Ranking the Job Security of Every Power 5 Conference Head Coach

Greg Wallace@gc_wallaceFeatured ColumnistNovember 11, 2015

Ranking the Job Security of Every Power 5 Conference Head Coach

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    Virginia's Mike London could need a strong finish to save his job.
    Virginia's Mike London could need a strong finish to save his job.Joe Skipper/Associated Press

    Suggesting that the 2015 college football season has been active would be an understatement. As we enter the final four weeks of the regular season, only six FBS unbeatens remain: Alabama, Baylor, Clemson, Houston, Iowa and Oklahoma State. That’s a rather unlikely sextet, one emblematic of the parity that exists in the game.

    That doesn’t protect coaches from pressure, however. Ever-expanding television contracts have juiced salaries upward and provided gleaming facilities across the nation, and that extra cash brings increased expectations. We’re only in early November, but 10 FBS head coaching jobs are already open or will be open (Virginia Tech’s Frank Beamer, the nation’s longest-tenured head coach, has announced his retirement at season’s end).

    Those 10 jobs won’t be the only openings nationwide by early December. Other coaches are certain to lose their jobs or move toward a more attractive opening as the coaching carousel spins faster than ever.

    Here’s a look at every Power Five coach’s job security, ranked from least secure to safest. As he has already announced his retirement, Beamer is not included in this list.

The Interim Coaches

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    Clay Helton has done a solid job as Southern California's interim coach.
    Clay Helton has done a solid job as Southern California's interim coach.Eric Risberg/Associated Press

    Six programs are currently being led by interim coaches, including Illinois, which fired Tim Beckman in August following an internal investigation into his conduct toward players. Five other programs have followed for various reasons. It’s not unheard of for an interim to earn the full-time job (Dabo Swinney, anyone?) but it doesn’t happen often.

    Here’s a look at each program, and the likelihood the interim coach will take over the big office permanently.

    Illinois

    Illinois was put in a tough situation when it fired Beckman a week before the season began. But under interim coach Bill Cubit, the Illini are 5-4 and have a legit shot at a second consecutive bowl game. Cubit was cleared of any allegations in the school’s internal investigation on player treatment and has gained respect from his players. With athletic director Mike Thomas fired, Cubit has a legitimate shot to take over full-time.

    Maryland

    Randy Edsall never seemed like a particularly good fit at Maryland, and the Terrapins finally cut bait on him following a 2-4 start. Interim Mike Locksley hasn’t fared any better, going 0-3. Locksley struggled mightily as a head coach at New Mexico and hasn’t taken advantage of this opportunity. Maryland’s ties to Under Armour will help it attract a much better candidate that Locksley, who is just finishing out the string of a lost 2-7 season.

    Miami

    Following a 58-0 loss to Clemson, the worst in program history, Miami finally relieved Al Golden of his duties. The Hurricanes are 2-0 under interim coach Larry Scott and can win the ACC Coastal by sweeping their final three games (one of which is against division leader North Carolina), then hoping the Tar Heels lose once more along the way. If Scott gets the ‘Canes somewhere Golden never could, will he get a shot? Maybe, but Miami can surely get a more experienced name running the program.  

    South Carolina

    Steve Spurrier’s choice to retire with South Carolina 2-4 was at the same time surprising and unsurprising. Spurrier has always seemed like someone who’d be happier on a golf course if he wasn’t having fun, and 2-4 in Columbia is no fun.

    His departure gave assistant Shawn Elliott a chance to prove himself at the program’s helm, and the results have been mixed. The Gamecocks beat Vanderbilt and were competitive in losses to Texas A&M and Tennessee, but they must win out, including upsets over Top 10 foes Clemson and Florida, to go bowling. USC is an attractive job with solid facilities and will be able to attract a solid name to take over for Spurrier. Don’t expect Elliott to be that name.

    Southern California

    It shouldn’t be a surprise that Southern California has improved since firing Steve Sarkisian for alcohol-related issues. The Trojans are 3-1, with their only loss coming to Notre Dame, including an upset of then-No. 3 Utah. They’re fully in contention for a Pac-12 South title, and interim coach Clay Helton appears to have them on the right track.

    However, interim Ed Orgeron led SC to a 10-win season in 2013 and wasn’t hired. This is the best open job on the market right now and likely will be this entire hiring season. Southern California AD Pat Haden will have his pick of quality candidates, and he'd be smart to keep Helton on staff.

59. Virginia Coach Mike London

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    Mike London simply hasn't won consistently enough at Virginia.
    Mike London simply hasn't won consistently enough at Virginia.Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    Before this season began, Mike London was firmly on the hot seat. In four years at Virginia, London had a 23-38 record with only one bowl appearance. The Cavaliers needed to show significant progress, or at least something better than 2014’s 5-7 record, for London to keep his job.

    Instead, with three games left, the Cavs are 3-6. A brutal nonconference schedule that included Boise State, Notre Dame and UCLA (all losses) certainly didn’t help, and the Cavs must sweep Duke, Louisville and Virginia Tech to make a bowl. Going 3-9 is as likely as 6-6.

    Expect Virginia to be looking for a head coach in early December.

58. Rutgers Coach Kyle Flood

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    Kyle Flood and Rutgers have had a difficult year.
    Kyle Flood and Rutgers have had a difficult year.Mel Evans/Associated Press

    The 2015 season has been nothing short of a disaster for Rutgers and Kyle Flood.

    Following a solid Big Ten debut and Motor City Bowl win over North Carolina, nothing has gone right for the Scarlet Knights. Multiple players were booted from the program following arrests, and Flood was suspended for three games after improperly contacting a Rutgers professor in regard to a player’s academics.

    What’s more, Rutgers has struggled to a 3-6 record, 1-5 in the Big Ten, and must sweep Nebraska, Army and Maryland to make a bowl. But even if it squeaks into a bowl, it hasn't been competitive against the league’s best recently, falling by 42 to Ohio State, 38 to Michigan and 33 to Wisconsin.

    The combination of Flood’s issues and poor play should be more than enough to earn him a pink slip.

57. Purdue Coach Darrell Hazell

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    With a 6-27 record, Purdue coach Darrell Hazell is facing job-security questions.
    With a 6-27 record, Purdue coach Darrell Hazell is facing job-security questions.Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Three years ago, Purdue brought in Darrell Hazell to turn around a struggling program. As the Boilermakers finish his third season, that simply hasn’t happened. Purdue is 6-27 under Hazell’s watch, including a 2-7 record this fall (with the best win coming over Nebraska). Three of those wins came over FCS foes.

    With Northwestern, Iowa and Indiana left on the schedule, his record is unlikely to improve much before season’s end, if at all, and he is facing questions about his job security. He told Mike Carmin of the Lafayette (Ind.) Journal and Courier that he’ll speak with Purdue AD Morgan Burke after the season but hasn’t had any talks yet.

    Hazell sounds for all the world like a man who might not be long for the Big Ten, although he has a $6.7 million buyout, which could complicate matters.

