The top 10 college football coach rankings heading into Week 10 now include two former hot seat candidates, Auburn’s Gus Malzahn and Penn State’s James Franklin.
Earlier this year, Auburn’s Gus Malzahn and Penn State’s James Franklin sat firmly and uncomfortably on hot seats. The Tigers were 1-2, unable to get the offense on track. The Lions also suffered two September losses, falling to both in-state Pitt and Michigan in a rout. But after perfect Octobers, both coaches aren’t just on more stable footing, they’re now in the mix for National Coach of the Year honors.
Malzahn and Franklin stared coaching mortality in the eyes in the opening month … and lived to tell about it. In fact, they battled through adversity and elevated their programs, which garners bonus points in this race.
As November begins, select coaches are rising above their peers in the profession. As such, they’re gaining support in the race for Coach of the Year, a contract extension and possibly a high-profile promotion now that job openings are popping up.
Week 10 College Football Coach Rankings
Closing In on Top 10:
Mike Leach (Washington State), Craig Bohl (Wyoming), Justin Fuente (Virginia Tech), Dabo Swinney (Clemson), Mike Riley (Nebraska), Kyle Whittingham (Utah), Matt Rhule (Temple) and Dana Holgorsen (West Virginia)
10. James Franklin, Penn State (Last Week – NR)
Franklin and his assistants have done a fine job of tuning out the noise, overcoming injuries and getting the 6-2 Lions pointed in the right direction. Sure, there were detours in the early going, like losing at Pitt and getting rocked by Michigan. But Franklin stayed the course, and the dividends are beginning to flow. Penn State has won four straight, including the signature upset of then-No. 2 Ohio State two weeks ago. The Nittany Lions maintained their focus this past Saturday, despite being ranked for the first time in five years, ambushing Purdue last Saturday, 62-24.
9. P.J. Fleck, Western Michigan (9)
The Broncos continue to climb in the polls into that territory usually reserved for teams who go on to play Cinderella during the bowl season. The Broncos are 8-0 heading into Tuesday night’s trip to Muncie to play Ball State. Fleck is a master motivator, a young guy who can rally the troops and transform the entire culture of a program. In all likelihood, he’ll get a chance to row his boat to a new campus, with ADs lining up to bring his uplifting brand of leadership to their campus.
8. Gus Malzahn, Auburn (NR)
It has become a remarkable and unexpected rise for Malzahn this fall. After LSU’s Danny Etling threw an apparent game-winning touchdown pass in Week 4, it looked as if he could be out of a job. But upon further review, the clock had expired, breathing new life into Malzahn’s Auburn career. And he’s made the most of it. From hot seat to hot coach, he and his 6-2 Tigers have used the LSU thriller as a springboard, climbing to No. 11 in the AP poll behind a dominating ground game and an underrated defense.
7. Paul Chryst, Wisconsin (8)
The Badgers have faced five opponents that were top 10 ranked at kickoff, and they’ve defeated three of them. The latest, over undefeated Nebraska in Week 9, kept Wisconsin alive in the Big Ten West race. The Badgers’ only losses were to Michigan and Ohio State, by seven points apiece. And they sit at No. 8 in the country, despite the absence of a proven quarterback and defensive injuries to Vince Biegel and Jack Cichy, a season-ender, that has forced reserves to step up and contribute.
6. Mike MacIntyre, Colorado (6)
The Buffs were off last week, but that didn’t stop them from climbing another rung higher on the Pac-12 ladder. As Colorado rested for the first time in 2016, Utah lost for the second time, elevating MacIntyre’s upstarts into sole possession of first place in the South Division. It’s been a most unexpected ascent for a program that hasn’t even had a winning season since 2005. The Buffs get a chance to advertise their development to a much bigger audience—and protect their lead, when UCLA visits Folsom Field this Thursday night.
5. Bobby Petrino, Louisville (4)
A pair of close calls with Duke and Virginia in the last three games has Petrino moving in the wrong direction as November begins. Still, his Cardinals have survived, most recently in Charlottesville, to remain the highest ranked one-loss team, which means they’re in striking distance of a playoff berth. Petrino might need that final four bid to scale much higher in these coach rankings, since remaining bouts with Boston College, Wake Forest, Houston and Kentucky don’t provide much opportunity for splashy moments or upward mobility.
4. Jim Harbaugh, Michigan (5)
It was a little tougher than many expected, and just the second time all year that the Wolverines won a game by fewer than 10 points. But Michigan defeated rival Michigan State, 32-23, to avenge last season’s crushing loss on a muffed punt at the end of regulation. Harbaugh’s knack for managing quarterbacks is evident once again, as Wilton Speight ranks second in Big Ten passing efficiency. Plus, that 49-10 blowout of Penn State back on Sept. 24 looks really good ever since the Nittany Lions upset Ohio State two weeks ago.
3. Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M (3)
The Aggies rank No. 7 nationally in a year that little was expected from the program. But Sumlin has been the steady hand through some rocky periods that included the voluntary exits of blue-chip quarterbacks Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray. A&M has regrouped around a transfer quarterback, Trevor Knight, and a pair of veteran coordinators, Noel Mazzone on offense and John Chavis on D. The Aggies’ only loss was to top-ranked Alabama, and they should be 10-1 when LSU visits College Station in the regular season finale.
2. Nick Saban, Alabama (2)
Saban turned 65 this week, an age commonly associated with retirement. However, he shows no signs of decline. In fact, he’s having another terrific year on the sidelines, leading his Tide into Baton Rouge this week with a perfect record. Bama’s last three wins were over Texas A&M, Tennessee and Arkansas, and that opening day obliteration of USC looks even better today than it did two months ago. True, Saban is expected to perennially compete for championships, but he’s earning bonus points in 2016 for meeting expectations with a true freshman behind center.
1. Chris Petersen, Washington (1)
The Huskies cleared an enormous hurdle this past weekend, beating Utah in Salt Lake City, 31-24. And the fact that the margin of victory was provided by a punt return for a touchdown underscores that Petersen’s teams are well coached on offense, defense and special teams. He’s methodically built this program, using young kids in the first two years who are now performing like champions-in-waiting. There are landmines up ahead, like USC on Nov. 12 and Wazzu the day after Thanksgiving. But Petersen has U-Dub on the shrinking list of national title contenders, which is incredibly impressive after going just 7-6 in 2015.