Top College Football Coaches Who Excel and Struggle Against Top 25 Teams

Amy DaughtersFeatured ColumnistJuly 22, 2014

Top College Football Coaches Who Excel and Struggle Against Top 25 Teams

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Did you know that of the 128 FBS head coaches, only 14—or 11 percent—have a career winning record against Top 25 teams?

    Not only do 89 percent of the top level of college coaches have a losing record against ranked opponents, but 51—or 40 percent of the field—have never won a single game against a Top 25 team.

    So while lots of ink is dedicated to coaches with the highest all-time winning percentage or the most titles, what about those who have been the best—or worst—against the best teams in the nation?

    Is this the magical gauge of future success?

Excelling: David Shaw, Stanford

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    Matt York/Associated Press

    Career Record vs. Top 25:  14-4 (78%)

    Record vs. Top 25 at Current Job:  14-4 (78%)

    David Shaw has the best career record against ranked opponents of any active FBS coach, but he’s only faced Top 25 teams on 18 occasions. Compare this to Steve Spurrier, who’s coached against 111 ranked teams all-time, and Mike Leach, who’s faced 50.

    On the plus side, Shaw has managed to sustain success at Stanford over four full seasons and is 4-4 against Top 10 teams.

    Shaw’s most recent win over a ranked team came in 2013 when No. 7 Stanford bested No. 11 Arizona State for the Pac-12 title.  The most recent loss came in last season’s Rose Bowl when the No. 5 Cardinal fell 24-20 to No. 5 Michigan State.

Excelling: Bob Stoops, Oklahoma

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    Alonzo Adams/Associated Press

    Career Record vs. Top 25:  50-23 (69%)

    Record vs. Top 25 at Current Job:  50-23 (69%)

    Nobody has been better against ranked teams over the last 15 seasons than Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops.

    Stoops has been accused of not winning the big one, but he’s won almost 70 percent of his games against Top 25 teams and is 18-13—or 58 percent—against Top 10 foes.

    Stoops’ last ranked win came via Oklahoma’s 45-31 triumph over No. 3 Alabama in the 2013 Sugar Bowl, and his most recent defeat came via a 41-12 blowout loss to No. 5 Baylor last November.

Excelling: Urban Meyer, Ohio State

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    Career Record vs. Top 25:  25-12 (68%)

    Record vs. Top 25 at Current Job:  5-2 (71%)

    If not for back-to-back losses to No. 10 Michigan State in the 2013 Big Ten title game and No. 12 Clemson in last season’s Orange Bowl, Urban Meyer would have a perfect record against Top 25 teams in his first two seasons at Ohio State.

    Even with the two losses, he’s tied with Auburn’s Gus Malzahn for the best record versus ranked opponents at a current coaching job.

    Coming into the Ohio State job, Meyer was 20-10 (67%) against Top 25 teams while the head coach at Utah and Florida.  All-time, he’s a whopping 12-5 (71%) against Top 10 opponents.

    Meyer’s most recent win over a ranked team came last season when the Buckeyes traveled to Northwestern and beat the No. 16 Wildcats 40-30.

Excelling: Mark Helfrich, Oregon

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    Don Ryan/Associated Press

    Career Record vs. Top 25:  2-1 (67%)

    Record vs. Top 25 at Current Job:  2-1 (67%)

    With only one season as a head coach under his belt, it’s easy to argue that Mark Helfrich doesn’t belong on this list.

    But this is a guy who led the Ducks in routs of No. 16 Washington (45-24) and No. 12 UCLA (42-14) last season.  Yes, Oregon fell 26-20 to No. 6 Stanford later in the year, but Helfrich still got it done in a big way two of the three times he got the chance.

    Stay tuned to see if Helfrich’s stock rises or falls over the next couple of seasons.

Excelling: Chris Petersen, Washington

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    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    Career Record vs. Top 25:  8-4 (67%)

    Record vs. Top 25 at Current Job:  0-0

    What’s impressive about Chris Petersen’s resume against Top 25 opponents is that his entire statistical body of work came during his eight seasons at Boise State.