56. Iowa State Coach Paul Rhoads

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    Paul Rhoads faces a tough task at Iowa State, one of the toughest FBS schools to win at.
    Paul Rhoads faces a tough task at Iowa State, one of the toughest FBS schools to win at.Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    There’s no question that Iowa State is one of the toughest jobs in the FBS, and Paul Rhoads is well-regarded as a good person who has taken the Cyclones to two bowls in six-plus seasons.

    There’s also this fact: Iowa State has won eight games in the better part of the last three seasons.

    The Cyclones have improved from 2014’s 2-10 mark and are 3-6 with a home date against unbeaten Oklahoma State and road trips to Kansas State and West Virginia to end the season. A bowl is unlikely, but Iowa State (which shut out Texas) could pull off a win or two against the Wildcats and Mountaineers.

    Will it be enough to save Rhoads’ job? That remains unclear.

55. Syracuse Coach Scott Shafer

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    Under Scott Shafer, Syracuse hasn't been competitive in the ACC.
    Under Scott Shafer, Syracuse hasn't been competitive in the ACC.Steve Helber/Associated Press

    Scott Shafer led Syracuse to a Texas Bowl win in his first season at the Orange’s helm in 2013, but that season feels like it was a lot longer than two years ago. 

    Following a 3-9 season in 2014, Syracuse got off to a 3-0 start this season but has lost six consecutive games, including a 45-21 beatdown to Florida State and a 41-17 rout at Louisville’s hands. With No. 1 Clemson coming to town Saturday followed by NC State and Boston College, hopes of a bowl are slim to none.

    Over the last two seasons, Syracuse is 2-0 against Wake Forest but 0-11 against the rest of the ACC. This is a basketball school, but results like that simply won’t cut it much longer for Shafer in the Carrier Dome.

54. West Virginia Coach Dana Holgorsen

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    West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen could be in trouble, save a strong finish to 2015.
    West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen could be in trouble, save a strong finish to 2015.Ray Thompson/Associated Press

    Four years ago, Dana Holgorsen got his West Virginia career off to a rousing start, capped with a Big East title and a 70-33 beatdown of Clemson in the Orange Bowl. While Dabo Swinney’s Tigers have clearly progressed from that ugly night, the Mountaineers have regressed. A move to the Big 12 helped program coffers but made Holgo’s job a lot tougher.

    He’s 32-27 as WVU coach, including 4-4 this season, and the ‘Neers haven’t been competitive against league powers like Oklahoma, Baylor or TCU (they did lose to Oklahoma State in overtime). Four winnable games (Texas, at Kansas, Iowa State, at Kansas State) close the season, but if a backslide occurs, Holgorsen could be shown the door.

53. Vanderbilt Coach Derek Mason

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    Vanderbilt has shown some improvement in Derek Mason's second season.
    Vanderbilt has shown some improvement in Derek Mason's second season.John Raoux/Associated Press

    Derek Mason has gotten off to, shall we say, a rocky start at Vanderbilt.

    Mason took over a program that enjoyed three consecutive nine-win seasons capped by bowl victories under James Franklin’s watch, then promptly led a 3-9 campaign. Mason fired both of his coordinators, a sure sign the honeymoon is over.

    He has run the Vandy defense himself this season and has seen significant improvement, allowing 17.4 points per game, No. 12 nationally. However, the offense has managed just 16 points per game, No. 125 nationally, and the Commodores are 3-6. They face Kentucky, Texas A&M and Tennessee to close the season, and a bowl bid looks unlikely.

    However, the ‘Dores have shown progress this fall, and a change is unlikely. But Mason needs to find some offensive answers quickly, or his VU tenure will be short.

52. Indiana Coach Kevin Wilson

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    Indiana coach Kevin Wilson needs to relieve pressure with a bowl trip.
    Indiana coach Kevin Wilson needs to relieve pressure with a bowl trip.Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    Indiana will never be confused for a college football superpower, but the slow rebuild Kevin Wilson has embarked on has to leave Hoosier fans a little frustrated. IU didn’t make a bowl in Wilson’s first four seasons, slipping to 4-8 in 2014 following a season-ending injury to quarterback Nate Sudfeld.

    The Hoosiers, thanks in part to UAB transfer tailback Jordan Howard, have been far more competitive this fall. They’re 4-5 entering their final three games (vs. Michigan, at Maryland, at Purdue) and stand a realistic chance of making a bowl game, which would require winning two of three.

    Wilson’s offense is strong, and the Hoosiers have been competitive, hanging late with Ohio State, Michigan State and Iowa (although Rutgers’ 25-point second-half rally for a 55-52 win stung). IU’s defense still needs work, allowing 37 points per game, No. 115 nationally.

    Making a bowl would really take some heat off Wilson.

51. Colorado Coach Mike MacIntyre

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    Mike MacIntyre is making slow progress at Colorado.
    Mike MacIntyre is making slow progress at Colorado.Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    As Mike MacIntyre wraps up his fourth season at Colorado, the Buffaloes have shown some progress. They’re 4-6 with games left against Southern California, Washington State and Utah and must win two of three to go to a bowl game. Just winning a game, though, would match the program’s highest win total since 2010, and winning twice would double MacIntyre’s CU career win total.

    The Buffs have lost three games by eight points or less, including a pair of tight Pac-12 losses to Arizona and UCLA. They appear to be on the right track, and MacIntyre appears to be building things the right way. But at the very least, he’ll be under significant pressure to get them to a bowl game next season, his fifth in Boulder.

50. Wake Forest Coach Dave Clawson

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    Dave Clawson faces a difficult task in rebuilding Wake Forest.
    Dave Clawson faces a difficult task in rebuilding Wake Forest.Chuck Burton/Associated Press

    As outliers go, Wake Forest’s 2006 ACC championship looks like one of the biggest in college football history. Jim Grobe did great work with the Demon Deacon program but really left a major reclamation project for Dave Clawson, putting up losing records in each of his last four seasons.

    Clawson took over a very young team and went 3-9 in his first season and hasn’t shown a ton of progress in Year 2, going 3-6 with one ACC victory (3-0 over Boston College). With Notre Dame, Clemson and Duke left on the schedule, another 3-9 season is in the offing.

    Wake Forest won’t cut bait on Clawson yet, but he will need to show some progress soon.

49. Boston College Coach Steve Addazio

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    Steve Addazio and Boston College have struggled mightily this season.
    Steve Addazio and Boston College have struggled mightily this season.Charles Krupa/Associated Press

    Boston College got an immediate boost when it hired Steve Addazio. Addazio took the Eagles from a 2-10 record in 2012 to back-to-back seven-win bowl seasons, which is an accomplishment given BC’s placement in the ACC Atlantic division alongside national powers Clemson and Florida State.

    This fall has made it clear, however, that Addazio needs more “dudes,” to borrow a bit of his parlance. The Eagles started 3-1 but have lost six consecutive games against ACC competition, failing to crack double-digit points three times. They average just 21 points per game, No. 108 nationally. BC doesn’t have the pressure of many college football factories, but more seasons like this with offensive struggles will turn up the heat quickly on Addazio.

