College Football 2011: Power Ranking the Head Coaches of the BCS Conferences
The 2011 college football season is a reality we won't have to deal with for quite some time now. But as a topic, on the other hand, the discussion is never-ending.
Despite the fact that the 2010 season just came to a close a few short weeks ago, exactly how the 2011 college football season is going to unfold is very much on our minds. Right now, there are plenty of recruits to consider. Before that, there were plenty of vacant head coaching positions that needed to be filled.
When it comes to head coaching, exactly which coaches represent the best of the best in their respective conferences is always the subject of much debate. This is particularly true in the BCS conferences.
Well, we aim to end the debate once and for all. To do that, we have decided to rank the top five coaches in each BCS conference.
ACC No. 5: Randy Edsall, Maryland
I suspect a lot of people will disagree with Edsall's placement among the best in the ACC. After all, he hasn't even coached a game in the ACC yet, and he of course still has to prove himself as a capable replacement for Ralph Friedgen, who was named the ACC Coach of the Year.
But Edsall was the co-Big East Coach of the Year in 2010, so he's not exactly a lightweight.
He accomplished something pretty significant by making UConn football relevant, which was no easy task considering it didn't become a Division I-A program until 2002 and a BCS team until 2004. Edsall took over that year and produced two conference championships and three bowl wins.
In other words, one suspects he'll be just fine in the ACC.
ACC No. 4: Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech
Paul Johnson has been at the helm at Georgia Tech for just three years since coming over from Navy, but in that season, he has produced a solid 26 wins and three bowl appearances.
Of course, the knock on Johnson is that the Yellow Jackets didn't win any of those three bowls. Nevertheless, one of them was the Orange Bowl in 2009, and one ACC championship in three years is pretty good.
Thus, he gets the nod over the unproven Edsall.
ACC No. 3: Butch Davis, North Carolina
North Carolina Tar Heels football was basically a wreck in the nine years between Mack Brown and Butch Davis. Despite the fact comparing Davis to Brown might be a little unfair, he has still done some pretty good things for the program since he arrived in 2007.
The Tar Heels have won eight games each of the last three seasons, and Davis got his first bowl win with the team this past season, defeating Tennessee in the Music City Bowl.
True, you could look at some of the transgressions of his players and say that they reflect poorly on him. If that's the case, then we better disregard Jim Tressel and Gene Chizik when we get to them.
And I'm obviously not going to do that.
ACC No. 2: Jimbo Fisher, Florida State
Jimbo Fisher's first year at Florida State went about as well as anybody could have imagined. The Seminoles went 10-4, beat Florida and Miami and finished first in the ACC's Atlantic Division.
He then made a whole bunch of old-timers happy by beating Steve Spurrier in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
Yes, his one year at the helm represents a small sample size. But it was a darn good sample, and there just doesn't seem to be any reason to doubt this guy going forward, especially given the fact he's bringing in the ACC's best recruiting class in 2011.
ACC No. 1: Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech
Honestly, was there ever a doubt in your mind about finding Frank Beamer in the top spot?
Indeed, he has been one of the best coaches in the country for a while now, and the Hokies have been one of the most consistent college football powerhouses ever since he took over way back in 1987.
At the end of the day, his numbers speak for themselves. All he has done is rack up 198 total wins, and he has won eight bowl games. The Hokies have also been ACC champions three times under Beamer since joining the conference in 2004.
Despite the fact he has only won one of them, he has also led the Hokies to five BCS Bowls, including the Sugar Bowl in 1999, which of course served as the National Championship game.
Big East No. 5: Skip Holtz, South Florida
Before I forget, let me just say that picking five stand-out coaches from the Big East was pretty tough.
In any case, a simple DNA test would be enough to solidify Skip Holtz as a legit college football head coach.
That being said, he decided to go ahead and prove it by leading the Bulls to an 8-5 season his first year as a BCS head coach. And he tacked on a win against Clemson in the Meineke Car Care Bowl just for good measure.
Going back to Holtz's days at East Carolina, he hasn't had a losing season since 2005.
Big East No. 4: Doug Marrone, Syracuse
Doug Marrone has only been the head coach at Syracuse for two years, and his record is an unimpressive 12-13.
However, he doubled his win total from 2009 to 2010 and led the team to a (somewhat controversial) victory in the Pinstripe Bowl. It was the team's first bowl win since the 2001 Insight Bowl, which was also the program's last winning season.
So yeah, the man deserves some credit.
Big East No. 3: Greg Schiano, Rutgers
After four very successful years between 2006 and 2009, Greg Schiano and the Scarlet Knights took a significant step backwards in 2010. They finished 4-8 and went 1-6 in Big East play. They also missed out on a bowl after winning four straight.
Nonetheless, there was no way I was going to leave Schiano off this list, and be warned, Rutgers has the second-best recruiting class in the Big East this year.
Big East No. 2: Charlie Strong, Louisville
The Cardinals finished just 6-6 in Charlie Strong's first regular season on the sidelines, but that's obviously something that should not be held against him.
Indeed, this is a guy who comes straight from Urban Meyer's system at Florida, and it wouldn't be at all surprising if he wins a Big East championship some time in the very near future.
Once again, we can look to the recruiting rankings, where Strong's class is the best in the Big East.
I might be going out on a limb ranking him ahead of Schiano, but suffice it to say I have faith in him to prove me right.
Big East No. 1: Bill Stewart, West Virginia
Bill Stewart's first game as the head coach of the Mountaineers was the 2008 Fiesta Bowl against the Oklahoma Sooners. He still bore the interim tag then, as he took over when Rich Rodriguez left for Michigan.
The Mountaineers smoked the Sooners 48-28 in that game and have gone on to win nine games in each of the following seasons.
Indeed, you could easily make the case that the Mountaineers were far more deserving than UConn for the Big East's BCS bid in 2010. That's because they were.
Regardless, Stewart is the best the Big East has to offer right now. At least until TCU arrives.
Big Ten No. 5: Mark Dantonio, Michigan State
Before I give Mark Dantonio his props, I just want to let everyone know that you will not find Joe Paterno up ahead. In fact, that's the last time I'm going to drop his name anywhere on this list. I love the guy, but I'm not foolish enough to think he's still a great coach.
In any case, it's very easy to look at the 2010 Michigan State Spartans and accuse them of being overachievers. That's because they were.
But Dantonio is the reason they overachieved, which is probably why he was named the Big Ten Coach of the Year. No FBS coach did more with less than he did in 2010, and I thought it was an absolute delight to watch him do so—especially that fake field goal against Notre Dame, which was brilliant.
Of course, he still needs to win a bowl game. So here's hoping he's not shell-shocked after what happened in the Capital One Bowl.
Big Ten No. 4: Bo Pelini, Nebraska
I don't know him, but Bo Pelini is a real jerk.
But that's okay, because it just so happens he's a pretty good football coach, too. In three years, he led the Cornhuskers to 30 wins and back-to-back appearances in the Big 12 Championship Game.
The move to the Big Ten will necessitate some changes, and the Cornhuskers are losing some pretty good players to the draft this season (i.e. Prince Amukamara). However, Pelini still has Taylor Martinez, and that should be a good thing as long as he can avoid tearing his head off in 2011.
Big Ten No. 3: Bret Bielema, Wisconsin
I watch an awful lot of college football, and I have to say that I probably got more enjoyment out of watching the Wisconsin Badgers in 2010 than any other team. Even when they were losing the Rose Bowl to TCU, they were still entertaining.
For that, I thank Bret Bielema.
Then again, you shouldn't need me to tell you Bielema is a great coach. He has won 49 games in five years as the head coach of the Badgers, and had easily his best season yet in 2010. The Badgers were co-Big Ten champions, and they made it to the Rose Bowl for the first time since 2000.
Big Ten No. 2: Kirk Ferentz, Iowa
Kirk Ferentz won a single game in his first season as the head coach of the Iowa Hawkeyes in 1999. The year after that, he won just three.
Since then, the Hawkeyes have had just one losing season, and they've been Big Ten champions twice.
All totaled, Ferentz has 101 wins in 12 seasons at the helm, and the Hawkeyes are as steady as they come. Plus, he deserves a load of kudos for leading a depleted team to a win over Missouri in this year's Insight Bowl.
Lastly, he's gathered the second-best recruiting class in the conference for 2011. Suffice it to say, Ferentz and the Hawkeyes aren't going anywhere any time soon.
Big Ten No. 1: Jim Tressel, Ohio State
If you're surprised to see Tressel at the top of the Big Ten rankings, please let me know so I can send somebody to your house to hit you with a stick.
In Tressel, we're talking a guy who has 106 wins in 10 years as the Buckeyes' head coach, a BCS national championship and six consecutive Big Ten titles.
The only thing he had yet to do was beat an SEC team in a bowl game. He did just that this past season, so all you can really do is tip your hat to him.
In addition, he handled the Terrelle Pryor situation about as well as he could have handled it, so bravo.
Big 12 No. 5: Mike Sherman, Texas A&M
Exactly who would occupy this spot was the source of much personal strife. I may come to regret it, but I ended up giving Mike Sherman the nod over Kansas State's Bill Snyder.
If you want to dispute this, feel free to argue the point in the comments section. Or you can send somebody to hit me with a stick, either way.
Right then. The fact of the matter is that Sherman just strikes me as the guy I would rather have on my sidelines at this point in time. Like everyone else in the country, I had him on the hot seat for the first six games of 2010. But the Aggies finished with six wins in a row, dispatching Oklahoma and Nebraska in the process.
True enough, the Aggies were pummeled by LSU in the Cotton Bowl, but that shouldn't take away from the fact that Sherman has clearly turned a corner at Texas A&M.
I hope he can keep it up. Otherwise, I'll look like an idiot. I may be used to that by now, but it's still not that much fun.
Big 12 No. 4: Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State
This is usually where you'd find a bunch of tongue-in-cheek remarks about how Mike Gundy is a man, he's 40 and he can yell really loud.
I'm a little tired of all that nonsense, so I'll just say Gundy is a better coach than he gets credit for. The Cowboys haven't had a losing season since his first year at the helm in 2005, and they had the first 11-win season in school history in 2010. Moreover, they flat-out embarrassed Arizona in the Alamo Bowl.
Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon are coming back, so it's a good bet Gundy and the Pokes will be back at it in 2011.
Big 12 No. 3: Gary Pinkel, Missouri
Anybody else get the sense that Gary Pinkel is one of the more unsung coaches in the country?
Well, even if it is just me, the man is still a good football coach. The Tigers have won no fewer than eight games in each of the last five seasons and have gone to the Big 12 Championship Game twice in that span; one of those was as the No. 1 team in the country back in 2007, but of course they didn't do so hot against Oklahoma.
Regardless, Pinkel can basically be credited for putting Missouri football back on the map, and they should be there for quite some time going forward.
Big 12 No. 2: Mack Brown
If you want my opinion (which is admittedly not so humble), it's absolutely absurd that a lot of people out there have Mack Brown on the hot seat.
Then again, I've been told they don't abide losing in Texas, a state of mind that apparently has origins as far back as the Alamo.
What I'm getting at here is that getting on Mack Brown's back for one losing season doesn't make any sense. The Longhorns had 10 or more wins in each of the nine seasons preceding 2010. They also won three BCS bowls under Brown, including the epic Rose Bowl against USC in 2005.
For those who have their doubts about Brown in 2011, just know that the Longhorns have the top recruiting class in the Big 12. Put simply, the dude can still get it done.
Big 12 No. 1: Bob Stoops
Bob Stoops is pretty good at what he does.
In 11 seasons as head coach of the Sooners, he's won 129 games, seven conference titles and a BCS national championship. Altogether, Stoops has led the team to eight BCS bowls. He may have only won three of them, but that shouldn't make him any less of a coach.
In fact, the only way I'll feel bad at all about putting Stoops in this spot is if I forgot to mention some of his accomplishments, and I probably did.
Pac-12 No. 5: Mike Stoops, Arizona
Conveniently, we go from one Stoops to another.
In seeing Mike Stoops right here, I suspect that right now a lot of you are remembering just how weak the Pac-12 is outside of Oregon and Stanford. If Jim Harbaugh had stayed at the latter institution, Stoops doesn't make the cut.
One way or another, Stoops will head into the 2011 season as a hot-seat coach, but he still deserves some respect. The Wildcats have won a total of 23 games in the last three seasons, and their win in the 2008 Las Vegas Bowl was their first bowl victory since 1998.
So he's not that bad, and yes, he is better than Lane Kiffin.
Pac-12: Jeff Tedford, California
Jeff Tedford will also be on the hot seat in 2011. Unfortunately, it's pretty likely that the Bears are going to struggle just as badly as they did in 2010, which was the first losing season in Tedford's tenure.
As a Cal guy, I don't mind saying that I'd rather have Tedford around than anyone else. He's got nine seasons and 72 wins under his belt, and he successfully made Cal a relevant program again.
The good news for Cal is that only USC and Oregon brought in better recruiting classes for 2011 among Pac-12 schools. The bad news is that Andrew Luck came back to Stanford, and that it's doubtful the Axe will be going back to Berkeley.
