The top 10 college football coach rankings heading into Week 8 welcomes Dana Holgorsen over from the hot seat to the penthouse.
The Coach of the Year race is an unforgiving, what-have-you-done-for-lately competition. You lose, you fall, unless of course there are extenuating circumstances or a moral victory against an opponent with far superior personnel. This hunt is also a zero-sum game, so when Virginia Tech’s Justin Fuente was upset by Syracuse last Saturday, it opened the door for West Virginia’s Dana Holgorsen to make his debut in this space.
It’s the halfway point of the 2016 season, and select head coaches are standing out among their peers in the profession. As such, they’re gaining traction in the race for Coach of the Year, a contract extension and even a high-profile promotion now that job openings are springing up.
Week 8 College Football Coach Rankings
10. Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia (Last Week, NR)
When the season began, Holgorsen was a hot seat candidate, laboring to recapture the early success he enjoyed in Morgantown. If the season ended today, he’d be the Big 12 Coach of the Year. The Mountaineers are cruising at an unforeseen altitude, elevating to No. 12 in the AP poll after clobbering Texas Tech, 48-17, in Lubbock. While West Virginia has yet to face the heart of the schedule, it has already toughed out wins over Mizzou, BYU and K-State. And if the rebuilt defense keeps improving, Holgorsen could be in line for a league title and a lucrative contract extension.
9. P.J. Fleck, Western Michigan (10)
The 7-0 Broncos aren’t just ranked these days, a first in school history. They’re moving north as well, sliding up to No. 20 following a 41-0 blanking of Akron. Not to be forgotten, Western Michigan has also defeated two Big Ten teams, including Northwestern, a win that looks better today than it did on opening day. The Broncs are heavily favored to run the table and win the MAC. And with a stumble from Boise State, folks in Kalamazoo could be planning trips to a New Year’s Six bowl game. Whether or not Fleck is still employed by the school in January is a question WMU fans prefer not to ponder right now.
8. Paul Chryst, Wisconsin (5)
Even in losing to Ohio State Saturday night, Chryst impressed by calling a great game and keeping a very good Buckeye defense off balance. The Badgers amassed 450 balanced yards, by far the most allowed by OSU this season. Wisconsin began the season unranked, yet sits at No. 10 after losing to Michigan and Ohio State, two of the nation’s premier schools, by only a touchdown apiece. That said, Chryst needs to sweep the final six games and win the Big Ten West to remain in this race.
7. Nick Saban, Alabama (8)
The Crimson Tide is now steamrolling its opponents, raising debates where this team might stand in the pantheon of Saban’s top squads in Baton Rouge and Tuscaloosa. Only Ole Miss has come within 18 points of Bama, which annihilated Tennessee in Knoxville last weekend, 49-10. Most remarkable about Saban and his staff is their ability to not just sign blue-chippers but keep them hungry as well. As an added bonus this year, the coach is unbeaten and a near consensus No. 1, despite going with a true freshman behind center.
6. Mike MacIntyre, Colorado (7)
The Buffaloes were picked in the summer to finish last in the Pac-12 South. With half a season in the books, Colorado is No. 26 in both polls, higher than everyone in the league except Washington and Utah. The Buffs are tied with the Utes atop the division and fresh off their first-ever win over Arizona State. New stars are popping up each week in Boulder, and MacIntyre has deftly navigated turbulence at quarterback. The offense didn’t flinch when rookie Steven Montez was forced off the bench or when a healthy Sefo Liufau rejoined the huddle last Saturday.
5. Jim Harbaugh, Michigan (6)
On the field. Off the field. Harbaugh is getting it done with all of the versatility of Jabrill Peppers. The Wolverines reached their bye week without a loss, boasting wins over Colorado, Penn State and Wisconsin. The big test doesn’t happen for more than a month, but if the season ended today Michigan would be a part of the College Football Playoff. The D in Ann Arbor is championship caliber. The passing game, though, has room for improvement, so Harbaugh must coach up first-time starting quarterback Wilton Speight over the second half of the year.
4. Bobby Petrino, Louisville (4)
Has Petrino hit his ceiling in the Coach of the Year chase? He’s certainly in the picture, piloting the nation’s No. 7 team and molding a possible Heisman quarterback. But the Cardinals buckled last Friday against Duke, nearly losing to a 34-point underdog. Additionally, Petrino won’t have many more opportunities to turn heads, with a schedule noticeably light on top-flight opponents. Louisville and all its parts were hurt when Week 12 opponent Houston lost to Navy on Oct. 8.
3. Urban Meyer, Ohio State (3)
Meyer and his entire staff have done a bang-up job in 2016. Sure, there’s plenty of talent in Columbus, but the season began with new starters everywhere. Yet, the Buckeyes have cleared each of their first six hurdles, most notably Oklahoma and Wisconsin on the road. The Badger win gave testament to Meyer’s coaching acumen and knack for in-game adjustments. While Ohio State trailed, 16-6, at halftime, it owned the balance of the game, outscoring Wisconsin, 24-7, for a pivotal overtime victory.
2. Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M (2)
Sumlin doesn’t need Johnny Manziel to be wildly successful, which he’s set out to prove in 2016. Unranked when the season started, Texas A&M is now 6-0 and No. 6 in the country, thanks to wins over UCLA, Auburn, Arkansas and Tennessee. Sumlin has served as a perfect CEO for a team that introduced new leaders at quarterback and both coordinator spots. Beat top-ranked Alabama this week, and Sumlin might spend the rest of the year in the pole position. Put forth a respectable showing, and he still shouldn’t slip more than a few spots.
1. Chris Petersen, Washington (1)
After being idle in Week 7, the Huskies return to action against Oregon State as the nation’s No. 5 team. Before taking a break, U-Dub easily disposed of rivals Stanford and Oregon to take over as the Pac-12 frontrunner. Petersen methodically built this team over the first two seasons, unafraid to employ underclassmen and allow them to learn on the job. This fall, he’s cashing in on the dividends. Petersen has excelled at keeping his young kids focused, despite an offseason filled with increased hype and expectations.