8 College Football Coaching Showdowns We Can't Wait to See in 2014
What was the best handshake of 2013?
Was it Gus Malzahn hooking up with Nick Saban in the aftermath of the most unpredictable finish in Iron Bowl history? Was it Brady Hoke connecting with Urban Meyer after nearly ending Ohio State’s run to perfection?
Or was it USC interim head coach Ed Orgeron pumping arms with Stanford’s David Shaw after shocking the Cardinal in November?
Putting which one was the best aside, which of any of these mid-field meetings could you have predicted as memorable before the season started?
Sure, we know what games we are looking forward to in 2014, but which feature the most intriguing combination of coaches?
Coaching matchups are the game within the game, a chess match between two guys who live in the shadows of the gray area that exists between trying to win a title and trying to stay employed.
Schedule data courtesy of FB Schedules. Statistics courtesy of College Football Statistics and College Football Data Warehouse. Returning starter data courtesy of Phil Steele. Recruiting data courtesy of Rivals.
Mark Dantonio vs. Mark Helfrich
Who: Michigan State vs. Oregon
When: Saturday, Sept. 6, 2014
Where: Autzen Stadium, Eugene, Ore.
If these two coaches were cable channels, this matchup would be the History Channel lacing it up with the guys from the Sci-Fi Channel.
Yes, the Ducks held the No. 3 scoring offense from last season taking on the Spartans No. 3 scoring defense from a year ago.
Where Helfrich’s squad averaged 45.5 points per game in 2013, Dantonio’s held opponents to a paltry 13.2 points per game.
It’s the past meets the future. Its old school versus new school.
And, it’s a former quarterback squaring off with a former defensive back in a battle of coaches who foster two completely different approaches to the same game.
What may skew the numbers in this contest is where Michigan State returns only four starters to its stellar defense from last year, while Oregon brings back nine starters to its offense.
Bo Pelini vs. Al Golden
Who: Nebraska vs. Miami (Fla.)
When: Saturday, Sept. 20, 2014
Where: Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, Neb.
If you’re looking for two emotional, young head coaches leading big-time programs in a blockbuster non-conference tilt, then Pelini-Golden is for you.
Beyond their shared trait of intense facial expressions and fiery outbursts, the two are both in their 40s, trying to engineer title turnarounds at schools which were once major players in another conference.
The other intriguing bit about these two is that both have a defensive background in coaching and both fielded defenses in 2013 which struggled to make the grade.
Pelini’s Cornhuskers gave up 370 yards per game last season, while Golden’s Hurricanes coughed up an alarming 426.
Whichever guy walks away with the win in 2014 will have a key non-conference victory to add to his resume moving forward.
It’s a guy in a tie versus a guy in a hoodie—both screaming their respective heads off.
Charlie Strong vs. Bob Stoops
Who: Texas vs. Oklahoma
When: Saturday, Oct. 11, 2014
Where: Cotton Bowl, Dallas, Texas
Though watching Charlie Strong lead Texas into all 12 games in 2014 will provide intrigue, the tone of his tenure will be set in his first Red River Rivalry.
What’s important to remember when considering the meaning of Texas-Oklahoma is that in the 18-year history of the Big 12 one of the two teams has been crowned champion 11 times.
That’s either the Longhorns or Sooners winning the conference 61 percent of the time since 1996.
Though the Longhorns sent Brown out with a win over Oklahoma in 2013, before that 2009 was the last time Texas managed to beat the Sooners.
The three-game skid included ugly 55-17 and 63-21 decisions in 2011 and 2012.
Winning the Red River Rivalry is not just important if you want to keep your job, it’s important if you want to win the Big 12 title.
If Strong can gain traction at Texas and make it long-term, and if Stoops continues on at Oklahoma, this season’s game will be the first in a series of meaningful meetings between the two.
It could be the beginning of something beautiful.
Kevin Sumlin vs. Steve Spurrier
Who: Texas A&M vs. South Carolina
When: Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014
Where: Williams-Brice Stadium, Columbia, S.C.
If you are looking for something that nobody has ever seen before, tune in to Sumlin-Spurrier to open up the 2014 season.
In this SEC cross-divisional matchup, not only have the two coaches never squared off, but the two teams have never met on the football field.
What’s intriguing about Sumlin and Spurrier is that they are both offensive-minded coaches—one early in his career in major college football and the other nearing the end.
While it’s a fact that Spurrier will go down as one of the all-time greats in the game, the jury is still out on Sumlin (and his defense).
Though it might have been more thrilling to have seen Spurrier’s defense try and contain former Aggie quarterback Johnny Manziel, it will be so satisfying to see the two coaches try to outmaneuver each other in the season opener.
Remember, regardless of who graduated or who declared for the draft, these two programs have recruited so well in recent years that there will be more talent on the field in this game than virtually any other all season.
Don’t think so?
Well, here’s the average recruiting rankings for each program since 2011 (according to Rivals): Texas A&M 14.75, South Carolina 17.25.
Only 12 schools in the FBS have a better average ranking.
Gary Patterson vs. Art Briles
Who: TCU vs. Baylor
When: Saturday, Oct. 11, 2014
Where: Baylor Stadium, Waco, Texas
Though this one may not leap off anyone’s page as “must-see T.V.,” it would be a mistake not to check out the 2014 edition of TCU-Baylor.
To appreciate the coaching matchup, harken back to last season’s game between the two—a contest the Bears pulled out 41-38—after which Patterson had some choice words for Briles.
The comments came as a reaction to an incident after Baylor’s Ahmad Dixon was ejected on a targeting call for a hit on TCU wide receiver Trevone Boykin.
