College Football's Top 12 Coaches on the Rise for 2014

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Pete Lembo is a name to watch in 2014.

College Football's Top 10 Coaches on the Rise for 2014

Every year, there’s a new crop of rising stars in college football’s coaching ranks ready to make an appearance on the national stage. Alabama's Nick Saban, Ohio State's Urban Meyer, Notre Dame's Brian Kelly and Florida State's Jimbo Fisher are names familiar across the nation with any fanbase. 

However, what about the next wave of stars that could be at BCS jobs in the next five years?

Ball State’s Pete Lembo has been on a quick ascension through the coach ranks, starting his career at Lehigh in 2001 and moving to the FBS ranks in 2011 with Ball State.

Lembo is an excellent X’s and O’s coach and has produced 12 winning seasons in 13 years as a head coach. Considering Lembo’s success at Lehigh, Elon and Ball State, it won’t be long before FBS programs are interested in the New York native. But the Cardinals are making every attempt to keep him in Muncie, as Lembo inked a new five-year agreement with the program this offseason.

In addition to Lembo, Bowling Green’s Dino Babers, UL Lafayette's Mark Hudspeth, Memphis’ Justin Fuente and Colorado State’s Jim McElwain are names to watch as coaches on the rise. 

College Football’s Top 12 Coaches on the Rise for 2014

Dino Babers, Bowling Green
Career Record: 19-7 (2 years)

Babers has a wealth of experience in the assistant ranks, making stops at a handful of FBS programs, including Purdue, San Diego State, Arizona, UNLV, Pittsburgh, Texas A&M, UCLA and Baylor. Eastern Illinois hired Babers prior to the 2012 season, and he proved to be an instant hit for the Panthers. Under Babers’ watch, Eastern Illinois went 19-7 in two years and made the FCS playoffs in both seasons. The Panthers averaged a whopping 589.5 yards and 48.2 points per game in 2013 and nearly defeated MAC West champion Northern Illinois in late September. With a loaded roster returning for Babers’ debut at Bowling Green, the Falcons should be the favorite to win the MAC in 2014.

Matt Campbell, Toledo
Career Record: 17-9 (2 years)

Campbell is one of college football’s youngest coaches and a rising star in the profession. He won his debut in the 2011 Military Bowl, defeating Air Force 42-41. The Rockets are 16-9 over the last two years and played in the 2012 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. Campbell received a contract extension until 2017 midway through last season and signed the No. 2 recruiting class in the MAC in 2014. Toledo should be one of the favorites to win the MAC West in 2014.

Tim DeRuyter, Fresno State
Career Record: 20-6 (2 years)

Fresno State is one of the premier programs in the Mountain West, and DeRuyter has continued to add to the foundation Pat Hill built from 1997-2011. In two years with the Bulldogs, DeRuyter is 20-6 and claimed the Mountain West title in 2013. The Bulldogs have to reload in 2014 without quarterback Derek Carr and receiver Davante Adams. However, DeRuyter is the right coach to keep Fresno State among the top programs in the Mountain West. If DeRuyter finds a quarterback to replace Carr, the Bulldogs could repeat as champions of the Mountain West in 2014.

Justin Fuente, Memphis
Career Record: 7-17 (2 years)

Fuente only has seven victories over the last two years, but there has been considerable progress at Memphis during that span. The Tigers went 3-21 in the two seasons prior to Fuente’s arrival and won just one conference game in that period. But Memphis went 4-8 in his first year in 2012 and finished 3-9 in 2013 in its American Athletic Conference debut. The Tigers should take another step forward in 2014, and if the offense develops with a solid season from quarterback Paxton Lynch, Memphis has enough winnable games on the schedule to push for a bowl.

Related Content: Ranking All 128 College Football Coaches for 2014

Mark Hudspeth, UL Lafayette
Career Record: 93-33 (10 years)

Hudspeth should have his pick of BCS jobs if he’s interested in leaving UL Lafayette after 2014. In three years with the Ragin’ Cajuns, Hudspeth is 27-12 overall and 17-6 in Sun Belt play. UL Lafayette claimed a share of the Sun Belt title in 2013, and the program has three consecutive bowl victories. Hudspeth’s team is also the favorite to win the Sun Belt in 2014. Prior to his stint with the Ragin’ Cajuns, Hudspeth went 66-21 in seven years with North Alabama. He also has stops in his career at Mississippi State (2009-10), Delta State and Navy. If a SEC job opens this offseason, keep an eye on Hudspeth as a potential replacement.