48. Texas Coach Charlie Strong

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    Charlie Strong has not endeared himself to Texas' fan base.
    Charlie Strong has not endeared himself to Texas' fan base.Eric Gay/Associated Press

    When Charlie Strong took over at Texas, he inherited one of college football’s plum jobs. But he also inherited a ton of pressure. Making $5 million annually at a program with Texas’ tradition comes with huge expectations, and Strong hasn’t lived up to them. The Longhorns were 6-7 last fall, including a Texas Bowl thumping at Arkansas’ hands.

    They haven’t progressed much this fall, either. The Longhorns are 4-5 with games left against West Virginia, Texas Tech and Baylor, and must win two of three to go bowling again. They’ve had their share of heartbreaking late defeats (Cal and Oklahoma State) but were also shut out 24-0 at Iowa State, an embarrassing moment for a program of Texas’ stature.

    It’s hard to imagine Texas firing Strong after just two seasons, considering that he was asked to clean up a program that Mack Brown left in malaise, but he’ll have to succeed, and quickly, or the ‘Horns will do so sooner rather than later.

47. Georgia Coach Mark Richt

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    Mark Richt has come under fire at Georgia.
    Mark Richt has come under fire at Georgia.John Amis/Associated Press

    Sometimes a relationship between a coach and a program, no matter how successful, can go stale, and there’s no way of fixing it. Georgia and Mark Richt might have reached that point.

    Following a down 10-3 season in 2014, the Bulldogs were serious favorites to win the SEC East this fall. It didn’t happen.

    The Bulldogs are 6-3, while Florida and first-year coach Jim McElwain will represent the East in Atlanta. Richt is 142-51 as UGA’s coach with a pair of SEC titles, but there’s no denying the unhappiness in Athens. The Bulldogs lost star tailback Nick Chubb to a season-ending knee injury, but it’s November, and they don’t have an established starting quarterback.

    If Richt stepped away after another 9-10 win season, would anyone in the fanbase be angry? Probably not, which is telling. SB Nation thinks UGA should go ahead and fire Richt.

46. Kansas Coach David Beaty

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    It's been a rough first season for David Beaty at Kansas.
    It's been a rough first season for David Beaty at Kansas.Eric Gay/Associated Press

    David Beaty walked into an incredibly difficult situation at Kansas. Charlie Weis’ disastrous tenure, which included a failed reliance on junior college transfers, left Beaty and the Jayhawks with one of the thinnest rosters in the FBS.

    And it’s not like Kansas was a bastion of success under previous regimes, winning 12 games combined in the last five seasons. This fall, the bottom has fallen out in Lawrence. The Jayhawks are 0-9, including a loss to FCS foe South Dakota State, and appear destined for an 0-12 finish.

    That said, Beaty has nothing to worry about this fall. He’ll have time to build, but his job could get tenuous if KU’s struggles continue.

45. Texas Tech Coach Kliff Kingsbury

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    Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury has found trouble stopping Big 12 offenses.
    Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury has found trouble stopping Big 12 offenses.Ray Thompson/Associated Press

    Last fall, the bloom quickly fell off Kliff Kingsbury’s rose at Texas Tech.

    Following an 8-5 debut, the Red Raiders couldn’t stop anyone defensively, falling to 4-8. New defensive coordinator David Gibbs’ front has still struggled to contain Big 12 offenses, allowing 42.2 points per game, No. 123 nationally.

    At 5-5, Tech needs only to beat Kansas State or Texas to go to a bowl game, and a potent offense led by quarterback Patrick Mahomes has been impressive. But is this really going to be good enough for Tech fans, given the success of high-powered offenses at Baylor, TCU and Oklahoma State?

    They’ll need to stop some people over the long term.

44. Nebraska Coach Mike Riley

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    MIke Riley has struggled in his first season at Nebraska.
    MIke Riley has struggled in his first season at Nebraska.Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Nebraska’s 2015 season is a case study in “Be careful what you wish for; you just might get it."

    The Cornhuskers were good but not great under Bo Pelini, winning at least nine games in each of his seven seasons but never winning a league title and going 3-6 against ranked Big Ten foes.

    So Pelini and his abrasive personality left town in place of nice-guy Oregon State coach Mike Riley. The Huskers have nose-dived into mediocrity. Even after last week’s wild upset of then-unbeaten Michigan State, they’re 4-6 and must beat Rutgers and unbeaten No. 5 Iowa just to avoid missing a bowl for the third time since 1969.

    Nebraska officials have publicly supported Riley, but this isn’t what they had in mind. Unless he turns it around soon, the nice guy will be headed out the door. Nebraskans are nice, but they’re not that nice when it comes to losing football.

43. Oregon State Coach Gary Andersen

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    Gary Andersen's first season at Oregon State has been difficult.
    Gary Andersen's first season at Oregon State has been difficult.Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    When Mike Riley surprised many by leaving a comfortable situation at Oregon State for Nebraska, the Beaver administration pulled an equally surprising move by luring Gary Andersen back to the West Coast following two seasons at Wisconsin.

    As it turned out, there was a reason that Riley left Oregon State: He didn’t have a lot of talent. The Beavers are 2-7 in Andersen’s first season, and 0-6 in Pac-12 play. Andersen’s team has struggled while shifting from Riley’s pro-style system to his preferred spread, and with Cal, Washington and Oregon left, 2-10 is a real possibility.

    OSU officials know that this season isn’t Andersen’s fault, but he’ll have to work quickly to regain momentum and Beaver fans’ confidence.

42. Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops

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    Kentucky and Mark Stoops are making progress in the SEC East.
    Kentucky and Mark Stoops are making progress in the SEC East.John Amis/Associated Press

    When Kentucky hired Mark Stoops three years ago, the Wildcats knew they were in for the long haul. They were coming off a 2-10 record in Joker Phillips’ final season, and the program needed an infusion of cash, facilities and energy.

    Stoops brought the energy and UK provided resources, and it’s starting to work. UK improved from 2-10 in his first season to 5-7 last year, with only a 44-40 season-finale loss to Louisville keeping the Wildcats out of a bowl.

    This season, Kentucky is 4-5 and has a realistic shot at making postseason play for the first time since 2010, with Vanderbilt, first-year FBS program Charlotte and Louisville left. Winning two of three will do the trick. That’d be a huge step for Stoops’ job security.

41. Kansas State Coach BIll Snyder

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    Bill Snyder is a legend at Kansas State.
    Bill Snyder is a legend at Kansas State.Orlin Wagner/Associated Press

    Kansas State is admittedly a difficult situation to gauge.

    Bill Snyder took the Wildcats from the worst program in America into one of its best, capable of league titles and BCS bowl games, and after retiring, he has turned the ‘Cats around again following Ron Prince’s disastrous tenure.

