The top 10 college football coach rankings heading into Week 12 gets a facelift following a weekend filled with high-profile upset losses.
The race for 2016 Coach of the Year was hit with a seismic quake, the result of last weekend’s shakeup in the polls. Half of the nation’s top 10 teams fell unexpectedly, with the ripple effect directly impacting the coaches leading them. So long, Jim Harbaugh, Gus Malzahn and Justin Fuente. Hello, Scott Frost, Kyle Whittingham and Mike Leach.
Through 11 weeks of action, the following coaches have so far done the best jobs of exceeding preseason expectations and managing the myriad challenges associated with being the face of a major program.
Week 12 College Football Coach Rankings
Closing In on Top 10:
Urban Meyer (Ohio State), Clay Helton (USC), Jim Harbaugh (Michigan), Neal Brown (Troy), Ken Niumatalolo (Navy), Justin Fuente (Virginia Tech), Craig Bohl (Wyoming), Mike Riley (Nebraska), Bob Davie (New Mexico), Bobby Wilder (Old Dominion), Bob Stoops (Oklahoma), Mike Gundy (Oklahoma State), Dana Holgorsen (West Virginia) and Dave Clawson (Wake Forest)
10. Scott Frost, UCF (Last Week – NR)
Frost’s first head job was with a team that didn’t win a single game in 2015. Oh, and it was in an area of the country in which he’d never held a job. A multi-year rebuilding job, right? Nope. Frost has enjoyed a remarkable, culture-changing debut in Orlando, wrapping up an unlikely bowl berth with last week’s 24-3 suffocation of Cincinnati. And the best is ahead for the Knights. Frost is an offensive coach, best known for his days at Oregon. But since his personnel on offense is weak, he and his staff have leaned on defense to get to 6-4.
9. Kyle Whittingham, Utah (NR)
Maybe Whittingham will never get the national respect he richly deserves. Maybe Ute fans like it that way since it limits the number of poachers. Utah is consistently one of the best coached teams in the country, overcoming hurdles and a relative lack of blue-chip recruits on the roster. The Utes are 8-2 and improving each week on offense, despite breaking in a new quarterback and needing to pull running back Joe Williams out of retirement at midseason. And if this team wins its next two, it’ll represent the South Division in the Pac-12 title game.
8. Chris Petersen, Washington (1)
Petersen has predictably plummeted from the perch he manned for so many weeks this regular season. That was bound to happen after his Huskies were outplayed as a home favorite versus USC. But this remains the coach of a program playing at its highest level this century. And a team that can still capture a Pac-12 title and get back into the playoff picture by winning its remaining three games. Plenty will be learned about Petersen’s candidacy next Friday in Pullman, especially with the season-ending injuries to top defenders Joe Mathis and Azeem Victor.
7. Mike Leach, Washington State (NR)
There’s one Pac-12 team left that has yet to lose a conference game. Yup, it’s the Cougars, who have reeled off eight consecutive wins in the same season for the first time since 1930. Leach has Wazzu performing at heights that haven’t been witnessed in the Palouse since Mike Price was still on the payroll 14 years ago. And he’s getting it done with much more than just the prolific, Luke Falk-led passing attack. With ranked Colorado and U-Dub in the on-deck circle, Leach has considerable room for growth if the winning streak remains intact.
6. P.J. Fleck, Western Michigan (9)
College GameDay will be in K’zoo this weekend for the Buffalo game. That’s just the latest example of the Fleck effect at Western Michigan. The Broncos are 10-0, their first 10-win season in the program’s 108-year history. And they’re in a dogfight with Boise State to determine which Group of Five program will be honored with a New Year’s Six bowl invitation in a couple of weeks. This fall, Fleck has surpassed Houston’s Tom Herman as the hottest young coach in the country.
5. Paul Chryst, Wisconsin (6)
One step at a time, Chryst just keeps climbing north, not unlike his Badger program. Chryst is the sideline embodiment of his program—unassuming, blue-collar and effective. In a year that began with modest expectations, Wisconsin has defeated three teams that were ranked in the top 10 at kickoff. And as the West Division frontrunner, with games remaining against Purdue and Minnesota, the Badgers ought to be soaring into the Big Ten Championship Game. Win it and this squad will receive serious consideration for one of the final playoff berths.
4. James Franklin, Penn State (7)
In September, there was a growing buzz about Franklin’s future in Happy Valley. In November, he’s more likely to capture the Big Ten East Division than Urban Meyer or Jim Harbaugh. Remarkable. It took midway into his third season, but Franklin has Penn State pointing north with a bullet. The Lions have won six in a row, finding new heroes each week, like quarterback Trace McSorley last Saturday in Bloomington. If Penn State wins out against Rutgers and Michigan State, and Michigan loses once more, the Lions will be in Indianapolis on Dec. 3.
3. Bobby Petrino, Louisville (4)
Petrino spent last season laying the foundation for 2016. And he and his Cardinals have been reaping the rewards ever since. Petrino allowed Lamar Jackson to participate in on-the-job training as a true freshman, which would become the proving ground for this season’s Heisman chase. Plus, a lane to the College Football Playoff has now opened up for 9-1 Louisville, which survived Wake Forest in Week 11 on a Saturday where three of the nation’s top four teams lost.
2. Mike MacIntyre, Colorado (5)
The Buffaloes’ improbable season continued with last week’s 49-24 rout of Arizona in Tucson. The team that was picked to finish last in preseason Pac-12 South polls now sits atop the division with two regular season games left. But those two games with Washington State and Utah, both in Boulder, will define the 2016 ceiling for the coach and his kids. MacIntyre is a top 10 finisher no matter how the year ends, but win them both and he’ll soar into championship weekend as the leading candidate for Coach of the Year.
1. Nick Saban, Alabama (2)
Winning when it’s expected is one of the toughest challenges for a coach … especially for the coach of a team filled with college athletes who’ve been fawned over for many years. And Saban does it almost effortlessly, opening 10-0 the year after winning a national championship. Alabama is the last of the Power Five unbeaten programs, deftly navigating every landmine of the SEC gauntlet. That he’s unscathed and in line for another crown, despite using a true freshman quarterback, makes 2016 one of the most impressive of Saban’s Hall of Fame career.