Curtis Johnson, Tulane
Career Record: 9-16 (2 years)

As a New Orleans native and an assistant with the Saints, there’s not a better fit for a coach at Tulane than Johnson. In two years, the Green Wave has made considerable progress under Johnson. Tulane finished 2-10 in 2012 but improved to 7-6 with a bowl appearance in 2013. Johnson is regarded as a good recruiter, which is a valuable asset for Tulane with the talent in the state of Louisiana. Moving to the American Athletic Conference will be an increased challenge for the Green Wave, and this program appears capable of handling that transition with Johnson at the helm.

Joey Jones, South Alabama
Career Record: 34-28 (6 years)

Looking for a rising star in the Sun Belt? Keep an eye on Jones. UL Lafayette’s Mark Hudspeth is expected to be a target for potential BCS openings this year, but Jones could be valued by other top programs if South Alabama posts another winning record. Jones – an Alabama native – is 31-21 in five years with the Jaguars, which includes a 6-6 record in 2013. Jones built the program from scratch and has South Alabama in contention for the Sun Belt title in 2014.

Pete Lembo, Ball State
Career Record: 104-49 (13 years)

It’s pretty easy to sum up Lembo’s coaching career in this simple statement: Three different head coach jobs, three very successful tenures. Lembo’s first head coaching gig was in 2001 at Lehigh. He guided the Mountain Hawks to a 44-14 record and two playoff appearances in five years. Lembo went to Elon in 2006 and won 35 games in five seasons. Lembo was hired at Ball State in 2011, and the Cardinals have yet to record a losing record under his watch. Ball State is 19-7 over the last two years and has played in back-to-back bowls. The Cardinals have some significant holes to fill headed into 2014, but there’s little doubt Lembo will keep Ball State in the mix to win the MAC West. There’s no question Lembo is one of the rising stars in the coaching ranks and could be poised for a jump to a BCS program in the next few years.

Jim McElwain, Colorado State
Career Record: 12-14 (2 years)

Looking for a coach that could move to a BCS job at the end of the 2014 season? McElwain is a name to remember. In two years with the Rams, McElwain has made significant strides in Fort Collins, guiding Colorado State to an 8-6 finish and a bowl victory over Washington State last season. Prior to taking over the Rams, McElwain worked as the offensive coordinator at Alabama from 2008-11, made a one-year stop with Fresno State in 2007 and a short stint with the Raiders in 2006. With his experience in the NFL, along with his experience under Nick Saban in Tuscaloosa, McElwain is a rising star to watch in the coaching ranks. Colorado State loses some key pieces from last year’s team, but McElwain should have the Rams back in the mix for a bowl.

Trent Miles, Georgia State
Career Record: 20-48 (6 years)

It’s impossible to judge a coach based solely on his record. Each program has its own set of expectations, which is especially true at a FBS program like Georgia State. Miles is the perfect case study for why records can be overrated for judging coaches, as he resurrected a struggling Indiana State program. The Sycamores went 1-22 from 2008-09 but finished with three consecutive winning records from 2010-12. Georgia State went 0-12 in Miles’ first season, but the Panthers made progress and were competitive in Sun Belt play by losing three games by a touchdown or less. It’s also noteworthy that 2013 was the first year Georgia State played on the FBS level and went 1-10 under Bill Curry in 2012. Give Miles a couple of years to recruit and Georgia State will move up the ladder in the Sun Belt.

Matt Wells, Utah State
Career Record: 9-5 (1 year)

Gary Andersen left behind plenty of talent in Logan, but Wells deserves a lot of credit for getting Utah State to a 9-5 mark last year. Wells joined Andersen’s staff in 2011 and worked for two years as an offensive assistant. He called the plays for Utah State’s 11-2 season in 2012 and was promoted to the top spot after Andersen left for Wisconsin. Last year, quarterback Chuckie Keeton was lost in the first half of the season with a knee injury, and the Aggies still managed to win the Mountain Division and play for the conference title. The real challenge for Wells starts in 2014, as Utah State returns only seven starters. However, all indications point to Wells being able to continue to build on Andersen’s success with the Aggies.

Bobby Wilder, Old Dominion
Career Record: 46-14 (5 years)

Wilder had the tough assignment of building a program from scratch, but Old Dominion has recorded five consecutive winning seasons after not fielding a team from 1941-2008. Under Wilder, the Monarchs are known for their high-scoring offenses, which feature standout senior quarterback Taylor Heinicke in 2014. Old Dominion may struggle early in its debut in Conference USA this season. However, Wilder has plenty of room to grow the program, especially with a strong recruiting area (Norfolk) and a high-powered style on offense to sell to prospects.

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