    However, K-State has slipped. Following four consecutive seasons with at least eight wins (and two 10-win seasons), the Wildcats are 3-5 with Texas Tech, Iowa State, Kansas and West Virginia left on the schedule. It’s far from impossible for them to scratch out a bowl bid, and that’d be an accomplishment given a difficult quarterback situation.

    Snyder’s name adorns the stadium, but he is 76 years old. How long will it be before he decides to step away and enjoy a second retirement? It’s unfathomable to think he’d be forced out, but perhaps someone in his family will suggest it’s time sooner rather than later.

40. Washington State Coach Mike Leach

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    Mike Leach has engineered a big turnaround at Washington State this season.
    Mike Leach has engineered a big turnaround at Washington State this season.Young Kwak/Associated Press

    A crucial season for Mike Leach at Washington State couldn’t have started worse. The Cougars were upset by FCS foe Portland State in the season opener, and one of college football’s most colorful coaches appeared to be in serious trouble.

    Since then, however, the Cougs have rebounded, winning six of their next eight games, including a double-overtime win at Oregon. Their two losses have come by a combined eight points to Cal and Stanford, and with UCLA, Colorado and Washington left, 8-4 is a real possibility. Given that Leach entered this season 12-25 at Wazzu, that’s a major boost for his job security.

39. NC State Coach Dave Doeren

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    Dave Doeren still must win some big games to get NC State's fans behind him.
    Dave Doeren still must win some big games to get NC State's fans behind him.Gerry Broome/Associated Press/Associated Press

    Dave Doeren has NC State headed in the right direction. After beginning his Wolfpack career with 12 consecutive ACC defeats, Doeren took the ‘Pack to a bowl game a year ago and again has them eligible at 6-3.

    That’s partially the product of a Charmin-soft nonconference slate that included Troy, Eastern Kentucky, Old Dominion and South Alabama. State doesn’t appear to be a challenger to Clemson or Florida State in the ACC Atlantic, although the Wolfpack pushed Clemson before falling 56-41.

    Until Doeren upsets one of the ACC’s big two, that’ll be the narrative about his program.

38. Washington Coach Chris Petersen

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    Washington has struggled to find consistency under Chris Petersen.
    Washington has struggled to find consistency under Chris Petersen.Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    While dominating the Mountain West and winning BCS bowl games at Boise State, Chris Petersen was one of the hottest candidates on the coaching carousel virtually every offseason. His choice to leave Boise for Washington wasn’t surprising, but he has yet to truly take off in Seattle.

    Under Petersen, the Huskies are 12-11. Washington has been inconsistent this season. The Huskies are 4-5 and must win two of their final three games against Arizona State, Oregon State and Washington just to go bowling.

    The Huskies endured a run of 7-6 seasons under Steve Sarkisian’s watch, but surely they were hoping for more under Petersen. It’s not happening, at least not yet.

37. Auburn Coach Gus Malzahn

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    Auburn is performing below its and Gus Malzahn's high standards.
    Auburn is performing below its and Gus Malzahn's high standards.David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Two years ago, the Gus Bus was rolling over everyone in its path. Auburn and first-year coach Gus Malzahn stunned everyone, going from worst to first in the SEC and finishing as the national runner-up with a 12-2 record.

    Since then, however, the bus has veered a bit off-course. The Tigers slipped to 8-5 last season, prompting the addition of former Florida coach Will Muschamp as offensive coordinator.

    Auburn was a popular preseason Top 10 selection, but the Tigers sit at the bottom of the SEC West with a 5-4 record, 2-4 in SEC play. Preseason Heisman Trophy candidate Jeremy Johnson has been benched, and while the Tigers will go to a bowl game with Georgia, Idaho and Alabama left on the schedule, a mere bowl doesn’t meet the program’s standards.

    Malzahn makes over $4 million annually, so Auburn won’t rush to fire him, but the Tigers can’t stay on this path for long without change becoming part of the conversation.

36. Louisville Coach Bobby Petrino

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    Bobby Petrino is enjoying his second stint at Louisville.
    Bobby Petrino is enjoying his second stint at Louisville.Garry Jones/Associated Press

    They say you can never go home again, but don’t tell that to Bobby Petrino. Louisville took a second chance on the much-traveled coach when it hired Petrino to replace Charlie Strong before the 2014 season, and Petrino has been up-and-down.

    The Cardinals went 9-4 and were competitive in the ACC Atlantic last season. This season, they’re 5-4 and clearly the Atlantic’s third-best team behind Clemson and Florida State.

    With Virginia, Pitt and Kentucky left, they’ll likely scratch out a bowl game, but it’s clear that Petrino and the Cardinals’ staff must raise their game to reach the levels Strong found in the Big East/AAC with a 23-3 record in his final two seasons.

35. Texas A&M Coach Kevin Sumlin

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    Kevin Sumlin and Texas A&M are treading water in the SEC West.
    Kevin Sumlin and Texas A&M are treading water in the SEC West.Eric Gay/Associated Press

    Kevin Sumlin and Texas A&M have all the resources necessary for success. A&M spent lavishly on a $485 million renovation of Kyle Field, turning it into the SEC’s largest stadium. Sumlin makes $5 million per year and has excellent recruiting resources in talent-rich Texas.

    But after an 11-2 record in his debut season fueled by the Johnny Manziel phenomenon, the Aggies have been treading water. They were 9-4 in 2013, 8-5 in 2014 and they’re 6-3 this fall with Western Carolina, Vanderbilt and LSU left. Another eight-win season is in play, but is that good enough, given the resources A&M has poured into the program?

    At some point, the Aggies have to ask themselves that. They’ve received inconsistent quarterback play, and the addition of John Chavis as defensive coordinator hasn’t borne fruit yet.

    Sumlin is safe this season, without question, but at some point he’ll have to prove he can compete with the top of the SEC West. Without Manziel, he hasn’t done so.

34. Cal Coach Sonny Dykes

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    Sonny Dykes has Cal moving in the right direction.
    Sonny Dykes has Cal moving in the right direction.Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    Cal has been very streaky this season. The Golden Bears began 5-0 but have lost four consecutive games and must beat either Oregon State, Stanford or Arizona State to reach a bowl game for the first time since 2011.

    That said, Sonny Dykes has the Bears on the right track. He’s improved from 1-11 in his first season to 5-7 last year and appears likely to make a bowl game behind Jared Goff’s prolific arm. The Bears defense needs work, but Cal is fun to watch again with Dykes’ Air Raid offense, which is a victory in itself.

    Now the Bears need to prove they can take the next step in the program’s development to keep Dykes’ stock rising.

33. Tennessee Coach Butch Jones

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    Butch Jones is slowly restoring Tennessee back to relevance.
    Butch Jones is slowly restoring Tennessee back to relevance.David Stephenson/Associated Press

    Last January, Butch Jones was the toast of East Tennessee. Tennessee’s third-year coach had just taken the Volunteers to their first bowl since 2010, and they smacked Iowa around in a 45-28 TaxSlayer Bowl romp.

    Bigger things were expected this fall, but the Vols haven’t delivered.

