Headset Heroes: College Football's Top 10 Coach of the Year Candidates

Tom BaerCorrespondent IOctober 15, 2010

Headset Heroes: College Football's Top 10 Coach of the Year Candidates

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    EUGENE, OR - OCTOBER 2: Head coach Chip Kelly of the Oregon Ducks is greeted by 'Puddles', the mascot of the Oregon Ducks, before the game against the Stanford Cardinal at Autzen Stadium on October 2, 2010 in Eugene, Oregon. Oregon won the game 52-31. (Ph
    Steve Dykes/Getty Images

    Naturally, some of the usual suspects—Oklahoma and Oregon, to name two—pose atop the rankings midway through the season.

    The beauty of college football, however, is in the surprises. South Carolina beats Alabama. Auburn sits undefeated. Florida State is back among the nation's best.

    Certainly, the players are very much responsible for a team's performance. But it's the coaches who mold the players into a unit worthy of taking the field each Saturday.

    Here are the Coach of the Year candidates halfway through the 2010 college football campaign. This list may change by season's end, but, to this point, the following 10 men have their teams—and their fan bases—singing the schools' fight songs with pride.

10. Chris Ault, Nevada

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    LAS VEGAS - OCTOBER 02:  Nevada Reno Wolf Pack head coach Chris Ault watches his players take on the UNLV Rebels at Sam Boyd Stadium October 2, 2010 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Nevada Reno won 44-26.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
    Ethan Miller/Getty Images

    Body of Work

    • Record: 6-0, 1-0 WAC
    • Ranking: No. 21
    • Most Impressive Win: Sept. 17 versus California 52-31

    Rationale

    Chris Ault, creator of the pistol offense, has Nevada undefeated and ranked No. 21 midway through the 2010 season.

    A nationally televised victory over then-No. 24 California in Reno highlighted not only Ault's yard-churning pistol, but QB Colin Kaepernick's Heisman-caliber abilities.

    How good are the Wolf Pack? A rendezvous with Boise State on Nov. 26 should answer that question.

9. Jimbo Fisher, Florida State

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    JACKSONVILLE, FL - JANUARY 01:  Offensive coordinator and future head coach Jimbo Fisher of the Florida State Seminoles walks the sidelines while taking on the West Virginia Mountaineers during the Konica Minolta Gator Bowl on January 1, 2010 at Jacksonvi
    Doug Benc/Getty Images

    Body of Work

    • Record: 5-1, 3-0 ACC
    • Ranking: No. 17
    • Most Impressive Win: Oct. 9 at Miami (FL) 45-17

    Rationale

    Jimbo Fisher took over a 7-6 squad from legend Bobby Bowden. Talk about pressure. After a 47-17 tomahawking at the hands of Oklahoma on Sept. 17, a similar record appeared likely in 2010.

    But Fisher has guided the Seminoles to the top of the ACC Atlantic, thanks to a punishing ground game that ranks 16th in the nation.

    Could this be the year Florida State begins another run as a perennial Top 10? It's certainly possible.

8. Tom O'Brien, North Carolina State

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    Body of Work

    • Record: 5-1, 2-1 ACC
    • Ranking: NR
    • Most Impressive Win: Sept. 25 at Georgia Tech 45-28

    Rationale

    The Wolfpack, 5-7 a year ago, received little, if any, love from preseason prognosticators.

    Behind quarterback Russell Wilson's arm, NC State is 5-1 and poised to make a run in the ACC. Not bad for a team picked by many to finish last in the Atlantic.

    A Nov. 16 date with the Seminoles could determine which team plays in the ACC championship game and receives a shot at a BCS bowl.

7. Mark Dantonio, Michigan State

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    ANN ARBOR, MI - OCTOBER 09:  Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio gets ready to enter the field prior to the start of the game against the Michigan Wolverines October 9, 2010 at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The Spartans defeated the Wolveri
    Leon Halip/Getty Images

    Body of Work

    • Record: 6-0, 2-0 Big Ten
    • Ranking: No. 11  
    • Most Impressive Win: Oct. 2 versus Wisconsin 34-24

    Rationale

    Mark Dantonio has Sparty ranked 11th and staking a claim for a Big Ten title.

    Impressive victories over ranked foes Wisconsin and Michigan—and this season's gutsiest call, a fake field goal to beat Notre Dame—and MSU is now on the national scene.

    With only one ranked opponent remaining—Iowa—and no meeting with Ohio State, the Rose Bowl (or national championship game) is not out of reach in East Lansing.

6. Bob Stoops, Oklahoma

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    CINCINNATI - SEPTEMBER 25:  Bob Stoops the Head Coach of the Oklahoma Sooners walks onto the field during the game against the Cincinnati Bearcats at Paul Brown Stadium on September 25, 2010 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Body of Work

    • Record: 5-0, 1-0 Big 12
    • Ranking: No. 6  
    • Most Impressive Win: Sept. 11 versus Florida State 47-17

    Rationale

    It hasn't been easy in Norman this season, but Bob Stoops again has Sooner Nation thinking national title following an 8-5 record in 2009.

