Athlon ranks every FBS college football coach for 2016.
Success with any college football team starts with coaching. Even if a program doesn’t have the resources of the nation’s elite jobs, a good coach can elevate a program into national title contention. However, similar to any position on the field, statistics may not tell the full story when judging a coaching tenure.
This is not simply a list of coaches ranked by accomplishment or wins. While those aspects are important, it doesn’t provide a complete picture of how successful coaches are. Winning 10 games at Alabama is different than winning 10 games at Kentucky. Also, every program has a different amount of resources available. Hierarchy in college football also plays a vital role in how successful programs are. It's always easier for programs with more built-in advantages to contend for a national title on a more consistent basis.
A couple of other factors to consider when ranking coaches: How well are the assistants paid? A staff with two of the nation’s top coordinators could be a sign the head coach is better as a CEO and may not be as strong in terms of developing gameplans. How is the coach in the X’s and O’s? Can the coach recruit? Are the program’s facilities on par with the rest of the conference? Much like assistants, a program needs good facilities to win big. If a team is winning at a high level with poor facilities and a small budget, it reflects positively on the head coach. Is the coach successful at only one stop? Or has that coach built a solid resume from different jobs?
Again, wins are important. But our rankings also take into account a blank slate. If you start a program from scratch, which coach would you hire knowing what they accomplished so far and their career trajectory? Remember, you don't get the assistants - only the head coach. And head-to-head wins do not matter for this ranking. Athlon's editorial staff has voted on a ranking of coaches for all 10 conferences. Here’s the full 128 list of coach rankings, as voted on by the Athlon Sports staff for 2016.
Ranking All 128 College Football Head Coaches for 2016
128. Mike Jinks, Bowling Green
Bowling Green hit a home run with its last coaching hire (Dino Babers), and the program is hoping Jinks keeps the Falcons at the top of the MAC East. Jinks’ hire came as a surprise to most, as he had only three seasons as an assistant (Texas Tech) at the FBS level prior to his hire in Bowling Green. Additionally, Jinks has never worked as a coordinator at this level. His only experience as a head coach came in the high school ranks, spending one year at Burbank High School (2005) and a handful at Cibolo Steele (2006-12). Considering Jinks’ stint at Texas Tech came under Kliff Kingsbury, the transition on offense from Dino Babers’ attack should be minimal.
127. Mike Neu, Ball State
Neu – a former Ball State quarterback from 1990-93 – returns to Muncie as the program’s head coach in 2016. Neu has garnered a variety of experience over the last 18 seasons, spending time as a head coach in the Arena Football League (New Orleans), as a college assistant with Tulane (2012-13) and in the NFL with the Saints (2014-15). While Neu is a former Ball State player and had a one-year stint as a graduate assistant with the program, this is his first opportunity to be a head coach at the FBS level.
126. Frank Wilson, UTSA
Wilson is regarded as an ace recruiter, and his ability to attract talent to a program should be a huge benefit to UTSA. There’s no shortage of talent in San Antonio and the surrounding area, but the first-year coach has to prove he’s more than just a recruiter. Wilson has never worked as a head coach or a coordinator at the FBS level. His only experience as a head coach came in high school, leading O.P. Walker High School from 2000-03.
125. Paul Haynes, Kent State
After a 9-26 record through three seasons, Haynes is entering a critical 2016 campaign. The Golden Flashes had a standout defense in 2015, but the offense averaged a paltry 9.1 points in MAC games last year. Fixing the offense is Haynes’ top offseason priority if Kent State wants to win more than four games for the first time in four seasons. As a former player and assistant with the Golden Flashes, Haynes certainly knows what it takes to win at this program. However, the pressure is starting to build after last year’s 3-9 record.
