Power Ranking the Top 10 Candidates for College Football Coach of the Year

Sebastian Lena@SP7988Analyst IOctober 17, 2013

Power Ranking the Top 10 Candidates for College Football Coach of the Year

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    As we reach the midway point of the college football season, the nation’s top head coaches have begun to make themselves clear.

    Some have defied the odds and helped their teams surpass initial expectations. Others are just continuing to bring wins and success to their programs, continuing a tradition of winning.

    Regardless, several names have emerged as worthy of recognition as the best at their craft.

    Here are 10 who stand out more than others.

10. Dabo Swinney (Clemson)

1 of 10

    Years with Team: 6

    W-L with Team: 46-21

    Last Year’s Record: 11-2


    The Lowdown

    The Tigers finished 2012 with its first 11-win season since winning the national championship in 1981. The team capped it off by defeating then-No. 8 LSU in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl.

    As a result, expectations were high for Clemson entering 2013 and that was largely in part to the fine work of head coach Dabo Swinney.

    Thus far, he hasn’t disappointed. The Tigers are 6-0, ranked No. 3 in the nation and quarterback Tajh Boyd is a contender for this year’s Heisman Trophy. Not to mention, the team added a second straight victory over a Top 10 SEC foe with a 38-35 win over then-No. 5 Georgia in Week 1.

    Now, people are talking BCS title in Death Valley.

    And just to think, it was only three years ago that Clemson finished the season 6-7.

9. Jim Mora Jr. (UCLA)

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    Years with Team: 2

    W-L with Team: 14-5

    Last Year’s Record: 9-5


    The Lowdown 

    Jim Mora Jr. has really begun to hit his stride in his second season with the Bruins.

    At 5-0, the team has entered the AP Top 10 and is making a push at a Pac-12 title. UCLA boasts the nation’s No. 5-ranked offense, averaging 45.8 points per game, while ranking No. 17 in passing and No. 21 in rushing.

    In just his first season, Mora Jr. led the Bruins to the Pac-12 South Division Championship. The team ultimately fell three points shy to Stanford in the title game.

    This year, led by quarterback Brett Hundley (1,729 total yards, 17 TDs, 4 INTs), UCLA looks to finish what it started in 2012.

    It only makes sense that Mora Jr.’s next opponent is none other than the Cardinal.

    Win this one, and the Bruins will make it clear that they are here to stay.

8. Kliff Kingsbury (Texas Tech)

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    Years with Team: 1

    W-L with Team: 6-0

    Last Year’s Record: N/A


    The Lowdown

    Kliff Kingsbury is well known for being one of the most successful quarterbacks to ever play in Lubbock. Throughout his playing career with the Red Raiders from 1998-2002, he broke 39 school records, 13 Big 12 records and seven FBS records.

    Now, he’s trying to accomplish something no head coach in Texas Tech history has accomplished: Win a Big 12 title.

    Through six week, Kingsbury has the Red Raiders sitting pretty at 6-0. The team has put up 41.8 points per game, while boasting the nation’s No. 3-ranked passing attack.

    But surprisingly, Texas Tech has also been proficient on defense, ranking No. 15 in scoring (17.3 PPGA).

    Kingsbury has helped mentor both Baker Mayfield (65.7 CMP%, 1,488 yards, 8 TDs, 5 INTs, 136.0 QBR) and Davis Webb (56.3 CMP%, 965 yards, 9 TDs, 5 INTs, 136.3 QBR).

    However, that shouldn’t come as a surprise. He most recently helped tutor Johnny Manziel into a Heisman Trophy winner as the offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach at Texas A&M last year. Kingsbury was honored with Footballscoop.com’s National Coordinator of the Year award.

    With two road tests ahead—at West Virginia and at No. 18 Oklahoma—we’ll get a good look to see just how good this Red Raiders team is.

    If they win both, it’ll be pretty tough to argue against Kingsbury’s claim to the award.

7. Urban Meyer

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    Years with Team: 2

    W-L with Team: 18-0

    Last Year’s Record: 12-0


    The Lowdown

    Urban Meyer led the Buckeyes to an unblemished 12-0 record in 2012. However, due to findings from an NCAA investigation during the previous year, the team was deemed ineligible for both the Big Ten championship game and a bowl game.

    That’s not the case for Meyer and his team anymore.

    This year, Ohio State is 6-0 and riding the nation’s longest active winning streak at 18 games. It’s almost unprecedented to begin a tenure at a school like this.

    In fact, the record for best start at a school is 20-0, achieved by Terry Bowden at Auburn from 1993-94. 

    With a history of developing mobile quarterbacks—Tim Tebow and Alex Smith come to mind—Meyer has turned Braxton Miller into one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the nation. The junior has thrown for 609 yards and six touchdowns in four starts, while also rushing for another 233 yards. 

    Meyer already has two BCS titles to his name from his time at Florida. However, look for him to strive to join Nick Saban as the only coach to ever win national championships with two different schools.

6. Nick Saban (Alabama)

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    Years with Team: 7

    W-L with Team: 74-13

    Last Year’s Record: 13-1


    The Lowdown

    The Crimson Tide are once again charging towards the BCS title. At 6-0 and with just LSU standing in its way, there’s really no reason to believe the team won’t secure a berth in its third-straight BCS title game.

    Head coach Nick Saban has been the driving force.

    Thanks to him, Alabama has won back-to-back BCS Championships and three of the last four. No other team in recent history has been as dominant.

    This year, the Tide have done it offensively—the team has scored 40 or more points three times—as well as relying on a stifling defense. Alabama ranks second in the nation, allowing just 11.3 points per game.

    While Saban and his team’s success may not be the most surprising aspect of the season, it’s hard not to include someone who has been so successful at his craft.