    In other words, he wasn’t loaded with top-tier talent and advantages that only wads of money can buy.

    Petersen’s most recent action against a ranked foe came all the way back in the 2012 opener when Boise State fell 17-13 at No. 13 Michigan State.  The last win came via a 35-21 triumph over No. 19 Georgia in the 2011 opener.

    Petersen is a perfect 3-0 against Top 10 teams, and his next shot at a ranked squad should come on Sept. 27 when the Huskies host Stanford in Seattle.

Excelling: Jimbo Fisher, Florida State

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    Steve Cannon/Associated Press

    Career Record vs. Top 25:  9-5 (64%)

    Record vs. Top 25 at Current Job:  9-5 (64%)

    Jimbo Fisher has gained momentum over his four seasons at the helm at Florida State.

    He is 6-1 in his last seven outings versus ranked teams and hasn’t dropped a Top 25 game since 2012, when his No. 10 Seminoles fell 37-26 to No. 6 Florida.

    Included in the run were wins over No. 2 Auburn in last season’s BCS title game, No. 7 Miami (Fla.) and No. 3 Clemson.  Overall, Fisher is 4-3 against Top 10 teams.

Excelling: Gus Malzahn, Auburn

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Career Record vs. Top 25:  5-3 (63%)

    Record vs. Top 25 at Current Job:  5-2 (71%)

    Another rising star, Gus Malzahn faced a whopping seven ranked teams during his first campaign as the head coach at Auburn.

    Under his guidance in 2013, the Tigers bested No. 5 Missouri, No. 1 Alabama, No. 25 Georgia, No. 7 Texas A&M and No. 24 Ole Miss.  The only losses came to No. 1 Florida State in the BCS championship and No. 6 LSU in the regular season.

    The only other career Top 25 action for Malzahn came during his single season as the head coach at Arkansas State, when the unranked Red Wolves fell 57-34 at No. 5 Oregon.

    Malzahn may not have much experience, but what’s he’s got is impressive.

Excelling: Nick Saban, Alabama

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    Rusty Costanza/Associated Press

    Career Record vs. Top 25:   51-36 (59%)

    Record vs. Top 25 at Current Job:  28-12 (70%)

    Among active FBS coaches, only Steve Spurrier and Frank Beamer have faced more Top 25 action than Nick Saban has in his career.  His all-time win/loss mark ranks No. 9, and his record at Alabama is No. 4 in the active ranks.

    The only coaches with better records against ranked teams at their current jobs are David Shaw, Urban Meyer and Gus Malzahn.  But these guys faced 32 ranked teams combined, while Saban has faced 40, all by himself, while at Alabama.

    His record against Top 10 teams?  Well, he’s 16-6 at Alabama and 26-17 all-time.

    Once again, Saban is in another league.

Excelling: Brian Kelly, Notre Dame

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    JOE RAYMOND/Associated Press

    Career Record vs. Top 25:  15-11 (58%) 

    Record vs. Top 25 at Current Job:  7-7 (50%)

    Though Brian Kelly is over .500 against ranked teams as an FBS coach, he’s posted an even 7-7 record since joining Notre Dame in 2010.

    The Irish were 1-3 against Top 25 teams last season, beating No. 22 Arizona State by three points but falling to No. 8 Stanford, No. 14 Oklahoma and No. 17 Michigan.

    Go back another year and Kelly and Notre Dame posted a 4-1 record against ranked opponents, besting No. 10 Michigan State, No. 18 Michigan, No. 17 Stanford and No. 8 Oklahoma before getting whacked by No. 2 Alabama in the BCS title game.

    What’s more revealing is Kelly’s record against Top 10 foes—he’s 2-6 all-time and 2-3 at Notre Dame.

Excelling: Les Miles, LSU

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    Career Record vs. Top 25:  40-31 (56%)

    Record vs. Top 25 at Current Job:  37-19 (66%)

    Only Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops has been more successful over the long haul at a current job than Les Miles.

    Where Stoops is 68 percent successful through 73 games with the Sooners, Miles is 66 percent through 56 contests with ranked opponents.