124. Doug Martin, New Mexico State
This is a tough job, and Martin’s outlook at New Mexico State is only getting tougher with conference uncertainty. The Aggies are slated to be a FBS Independent in 2018, which is not an easy road for a program that has only one winning record since 2000. Martin is 7-29 in three seasons at New Mexico State, but there was progress in 2015. The Aggies finished 3-9 overall but won three games in conference play and lost four by nine points or less. With 11 returning starters – including one of the nation’s top running backs in junior Larry Rose – the Aggies could push for a .500 mark in league play.
123. Seth Littrell, North Texas
Littrell looks like a good fit at North Texas, but he inherited a team in need of a lot of help after a 1-11 record in 2015. Littrell comes to Denton after two seasons at North Carolina, working under coach Larry Fedora as the program’s offensive coordinator. Prior to North Carolina, Littrell worked as an assistant at Indiana, Arizona and Texas Tech. The Oklahoma native’s background with the Air Raid offense should help North Texas attract plenty of offensive talent into the program.
122. Brad Lambert, Charlotte
Building a program from scratch isn’t easy. And it’s even harder to accomplish that goal by transitioning from the FCS to the FBS level. That’s the challenge facing Lambert at Charlotte, as the 49ers are 12-22 over the last three seasons, including a 2-10 mark in their first year at the FBS level in 2015. Prior to taking over as Charlotte’s head coach, Lambert worked from 2001-10 under Jim Grobe at Wake Forest. The fourth-year coach seems to have this program trending in the right direction.
121. Chris Creighton, Eastern Michigan
Eastern Michigan is arguably the toughest job in college football. This program has only season of more than two wins since 2009, with the last winning record coming in 1995. Considering the lack of success by the program in recent years and the roster situation he inherited, immediate success wasn’t going to be easy for Creighton. Through two years, Creighton is 3-21 overall and 1-15 in conference play. But prior to Eastern Michigan, Creighton went 42-22 at Drake, 63-15 at Wabash and 32-9 at Ottawa.
120. Paul Petrino, Idaho
Idaho has made some progress under Petrino’s watch. After winning two games from 2013-14, the Vandals finished 4-8 last season and could push for a .500 record in 2016. Petrino’s also deserves credit for the developing the offense, which averaged 30.3 points a game in 2015. However, Petrino’s job isn’t going to get any easier over the next two years, as the Vandals are dropping to the FCS level after the 2017 campaign.
119. Scottie Montgomery, East Carolina
Montgomery has been on a fast rise through the assistant ranks and lands at one of the better jobs in the American Athletic Conference for his first FBS coaching opportunity. The North Carolina native started his coaching career under David Cutcliffe at Duke from 2006-09 as a wide receivers coach and later spent three years (2010-12) with the Steelers in the same capacity. Montgomery returned to Duke in 2013, spending one year as a receivers coach before a promotion to offensive coordinator in 2014. This is Montgomery’s first head coaching opportunity, but he’s learned under one of the top FBS coaches (Cutcliffe) and his background on offense should be a good fit at East Carolina.
118. Tyson Summers, Georgia Southern
Willie Fritz set the bar high for Tyson Summers. Fritz helped Georgia Southern transition to the FBS level, as the Eagles finished 18-7 over the last two years and lost only two conference games in that span. Summers has never been a head coach at the FBS level, but he’s a Georgia native and has previous coaching experience at the school as an assistant (2006). Summers also has stops on his resume from stints at UAB, UCF and Colorado State. Georgia Southern returns a strong core of talent for 2016, so Summers will be expected to keep this team near the top of the Sun Belt.
117. Everett Withers, Texas State
Withers was a long-time assistant at a handful of stops before landing his first full-time head coaching opportunity at James Madison in 2014. Over the last two years, Withers guided the Dukes to an 18-7 record and led the program to back-to-back playoff berths. Prior to James Madison, Withers worked as an assistant under Urban Meyer for two years at Ohio State and also worked as the interim coach at North Carolina in 2011. He also has stops as an assistant at Minnesota, Texas, Southern Miss, Louisville and in the NFL with the Titans. Texas State finished 3-9 last year, but there’s a lot of promise for this program with Withers at the helm.