5. Mark Helfrich

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    Years with Team: 1

    W-L with Team: 6-0

    Last Year’s Record: N/A


    The Lowdown

    Following a 12-1 record with the Ducks in 2012, then-head coach Chip Kelly decided to take his talents to the NFL. The Philadelphia Eagles to be exact.

    The team chose to turn to former offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mark Helfrich.

    Thus far, he has led Oregon to an unblemished 6-0 record. The team has been so good, that the closest any team has gotten to them is 21 points.

    Under Helfrich’s tutelage last season, quarterback Marcus Mariota grew into one of the nation’s top quarterbacks. In 2013, he has exceeded expectations—2,150 total yards, 25 TDs, 0 INT, 182.4 QBR—and has himself in prime position for this year’s Heisman Trophy.

    Helfrich already has a pair of National Quarterbacks' Coach of the Year awards in his trophy cabinet (2010, 2012), it’s time he added to it.

4. Al Golden (Miami)

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    Years with Team: 3

    W-L with Team: 18-11

    Last Year’s Record: 7-5


    The Lowdown

    With a showdown in Death Valley looming this weekend, all the focus in the ACC seems to be on No. 5 Florida State and No. 3 Clemson.

    However, the biggest surprise in the conference has to be the play of the Hurricanes.

    Backed by a 5-0 record, the team is back in the AP Top 10 for the first time in four years. Furthermore, Miami is slowly gaining traction as a viable BCS title threat.

    Head coach Al Golden is completely to thank for that.

    It becomes even more impressive when you consider that he’s accomplished all of this while the program has been under investigation from the NCAA since August of 2010. That includes self-imposed bans on two bowl games, as well as reduced scholarships.

    It’s all made life difficult for the Hurricanes' football team to thrive.

    However, through it all Golden has this team soaring. A 21-16 victory over then-No. 12 Florida on Sept. 7 showcased just how far Miami has come.

    None of this would have been possible without the hard work of Golden.

3. Art Briles (Baylor)

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    Years with Team: 6

    W-L with Team: 38-30

    Last Year’s Record: 8-5


    The Lowdown

    Most of the attention on the Bears has been on the team’s ridiculous offense. The team ranks No. 1 in scoring (63.4 PPG), No. 1 in total offense (713.8 YPG), No. 2 in passing (412.2 YPG) and No. 4 in rushing (302.2 YPG).

    However, although those numbers are startling, they’re not nearly as impressive as the coaching job Art Briles is putting together in Waco.

    Earlier this week, CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd christened Briles his choice for coach of the year.

    It’s hard to argue against the resume.

    In the past, Briles has tutored Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Robert Griffin III and the school’s single-season passing leader Nick Florence. However, he’s saved his most impressive piece of work for 2013.

    This season, Briles has taken former three-star recruit Bryce Petty and has transformed him into one of the nation’s top passers—69.9 CMP%, 1,680 YDs, 13 TDs, 1 INT, 231.0 QBR.

    Furthermore, he has Baylor off to a 5-0 start and on pace for the team’s first-ever BCS title. Not to mention, the team is No. 12 in the latest AP Poll—the highest school ranking in 22 years.

    What Briles has done with the Bears is truly magical.

2. Gary Pinkel (Missouri)

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    Years with Team: 13

    W-L with Team: 96-61

    Last Year’s Record: 5-7


    The Lowdown

    Gary Pinkel had a season to forget with the Tigers last year.

    The team put together a pretty disappointing debut season in the SEC. Injuries and inexperience plagued Missouri all year long, leading to the end of the programs seven-year bowl streak.

    Not to mention, Pinkel spent most of his free time dealing with a divorce.

    With all that said, it came as no surprise when he began the year on the hot seat.

    Now, the Tigers are 6-0 for the first time since 2010. Furthermore, the team is coming off an upset of then-No. 7 Georgia on the road.

    The 41-26 victory in Athens served as Missouri’s first real road win over a Top 10 team in over 30 years.

    To have that kind of turn around should not go unnoticed. Especially since he accomplished the feat in one of the nation’s toughest conferences.

    Pinkel has successfully brought back respect to a Tigers program that was without it for a couple years.

    If it wasn’t for Malzahn, he’d easily be atop of this list.

1. Gus Malzahn (Auburn)

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    Years with Team: 1

    W-L with Team: 5-1

    Last Year’s Record: N/A


    The Lowdown

    At 5-1, Gus Malzahn has led the Tigers to their best start since 2010.

    The team has already exceeded last season’s 3-9 record and even added an upset over a ranked opponent (No. 24 Ole Miss). Furthermore, in its lone loss, Auburn played a Top 10 LSU squad tough on the road.

    Needless to say, Malzahn has successfully helped the fans put the ghost of Gene Chizik behind them.

    Following the Tigers’ 30-22 victory over the Rebels, ESPN’s Paul Finebaum went as far as to dub Malzahn as the coach of the year in the SEC.

    Through six games, Auburn has surprisingly boasted the nation’s No. 7-ranked rushing attack. Behind strong play from running backs Tre Mason (92 CAR, 515 yards, 7 TDs) and Cameron Artis-Payne (54 CAR, 389 yards, 3 TDs), the team has averaged 287 yards per game on the ground.

    But the most impressive aspect of Malzahn’s first year has got to be the influence he’s had on quarterback Nick Marshall. 

    Although the junior may not be the most fine-tuned passer—he’s thrown for just 902 yards and four touchdowns over five games—Marshall has done enough to lead the Tigers to victory. Against Ole Miss, he rushed for 140 yards and two scores.

    With an entire team willing to put it on the line for him, Malzahn has transformed last year’s laughing stock into a formidable opponent.

    How can you not applaud the work he’s done this season?