    What’s impressive about Miles’ record is the volume of ranked opponents he’s faced in his 13 years at LSU and how many have been in the Top 10.

    Miles and the Tigers have played a whopping 27 Top 10 teams since 2005 and are 14-13 against the best of the best.

Excelling: Steve Spurrier, South Carolina

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    Career Record vs. Top 25:  60-51 (54%)

    Record vs. Top 25 at Current Job:  18-23 (44%)

    No active coach has faced more ranked opponents in his career than Steve Spurrier, making his 54 percent success rate all the more impressive.

    Even though Spurrier is on the losing end of the stick in his nine seasons at South Carolina, he is 8-4 since 2011, including wins over No. 6 Clemson, No. 5 Missouri and No. 5 Georgia.

    Spurrier hasn’t dropped a bowl game against a ranked foe since 2010, when the Gamecocks fell 26-17 to No. 23 Florida State.

    What Spurrier doesn’t share with some of the others on the list is the level of success against Top 10 opponents.  He’s 24-30-1 all-time and 6-13 at South Carolina.

Excelling: Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Career Record vs. Top 25:  8-7 (53%)

    Record vs. Top 25 at Current Job:  5-6 (45%)

    It’s important to remember that Kevin Sumlin’s head coaching career didn’t start at Texas A&M.  No, Sumlin got his start at Houston from 2008-11 before taking over for the Aggies in 2012.

    While at Houston, Sumlin was 3-1 against ranked foes, including upset wins over No. 5 Oklahoma State (2009) and No. 24 Penn State (2011).

    Sumlin is one win short of .500 in his first two seasons at A&M, but remember he’s already faced four Top 10 teams, including No. 1 Alabama twice.

Excelling: Mark Richt, Georgia

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    Dave Tulis/Associated Press

    Career Record vs. Top 25:  34-31 (52%)

    Record vs. Top 25 at Current Job:  34-31 (52%)

    Only Bob Stoops and Frank Beamer have squared off with more ranked teams at their current posts than Mark Richt has at Georgia.

    And where Beamer is 42-49 (46%) over 27 seasons at Virginia Tech, Richt is 34-31 (52%) over only 13 seasons at Georgia.

    Richt and the Bulldogs squared off with five ranked teams in 2013, with four coming out of the Top 10.  So, while Georgia lost to No. 7 Auburn, No. 25 Missouri and No. 8 Clemson, it beat No. 6 South Carolina and No. 6 LSU.

    Like Spurrier, Richt hasn’t had the same sort of long-term success against the Top 10 as other elite coaches—he’s 11-16 (41%).

Struggling: Bret Bielema, Arkansas

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    Danny Johnston/Associated Press

    Career Record vs. Top 25:  10-20 (33%)

    Record vs. Top 25 at Current Job:  0-6 (0%)

    Though Bret Bielema won three consecutive Big Ten titles at Wisconsin, he’s a dismal 10-20 all-time against ranked teams.

    The last time a Bielema-coached team won a game against a Top 25 opponent was the 2012 Big Ten title game when the Badgers destroyed No. 14 Nebraska 70-31.  Prior to that, it was 2011 Big Ten title game when Wisconsin edged No. 11 Michigan State 42-39.

    Last season, in his first campaign at Arkansas, Bielema went 0-6 against ranked teams.  He’s 2-10 all-time against the Top 10.

Struggling: Steve Sarkisian, USC

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    Career Record vs. Top 25:  8-18 (33%)

    Record vs. Top 25 at Current Job:  0-0

    Though Steve Sarkisian will have more raw talent at his disposal at USC than he did at Washington, his track record against ranked teams is dubious at best.

    Sarkisian went 1-3 against the Top 25 last season, dropping games to No. 13 UCLA, No. 2 Oregon and No. 5 Stanford and picking up a win in the opener against No. 19 Boise State.

    He’s 3-8 against Top 10 opponents and last won such a game in 2012, when the Huskies downed No. 7 Oregon State 20-17.