116. David Beaty, Kansas
Beaty inherited a program in need of a massive overhaul and finished his debut in Lawrence with an 0-12 record. The lack of success in 2015 was no surprise, as Beaty needs another recruiting class (or two) just to get this program competitive on an annual basis in the Big 12. In an effort to spark improvement on offense, Beaty is taking over the play-calling duties for the offense in 2016. However, the Jayhawks are likely staring at another double-digit loss season. Beaty is known as a good recruiter and his ties to the state of Texas should help in upgrading the program’s overall talent level over the next few years. Beaty still has plenty to prove in his first opportunity to be a head coach at the FBS level and has to show he can build a program – not just recruit talent to Lawrence.
115. Mark Whipple, UMass
UMass faces an uphill battle as a FBS Independent, but the program is in good hands with Whipple leading the way. Whipple is 6-18 over the last two years, but he posted five winning records in six years with the Minutemen from 1998-03, went 24-16 at Brown from 1994-97 and 48-17 at New Haven from 1988-93. In between the stints at UMass, Whipple worked as an assistant in the NFL with the Steelers, Browns and Eagles and also spent two years at Miami.
114. Nick Rolovich, Hawaii
After the disappointing four-year run under Norm Chow, Hawaii’s program is in good hands with Rolovich. The California native has plenty of work to do over the next few seasons, but there’s not a better coach to rebuild the Rainbow Warriors into a consistent winner. Rolovich played at Hawaii from 2000-01 and also coached in Honolulu as an assistant under Greg McMackin from 2008-11. Since 2011, Rolovich has worked at Nevada as the offensive coordinator. This is Rolovich’s first opportunity to be a head coach and it’s not an easy job. However, the Rainbow Warriors should show improvement over the next few seasons.
Related: Mountain West Predictions for 2016
113. Charlie Partridge, FAU
Partridge was known for his recruiting connections in the state of Florida when he was hired as FAU’s head coach in 2014. As expected, the Owls have recruited well over the last three classes, and there’s a strong core of promising players in place for 2016. The on-field results have been slow for Partridge, as he’s posted back-to-back 3-9 campaigns to start his tenure. Prior to taking over at FAU, Partridge was an assistant under Bret Bielema at Wisconsin and Arkansas and also had a stint at Pittsburgh from 2003-07. This is his first opportunity to be a head coach, so it’s no surprise Patridge is still learning on the job entering year three.
112. Ron Turner, FIU
Turner wasn’t the most popular hire after Mario Cristobal’s firing, but FIU has increased its win total in back-to-back years after a 1-11 mark in 2013. The Panthers finished 4-8 in 2014 and nearly qualified for a bowl with a 5-7 mark last season. Turner also has prior stints as a head coach from stops at San Jose State (1992) and Illinois (1997-04). His all-time record as a coach is 52-87, but he did lead the Fighting Illini to a Sugar Bowl appearance in 2001. With 13 starters back, Turner has a good chance to lead FIU to a bowl game in 2016.
Related: Conference USA Predictions for 2016
111. Tony Sanchez, UNLV
Hired from Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas, Sanchez was one of the nation’s most intriguing first-year coaches in 2015. The Rebels finished 3-9 in Sanchez’s debut – a one-game improvement from 2014 – but lost four games by eight points or less, a clear sign the program is trending in the right direction. Sanchez also reeled in the Mountain West’s No. 4 recruiting class in the 2016 247Sports Composite and is positioned to push for a .500 mark in conference play in 2016.
110. Matt Viator, ULM
ULM quietly made one of the best coaching hires of offseason in Viator. The Louisiana native takes over in Monroe after a successful 10-year run at McNeese State. From 2006-15, Viator guided the Cowboys to a 78-33 record and five appearances in the FCS playoffs. Additionally, McNeese State did not have a losing record in Viator's tenure and posted three seasons of double-digit victories. 2016 could be a struggle for ULM, but Viator should help this program take a step forward over the next few years.
