The 2012 college football regular season has quickly come to a close, which means we can begin to look over some of the top candidates for the Coach of the Year. This season, there are many legitimate candidates that you can throw onto the table.
There are coaches that have completely turned programs around with one season. Some guys have saved teams from falling off the map and becoming irrelevant. There are first-year head coaches that have caught everybody by surprise. And then there are master motivators that have inspired their team to give it their all, even if the season includes no reward at the end.
So who has done the best job roaming the sidelines?
I personally prefer coaches that have done the most with the least. Give me the guys that nobody was expecting much from but were able to make a serious impact on the season. I don't want the coach whose team has all of the talent and is expected to compete for national championships every year.
I want the coach that has turned a program around when nobody was paying attention.
With that said, here are the top 10 candidates for the 2012 College Football Coach of the Year.
Some fold under pressure, and others are able to make things happen.
Oregon State head coach Mike Riley was of the latter group in 2012, as his name began to pop up in "hot seat" conversations, and he responded quite well.
Coaching the Beavers since 2003, the school had only won a combined eight games in the last two years. This season, Oregon State has already won eight games (likely to be nine with Nicholls State on the menu), and it finished a solid 6-3 in the Pac-12. That includes victories over two ranked clubs, and it has easily been the most successful season since 2009.
Not many people had the Beavers on the radar this year in the Pac-12, and Riley was just a few games away from being shown the door.
Like many teams in the Pac-12, Oregon State was able to shock many. This is why the head coach deserves a good amount of consideration for this award.
Kansas State was the biggest surprise in the country last season, when it won 10 games. Nobody really knew what to expect for an encore, but head coach Bill Snyder had an even bigger surprise for the college football world.
The Wildcats have now matched last year’s win total and will have a chance to make it 11 victories come Saturday. That would mark the most wins for this program since 2003. It has already been a historic season, as Kansas State was at one point ranked No. 1 in the BCS rankings.
Snyder has basically built this school from the ground up, but in the last two seasons he has taken it to completely new heights. The Wildcats have a chance to win the Big 12 title, which will mark only its second conference title since 1934.
It looks like Snyder is going to need a little bit more than his name on the stadium.
Darrell Hazell began his coaching career back in 1986 and has had many different positions with several different schools. He became a head coach back in 2011 with Kent State, which means that this is only his second year as a full-time head coach.
Hazell has led Kent State to its most successful season in program history.
The Golden Flashes have won 11 regular-season games, are ranked in the AP Poll for the first time since 1973 and still have an outside shot of reaching a BCS bowl. It really doesn't matter how this season ends for Kent State, Hazell has led this team to the most victories in program history in only his second year.
You can pick on the subpar schedule of the MAC all you would like, but there is not one person on this earth that had Kent State sneaking into the Top 25 of the BCS rankings this season.
Stanford lost quarterback Andrew Luck, a pair of offensive linemen and several other key players on both sides of the ball.
The Cardinal were going to fall off the face of the earth, correct?
The Cardinal have won 10 games and are the favorites to win the Pac-12 Championship against UCLA. Coach David Shaw has helped put together one of the best defenses in the entire country, and his team was able to beat four ranked teams.
Stanford has won the North Division when nobody gave them a shot, and the Cardinal will likely be playing in the BCS Rose bowl once this weekend is over with.
In a conference that was really divided by only Oregon and USC, Shaw has shown that there is much more to Stanford than terrific academics. This is also a football school that is here to stay for quite some time, especially if Coach Shaw remains on the sidelines.
There was a point during the Florida Gators' 7-6 season last year when fans were questioning if head coach Will Muschamp was the right guy for the job. Now that the team has finished the season with an 11-1 record and will likely reach a BCS bowl, there is no question the future is bright for this program.
Muschamp has led this team to by far the most impressive resume of the 2012 season. The Gators have knocked off five ranked teams, four of which were Top 10 squads at the time. The recruiting has taken off, and it appears that Florida will be competing for national championships as soon as next year.
While everybody was focused on teams such as LSU and Alabama, Florida has been one of the biggest surprises in the SEC this season.
Muschamp has put together a coaching staff that will be around for quite some time. The Gators coach certainly deserves some votes for the job he has done in his second season.
You knew head coach Urban Meyer was going to have a successful season with the Ohio State Buckeyes this year. After all, we are talking about a head coach that has won two national championships and never had a losing season in his coaching career.
However, I'm not too sure many people had this team running the table. It was Meyer's first season on the job and he was taking over a team that had a losing record in 2011. He also had to keep this team motivated throughout the year, as the Buckeyes are not eligible to play in the postseason. That task alone had to be difficult.
It could have been easy for Ohio State to give up when things got tough. Instead, the Buckeyes went about their business, beat three ranked teams and ended up finishing with an undefeated record for the first time since 2002.
Meyer is looking better than ever on those sidelines.
The Pac-12 media had predicted that the USC Trojans would run away with this conference.
UCLA had just hired a first-year college coach in Jim L. Mora, and nobody was expecting much of anything from the Bruins this year.
How about a 9-3 record and a trip to the Pac-12 Championship?
Mora led his team to victories over three ranked teams, including a solid 38-28 victory over USC late in the year. The recruiting has since skyrocketed for this program, and for a team that hasn't won double-digit games since 2005, UCLA will have a chance to reach 10 wins against Stanford in the championship.
For someone who had not coached since 2009 and had no college experience, Mora has quickly put himself on the radar for somebody to watch out for moving forward.
I remember when everybody was bursting into tears when the Texas A&M Aggies joined the SEC. Everybody claimed that it would take forever for the program to get going in its new conference.
Kevin Sumlin was called a goofball for leaving a school like Houston to become the head coach of a team that would soon be in the brutal SEC West.
In the first season, he led the team to 10 victories, including giving Alabama its only loss of the regular season. The only two losses of the year came at the hands of Florida and LSU, by a combined eight points.
Nobody expected the Aggies to win double-digit games and to be a Top 10 team in the BCS rankings, especially when a freshman quarterback was named the starter at the beginning of the year.
Sumlin has done a tremendous job with this program, showing there will soon be another powerhouse in the SEC.
Just look at everything head coach Bill O'Brien has done for Penn State in one year.
He left a good job with the New England Patriots to take on a mess in Happy Valley that nobody in their right mind would willingly accept. Despite his program receiving harsh sanctions from the NCAA and having many key players transfer schools, O'Brien led the Nittany Lions to eight victories. A team that lost pretty much everything actually finished ahead of Wisconsin in the Leaders Division.
Did I forget to mention that O'Brien is a first-year head coach?
This is a program that was left for dead once the NCAA brought the hammer down. There is still a dark road ahead for Penn State, but at least there is a light at the end of that road with O'Brien leading the way.
You can't help but be impressed.
Whether you love the Irish or wish for them to fail each and every season, you can't deny that what Brian Kelly has done is remarkable.
Before the season began, everybody and their grandfather was saying that Notre Dame had the toughest schedule in the country. There were questions at the quarterback position, the entire coaching staff was revamped, and Kelly was already being thrown on the hot seat for two mediocre seasons.
With all the criticism being thrown their way and the odds stacked against them, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish ran the table and reached the national championship.
Pick on the schedule all you like; claim that the Irish aren't as good as they appear. One thing you can't do is say that Kelly doesn't deserve the Coach of the Year award.