    They’re 5-3 and will make another bowl game with woeful North Texas up next, followed by Missouri and Vanderbilt, but they didn’t challenge for the SEC East title. Blown second-half leads in losses to Oklahoma and Florida stung, and the Vols couldn’t close the deal at Alabama, either.

    UT fans will have to show patience with Jones, but at some point soon, he’ll have to show enough progress to challenge for a division title at the very least.

32. Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema

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    Bret Bielema has Arkansas heading in the right direction.
    Bret Bielema has Arkansas heading in the right direction.Samantha Baker/Associated Press

    Bret Bielema surprised some when he bolted a secure job at Wisconsin for Arkansas and the cauldron that is the SEC West, but he has validated that decision. Following a slow start that saw him lose his first 13 SEC games, he rallied the Razorbacks to bowl eligibility with shutouts of Ole Miss and LSU and led them to smash Texas in the Texas Bowl.

    A 2-4 start renewed the heat around him, but Bielema and the Hogs responded with three consecutive wins, including wild overtime victories over Auburn and Ole Miss. They have LSU, Mississippi State and Missouri left, and another bowl is well within reach.

    That’ll satisfy fans for now, but Bielema must show soon that Arkansas can be a serious SEC West contender.

31. Penn State Coach James Franklin

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    James Franklin is slowly building Penn State back to prominence.
    James Franklin is slowly building Penn State back to prominence.Matt Marton/Associated Press

    James Franklin did an excellent job at Vanderbilt, parlaying three nine-win seasons into the Penn State job left behind when Bill O’Brien bolted for the NFL’s Houston Texans. Franklin also avoided being the man to succeed Joe Paterno but has still struggled to clean up the mess left behind by the end of the Paterno era and the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse scandal.

    Following a 7-6 record last fall and the program’s first bowl bid since 2010, the Nittany Lions are 7-3 with games against Michigan and Michigan State to close the season. They could easily improve on 2014 but still fall well short of the high standards set in Paterno’s decades-long run.

    Gaining depth and competing for a Big Ten title will determine how well Franklin takes advantage of his Happy Valley opportunity.

30. Minnesota Coach Tracy Claeys

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    Tracy Claeys will get an opportunity to lead Minnesota football forward.
    Tracy Claeys will get an opportunity to lead Minnesota football forward.Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

    Jerry Kill’s decision to step away from the Minnesota program he rebuilt due to ongoing issues with seizures was one of the toughest stories of the 2015 season. Interim coach Tracy Claeys was 0-2 in the head role, but the Gophers have been highly competitive in both, dropping a gut-wrenching 29-26 decision to Michigan and falling 28-14 at Ohio State. At 4-5, Minnesota still has a shot at a bowl with games at No. 9 Iowa and home contests with Illinois and Wisconsin. 

    Wednesday, Minnesota decided that stability was the best answer, making Claeys the full-time head coach with a three-year contract, per Andy Greder of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. He was pleased, as he told Greder. 

    "The circumstances of the past few weeks have been unpredictable," he said. "This certainly is not the way anyone wants to become a head coach. Coach Kill is one of my best friends and I am thankful that he took a chance on me 21 years ago. I am looking forward to continuing what we have built at Minnesota, but will do so in my own way."

    Claeys received only a three-year contract, which is short by FBS standards. He'll have to prove quickly that he's the right man to lead Minnesota football forward. 

29. Georgia Tech Coach Paul Johnson

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    Paul Johnson and Georgia Tech have taken a step back this season.
    Paul Johnson and Georgia Tech have taken a step back this season.Mike Stewart/Associated Press

    Last season, Paul Johnson appeared to have put his troubles behind him. Johnson won an ACC title at Georgia Tech in 2009, but fell into a four-season rut that saw Tech struggle to a 28-25 record. Behind quarterback Justin Thomas, the Yellow Jackets bulled to an 11-3 record with an ACC Coastal title and an Orange Bowl win over Mississippi State.

    With much of that offensive talent surrounding Thomas gone, the Jackets have regressed to 3-6 this fall and are unlikely to make a bowl game. Johnson’s job isn’t in jeopardy, but it’ll be interesting to see going forward if 2014 was the start of something good or an anomaly in a run of mediocre seasons. If it’s the latter, he might not be long for the Flats.

28. Oregon Coach Mark Helfrich

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    Mark Helfrich and Oregon have taken a step backward this season.
    Mark Helfrich and Oregon have taken a step backward this season.Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    Mark Helfrich got off to an excellent start at Oregon, going 24-4 over his first two seasons as head coach and finishing as the national runner-up to Ohio State last fall. But the departure of Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota obviously left a huge void, one that Eastern Washington transfer Vernon Adams has tried but has not been able to totally fill.

    The Ducks are 6-3, which includes an embarrassing 62-20 home loss to Utah and a 45-38 double-overtime home loss to Washington State.

    Obviously, Helfrich isn’t in any trouble, but if he proves he can’t sustain the success built by Chip Kelly, he could be in the not-too-distant future.

27. Missouri Coach Gary Pinkel

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    Gary Pinkel and Missouri have trudged through a difficult season.
    Gary Pinkel and Missouri have trudged through a difficult season.Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    Let’s face it: This hasn’t been an easy season for Missouri or Gary Pinkel.

    Following consecutive SEC East titles, the Tigers have slipped to 4-5 and appear unlikely to go to a bowl game. What’s more, Pinkel and his team have dealt with racial protests on campus, with the football team threatening to boycott Saturday’s game against BYU unless MU system president Tim Wolfe resigned.

    The game will go on as scheduled, but Missouri will play without starting quarterback Maty Mauk, suspended for the remainder of the season. With Frank Beamer’s retirement, Pinkel is the fifth-longest-tenured coach in the FBS. He has been a solid, unshakable leader for Missouri’s program, but like anyone he can’t afford to string losing seasons together.

    If this season was an aberration, he’ll be just fine.

26. Arizona State Coach Todd Graham

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    Todd Graham has found success at Arizona State.
    Todd Graham has found success at Arizona State.Young Kwak/Associated Press

    It appears that Todd Graham has finally found a home.

    Following brief stops at Tulsa and Pittsburgh, Graham is settling in at Arizona State. Graham led the Sun Devils to consecutive 10-win seasons, although Arizona State has regressed a bit in 2015, with a 4-5 record and games against Cal, Washington and Arizona remaining.

    An eight-win season remains within reach, which is far better than the standard that predecessor Dennis Erickson set. The next step, of course, is making a move in the Pac-12 South, which isn’t easy with Utah and UCLA in the picture.

25. Arizona Coach Rich Rodriguez

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    Rich Rodriguez has found new coaching life at Arizona.
    Rich Rodriguez has found new coaching life at Arizona.David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Rich Rodriguez has rejuvenated himself in the desert.

    RichRod was badly miscast at Michigan, but after flaming out with the Wolverines, he has found freedom to run his fast-paced scheme in Arizona. The Wildcats broke through for a 10-win season, Pac-12 South title and Fiesta Bowl berth in 2014, and while they’ve slipped back to 5-5 this season, that hasn’t dampened Rodriguez’s career hopes.