109. Scott Frost, UCF
After a winless 2015 campaign, a new regime and direction should be a huge positive for UCF. There’s no shortage of potential for this program, and Frost’s background on offense and history with Oregon should attract plenty of recruits to Orlando. Frost arrives at UCF after spending seven seasons with the Ducks. He spent the last three years there as the team’s play-caller, guiding the offense to a top-10 finish in scoring each season. This is Frost’s first opportunity to be a head coach at the FBS level, but there’s a lot to like about this hire for UCF.
108. Tim DeRuyter, Fresno State
DeRuyter appeared to be one of college football’s rising stars in the head coach ranks after a 20-6 start to his tenure at Fresno State. During that two-year run, the Bulldogs claimed a share of the conference title in 2012 and won the league championship outright in 2013. However, replacing Derek Carr has been a challenge. Fresno State is just 9-17 over the last two seasons and slumped to 3-9 in 2015 – only the fourth time since 1969 the program has won fewer than four contests. Can DeRuyter get this program back on track?
107. Ron Caragher, San Jose State
Caragher hasn’t had the easiest of paths in his two stints as a head coach. He replaced Jim Harbaugh at San Diego but guided the Toreros to a 44-22 mark from 2007-12. Under Caragher’s direction, San Diego recorded at least eight wins in four out of his six seasons. He left San Diego to replace Mike MacIntyre at San Jose State – just one year after the Spartans won a school-record 11 games in 2012. Through three seasons, Caragher has compiled a 15-22 mark at San Jose State but guided the program to a bowl trip last year. With 15 starters returning this fall, Caragher should have his best team since taking over at San Jose State.
106. Jason Candle, Toledo
Candle is one of the rising stars in the Group of 5 coaching ranks and should move near the top of this list over the next few seasons. Candle’s career path is similar to former coach Matt Campbell, as both played at Mount Union before later coaching with the Purple Raiders as an assistant, followed by a stop in Toledo in the same capacity. Candle was promoted to head coach after Campbell left for Iowa State. The Rockets won’t miss a beat with Candle in charge.
Related: MAC Predictions for 2016
105. Jeff Monken, Army West Point
Army has only two winning seasons since 1994, so Monken has a tough assignment on his hands. Through two years, Monken is 6-18 at West Point, but he went 38-16 during four seasons at Georgia Southern (2010-13). Even though last season’s record (2-10) wasn’t pretty, Army lost seven games by a touchdown or less. Monken seems to have Army West Point moving in the right direction but a bowl game might be a year away.
104. Sean Kugler, UTEP
Injuries hit UTEP hard last season, including an early season-ending ailment to standout running back Aaron Jones. As a result, the Miners slipped to 5-7 in Kugler’s third year on the job. However, UTEP is just one season removed from a 7-6 mark and a bowl appearance in 2014, and a quick rebound should be anticipated for 2016. Kugler is 14-23 in three seasons with the Miners.
103. Chuck Martin, Miami, Ohio
Miami is one of the MAC’s top jobs, but the RedHawks have fallen on hard times. However, Martin seems to have this program moving back in the right direction. After an 0-12 record in Don Treadwell’s last season (2013), Martin is 5-19 over the last two years, but the RedHawks were more competitive in 2015 and return 13 starters for 2016. Prior to Miami, Martin went 74-7 at Grand Valley State and guided the Lakers to three Division II titles.
102. Darrell Hazell, Purdue
Purdue is a tough job, but Hazell looked like the right coach to help this program take a step forward when he was hired in 2013. Prior to becoming the head coach for the Boilermakers, Hazell worked at Ohio State under Jim Tressel as an assistant from 2004-10 and went 16-10 at Kent State (2011-12), including an impressive 11-3 season in 2012. But success at Purdue has been tough to come by for Hazell. The Boilermakers are just 6-30 over the last three years and have only two Big Ten wins in that span. Hazell is on the hot seat entering 2016, but there’s some optimism with 16 returning starters and new coordinators on both sides of the ball.
