big East commissioner is only here because of his inept performance in running the league.

    Despite all of his shortcomings, John Marinatto was still a popular man among the have-nots following the defections of Syracuse, Pittsburgh and West Virginia.

    You think East Carolina, Memphis and UCF officials weren't sucking up to this guy when the Big East was trying to regroup?

    It worked for some and not for others.

    He still has his hands full with the lawsuit against WVU and trying to keep his basketball-only members happy.

    Good luck with that John.

9. Les Miles

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    It seems like for most of Les Miles' coaching career that no one considered him a great coach.

    Instead, they thought of him as a lucky coach.

    While LSU lost the BCS National Championship Game to Alabama, you have to be impressed with how he handled the Tigers this season.

    Miles is a great recruiter and should be in the thick of the title race in 2012.

    How many coaches can stack up with Miles' success?

    OK, everyone that isn't named Saban?

8. Larry Scott

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    Larry Scott was an outsider when he took over as the Pac-12 commissioner, but he made it clear early on that he was a shrewd operator.

    He added Utah and Colorado to increase to 12 teams, and almost went to 16 as he almost lured Texas, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M to the conference.

    While it failed, it showed he has a vision of the future.

    The Pac-12 is in the elite group of conferences that schools want to join instead of leaving.

    He has also negotiated a killer TV deal and has worked with the Big Ten on an innovative scheduling partnership.

7. Phil Knight

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    Nike founder Phil Knight has helped reshape Oregon's football program through his monetary donations.

    But he's also changed the way recruits look at where they want to go to school.

    It has nothing to do with academics.

    It has everything to do with wild, off-the-wall uniforms.

    So while the traditionalist cringes, the young football star gets pumped.

6. Mark Emmert

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    As the NCAA President, Mark Emmert can have an impact on the game.

    Will we have a playoff or not?

    Emmert can answer that question.

    It's the NCAA, so everyone must bow down now.

5. Nick Saban

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    Look into my eyes. Look into my eyes.

    What do you see? A winner, that's right.

    OK, not everybody feels that way about Nick Saban. But you can't deny the guy is immensely successful.

    He owns three BCS National Championships and even at 60 he doesn't look like he's going to slow down any time soon.

4. Jim Delany

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    Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany was laughed at when he helped develop the Big Ten Network.

    Now we all see what a genius he really was.

    The Big Ten also started the latest round of conference realignment, and despite what the SEC thinks...the Big Ten is still the most lucrative league to be involved with.

    Just ask Nebraska in a few years how good the move was.

    The only knock on the guy is his inability to get Notre Dame to join. If he finally does that then forget it, he's No. 1.

3. Bill Hancock

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    Bill Hancock wields a lot of power as the Executive Director of the BCS.

    The BCS isn't popular, but it has been financially successful.

    It's days may be numbered, but for now Hancock controls the fate of the AQs and non-AQs.

2. John Skipper

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    ESPN's new President, John Skipper, who took over the day-to-day operations from George Bodenheimer, pays a lot of money to colleges to show games on pretty much every night of the week.

    ESPN has been accused of pushing certain teams on conferences looking to expand.

    Skipper's operation also owns the rights to almost every bowl game.

    ESPN is here to stay and it will determine how and when we watch college football.

1. Mike Slive

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    Since the SEC has won the last seven BCS National Championships, then the guy running the league must be given his due.

    While I believe the SEC could have done better than Missouri in its move from 12 to 14 teams, the conference remains college football's best.

    Mike Slive's leadership has been exemplary and earns him this top spot for now.