Ted S. Warren/Associated Press
Awarded to: Nation's Top Head Coach
Winner: Chris Petersen, Washington
Amazingly, Chris Petersen has never won this award.
He won the Paul "Bear" Bryant Award in 2006 and 2009, and the Bobby Dodd Coach of the Year Award in 2010, but the voters for the Home Depot Award passed him over for Greg Schiano, Brian Kelly and Gene Chizik during those three seasons, respectively.
It might be a little hasty to think Petersen can win his first Home Depot Award in his first year at a power-conference school, but if last year's winner, Gus Malzahn, could do it, why can't Petersen? Have a couple (comparatively) down seasons at Boise State made us forget who we're dealing with? How good of a coach this guy is?
Petersen won 84 of his first 92 games with the Broncos, coaching multiple groups of unheralded recruits into national title contenders. Most notably, his 2010 team finished No. 1 in Football Outsiders' F/+ ratings—a metric that adjusts for strength of opponent.
This Washington team is already the most talented group he has coached by a wide margin, and there will be less of a learning curve from one regime to the next than most expect. The Huskies' outgoing defensive coordinator, Justin Wilcox, was actually Petersen's defensive coordinator at Boise State from 2006 to 2009; their new defensive coordinator, Pete Kwiatkowski, was Wilcox's defensive line coach.
"This whole system started at Boise when Justin Wilcox was with us," Petersen told Ted Miller of ESPN.com. "So there's going to be a lot of carryover with that terminology, with that structure of the defense as well...It's going to be as much as the same as you can possibly have it on a brand-new staff."
With one of the best offensive lines in the conference and legitimate star players like receiver Kasen Williams, nose tackle Danny Shelton, defensive end Hau'oli Kikaha, cornerback Marcus Peters and linebacker Shaq Thompson, Petersen can overcome some questions at quarterback (where his developmental specialty lies).
This is not just another Pac-12 North upstart; it's a rare division challenger. Especially with USC off the schedule and Stanford, Arizona State and UCLA all coming to Seattle, it's a team besides the Cardinal and Ducks that can win the North for the first time ever.
Even if they lose in the Pac-12 title game (as I predict), guiding the Huskies to an 11-2 record on the heels of the "Seven-win Steve" era should be enough to win Petersen some hardware.
It's about time he was given this award.
Honorable Mention: Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss
By nature, this award is more likely to go to an upstart team than an established power. Hugh Freeze's Rebels have not been consistent the past few seasons, and the offense is a bit shaky, but the defense can play with anyone. They have the highest ceiling of any team outside the Top 15 and a schedule filled with prime-time games. One or two big SEC West wins could lock up this trophy.