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RANKING POWER-65 COLLEGE FOOTBALL COACHES – #19 to #11

Now we are inside the top-20! What’s interesting about these guys to me is that all of them could make moves that would land them inside the top-10 if they had a championship caliber season, which for most of them is the last hurdle they need to overcome to get into that very elite category. As I wrote previously picking from #19 to #11 is probably based more on preference, but if you keep reading, there are some very interesting story lines with these guys that could affect their rankings going forward. Every coach/team mentioned here definitely has a story line that will be scrutinized in 2017. If you need to catch up, here are the links the previous articles in this series:

#50-#65
#49-#40
#39-#30
#29-#20

#19 – Bill Snyder – Kansas State

Coach Snyder is a tough one to rank because on the one hand you can argue he’s one of the all time great coaches in college football history. He’s unique in that he got the Kansas State job and kept it for as long as he wanted. He even came back after leaving at the conclusion of the 2005 season. In today’s football world, a coach at a school like Kansas St. would have bolted for another opportunity if they had had the success that Snyder has had at KSU. From 1995-2000, Snyder posted a 63-12 record with a 39-8 mark in Big XII play which included 3 Big XII North titles. Any other coach would have bolted for Georgia or Clemson or Auburn or Miami-FL. What keeps Snyder a bit lower is that he hasn’t won a ton at Kansas St. nationally. He’s never won a national championship. He’s only won the Big XII twice in 25 years of coaching. He’s 8-10 in bowl games. That mostly speaks to the ceiling of Kansas St. football. Snyder came back to Manhattan because Ron Prince lowered the standards. Snyder raised them again, but he can’t quite get KSU to national prominence. His hope was that Prince could do it. His hope when he retires is that the Wildcats get it right the 2nd time.

#18 – Mike Gundy – Oklahoma State

Gundy might be underrated by a long shot. Remember that Gundy has to go up against Oklahoma within his own state and Texas in his own region. Those are two college football Goliaths that are almost impossible to beat on the recruiting trail yet Gundy over the last 7 seasons has failed to win at least 10 games only twice. Gundy is coming off back to back 10-3 seasons and has posted 10-3 seasons in 3 of the past 4 years. Gundy almost won a national championship in 2011. If the Cowboys don’t completely blow it late in the year against Iowa St., then they would have played LSU in the national championship game that year instead of Alabama. The Tide beat LSU 21-0 in a revenge game after LSU beat the Tide earlier 9-6 in Tuscaloosa, but you’d have to think Oklahoma St. would have had a good shot at upending the Bayou Bengals. Oklahoma St. finished #3 in the rankings, but you have to wonder where the program could have been catapulted to had they brought home a national championship. What sticks out about Gundy to me as well is that he almost accomplished what Jimmy Johnson thought was impossible with Oklahoma State, namely winning a title. Gundy is about as Oklahoma St. as you can possibly get. He’ll be there forever if he wants and I can’t see him leaving which makes him quite a bit like Bill Snyder. Because of 2011, I’m not sure there is a ceiling to OK State football, so it’ll be interesting to see if Gundy can get over the hump and win a title.

#17 – Gus Malzahn – Auburn

It’s easy to forget that Malzahn led War Eagle to a national championship game his first season as head coach of the Tigers. That was a tall order beating a Jameis Winston led Florida St. squad so you can’t exactly blame him for losing. Malzahn has caught quite a bit of heat the past couple of seasons because he hasn’t replicated the success of that 12-2 squad from 2013. Malzahn is an offensive savant, but people forget just how good Auburn’s defense was in 2013. They didn’t create a lot of turnovers but they got after the ball quite a bit with quite a few sacks and tackles for loss. The O-line was dominant giving Tre Mason & Nick Marshall plenty of room to run. The defense & O-Line took a step back in 2014 and in 2015 Malzahn really didn’t have a QB as Jeremy Johnson wasn’t the answer. He entered 2016 with the same problems and Auburn struggled early, but when Auburn finally settled on Sean White, they reeled off 6 straight wins and won 6 of 7 after starting 1-2. The season didn’t end well with losses to Alabama & Oklahoma, but losing to Alabama in Tuscaloosa is hardly cause for concern and by season’s end Oklahoma was a top-5 team. Malzahn recruits extremely well and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Auburn really take off. Malzahn has his system in place and there is loads of talent here. Sean White is the unquestioned starter now and I”m willing to bet that Auburn gets back to double digit wins. In the SEC West, that is an incredible coaching job.