    While Oklahoma has struggled at times in 2010—single-digit victories over Utah State, Air Force and Cincinnati, anyone?—the team still sits undefeated with two formidable victories (Florida State and Texas).

    In the cards: a potential Oklahoma-Nebraska Big 12 title game meeting to determine a shot at a national championship.

5. Les Miles, Louisiana State

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    GAINESVILLE, FL - OCTOBER 09:  Head coach Les Miles of the Louisiana State University Tigers watches the action during the game against the Florida Gators at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on October 9, 2010 in Gainesville, Florida.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Get
    Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    Body of Work

    • Record: 6-0, 4-0 SEC 
    • Ranking: No. 9 
    • Most Impressive Win: Oct. 9 at Florida 33-29

    Rationale

    Sure, it's easy to cite Les Miles' clock mismanagement at the end of the Tennessee game as a reason to throw his name off this list.

    That said, LSU is undefeated with no No. 1 quarterback. Not easy to pull off.

    The cardiac Tigers still tussle with three ranked opponents: Auburn, Alabama and Arkansas. Would wins over the A-teams be enough to convince the nation that Miles is "The Man" in the Bayou?



4. Steve Spurrier, South Carolina

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    AUBURN, AL - SEPTEMBER 25:  Head coach Steve Spurrier of the South Carolina Gamecocks against the Auburn Tigers at Jordan-Hare Stadium on September 25, 2010 in Auburn, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Body of Work

    • Record: 4-1, 2-1 SEC
    • Ranking: No. 12 
    • Most Impressive Win: Oct. 9 versus Alabama 35-21

    Rationale

    Look no further than South Carolina's victory over then-No. 1 Alabama last week to explain why Steve Spurrier is No. 4 on this list.

    The Tide win—the most important in the program's history—vaults the Gamecocks into a seat among the SEC's elite.

    If SC can defeat Arkansas and Florida in November, an Alabama rematch could loom in the SEC championship game...and give Spurrier a chance to revisit a BCS bowl as he did so often with Florida.


3. Gene Chizik, Auburn

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    LEXINGTON, KY - OCTOBER 09:  Gene Chizik the Head Coach of the Auburn Tigers is pictured during the SEC game against the Kentucky Wildcats at Commonwealth Stadium on October 9, 2010 in Lexington, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Body of Work

    • Record: 6-0, 3-0 SEC
    • Ranking: No. 7  
    • Most Impressive Win: Sept. 25 versus South Carolina 35-27

    Rationale

    Behind Heisman candidate Cam Newton's legs (and arm), head coach Gene Chizik has Auburn in the national title hunt.

    A season after finishing 8-5, Chizik boldly handed over the offense to the aforementioned JUCO transfer. The result: a Tiger team that has the talent and playmaking capabilities to win a national championship.



2. Bo Pelini, Nebraska

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    SEATTLE - SEPTEMBER 18: Head coach Bo Pelini of the Nebraska Cornhuskers looks on during the game against the Washington Huskies on September 18, 2010 at Husky Stadium in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Body of Work

    • Record: 5-0, 1-0 Big 12
    • Ranking: No. 4 
    • Most Impressive Win: Oct. 7 at Kansas State 48-13

    Rationale

    How many coaches replace an incumbent QB with an unheralded freshman? Nebraska's Bo Pelini, for one.

    When Pelini chose frosh Taylor Martinez over Zac Lee as the starting quarterback, heads turned. The result of the bold move? Only the nation's second-leading rushing attack and a No. 4 ranking.

    Though the Huskers have yet to play a ranked opponent, Pelini's boys will have plenty of opportunity to prove themselves leading up to the probable Big 12 championship matchup with Oklahoma.


1. Chip Kelly, Oregon

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    EUGENE, OR - OCTOBER 2: Head coach Chip Kelly of the Oregon Ducks has a few words with head linesman Edwin Walker in the third quarter of the game against the Stanford Cardinal at Autzen Stadium on October 2, 2010 in Eugene, Oregon. Oregon won the game 52
    Steve Dykes/Getty Images

    Body of Work

    • Record: 6-0, 3-0 Pac-10 
    • Ranking: No. 2  
    • Most Impressive Win: Oct. 2 versus Stanford 52-31 

    Rationale

    No Jeremiah Masoli? No problem.

    With Masoli and his felonies at Ole Miss, Chip Kelly called on Darron Thomas' arm and LaMichael James' legs. So far, so good; Oregon averages an astounding 54.3 points per game, which ranks first in the nation.

    If Oregon and Heisman front-runner James continue the offensive onslaught and win out, the Ducks, barring a BCS computer malfunction, will play for the national championship.