Struggling: Gary Pinkel, Missouri

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    Tim Sharp/Associated Press

    Career Record vs. Top 25:  15-37 (29%)

    Record vs. Top 25 at Current Job:  15-34 (31%)

    Though Gary Pinkel led Missouri to an SEC East title last season, a feat that included five wins over ranked opponents, he’s a dismal 29 percent all-time against Top 25 teams.

    In fact, prior to the Tigers’ stunning 41-26 win over No. 7 Georgia last season, Pinkel hadn’t scored a win over a ranked team since beating No. 21 Texas 17-5 in 2011.

    Pinkel is 4-22 all-time against the Top 10.

Struggling: Bronco Mendenhall, BYU

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    Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

    Career Record vs. Top 25:  5-13 (28%)

    Record vs. Top 25 at Current Job:  5-13 (28%)

    Bronco Mendenhall is a stunning 82-34 (71%) in nine seasons as the head coach at BYU, but he’s only won five games against ranked opponents.

    The last win came just this past season when the Cougars blasted No. 15 Texas 40-21.  Before that, it was all the way back in 2009 when No. 15 BYU beat No. 16 Oregon State 44-20 in the Las Vegas Bowl.

Struggling: Will Muschamp, Florida

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    Career Record vs. Top 25:  4-11 (27%)

    Record vs. Top 25 at Current Job:  4-11 (27%)

    To put Will Muschamp’s record against ranked teams into perspective, consider this: Both Muschamp and Stanford’s David Shaw took over the reins at their respective programs in 2011—Muschamp is 4-11 versus the Top 25 and Shaw is 14-4 in the same time period.

    Both teams play in big-time conferences and both have access to the best players in the country, Florida more so than Stanford.

    Muschamp was 0-4 last season against Top 25 foes and hasn’t won a game against a ranked team since the 2012 win over No. 10 Florida State. 

Struggling: Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    Career Record vs. Top 25:  7-20 (26%)

    Record vs. Top 25 at Current Job:  7-12 (37%)

    Though hardly a powerhouse program, Georgia Tech hasn’t fared well against ranked teams in the Paul Johnson era.

    The Yellow Jackets haven’t won a game against a Top 25 opponent in over two seasons, or since their 2011 upset win over No. 6 Clemson.  Before that, it was the 2009 ACC title game when Georgia Tech beat No. 25 Clemson 39-34.

    Johnson is 2-6 all-time against Top 10 foes.

Struggling: Mike Riley, Oregon State

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Career Record vs. Top 25:  13-39 (25%)

    Record vs. Top 25 at Current Job:  13-39 (25%)

    Is it fair to expect more of Mike Riley over his 13 seasons at Oregon State?

    Well, Mike Gundy has been at Oklahoma State for nine years and he’s 15-20 (43%) in Top 25 action.

    Both schools are the little brother in their respective states and both play in stacked conferences. 

    Riley and his Beavers haven’t hooked for a Top 25 win since the first two weeks of the 2012 season when they knocked off No. 13 Wisconsin and No. 19 UCLA in consecutive games.  Before that, it was 2010, when they dropped No. 20 USC 36-7 in Los Angeles.

    Riley has coached the Beavers 24 times against Top 10 teams and come out the winner four times.  Gundy has had only 10 such opportunities and has also scored four wins.

Struggling: Art Briles, Baylor

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Career Record vs. Top 25:  7-24 (23%)

    Record vs. Top 25 at Current Job:  7-19 (27%)

    Though there is no denying that Art Briles has been a genius in engineering the turnaround at Baylor, he’s continued to struggle against ranked teams.

    In their Big 12 title season last year, the Bears were 2-2 against Top 25 opponents, including losses to No. 11 Oklahoma State (49-17) and No. 15 UCF (52-42). 

    Though Briles and Baylor may continue their streak to unbelievable heights of glory, they’ve only combined for two total wins over Top 10 teams in six seasons.

Struggling: Al Golden, Miami (Fla.)

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    Career Record vs. Top 25:  3-11 (21%)

    Record vs. Top 25 at Current Job:  3-6 (33%)

    What’s not fair about mentioning Al Golden on this list are his five seasons at Temple, where he posted a 0-5 record against Top 25 teams.