    He has been mentioned as a candidate at South Carolina and Virginia Tech, among others. David Teel of the (Newport News, Virginia) Daily Press thinks he is a compelling VT candidate. He's someone Arizona clearly wants to keep. If nothing else, he has a home in Tucson with the Wildcats program.

24. Northwestern Coach Pat Fitzgerald

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    Pat Fitzgerald is having fun again as Northwestern's head coach.
    Pat Fitzgerald is having fun again as Northwestern's head coach.Nati Harnik/Associated Press

    Pat Fitzgerald is in a unique situation at Northwestern. The Wildcats’ rigorous academic standards make NU a tough place to win, and even strong runs of success like Fitzgerald’s first seven years can end quickly.

    Northwestern entered 2015 trying to rebound from consecutive 5-7 seasons, with Fitzgerald’s nine-year record only 60-53. The Wildcats have done just that with a 7-2 record. They handed Stanford its only loss of the season, and their defeats have come at Iowa and Michigan’s hands.

    Fitzgerald has been a regular member of the coaching carousel but has clearly solidified his future at Northwestern.

23. Ole Miss Coach Hugh Freeze

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    Hugh Freeze and Ole Miss haven't lived up to expectations this season.
    Hugh Freeze and Ole Miss haven't lived up to expectations this season.Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press

    2015 has been something of a disappointment for Ole Miss and coach Hugh Freeze.

    Coming off a strong 9-4 campaign highlighted by a win over Alabama and a Peach Bowl appearance, the Rebels hoped to build on that with a strong junior core led by defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche and wideout Laquon Treadwell. While they do own a road win over the Crimson Tide, they’re 7-3 with losses to Memphis, Arkansas and Florida, which is ultimately frustrating.

    Still, coach Hugh Freeze will take the Rebels to their fourth bowl in as many seasons and currently has a 31-18 record as head coach. But if he can’t win an SEC West with this group, what is his ultimate ceiling as the program’s leader?

    It’s a question Ole Miss will have to answer eventually.

22. Mississippi State Coach Dan Mullen

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    Dan Mullen has built a winner at Mississippi State.
    Dan Mullen has built a winner at Mississippi State.L.G. Patterson/Associated Press

    Mississippi State is not an easy place to win games. Starkville lacks some of the cache and funding of other SEC West locales, but Dan Mullen has overcome. One year after a 10-win season that saw the Bulldogs spend four weeks as the nation’s top team, expectations were a bit lower.

    Star senior quarterback Dak Prescott returned, but much of the core of that group didn’t. Yet entering the final three weeks of the regular season, the Bulldogs are 7-2 with Alabama, Arkansas and Ole Miss left on the schedule.

    Prescott is talented, but Mullen can coach. He earned a contract extension that pushed his annual salary over $4 million last winter, and it’s clear he’s building a steady force in Starkville.

21. North Carolina Coach Larry Fedora

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    Larry Fedora is having fun as North Carolina's head coach.
    Larry Fedora is having fun as North Carolina's head coach.David Goldman/Associated Press

    On the season’s opening night, Larry Fedora didn’t look very secure at North Carolina. Multiple back-breaking interceptions by Marquise Williams led to a 17-13 loss to South Carolina, which looked like a very poor tone-setter coming off a 6-7 season.

    Guess what? The Tar Heels haven’t lost since. They’re 8-1 and in the driver’s seat to win the ACC Coastal Division and take on Clemson in the ACC title game.

    A fast-paced offense has churned out yards and points, including in an emphatic 66-31 rout of rival Duke. New defensive coordinator Gene Chizik has energized the Heels’ defense, and Carolina is keeping fans’ attention well into basketball season.

    That’s a feat in itself, and a huge plus for Fedora’s Chapel Hill tenure.

20. Wisconsin Coach Paul Chryst

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    Paul Chryst is fitting in well as Wisconsin's head coach.
    Paul Chryst is fitting in well as Wisconsin's head coach.Andy Manis/Associated Press

    For Wisconsin, part of the problem has been finding a coach who wanted to be part of the program. Paul Chryst was that guy. A Madison native and former Wisconsin player and assistant, Chryst became Wisconsin’s third coach in four years (following Bret Bielema and Gary Andersen) when he took over last winter.

    They left him a solid foundation. Despite injuries which have limited No. 1 tailback Corey Clement, Wisconsin is 8-2. The Badgers have a 10-win season within reach, with Northwestern and Minnesota left to close the regular season, followed by a bowl game.

    Wisconsin has won at least 10 games in three of the last five seasons, a high standard. But if Chryst can keep that pace, he’ll fit in just fine at home.

19. Utah Coach Kyle Whittingham

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    Kyle Whittingham has Utah in the thick of the Pac-12 title chase.
    Kyle Whittingham has Utah in the thick of the Pac-12 title chase.Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    Kyle Whittingham is finishing his 12th season at Utah and is building something special in Salt Lake City.

    Following a pair of 5-7 seasons in 2012 and 2013, the Utes won nine games last fall and are 8-1 and in control of their destiny in the Pac-12 South this fall. Their only loss came to Southern California, and they’re still on the fringes of the College Football Playoff chase.

    Whittingham will be a strong candidate for head coaching openings, including the Trojans’. Right now it’s a matter of if the Utes can keep him happy enough in SLC, not the other way around.

18. Pitt Coach Pat Narduzzi

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    Pat Narduzzi has done an excellent job in his first season at Pitt's helm.
    Pat Narduzzi has done an excellent job in his first season at Pitt's helm.Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    You can forgive Pitt fans if they have a feeling of abandonment. First-year coach Pat Narduzzi is the Panthers’ fourth coach in five years, which could explain a run of mediocrity that has left Pitt in a six-to-seven-win rut since 2011.

    Narduzzi has been embraced by Pitt fans because he seems like someone who’s in it for the long haul. Even after the loss of reigning ACC Player of the Year James Conner to a knee injury, Pitt is 6-3 with Duke, Louisville and Miami left.

    They appear ready to break out of that rut, and if they can build from there, Narduzzi can stay a good long while.

17. Oklahoma State Coach Mike Gundy

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    Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy has established himself as a consistent winner in Stillwater.
    Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy has established himself as a consistent winner in Stillwater.Ray Thompson/Associated Press

    Oklahoma State has been one of the bigger surprises of the 2015 season.

    Following an up-and-down 7-6 2014 season with a young roster, the Cowboys have taken a big step forward this fall. Their rout of TCU pushed OSU to 9-0 and keeps it on pace for Mike Gundy’s fourth 10-win season in the last six years. Oklahoma State is firmly in the College Football Playoff conversation with an explosive offense and talented young quarterback Mason Rudolph.

    If Gundy lost any supporters last season, this fall he has won them back. He can coach and is a consistent winner for a program which hasn’t always been a Big 12 power.

