LSU may be loaded with talent, but that shouldn't detract from the outstanding coaching Les Miles displayed this college football season.
If he can get the Tigers to win one more game, Miles will earn his second BCS national championship and beat Alabama and Nick Saban twice in one season.
There aren't many coaches who can make that claim, so Miles' grade for the season is going to be pretty darn good.
How about the other top coaches in 2011?
Once again, Chip Kelly delivered a Pac-12 championship performance, and the Ducks will get a shot at Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl.
Kelly is 0-2 in BCS bowls, and he could really use a win here.
He was embroiled in some off-field issues with a scouting service, which put a damper on his reputation this season.
Kelly is dinged a bit because Oregon once again lost against a top SEC program (LSU) and lost at home to USC when a possible BCS national championship bid was on the line.
Georgia Tech struggled through a losing campaign in 2010, and Paul Johnson set out to get the Yellow Jackets back on track.
Tech finished 8-4, and if you look at just that, you must surmise that he did a lot right.
What I can't get past was the 2-4 finish after opening up 6-0.
Once again, Tech was thumped by rival Georgia, and the Jackets also lost to a downtrodden Miami program.
Larry Fedora parlayed a Conference USA championship and 11-2 season into a one-way ticket to Chapel Hill, N.C.
Fedora will now coach North Carolina, and he nabbed that job on a reputation as being a top offensive mind.
Southern Mississippi did improve a lot in Fedora's fourth season, and the win over Houston in the Conference USA championship game is proof of how good he can be.
Steve Spurrier has a lengthy list of accomplishments from his time with Duke, Florida and now South Carolina.
It would be easy to argue that Spurrier did one of his best coaching jobs this year.
He dealt with the Stephen Garcia situation and the loss of running back Marcus Lattimore to a knee injury, but the Gamecocks still finished 10-2.
Ohio's Frank Solich has shaped the Bobcats into a perennial contender in the Mid-American Conference.
If you know anything about Ohio's history, you know this is a major accomplishment.
Solich even helped OU get its first bowl victory in school history this season.
Now he just needs to get that elusive MAC championship.
Steve Sarkisian took over a Washington program that was at rock bottom.
Now he has enjoyed back-to-back seven-win seasons with a chance to get to eight in the bowl game.
Sarkisian also did a nice job with quarterback Keith Price, who took over for Jake Locker.
The expectations are going to be much higher from here on out, though. Seven wins a year just won't do it.
Troy Calhoun's name has been thrown around for some of the nation's biggest coaching vacancies in the past.
However, you didn't hear his name this year.
Air Force may have delivered another Commander-in-Chief's Trophy, but the Falcons were 7-5 and a disappointing 3-4 in the Mountain West.
Following a BCS national championship in 2010 and the loss of extremely talented players to the NFL, Auburn was expected to fall off a bit this season.
The Tigers were almost shocked in the first week against Utah State, but Auburn finished 7-5 with a very young team.
Chizik has been impressive on the recruiting trail, which should allow him to get Auburn back on top again very soon.
About every three to five years, the pundits believe it's finally Notre Dame's season to break through.
Well, that's what happened to the Irish and Brian Kelly this year, so going 8-4 and losing to South Florida and Michigan to open the season is a disappointment.
Kelly didn't handle his quarterback situation with much grace, and a larger audience got to see how intense he is on the sidelines. Folks in the Big East already knew about his anger issues.
June Jones wins everywhere, and it looked like he would land the Arizona State job, but then it fell through.
Now he's still SMU's coach, which may be a bit uncomfortable, but he still led it to another winning season (7-5) and a bowl game.
The problem Jones faces now is questions of his loyalty to SMU.
Following a 7-6 season in 2008, Bret Bielema was a bad start to 2009 away from getting fired.
It's a good thing it worked out for him and the Badgers.
Wisconsin enters its second straight Rose Bowl following an 11-2 season, which includes a victory in the first Big Ten championship game.
Wisconsin's losses came on late-game Hail Marys against Michigan State and Ohio State.
If you haven't seen Charlie Strong coach a game yet, then you really are missing something.
He's intense but also fun.
After Louisville opened the season 2-4, including tough losses to Florida Atlantic and Marshall, the Cardinals rebounded to get a share of the Big East championship.
Louisville finished 7-5 and will play in the Belk Bowl.