#16 – Pat Fitzgerald – Northwestern

What Fitzgerald has done at Northwestern is nothing short of amazing. Over this last 9 seasons, he’s lead the Wildcats to 7 bowl games. In the 114 seasons before Fitzgerald got to Evanston, Northwestern played in a total of 6 bowl games! It’s almost impossible for Northwestern to recruit on any major level unless some kids simply want to wind up in Evanston or have ties to Northwestern. While the Wildcats might not necessarily have it as bad as Vanderbilt because the Commodores play in the SEC, that might change given how good the coaching in the Big 10 is getting. I guess it could be worse and Northwestern could be in the Big 10 East, but Nebraska, Wisconsin & Iowa are pretty darn good. Lovie Smith is recruiting better to Illinois and Purdue & Minnesota just hired solid young coaches. It’ll be interesting to see how Fitzgerald adjusts to an influx of talent in the coaching ranks. He’s never gotten Northwestern to the Rose Bowl the way Gary Barnett was able to but he’s won 10 games in 2 of the past 5 years. Regardless of what happens around him, I have a feeling that Fitzgerald is going to keep winnings games. One thing I do want to mention about Fitzgerald and Northwestern is that if I had to pick any place for my son to go to college and play football, Northwestern would be in the discussion along with Michigan and Stanford. There really isn’t a better compliment to pay a head coach.

#15 – James Franklin – Penn State

From semi-mess to Rose Bowl in 3-years!? Franklin has more than earned ranking this high even if hadn’t took the Nittany Lions to a Big 10 championship in year 3. Franklin didn’t necessarily inherit the mess that descended upon Happy Valley in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, but Bill O’Brien was never going to be a long term solution and bolted for the NFL the first chance he got. Franklin didn’t shy away from the task of making Penn St. nationally relevant again and in just 3 years he had the Lions playing the Rose Bowl for the first time since 2008 and ranked inside the top-10 in the final AP poll for the first time since 2009! Franklin recruited at a high level immediately when taking the job, but he’s been able to sustain that success despite having a couple of 7-6 seasons to start his tenure. That success would only seem to increase the more Franklin wins because as a football purist, there isn’t many places more special to play than at Penn State! The only wild thing about Frankin’s success will be his ability to keep it going. He’s ranked #15 on this list which is fantastic, but he’s just 4th among coaches in the Big 10 East. That division is without a doubt the most feared and difficult division in all off football with Penn St. emerging as a national threat. Michigan St. isn’t always going to have off years and it’ll be intriguing to see what Franklin can do once Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan State are firing on all cylinders. I think Franklin can handle the difficulty.

#14 – Kyle Whittingham – Utah

Did you know that Whittingham is 10-1 in bowl games since taking for Urban Meyer as HC of Utah!? That’s downright amazing and if I’m not mistaken that is the best record of any FBS coach in bowl games that have coached at least 6 of them. All Whittingham does is win football games, but what is most impressive about him is the transition Utah made into the Pac 12. In their last 3 years in the Mountain West, Whittingham guided the Utes to a 33-6 record including their perfect 13-0 year in 2008 which saw Utah finished ranked #2 in the nation! The transition to the Pac 12 was never going to be easy and Utah took some lumps early going 9-18 in conference play in their first 3 seasons. Their next 3 seasons have seen a complete turnaround as Utah has posted a 28-11 record from 2014-2016 with a conference mark of 16-11, winning a share of the Pac 12 South in 2015. A by product of playing in a better conference and winning is that recruiting has massively improved for the Utes since 2014 and the program has a lot more talent on hand to compete with other Pac 12 schools. Last season Utah almost broke through expoentially. The Utes finished 9-4 with a bowl win over Indiana, but their 4 losses came by a total of 19 points! The year before (2015) Utah finished 10-3 with 2 of their losses coming by a combined 15 points. Utah & Whitingham win their fair share of close games as well, but winning a lot more of those games than you lose is a clear indicated of a great coach, which is exactly what Whittingham is.

#13 – Mark Richt – Miami-FL

Richt is another tricky coach because of perception versus reality. There is a lot of sentiment that Richt was somewhat of a disappointment at Georgia despite coaching in Athens for 15 years and averaging 10 wins a season while also averaging a 6-2 conference record during those 15 seasons! Did I mention Georgia plays in the SEC? That’s outstanding but at Georgia that’s only close. During those 15 seasons, Richt won just 2 outright SEC titles and hadn’t one one since 2005 when Georgia parted ways with him after the 2015 season. Richt is a tremendous coach and a tremendous recruiter. There can be no doubt about that, but what’s interesting about Richt’s time in college football is that he got to Georgia in 2001. Urban Meyer got to Florida in 2005. Richt won 2 SEC titles from 2001-2005 and 3 SEC East divisions. It’s also worth noting that Nick Saban was at LSU from 2000-2004 and then at Alabama from 2007 to present. Richt is fantastic. Everyone would agree, but Meyer & Saban and absolute Hall of Fame locks. Saban is arguably the greatest college football coach of all time and Meyer is easily in the top-5 if not #2 behind Saban. Richt’s only real crime is being born at the wrong time, between Saban (9-years later) and Meyer (4-years prior). Richt will do an outstanding job at Miami-FL. Recruiting will be fantastic. He already went 9-4 in his first season and came pretty close to winning the ACC Coastal. He’s not in the Atlantic with FSU & Clemson so the real story here is can Richt take Miami-FL a step further than he took Georgia? Do that and he leaps into the top-10 of these rankings. Stay 10-3 every year and Richt is a top-15 coach for sure, but not quite elite of the elite.