16. Duke Coach David Cutcliffe

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    David Cutcliffe's Duke tenure has been nothing short of impressive.
    David Cutcliffe's Duke tenure has been nothing short of impressive.Gerry Broome/Associated Press

    If there was any doubt that David Cutcliffe was one of college football’s best coaches, his Duke tenure has erased it. In eight years, Cutcliffe has transformed one of the worst programs in FBS into a consistent winner.

    The Blue Devils have lost two straight games, including a highly controversial final-play kick-return defeat at Miami’s hands that ultimately led to the suspension of the referee crew that called it, but they’re 6-3 and have qualified for their fourth consecutive bowl game.

    That success has spearheaded the renovation of Wallace Wade Stadium and turned Duke into a legitimate force in the ACC Coastal Division. That all seemed improbable eight years ago.

    As long as Cutcliffe keeps it up, he can stay as long as he likes in Durham.

15. Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz

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    Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz has found new life at the Hawkeyes' helm this season.
    Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz has found new life at the Hawkeyes' helm this season.Doug McSchooler/Associated Press

    One year ago, Iowa fans were weary of Kirk Ferentz. Following a run to the Orange Bowl in 2009, the Hawkeyes had slipped into mediocrity, with a four-year record of 26-25 capped by a highly disappointing 7-6 2014 season.

    Ferentz responded by revamping and tweaking his program, and, aided by a softer schedule, the Hawks have responded. They’re 9-0 and ranked No. 5 in the latest College Football Playoff Top 25, firmly in contention for a playoff spot.

    Suddenly, no one is worried about Ferentz’s contract or buyout. Funny how that works, right? Ferentz will be college football’s second-longest-tenured coach following Frank Beamer’s retirement, but he looks rejuvenated in Iowa City, and the fans are pleased, too.

14. UCLA Coach Jim Mora Jr.

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    UCLA coach Jim Mora Jr. is building the Bruins into a Pac-12 power.
    UCLA coach Jim Mora Jr. is building the Bruins into a Pac-12 power.Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    UCLA had been a bit of an underachiever in recent years, but that changed when the Bruins hired Jim Mora Jr. Mora went 29-11 with a pair of 10-win seasons in his first three years at UCLA’s helm, and the Bruins have been strong again this season.

    With Washington State, Utah and Southern California left on their schedule, they’re 7-2 and in the thick of the Pac-12 South race. Another 10-win season is well within their grasp, and with the talent Mora is amassing, a College Football Playoff run could be in their near future.

    Unless Mora bolts for an NFL gig, he won’t be going anywhere. Bruin fans will be glad for it.

13. Notre Dame Coach Brian Kelly

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    Brian Kelly has found huge success this fall with Notre Dame.
    Brian Kelly has found huge success this fall with Notre Dame.Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    Notre Dame is one of college football’s best jobs, but it isn’t easy at all.

    Notre Dame’s academic standards and rigorous schedule make it difficult to sustain high-level success, as Brian Kelly found out. Following a national runner-up finish in 2012, the Irish slipped back to 9-4 and 8-5 records the past two seasons.

    Kelly and the Irish are right in the thick of the College Football Playoff hunt this season at 8-1, ranked No. 4 with Wake Forest, Boston College and Stanford on the schedule. Kelly is 53-21 as Notre Dame’s coach, but the biggest issue is keeping up that level of success and satisfying the Irish fanbase on a consistent basis. After all, the Irish haven’t won a national title since Lou Holtz did so in 1988.

12. Florida Coach Jim McElwain

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    Jim McElwain has been an impressive addition for Florida.
    Jim McElwain has been an impressive addition for Florida.John Raoux/Associated Press

    Well, this was unexpected.

    A year ago at this time, Florida was in need of a major revamp after firing head coach Will Muschamp. In hiring coach Jim McElwain, the Gators got what they were looking for. Florida is 8-1, with its only loss a seven-point defeat at LSU, and has already clinched the SEC East championship.

    That’s an impressive feat for a team which was 7-5 a year ago and played in the Birmingham Bowl, as well as persevered through the suspension of starting quarterback Will Grier following a positive test for performance-enhancing drugs. The Gators look like a different team under McElwain’s watch, and he hasn’t even had a full recruiting class yet.

    However, it should be noted that Muschamp led Florida to an 11-2 record in 2012. Two years later, he was gone.

11. TCU Coach Gary Patterson

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    Gary Patterson is in the midst of a very successful run at TCU.
    Gary Patterson is in the midst of a very successful run at TCU.Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    With Frank Beamer’s retirement, Gary Patterson is one of the five longest-tenured coaches in the FBS. And he doesn’t show signs of going anywhere anytime soon. As he wraps up his 15th season, Patterson is 140-46 at TCU and is 20-2 over the last two seasons.

    The Frogs responded to a 4-8 blip in 2013 by installing an Air Raid offense and using quarterback Trevone Boykin to key one of the nation’s most potent offenses. 

    Patterson has a playoff contender at TCU, and school officials are happy with him. The only question is if he can be plucked away by another program that wants some of his magic.

10. Oklahoma Coach Bob Stoops

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    Revamping his offensive look paid off for Bob Stoops and Oklahoma this fall.
    Revamping his offensive look paid off for Bob Stoops and Oklahoma this fall.Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    With Frank Beamer’s retirement at Virginia Tech, Bob Stoops will officially become the longest-tenured coach in FBS. Did you know that he is one day ahead of Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz? Both were hired in December 2000.

    Stoops’ 2015 has followed a similar pattern to Ferentz’s, as well. Like Ferentz, Stoops was faced with revitalizing his program following an ugly 8-5 record in 2014. He did so by revamping his offensive staff and hiring East Carolina offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley to run the Air Raid system.

    The move has paid off, as Oklahoma is 8-1 (with the only loss to Texas) and firmly in the mix for the Big 12 title and College Football Playoff chase, starting with Saturday’s crucial showdown against unbeaten Baylor.

    Stoops found a formula to make his program fresh again, and everyone in Norman is happier for it.

9. Baylor Coach Art Briles

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    Art Briles has transformed Baylor into a serious College Football Playoff contender.
    Art Briles has transformed Baylor into a serious College Football Playoff contender.Orlin Wagner/Associated Press

    It’s hard to argue with the job that Art Briles has done at Baylor.

    In eight-plus years, Briles has turned around one of the nation’s most downtrodden programs and turned it into a serious College Football Playoff contender. The Bears just missed last season, and with an 8-0 mark this year, they’re strong contenders again.

    Briles’ offensive system just keeps rolling, whether it’s Robert Griffin III, Bryce Petty, Seth Russell or Jarrett Stidham under center, piling up points and yardage. As long as he keeps recruiting well, there’s no reason that won’t continue, giving him excellent stability in Waco.

8. Michigan State Coach Mark Dantonio

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    Mark Dantonio has built something special at Michigan State.
    Mark Dantonio has built something special at Michigan State.Nati Harnik/Associated Press

    Saturday’s controversial 39-38 loss to Nebraska was tough for Michigan State fans to take, as it dealt a serious blow to the Spartans’ playoff hopes. However, it should be noted that since the beginning of the 2013 season, the Spartans are now 32-4, with the losses coming to Notre Dame, 2014 national championship finalists Ohio State and Oregon and now the Cornhuskers.