Strong accomplished this with a true freshman quarterback and an offense that was revamped.
Oklahoma entered the season as the No. 1 team in the nation and the talent to live up to the hype.
The Sooners were hurt by injuries, but the depth was there to overcome it.
Instead of playing for a BCS national championship, Oklahoma will face Iowa in the Insight Bowl after going 9-3.
Those losses came to Texas Tech, Baylor and Oklahoma State. The Sooners lost to the rival Cowboys 44-10.
How's that for a national title contender?
Mario Cristobal is under consideration for the opening at Pittsburgh, and that's because of the miracle job he has done at FIU.
When he took over, Florida International was easily one of the nation's worst programs.
Now he knows south Florida well and has kept some of that talent around.
He led the Golden Panthers to another bowl game, an 8-4 record and a big road win at Louisville.
See why he's one of the best young coaches in the game.
Is Skip Holtz really one of the top 50 coaches in the nation?
After this season at South Florida, it would be easy to take him out of this group. However, he started the year in the top 50.
The season started great with an upset win at Notre Dame, but the Bulls finished last in the Big East after many considered them a legitimate contender with West Virginia.
When you consider Tommy Tuberville led Texas Tech to a huge upset over Oklahoma, you would assume the Red Raiders would be in a bowl game.
Nope. Tech went 5-7.
Do Tech fans miss Mike Leach? Probably, but they aren't pleased with Tuberville's performance either.
After opening 0-2 and considering the hot seat Mark Richt was on at the time, it was nice to see him refocus his team.
Georgia reeled off 10 consecutive wins to get into the SEC championship game with LSU.
Now the Bulldogs get 10-3 Michigan State in the Outback Bowl.
Richt and Georgia should enjoy another strong season in 2012 with so much talent returning.
Dana Holgorsen was supposed to be West Virginia's offensive coordinator in 2011 as he prepared to take over in 2012.
Well, there were a few issues that resulted in him taking over a year early.
Now another nine-win season in Morgantown isn't anything new, but the excitement Holgorsen delivered in his first season has created a lot of believers.
He also guided the Mountaineers into the Orange Bowl with Clemson.
Expect even more from WVU next year.
Kevin Sumlin and the Houston Cougars were so close to delivering a BCS bowl to Conference USA.
After going 12-0, Houston was dismantled in the conference championship game against Southern Mississippi.
However, Sumlin had a nice run at Houston, and he leveraged that into becoming one of the hot coaches in all of the big searches.
He chose to go to Texas A&M as the Aggies prepare to make a move to the SEC.
Bo Pelini is an intense coach. Just ask Taylor Martinez what he thinks about Nebraska's coach.
Pelini had the tough task of transitioning the Cornhuskers from the Big 12 into the Big Ten.
There were many who felt Nebraska could win the league in its inaugural season, but the Cornhuskers came up short.
Nebraska finished 9-3 and third in the Legends Division.
There isn't a college coach who is under a microscope more than USC's Lane Kiffin.
Well, the much-maligned Kiffin enjoyed his best season as a coach.
The Trojans could have won the Pac-12 if not for NCAA sanctions, but a 10-2 season is a great way for Kiffin to head into recruiting and 2012.
If Dabo Swinney really was on the hot seat to start the season, he quickly put that to rest as Clemson jumped out to an 8-0 start.
But lackluster performances against Georgia Tech, North Carolina State and South Carolina took a lot of luster off a breakout season for Clemson.
Swinney and the Tigers made a huge statement in the ACC championship game by thrashing Virginia Tech.
Clemson gets a nice matchup with West Virginia in the Orange Bowl.
Greg Schiano built a reputation for elevating the Rutgers program to new heights.
Then came 2010, and Rutgers fell apart. Expectations this season were pretty low.
With that, rebounding to 8-4 this year and getting back to a bowl game has once again elevated Schiano's reputation.
The 72-year-old Bill Snyder is young when you compare him to former Penn State coach Joe Paterno.
Snyder is truly a magician and one outstanding football coach.
After the Ron Prince era, Kansas State football was about as irrelevant as it could get.
This year Snyder found Collin Klein to lead his tough group to a 10-2 season and a date with Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl.
Butch Jones was supposed to take over for Brian Kelly at Cincinnati and just keep winning eight to 12 games a year.
