The top 10 college football coach rankings heading into Week 14 has Colorado’s Mike MacIntyre still on top, but Penn State’s James Franklin gaining ground.
Championships will be decided this weekend from Orlando, Florida to Santa Clara, California. And with so much on the line, the National Coach of the Year race is about to make one more veer before producing a winner. It’s been a long and winding season marked by the usual ups and downs. But with each of the top six candidates still coaching on the final weekend, what happens on Friday and Saturday is going to profoundly impact the final vote tally.
With one week left in the regular season, 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.
Closing In on Top 10:
Craig Bohl (Wyoming), Scott Frost (UCF), Dabo Swinney (Clemson), Bob Stoops (Oklahoma), Mike Gundy (Oklahoma State), Bobby Wilder (Old Dominion), Dana Holgorsen (West Virginia), Bob Davie (New Mexico), Matt Rhule (Temple) and Willie Taggart (South Florida)
10. Justin Fuente, Virginia Tech
Frank Beamer didn’t win a Coastal Division title or more than eight games in any of his final four years. Fuente achieved both in his debut season succeeding a living legend in Blacksburg. The Hokies were imperfect, to be sure. Witness the losses to Syracuse and Georgia Tech. But the offense is posting its highest scoring average since 2003, and the defense is good enough to cause problems for Clemson this Saturday in Orlando. Fuente arrived with sky-high expectations, which he’s been able to meet in Year 1.
9. Clay Helton, USC
Helton is the coach of one of America’s hottest teams, quite an achievement considering how the year began. The Trojans started 1-3, including an opening day implosion to Alabama, 52-6. However, Helton and the staff kept the kids focused and the locker room from losing cohesion. And he’s done it with a redshirt freshman, Sam Darnold, in charge of the offense and a mess of underclassmen on defense. Troy will be barreling into the bowl season on an eight-game winning streak, which includes wins over both of the participants in this Friday’s Pac-12 Championship Game.
8. Ken Niumatalolo, Navy
Niumatalolo is a gem of a head coach who doesn’t get nearly enough national attention because of where he coaches. He’s won at least eight games in eight of his nine seasons in Annapolis, this latest one arguably being the most impressive. The 9-2 Midshipmen, which have scored 141 points in the last two games, host Temple in the American Athletic Conference Championship Game. The Academy is not only a win away from its first-ever league title, but it’s gotten here despite losing iconic quarterback Keenan Reynolds to graduation as well as his successor, Tago Smith, to a Week 1 season-ending injury.
7. Urban Meyer, Ohio State
Meyer returns to the top 10 for the first time since before the Buckeyes lost to Penn State on Oct. 22. Ohio State regrouped over the past five games, highlighted by Saturday’s double-overtime defeat of Michigan to keep the team very much alive for a playoff berth. True, expectations are always going to be high in Columbus. Meyer is ranked this high because he’s within striking distance of a national title with a squad that was ransacked by the NFL Draft and is among the youngest in the country.
6. Paul Chryst, Wisconsin
The Badgers were unranked when the season started. However, that quickly changed after they stunned LSU at Lambeau in the opener. Wisconsin has hovered around the top 10 all season, with a shot to win the Big 10 title Saturday in Indianapolis against streaking Penn State. Chryst has had to be the better coach in a lot of games this season, because he’s not surrounded by the talent of, say, Ohio State or Michigan. Special credit should also go to defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, who has resurrected his career with the work he’s done in Madison.
5. Chris Petersen, Washington
The Huskies have rebounded from their Nov. 12 loss to USC by dropkicking Arizona State and Washington State, the latter by four touchdowns last Friday to capture the Pac-12 North. Next stop is Santa Clara and a date with Colorado to decide the league champ and possibly a spot in the College Football Playoff. In just his third season in Seattle, Petersen has Washington dreaming of titles again, which hasn’t happened in these parts since the beginning of the century.
4. P.J. Fleck, Western Michigan
The Broncos are one of just two remaining undefeated teams, a distinction shared with top-ranked Alabama. They passed their toughest conference test of the season, racing past Toledo, 55-35, to nab the Mid-American West Division. Now, it’s on to Detroit to play Ohio for a chance to not only win the conference for the first time since 1988 but also cop a marquee Group of Five bowl berth. Fleck has put Western Michigan on the map, which will have a lasting effect on Kalamazoo whether he’s back with the team in 2017 or not.
3. Nick Saban, Alabama
Saban’s Tide has methodically knocked down every hurdle this season, from USC in the opener to Auburn in the Iron Bowl. And getting to 12-0 in this era of parity, and with a fat target on your chest, is no small achievement. Alabama has one more remaining roadblock to being the No. 1 playoff seed, three-touchdown underdog Florida in the SEC Championship Game. Since Saban is so consistently good, he probably won’t be fully appreciated until he retires from the game and historians can take of his stock of his Hall of Fame body of work.
2. James Franklin, Penn State
If someone said neither Jim Harbaugh nor Urban Meyer would be coaching in the Big Ten Championship Game, you’d have assumed Mark Dantonio was up to his old overachieving tricks in East Lansing. Nope. It’s Franklin who miraculously won the East in a year that he broke in a new quarterback, Trace McSorley, and endured a smattering of key injuries. Penn State doesn’t harbor a lot of scary talent, especially compared to Michigan and Ohio State. Yet, Franklin pushed all the right buttons to win the last eight games and earn a spot opposite Wisconsin in Saturday’s title bout.
1. Mike MacIntyre, Colorado
The Buffs have been a non-factor in the fall for more than a decade. It didn’t help moving to the Pac-12, where Colorado was 5-40 in its first five seasons in the league. But the administration exercised patience with MacIntyre, who now has a perennial doormat playing in the Pac-12 title game as the South Division champ. This group of Buffaloes has never been in this situation before. Instead of freezing in the spotlight, though, they rose up with clutch wins over Washington State and Utah the last two weeks to inch to within a win over Washington from the school’s first-ever Rose Bowl appearance.