The top 10 college football coach rankings heading into Week 9 does not include Ohio State’s Urban Meyer for the first time all season.
Ranking Coach of the Year candidates is a product of expectations. Exceed them and you’re a strong contender, both for league and national honors. But how should coaches whose teams are perennially supposed to compete for hardware be handled? The answer is far more critically, whether that’s fair or not.
Witness Ohio State’s Urban Meyer, for instance. Lose at heavy underdog Penn State, and you’re gone. And then there’s Alabama’s Nick Saban, college football’s premier coach and a guy who doesn’t get nearly enough credit for consistently flourishing when everyone on the planet expects his teams to do just that.
We’re beyond the halfway point of the 2016 season, and certain coaches are rising above their peers in the profession. As such, they’re gaining a foothold in the race for Coach of the Year, a contract extension and even a high-profile promotion now that job openings are popping up.
Week 9 College Football Coach Rankings
Closing In on Top 10:
Ken Niumatalolo (Navy), Mike Riley (Nebraska), James Franklin (Penn State), Mike Leach (Washington State), Bryan Harsin (Boise State), Gus Malzahn (Auburn), Matt Rhule (Temple) and Dave Clawson (Wake Forest)
10. Kyle Whittingham, Utah (Last Week – NR)
Whittingham is making his debut in the 2016 Coach of the Year rankings, and probably a week or so later than it should have been. If he’s not the most underrated head coach in America, he’s certainly in the team photo. In a season that the Utes were being overlooked—again—they’re 7-1 and tied with Colorado atop the Pac-12 South. Few coaches are better at coaching up talent and grinding out wins than Whittingham, who has pushed the right buttons to overcome a smattering of devastating injuries and a wholesale changes in the offensive backfield.
9. P.J. Fleck, Western Michigan (9)
The Broncos moved a step closer to their first perfect season since 1941 with last Saturday’s win over Eastern Michigan. What’s more, they’re a Boise State stumble from being the highest ranked Group of Five program, which would result in a once-unimaginable New Year’s Six bowl berth. Western Michigan has been especially electric on offense, and that opening day win over Northwestern keeps getting better. Fleck and his assistants have so far succeeded in keeping the players focused, despite unprecedented national attention.
8. Paul Chryst, Wisconsin (8)
The Badgers remained in the Big Ten West race with last week’s crucial win against rival Iowa at Kinnick Stadium. Wisconsin’s only losses have been to top 10 opponents, Michigan and Ohio State, though the latter lost some punch now that the Buckeyes have fallen. Chryst gets an opportunity to bag a third win of the year over a top 10 team when unbeaten and No. 7 Nebraska visits Camp Randall. With a win, the Badgers would have a very real shot of earning a rematch with the Wolverines or Buckeyes in the Dec. 3 league championship game.
7. Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia (10)
Holgorsen is on the upswing, just like his team. The Mountaineers continue to improve and convert skeptics, after completely outclassing TCU, 34-10, a week ago in Morgantown. West Virginia is suddenly a top 10 squad, a first in more than four years. And it’s happening in season that the program was unranked in the summer and fielding questions about the state of the defense and the future of the coach. Holgorsen and all of his assistants have so far done a remarkable job of positioning this team for a possible Big 12 championship.
6. Mike MacIntyre, Colorado (6)
The Buffaloes are the third highest ranked Pac-12 team, ahead of more prominent programs, like USC, UCLA, Oregon and Stanford. This occurring just a couple of months after Colorado was picked to finish last in the Pac-12 South. Plus, the team is solid on both sides of the ball, flourishing on offense even after quarterback Sefo Liufau went down, and leading the conference in total defense. The Buffs have this week off before beginning their most important November in over a decade.
5. Jim Harbaugh, Michigan (5)
Alabama is the only thing standing between the Wolverines and their first No. 1 ranking since 1997. And to think that Harbaugh is less than two years into this gig, inheriting a mess from Brady Hoke. Harbaugh has pulled all the right levers this year, from hiring defensive coordinator Don Brown to molding quarterback Wilton Speight into a capable game manager. And Michigan is operating with the hunger and killer instinct of a champion, winning all but the Wisconsin game by at least two touchdowns.
4. Bobby Petrino, Louisville (4)
The Cardinals are one unfinished drive at Clemson from being undefeated, No. 2 in the polls and in complete control of the ACC race. After nearly losing to Duke, Louisville got back on track with a 54-13 obliteration of NC State to move up two spots to No. 5 in the country. The same NC State team, by the way, that should have defeated Clemson just a week earlier. The Cards have already bombarded Florida State, 63-20, behind Lamar Jackson, and should be 11-1 by the time playoff resumes are being evaluated by the committee.
3. Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M (2)
Sumlin and the Aggies lost for the first time in Week 8. But falling in Tuscaloosa in a game A&M led at halftime demotes the coach just a single rung. Sumlin is likely out of the SEC West and playoff hunt, but it has still been a fantastic start to 2016. The top 10 Ags remain on target for a New Year’s Six bowl invitation, and that 29-16 win at Auburn is far more impressive today than it was in Week 3. Texas A&M is favored to be 10-1 by the time LSU visits on Nov. 24 for a game of tremendous postseason consequence to both.
2. Nick Saban, Alabama (7)
Saban is this week’s biggest riser, and why not? His Tide used a dominant second half to shake free from No. 6 Texas A&M in a 33-14 victory. Bama has now defeated five opponents that were ranked at kickoff, including the last three weekends against Arkansas, Tennessee and the Aggies. Plus, the Tide, known for its defensive prowess, is 15th nationally in total offense, despite being led in the huddle by true freshman Jalen Hurts. Saban’s willingness to not only use a rookie behind center but also tweak the attack to maximize his skill set is why he’s on the doorstep of the top spot.
1. Chris Petersen, Washington (1)
The Huskies aren’t just winning games this season. They’re demoralizing opponents in ruthless, workmanlike fashion, an impressive trait for a program that hasn’t been in championship mode since the current players were in onesies. Washington has run roughshod through the schedule since getting a scare from Arizona late last month. And Petersen and his staffers have done a terrific job bringing along sophomore QB Jake Browning. But there are landmines ahead, beginning with this week’s trip to Salt Lake City to play 7-1 Utah.