So when the Bearcats didn't qualify for a bowl game last year, there were those who questioned Jones' hiring.
Well, the successful coach proved his value and probably would have won the Big East title outright if not for an injury to quarterback Zach Collaros.
Just leave Jones alone and Cincinnati will be fine.
Mack Brown has enjoyed a Hall of Fame career, but his last two seasons at Texas have been well below expectations.
Is this the start of a slow decline for Brown, or will he enjoy a resurgence next year with all of the high school talent that has been recruited to Austin?
It remains to be seen, but the improvement from 2010 to 2011 wasn't as much as Brown had anticipated.
Kirk Ferentz has been loyal to Iowa when the NFL and other colleges have come calling.
Of course, he is one of the best-compensated coaches in the nation, so a lot is expected of him and the Hawkeyes.
Thus, when you consider the Hawkeyes went 7-5 overall and 4-4 in the Big Ten, it seems Ferentz is coming up a bit short.
It would also be a bit shortsighted to think that way about this year's team.
Ferentz accomplished a lot with a young team, and Iowa should be a conference contender in 2012.
Kyle Whittingham was consistently praised for the work he had done at Utah, especially as a member of the Mountain West Conference.
Whittingham and the Utes learned what it's like to play a stronger schedule every week as a member of the Pac-12.
Utah was a disappointing 7-5 overall and 4-5 in the conference. An injury to quarterback Jordan Wynn didn't help, but so much more was expected from this team and Whittingham.
Say what you want about Bobby Petrino's ethics, but the guy can coach.
He has led Arkansas to back-to-back 10-win seasons, and he may just get that 11th victory against Kansas State in the Cotton Bowl.
He also did a great job working with quarterback Tyler Wilson, who should be one of the best in the SEC next season.
The only knock on Petrino this season is the two lopsided losses to Alabama and LSU, but those are the top two teams in the country.
Mark Dantonio is known to be a bit surly, but he did another masterful job with Michigan State in 2011.
He guided the Spartans to the inaugural Big Ten championship game and what turned out to be one of the season's most exciting games.
Michigan State came up short and got a raw deal when it came to the BCS bowl selections, but Dantonio deserves a lot of credit for how this team played.
He also benefited from the leadership of Kirk Cousins this season.
Jimbo Fisher has been the "it" coach for a while now.
His second season as Florida State's head coach was supposed to be a breakout year for the Seminoles, who are still looking to return to their former glory of the 1990s.
The talent was in place, and the schedule gave FSU some opportunities to make a statement.
However, the Seminoles struggled early in the season and finished out of contention at 8-4.
They do get a nice bowl matchup with Notre Dame in the Champs Sports Bowl.
Just when you think Gary Patterson is going to have a down year, the genius shows you how good he really is.
TCU opened with a heartbreaking 50-48 loss to Baylor, and the critics were wondering what was going on with the Horned Frogs vaunted defense.
Then the Frogs lost to SMU 40-33 in overtime.
But when Patterson led TCU into Boise State and pulled out a one-point win and eventually claimed another Mountain West Conference championship, you knew he was doing some of his best work in 2011.
It's going to be fun to watch Patterson coach his team up in the Big 12 next year.
The number of Jeff Tedford critics has been growing exponentially over the past three seasons.
It would be easy to point to this season's 7-5 record as another sign that Tedford isn't getting the job done at Cal any longer.
But you need to look a little deeper and see that Tedford is still a talented coach.
Outside of a loss to UCLA, the Bears beat everyone on their schedule that they should have. You could even say the win against Arizona State sort of evened the slate.
Cal also played rival Stanford tough and only lost to the fourth-ranked team 31-28.
Baylor won nine games and had the Heisman Trophy winner.
Yep, Art Briles did that at Baylor.
In just his second season after taking over a Virginia program that had been decimated by Al Groh, Mike London brought the Cavaliers back to respectability.
London realizes his program has a long way to go to catch up to rival Virginia Tech, but at 8-4 and back in a bowl game, the Cavaliers are headed in the right direction.
In Urban Meyer's final season at Florida, critics and fans were merciless in their criticism of then-Gators offensive coordinator Steve Addazio.
Addazio answered everyone in his first season at Temple.
Yes, he had a lot of talent left over from the Al Golden days. But Addazio guided the Owls to a 9-4 record that includes a dominating victory over Wyoming in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl.