#12 – Gary Patterson – Texas Christian

It took Patterson a couple of years to figure out the Big XII, but once he did, the Horned Frogs started dominating in much the same fashion that destroyed the competition in the Mountain West. From 2014-2015, TCU posted a 23-3 record with a couple of top-10 finishes and a share of the Big XII title in 2014. The 2014 season stung a bit as TCU dropped a 3 points game in Waco to Baylor which nailed their coffin for a shot at the college football playoffs. Florida St. was going to be in as they were 13-0 and defending champions. Alabama was 12-1 and SEC Champs. They weren’t being left out regardless. Ohio St. is Ohio State. At 12-1 they weren’t going to be left out. They had won 11 straight games and was coming off a 59-0 beating of Wisconsin in the Big 10 championship. The one team TCU could have argued against is Oregon, but Baylor might have had a better argument as Baylor beat TCU, but the Bears also lost to West Virginia. The thought was that if TCU can’t win the Big XII outright, should they be in the playoffs? I don’t know who they bump out and I don’t know how TCU would have fared, but that was a tremendous team and Patterson showed that he could take TCU from the Big XII and make them legitimate national title contenders. Last year was a bump in the road for Patterson and the Frogs and you could sense some let down after the Trevone Boykin/Aaron Green/Josh Doctson era ended on offense. TCU has a lot coming back in 2017 and my guess is Patterson jumps back into the top-10 of these rankings.

#11 – Mark Dantonio – Michigan State

I think we can all agree that Dantonio is a helluva football coach and is deserving of this ranking and maybe #11 is too low, but I do think there is a trend here that needs to be looked at because it involved Dantonio going forward. Dantonio really started to up his value as a HC starting in 2010 when he led the Spartans to an 11-2 record with a share of the Big 10 title. From 2010 to 2015, Michigan St. went 65-16 (39-9) with 3 Big 10 titles and 3 Big 10 division titles. Sparty won the Rose Bowl in 2013 and finished ranked in the top-14 in five of the 6 seasons and in the top-6 from 2013 to 2015! The 2010 to 2014 era is significant because of what was going on at Michigan during this time. From 2010-2014, the Wolverines were 38-26 (21-19). Michigan wasn’t Michigan in those 5 seasons and historically speaking, Michigan St. took on the role of Michigan while Michigan took on the role of Michigan State. What happened in 2015? Jim Harbaugh showed up in Ann Arbor! You could argue that the 2015 season showed that Dantonio could handle both Ohio State and Michigan, but that is tough because Michigan St. won a road game over Michigan when the Wolverines game it away. They also beat Ohio St. in Columbus in a game they shouldn’t have and then beat Iowa in the Big 10 championship in a game Iowa should have won. The playoffs exposed Michigan St. a bit when Alabama beat them 38-0, but maybe the Tide would have beat Ohio St. and Michigan by 40 points too! The proof might have come in 2016 when Michigan St. fell off considerably and finished 3-9 with a 1-8 mark in Big 10 play which included losses to Indiana, Northwestern, Maryland and Illinois. Winning those games would have pushed MSU to 7-5 potentially which would have gotten them bowl eligible at least with a shot at 8-5. ┬áMaybe Connor Cook was that important!? Recruiting was down in 2017 for the Spartans while Michigan dominated. The trick with Dantonio is staying relevant while Michigan starts to dominate under Harbaugh. I think geography plays a role here. Auburn and Alabama can coexist as superpowers because they are in Alabama and the southeast. Florida and Florida St. can exist because they reside in Florida. The state of Michigan can’t resemble that type if relationship between it’s two football powers. Is Dantonio an outstanding head coach who can weather a bad year and get right back to the top of the Big 10 East or is he merely a solid head coach who took advantage of Michigan being down?

May 20, 2017 Posted by | ACC, Auburn, Big 10, Big XII, Coaching, Kansas St., Miami-FL, Michigan St., Northwestern, Oklahoma St., Pac 12, Penn St., Rankings, SEC, TCU, Utah | 1 Comment