Patterson got riled up after Boykin made gestures to Horned Frog fans, lingering before leaving the game for good.
According to Tom Fornelli of CBS Sports, here’s Patterson’s postgame reaction.
Number six [Dixon], beats up a guy at the beginning of the season and doesn’t get suspended…He takes a shot and I want him kicked out. The head coach came across the field to me. I’ve got a guy (Dixon) who’s laughing into the camera on the sideline. I’ve got a guy (Boykin) that can’t come into the game for a play. That’s not what I call class.
I didn’t build this program backing down to anybody and I’m not going to do it to him. Not in anything we do, not in recruiting, not in anything. You’ve got to understand he’s picking on the wrong guy. At midfield [after the game], he said leave it on the field. I have. They didn’t correct the problem a long time ago. He can say what he wants to. I have a lot of respect for the program and for him. But you’re not going to come across the field to me and it’s not going to be ok to let a guy stand on the sideline and laugh in front of the TV camera when he tries to take a shot at somebody and hurt him.
[Briles] can go correct his player because nobody said anything to him. I watched. I had to get the official to go get him because they let him stand on the sideline. If I didn’t say anything, they would have let him stand there the whole time. That isn’t cool.
If that’s what class is, I don’t want to be it.
As far as Briles’ response, here’s what he had to say according to Stefan Stevenson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
I hadn’t really heard anything or paid attention to anything…As soon as the game was over, I started moving on to Texas. That’s just what I’ve always done. I learned a long time ago you can’t really control what other people say about you or think about you. All you can do is do what you think is right for your situation and that’s what we’ve always done here at Baylor.
To add some perspective to a rivalry that is heating up: Patterson and Briles are 2-2 against each other at their present posts. Baylor pulled in the No. 35-ranked recruiting class in 2014, while TCU signed the No. 49 rated group, according to Rivals. The two schools are located 90 miles apart.
Jeremy Pruitt vs. Rhett Lashlee
Who: Georgia vs. Auburn
When: Saturday, Nov. 15, 2014
Where: Sanford Stadium, Athens, Ga.
And here’s the game with one of the best subplots of them all: Ex-ACC defensive coordinator squares off—again—with the SEC’s No. 2 scoring offense from 2013.
Only this time he’s working for an SEC program.
Yes, it’s a rematch of the BCS title game—at least between coordinators—fueled by Florida State defensive coordinator Jeremey Pruitt’s defection to Georgia, a shocking decision made after the ‘Noles won the crystal football.
It’s Lashlee (Auburn OC and long term Malzahn protégé)-Pruitt II—and this time it’s an all-SEC affair.
Interestingly, Pruitt’s only college coordinator experience came last season when he took over for Mark Stoops, who left FSU to become the head coach at Kentucky. From Stoops he inherited the No. 6 scoring defense in the land.
This season Pruitt gets dealt a defense that finished last season ranked No. 79 in scoring, a different set of cards all together.
The storylines are tasty indeed: Is Pruitt the real deal? What will Malzahn and Lashlee do with the golden opportunity for a rematch pitting their second-issue offense against Pruitt’s new defense?
And, is this the game that will decide who goes to the SEC title game and who ultimately lands a first-ever slot in the College Football Playoff?
Bobby Petrino vs. Jimbo Fisher
Who: Louisville vs. Florida State
When: Thursday, Oct. 30, 2014
Where: Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, Louisville Ky.
In what sounds like an actual chess match, Bobby P. vs. Fisher is more than the reigning national champions taking on Petrino’s sequel at Louisville..
Instead, this may be a glimpse into the future of ACC football.
The game will mark the first meeting between Florida State and Louisville as members of the ACC Atlantic—a significant clash if Petrino can build on his foundation that Charlie Strong continued to improve.
In other words, although Clemson and Florida State are the power-brokers in the ACC), the emergence of Louisville could change everything.
And based on Petrino’s previous track record as a head coach, the power shift could occur sooner than later.
Petrino vs. Fisher may well become to the ACC what Stoops vs. Brown was to the Big 12 and Saban vs. Miles is to the SEC.
Tommy Tuberville vs. Urban Meyer
Who: Cincinnati vs. Ohio State
When: Saturday, Sept. 27, 2014
Where: Ohio Stadium, Columbus, Ohio
In a coaching matchup that marks all the boxes, Tubs vs. Meyer oozes history, meaning and potential impact.
First, you’ve got two guys who have met before, only not in the Midwest or in a horseshoe.
The two tangoed twice—in 2006 and 2007—when Tuberville worked for Auburn and Meyer was still at Florida. Tubs came out on top in both of these contests, the first coming as the only blemish in Meyer’s otherwise perfect 13-1 BCS Championship campaign.
Yes, there is history between these two SEC outcasts.
Next, you’ve got Ohio State playing its only in-state BCS rival—Cincinnati—for the first time since 2006. The Bearcats haven’t upended the Buckeyes in 116 years since when they won 24-0 in 1897.
The last time Ohio State fell to an in-state opponent? Well, that came in 1921 when the Buckeyes fell to Oberlin College.
It’s also worth noting that Meyer—an Ohio native—didn’t play ball for the Buckeyes, but instead played defensive back for Cincinnati in the early 80s.
Last, but not least, after wandering through the wilderness of Lubbock, Texas to Cincinnati, Ohio, Tuberville is a coach who is seeking relevance.
Tuberville will never have a better single-game opportunity—at least at Cincinnati—than the game with Ohio State.
It’s got it all.