Pac-12 No. 3: Mike Riley, Oregon State
Not unlike Tedford and the Bears, Mike Riley and the Beavers failed to live up to expectations in 2010. A lot of that obviously had to do with key injuries, not to mention their tough schedule.
Still, 2010 was just the second losing season in Riley's eight-year tenure, and he has an impressive 5-1 record in bowl games.
It will be interesting to see how the Beavers bounce back in 2011, as they're losing Jacquizz Rodgers to the NFL draft. They still have James Rodgers, however, and Riley is still a good coach, so it shouldn't be all bad.
Pac-12 No. 2: Kyle Whittingham, Utah
It's going to be very interesting to see how the Utah Utes make the transition into the Pac-12 in 2011.
Given the goods displayed by Whittingham in his six seasons in charge of the Utes, they should be just fine. Utah's 2010 season may have unraveled in a bad way after their huge loss to TCU, but the program has still won double-digit games each of the last three years, and the Las Vegas Bowl loss at the hands of Boise State was the first bowl defeat for Whittingham.
I might be pushing things a little by putting him at No. 2., but like I said, the Pac-12 is just that weak.
Pac-12 No. 1: Chip Kelly, Oregon
Chip Kelly is an actual certified genius. At least, that's what ESPN tells me, and they're pretty reliable, right?
All kidding aside, Kelly is easily the best the Pac-12 has to offer. He's 22-4 in two seasons as Oregon's head coach and has lost exactly one conference game.
The Ducks nearly beat the Auburn Tigers in the BCS National Championship Game and they have quite a few starters coming back in 2011. If they're not in the thick of things as far as the national title chase is concerned, it will be a huge surprise.
SEC No. 5: Bobby Petrino, Arkansas
Ah yes, we come at last to the "best" conference in all of college football.
This No. 5 spot could have gone a bunch of different directions. I considered Mississippi State's Dan Mullen and Florida's Will Muschamp, but I ultimately decided to go with the hot hand in Arkansas' Bobby Petrino.
In his third season after the epic failure that was his stint with the Atlanta Falcons, Petrino led the Razorbacks to their first BCS bowl. They of course ended up losing the Sugar Bowl to Tressel's Buckeyes, and Ryan Mallett is headed to the NFL, but one suspects that the Razorbacks won't fall too far as long as Petrino is on their sideline.
SEC No. 4: Steve Spurrier, South Carolina
The Ol' Ball Coach finally made something of the Gamecocks in 2010, leading them to a 9-5 record and a spot in the SEC Championship Game.
Things obviously fell apart in the final two games, as the Gamecocks were destroyed by Auburn and then upset by Florida State, Spurrier's old rival, in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
Nevertheless, Spurrier is Spurrier, and that basically means his team is going to be a force to be reckoned with in any given year. Simple as that.
SEC No. 3: Gene Chizik, Auburn
Gene Chizik and the Auburn Tigers won the BCS national championship in his second year at the controls, but you won't hear me saying that he "led" the team to the victory.
No sir, that honor belongs to Cam Newton, which is why I'm stashing Chizik at No. 3 for the time being.
Indeed, without Newton I'm pretty sure the Tigers don't make it as far as Glendale in 2010. By all accounts, Chizik is a great coach, but he looks even better because he had one of the greatest college football players of all time running his plays for him.
In other words, I'd say 2011 is going to be a real "show me" season for Chizik and the Tigers. So we shall see.
SEC No. 2: Les Miles, LSU
Folks in and around LSU may not be crazy about Les Miles, but to the rest of us, he's a pretty darn good coach.
I mean, I don't like LSU personally, but I don't see much to complain about when I see 62 wins and a BCS national championship in just six seasons worth of work.
I suppose you could point out the fact that he won his national championship with Nick Saban's recruits. If so, go right ahead. It serves as a helpful segue to the final entry in this slideshow.
SEC No. 1: Nick Saban, Alabama
Love him or hate him, there's no denying Nick Saban is one of the great college coaches of this era.
He has won two of the last six BCS national championships and has gone 43-11 in his four seasons at Alabama, including 25-7 in conference play.
On balance, I don't know if I want to call Saban the best overall coach in the country. Tressel, Stoops and Kelly are all good reasons not to, but I do think he's the best in the SEC. The Crimson Tide are probably going to be title contenders every year as long as he's at the helm.