    That’s not a bad group, right there. It speaks to the work that Mark Dantonio has done at Michigan State. The Spartans have become perennial contenders with a balanced offense and a rugged defense. They’ve established themselves as a Big Ten power, and at 59 years old, it wouldn’t be surprising at all if Dantonio finished his career in East Lansing.

7. Stanford Coach David Shaw

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    David Shaw has built a winning program at Stanford.
    David Shaw has built a winning program at Stanford.Young Kwak/Associated Press

    Stanford took an uncharacteristic dip following consecutive Pac-12 titles in 2014, falling to 8-5. It was short-lived, however. The Cardinal enter November as legit College Football Playoff contenders with an 8-1 record, their only defeat coming in the season opener at Northwestern.

    That speaks to coach David Shaw’s ability to build a consistent winner at the highest levels. Shaw’s best teams win with defense and a strong run game, and this one is no different, as sophomore tailback Christian McCaffrey has emerged as the nation’s best all-purpose back.

    Shaw isn’t going anywhere, unless he leaves Stanford for an NFL job. Cardinal fans are perfectly happy with him.

6. Florida State Coach Jimbo Fisher

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    Jimbo Fisher has built a national powerhouse at Florida State.
    Jimbo Fisher has built a national powerhouse at Florida State.Jon Barash/Associated Press

    For the first time since the 2011 season, someone other than Florida State will be the ACC champion. Clemson made sure of that Saturday, eliminating the Seminoles from the ACC Atlantic race with a hard-fought 23-13 victory.

    This has been more of a reloading year for FSU, which is 7-2 overall, but that doesn’t take away from the job Jimbo Fisher has done to rebuild following a sluggish end to the Bobby Bowden era.

    From 2012-14, the Seminoles won three consecutive ACC titles, a BCS national title and made the College Football Playoff. Losing 29 players to the NFL in a three-year span is tough to overcome, but don’t expect Fisher and FSU to be “down” for long.

    This is one of the nation’s premier programs, and Fisher, of course, is more than safe at its helm.

5. LSU Coach Les Miles

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    LSU and coach Les Miles know how to have fun and win football games.
    LSU and coach Les Miles know how to have fun and win football games.Jonathan Bachman/Associated Press

    Les Miles is one of college football’s most colorful characters, with his penchant to chew on grass on the sideline and run trick plays at the most perfect moments late in games.

    But all that color wouldn’t matter much if Miles didn’t win consistently. He does, which makes him even more fun to watch.

    Saturday’s 30-16 loss to Alabama was disappointing, but the 7-1 Tigers are on pace for their fifth 10-win season in six years. They’re consistent national contenders and boast one of the nation’s best players, sophomore tailback Leonard Fournette.

    Miles owns a national title and will likely play for more on the Bayou before his career wraps up.

4. Michigan Coach Jim Harbaugh

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    Jim Harbaugh has done wonders for Michigan's program in his first season.
    Jim Harbaugh has done wonders for Michigan's program in his first season.Duane Burleson/Associated Press

    Michigan’s hiring of Jim Harbaugh was the story of the 2014-15 college football offseason, but even the most optimistic observers probably couldn’t have imagined the immediate impact he’d have on the Wolverine program.

    With three games left in the regular season, Michigan is 7-2, with its only losses coming at Utah and to rival Michigan State on a bizarre final-play blocked-punt touchdown. That’s pretty impressive for a team that was sub-.500 in Brady Hoke’s final season. Michigan has a legit shot at 10 wins and the Big Ten East title, with rival Ohio State still to come in the regular-season finale.

    And Harbaugh has done this mostly with Hoke’s roster, not his own recruiting classes. He’s just getting started, and the only thing that will limit his tenure is how long he wants to stay and how long Michigan can handle his occasionally abrasive style, which ended his successful run with the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers after four seasons.

3. Ohio State Coach Urban Meyer

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    Urban Meyer has been a perfect fit at Ohio State.
    Urban Meyer has been a perfect fit at Ohio State.Paul Vernon/Associated Press

    One of the most perfect coaching hires in recent memory came four years ago, when Ohio State plucked Urban Meyer out of a self-imposed hiatus to lead its troubled program. Since then, all Meyer has done is win, win, and win some more. As 2015 hits its homestretch, the defending national champions are 9-0 and in perfect position for another College Football Playoff appearance.

    Meyer is 47-3 at Ohio State, with the only losses coming to Clemson, Michigan State and Virginia Tech. That’s darn impressive, and he continues to assemble talent and build one of the nation’s most dominant programs.

    While the fall of Jim Tressel proved that even a national title-winning coach isn’t untouchable in Columbus, Meyer is pretty close to it at this point, as long as he keeps rolling up victories.

2. Clemson Coach Dabo Swinney

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    Dabo Swinney has built Clemson into a national powerhouse.
    Dabo Swinney has built Clemson into a national powerhouse.Richard Shiro/Associated Press

    Seven years ago, Clemson needed to get over the proverbial hump. The Tigers were consistently close to a breakthrough under coach Tommy Bowden but always fell short in key moments. In mid-2008, Bowden was forced out, and a little-known wide receivers coach named Dabo Swinney stepped into the void.

    The rest is history. Swinney has built Clemson into a consistent national power, with four consecutive seasons of at least 10 wins (and a fifth on the way as early as Saturday, with Syracuse on the docket) and the program’s first No. 1 ranking since its national title season of 1981.

    Clemson fans love Swinney, his winning and his colorful personality, and they’ll love him even more if the Tigers can close the deal on a College Football Playoff berth. He’s incredibly secure in Clemson.

    The only thing to worry about? If Nick Saban retires and alma mater Alabama comes calling, as Sports Illustrated's Pete Thamel wrote. 

1. Alabama Coach Nick Saban

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    Alabama coach Nick Saban is the nation's most secure head football coach.
    Alabama coach Nick Saban is the nation's most secure head football coach.Eric Gay/Associated Press

    When Alabama hired Nick Saban in late 2006, the Crimson Tide was down. Way down. Since the program’s last national title in 1992, the Tide had gone through two NCAA probations and four head coaches. Stability was needed, and Saban’s “process” has provided that.

    In eight-plus seasons, Saban has won three BCS national championships and made a College Football Playoff appearance. Despite an early-season loss to Ole Miss, Alabama (8-1) is in perfect shape to make another title run this fall, with Mississippi State, Charleston Southern and Auburn left on the schedule.

    Saban recruits well, gets paid well ($7 million annually) and is adored by Alabama fans, with a statue in his likeness already alongside other ‘Bama coaching greats like Paul “Bear” Bryant and Gene Stallings outside Bryant-Denny Stadium.

    He’s the most secure coach in America, and the only question is how long he’ll stay in Tuscaloosa.