Let's not forget that Temple dismantled Maryland 38-7 on the road.
Maybe it was just time for Ken Niumatalolo to have a down season at Navy.
He's been loyal to the program that gave him his first head-coaching position, but you hope he hasn't missed his window for a brighter future elsewhere.
Navy did record its 10th straight win over rival Army, but the Midshipmen finished 5-7 and missed a bowl.
Dave Doeren is the unknown coach who took over Northern Illinois after Jerry Kill left for Minnesota.
He's still somewhat unknown on a national scene, but if you watched the Huskies at all this season, you realize he's a big reason why they claimed their first Mid-American Conference championship.
You can watch Northern Illinois in the GoDaddy.com Bowl on Jan. 8 against Arkansas State.
Pat Fitzgerald has developed a reputation as a no-nonsense players' coach.
He had to start this season without his all-conference-caliber quarterback Dan Persa, and that probably cost him a few wins.
Even at Northwestern, a 6-6 season was disappointing.
Al Golden knew there was some work to do when he took over the Miami Hurricanes, but he also realized the huge potential.
Then the Nevin Shapiro situation erupted and has put Miami in an awkward position.
However, Golden seems poised and focused to stick it out in Coral Gables.
He's the right person for the job, and if he's willing to stick it out the Hurricanes could become a national player again.
Missouri is 7-5 and playing in the AdvoCare V100 Independence Bowl.
Yep, that seems par for the course for Gary Pinkel, who has led the Tigers to seven consecutive bowl appearances.
Of course, he's lost two straight, and Missouri is always playing in a lower-tier game.
He also had a DWI situation this fall that put a dent in his reputation.
After going 8-4 in 2011, Tim Beckman is now headed to Illinois and his shot in the Big Ten.
Toledo almost pulled off an upset at Ohio State and lost to Syracuse in overtime, but only after Big East officials blew a call.
Beckman rebuilt the Rockets into a serious Mid-American Conference contender, but he was not able to win a conference championship.
If given enough time, Beckman just might win a Big Ten title at Illinois.
Brady Hoke may have been just what the Michigan faithful needed after three years of Rich Rodriguez.
Hoke delivered a 10-2 season and a spot in the Sugar Bowl.
But Hoke should recognize that Rodriguez laid the foundation of players that allowed him to have such a successful season, which included a win over rival Ohio State.
If you go strictly by his 11-2 record in 2011, you have to say Frank Beamer had a great year as Virginia Tech's coach.
But the Hokies had one of the easiest schedules and lost to Clemson twice.
The final loss came in the ACC championship game when the Tigers were reeling.
Still, Virginia Tech landed in a BCS bowl, so it was a successful year.
One of these days Chris Petersen may finally leave Boise State for one of the big-time programs.
As long as he keeps winning 11 games a year, though, he'll probably stay put.
The Broncos missed a return trip to a BCS bowl when they lost to TCU by one point at home.
Petersen is one of the game's best coaches.
Expectations were sky-high for Dan Mullen and Mississippi State, so a 6-6 season was a huge thud.
It hasn't damaged the market for Mullen, though.
He's been rumored to be a Penn State candidate, but he's denied it.
David Shaw had plenty of doubters when he took over for Jim Harbaugh at Stanford.
Now he did have the luxury of having Andrew Luck and one of the nation's best offensive lines to work with.
But another 11-win season and BCS bowl is a huge accomplishment for his first season.
Mike Gundy has to replay that Iowa State game in his head every night.
How Oklahoma State let that one get away from it is still beyond me.
That's all that stands in the way of the Cowboys playing LSU in the BCS National Championship Game.
Gundy still delivered a huge win over Oklahoma and a Big 12 title.
Nick Saban is one of the game's best, and he did another solid job at Alabama.
When you consider the tumult the program could have been in after the tornado that ripped through Tuscaloosa in the spring, Saban and his team stepped up big for the community.
A three-point loss to LSU at home is all that separates the Crimson Tide from a perfect season.
Alabama and Saban will get another shot at their rival in the BCS National Championship Game.
Les Miles handled all of the offseason turmoil about as well as any coach could, and he turned it into the fuel his team needed to succeed.
The Tigers are the only undefeated team in college football, and if they can beat Alabama for a second time, Miles will earn his second national championship at LSU.