    What is fair is the fact that he’s been at Miami (Fla.) for three seasons and only beaten ranked opponents three times.  Sure, the Hurricanes have had the deck stacked against them off the field, but they’ve still got enough talent to beat a ranked team, especially in their own conference.

    Miami’s last win over a Top 25 foe came early last season when it upset over-ranked No. 12 Florida 21-16.  Before that, it was a 24-7 win over No. 20 Georgia Tech in 2011.

    Golden has only faced a Top 10 team three times in his career, and he’s yet to win against one.

Struggling: Larry Fedora, North Carolina

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    Nell Redmond/Associated Press

    Career Record vs. Top 25:  2-8 (20%)

    Record vs. Top 25 at Current Job:  0-4 (0%)

    What’s shocking about Larry Fedora’s record against Top 25 teams is that both of his previous wins came while he was at Southern Miss, not North Carolina.

    Fedora led the Golden Eagles to wins over No. 25 UCF in 2010 and No. 7 Houston in the C-USA title game in 2011, but is 0-fer in four tries in two years at UNC.

    The Tar Heels lost to No. 24 Duke, No. 10 Miami (Fla.) and No. 6 South Carolina last season and dropped a game to No. 19 Louisville in 2012.  All of the games, except for the loss to the Gamecocks, were close, but all were still losses.

Struggling: Brady Hoke, Michigan

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    Tony Ding/Associated Press

    Career Record vs. Top 25:  4-20 (17%)

    Record vs. Top 25 at Current Job:  3-7 (30%)

    Brady Hoke is the highest-paid football coach in the state of Michigan, but he’s won only 17 percent against Top 25 teams, while Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio has won 36 percent.

    Hoke has had 10 tries at whacking a ranked opponent since he took over in Ann Arbor in 2011, and he’s won only three.  His fourth such win came in 2010 when he coached San Diego State to a 27-25 win over No. 23 Air Force.

    Hoke has beaten No. 14 Notre Dame (2013), No. 17 Nebraska (2011) and No. 17 Virginia Tech (2011 Sugar Bowl) in three seasons at Michigan.  That’s it.

    Hoke hasn’t ever beaten a Top 10 foe; he’s 0-6 all-time and 0-3 at Michigan.  Though you can’t hold his 1-13 record versus ranked teams at Ball State and San Diego State against him, his record with the Wolverines is an entirely different matter.

Struggling: Dan Mullen, Mississippi State

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    David Quinn/Associated Press

    Career Record vs. Top 25:  2-21 (9%)

    Record vs. Top 25 at Current Job:  2-21 (9%)

    Dan Mullen has been quietly chipping away at the SEC West since taking over at Mississippi State in 2009. Though he’s posted a respectable 36-28 record, he’s only won two games against ranked opponents.

    Mullen’s two shining moments came in 2010, when the Bulldogs upended No. 22 Florida 10-7, and in 2009, when they throttled No. 20 Ole Miss 41-27.  Since beating the Gators, Mississippi State is 0-15 against the Top 25.

    Mullen and the Bulldogs have had 10 tries at the Top 10 and are 0-10.

Struggling: Randy Edsall, Maryland

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    Steve Helber/Associated Press

    Career Record vs. Top 25:  1-24 (4%)

    Record vs. Top 25 at Current Job:  0-8 (0%)

    Though Randy Edsall has had tall orders to fill at both UConn (1999-2010) and Maryland (2011-present), he’s only won one game against a ranked team in 15 years as an FBS head coach.

    Edsall’s single victory didn’t happen at Maryland, but instead came at UConn in 2007 when the Huskies beat No. 11 South Florida 22-15.

    So while Edsall led UConn to a BCS berth in 2010, he hasn’t won a game against a ranked team in six seasons.

    What’s worth mentioning is that six of the eight ranked opponents Edsall has faced while at Maryland have been ranked in the Top 10.  So it’s not like he has been dropping games to No. 23 NC State or No. 19 Cal.  Instead, it’s been No. 8 Florida State, No. 9 Clemson and No. 8 West Virginia.

    Statistics courtesy of Sports Reference College Football and Phil Steele.