101. Tracy Claeys, Minnesota
Jerry Kill’s sudden retirement was a setback for a Minnesota program that enters 2016 with four consecutive bowl trips. But the Golden Gophers are hoping to continue Kill’s success with one of his long-time assistants – Tracy Claeys. The Kansas native worked under Kill for 20 years and also served as the program’s interim coach in 2013 and once again in 2015. Under Claeys’ watch, Minnesota finished 2-4 over its final six games last season, including a 21-14 victory over Central Michigan. However, the Golden Gophers were competitive against Michigan, Iowa and Wisconsin. Claeys has big shoes to fill in replace his mentor, but Minnesota returns 14 starters and has a favorable schedule that should allow the program to reach at least six wins in 2016.
100. Chris Ash, Rutgers
The Big Ten East Division is one of college football’s toughest divisions, and Rutgers is facing an uphill battle to compete with Michigan, Ohio State, Michigan State and Penn State on an annual basis. But after making more headlines for off-field news than actual on-field results in 2015, this program took a step in the right direction by cleaning house in the athletic department. New athletic director Patrick Hobbs picked Ash as Kyle Flood’s replacement, and the Iowa native seems to be the right fit for the Scarlet Knights. Ash is well versed in the division after spending the last two years at Ohio State as a co-defensive coordinator and he also has a prior stop in the Big Ten from three seasons at Wisconsin (2010-12). Ash also has stops on his resume from stints at Arkansas (2013), Iowa State and San Diego State. This is his first opportunity to be a head coach at the FBS level, but Ash has worked for one of the nation’s best coaches (Urban Meyer) and seems to have the right blueprint and long-term vision to help this program.
99. Mike Norvell, Memphis
Justin Fuente leaves big shoes to fill at Memphis after a 19-6 record over the last two seasons. However, Mike Norvell was one of the rising stars in the assistant ranks and should keep this program trending up for 2016 and beyond. Norvell worked as an assistant under Todd Graham at Tulsa (2007-10), at Pittsburgh (2011) and from 2012-15 at Arizona State. Norvell called the plays all four seasons for the Sun Devils, guiding the offense to an average of at least 34 points every year. Fuente set the bar high, but Norvell is an outstanding hire for this program.
98. Chad Morris, SMU
Expect to Morris move up this list in future seasons. The Texas native took over at SMU after spending four years guiding Clemson’s offense (2011-14). The Tigers’ offense emerged as one of the nation’s most-explosive attacks under Morris’ direction, including back-to-back seasons (2012-13) by averaging over 40 points a game. SMU finished 2-10 in Morris’ first season on the job, but the Mustangs should take a step forward in 2016. Prior to Clemson, Morris worked at Tulsa for one year (2010) and was a high school coach at five different stops from 1994-2009.
97. Lance Leipold, Buffalo
Leipold was one of the top coaching hires in the 2015 carousel, leaving Wisconsin-Whitewater after guiding the program to a 109-6 mark from 2007-14. Winning at the FBS level would require a few adjustments for Leipold and his staff, and the Bulls finished 5-7 in 2015. However, Buffalo just missed out on a bowl after losing three games by five points or less. Year one was just a small speed bump for this staff. The future is still bright for the Bulls with Leipold at the helm.
96. Mike Bobo, Colorado State
Bobo had big shoes to fill in Fort Collins last season. In 2014, Jim McElwain guided Colorado State to a 10-3 mark and an appearance in the Las Vegas Bowl. But with some key personnel losses to overcome and a tough schedule, the Rams dipped to 7-6 in Bobo’s first season. However, Colorado State wasn’t too far from matching the 2014 win total, as the program lost three games by five points or less, including a three-point defeat against rival Colorado. After spending most of his coaching career at Georgia and as a first-time head coach, Bobo is still learning on the job. However, the future looks bright for Colorado State with Bobo at the helm.
95. