College Football: Clemson's Dabo Swinney and 5 Coach of the Year Candidates

John Bain@John_BainCorrespondent IIOctober 8, 2011

College Football: Clemson's Dabo Swinney and 5 Coach of the Year Candidates

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    Going into the second half of the 2011 college football season, several candidates for the Home Depot Award for Coach of the Year have emerged. Some of the coaches have completely turned their programs around, while others have continued to coach their team to dominance over opponents week in and week out. 

    The Coach of the Year award isn't necessarily awarded to the Coach whose team is most successful (BCS Title winning coach), but rather to the Coach most essential to his team. For example, if the school was without their current coach, they would not be in the position they are in today. On talented teams, often times the role and significance of the head coach is forgotten, but we will take time to recognize the 2011 Coach of the Year candidates so far this season.

Nick Saban (Alabama)

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    Since beginning as a head coach in 1990 with Toledo, Saban has yet to have a losing season. The future Hall of Famer was the Home Depot Coach of the Year in 2008 and has a very good opportunity to be the COTY again in 2011. 

    Saban has managed to do one thing in college football (and the SEC) that is so difficult transitioning from 2010 to 2011, and that is to be consistent. In all major statistical categories, whether it be on offense or defense, the Crimson Tide coach has stats that have either remained the same or improved this season. 

    Saban also boasts the No. 1 scoring defense in the nation. The Crimson Tide defense is a big reason why they are ranked second in the nation at this point in the season. Limiting opponents to just eight points a game is almost unheard of in recent years, and their defensive line has been dominant throughout the first five games of the year. 

    In three games against ranked opponents Penn State, Arkansas and Florida, Saban has led the Tide to three victories, outscoring opponents by an average of 16.6 points and not allowing more than 14 points in a game.

    It comes down to if the Crimson Tide would be the same team they are today without Nick Saban, and the answer is no.

    Sure, Alabama would have plenty of talent, but a lot of that talent wouldn't be there if not for the recruiting of Saban. Saban is a winning coach, he doesn't do anything but win. Nick Saban and his 5-0 record this season have him in the running for COTY and if that's not convincing enough, in his four years as head coach of the Crimson Tide, Saban is 48-11 with a national championship and two other BCS bowl appearances. Saban deserves to be in the COTY talk this season.

Ron Zook (Illinois)

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    The Illnois Fighting Illini may not have the most amazing stats this year, or the best talent in college football, but there is a reason they are 5-0 this season, and it's one man, head coach Ron Zook. In six seasons prior to 2011 as head coach at Illinois, Zook had a record of 28-45, just one BCS bowl appearance that resulted in a loss and one other bowl appearance altogether. Nothing about Zook's coaching resume stands out, except for this season.

    Something Zook has done this year has turned things around for the Illini, it could be his steadily improving defense which is limiting opponents to just 17.4 points a game (as opposed to 23.5 a year ago), or it could be the emphasis put on the running game and allowing quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase to take the ball and run himself more. 

    Whatever Ron Zook is doing it is working, but the Illini have yet to play their toughest games of the year against Michigan and Wisconsin at the end of the season, but until then it appears as though Zook and the Illini will have smooth sailing and keep him in contention for Coach of the Year honors.

Chris Petersen (Boise State)

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    It is hard to leave Boise State Broncos head coach Chris Petersen off this list. Petersen is 66-5 in six seasons as head coach and has a better winning percentage than any other FBS coach in that period of time. The only thing holding the Broncos and Petersen back is a national title. Other than that, Petersen has done it all, he's had a No. 1 offense, won three of five bowl games (including two BCS Fiesta Bowls) and has an outstanding record.

    With the Broncos poised to go undefeated the rest of the year and make another BCS bowl game, Petersen has to be in the conversation for Coach of the Year. Petersen has the Broncos averaging 40 points a game and giving up just 15 on average. They have a very favorable schedule to finish out the year. If the Broncos go undefeated this season, Petersen could finally have his first COTY award.

Brady Hoke (Michigan)

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    Coming into his first season as the University of Michigan's head coach, Brady Hoke carried a career coaching record of 47-50. Some were skeptical to if he could turn around the Wolverine's program that had been suffering since a Rose Bowl loss in 2006. Clearly he has done just that. The Wolverines are ranked No. 12 in the nation with a 5-0 record. 

    Hoke recruited very well in his short time as Michigan coach and has brought one of the stingiest, and strongest, defenses the Big Ten as seen in a long time. Ranked second in scoring defense with just 10 points allowed per game, the Michigan D has dominated opponents this year. 

    Hoke's genuine love for football and everyone involved have aided the Wolverines this season. He keeps the media out of the locker room, and all of his practices closed to keep a close-knit family in Michigan even closer.

    The camaraderie Hoke has brought to Michigan has to be a big reason why he has turned the program around. As long as the Wolverines keep winning in the Big Ten, Hoke has to be in contention for COTY.

Les Miles (LSU)

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    You can't keep the No. 1 ranked team in the nation's coach off of this list. And with all Les Miles and the LSU Tigers went through to start the season, even if they weren't No. 1 in the nation, Miles would still find himself up for Coach of the Year. 

    Les Miles had his worst nightmare this summer when starting quarterback, and seemingly golden boy, Jordan Jefferson was arrested and then suspended indefinitely by the NCAA. Jefferson was thought to be the major piece in the puzzle that would finally land LSU a BCS title berth again. Les Miles was unfazed through it all. He put his confidence in backup Jarrett Lee and has taken off running ever since. 

    Miles has the Tigers at 5-0 this season, and his surprising defense is a big part of it. The Tigers defense sits ninth in total defense with just 262 yards allowed per game, has 12 sacks and is first in the nation with 44 tackles for a loss. The LSU defense could be the surprise of the season in the SEC, especially when everyone thought Jordan Jefferson and the offense were going to be the reason they'd win the national championship.

    Les Miles has done a tremendous job dealing with adversity this season and hasn't missed a beat, which is why he should be in contention for COTY.

Dabo Swinney (Clemson)

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    Clemson Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney has never had a season quite like 2011. He has the Tigers at 5-0 for the first time in his career and has defeated three consecutive ranked opponents in Florida State, Auburn and Virginia Tech. Swinney also finds himself and the Tigers unexpectedly in first place in the ACC and No. 8 in the nation. 

    Swinney is out to prove himself to Clemson fans this year and is doing a terrific job at it. After their defeat of Virginia Tech, the fate of the Tigers is in their own hands as their schedule down the stretch is fairly weak besides dates with Georgia Tech and South Carolina. If Swinney has hopes of winning Coach of the Year however, he will need to defeat South Carolina, a team he hasn't defeated since a win over the Gamecocks in 2008 as interim head coach.

    The success Swinney has brought Clemson in 2011 has been remarkable and should have him in contention for COTY.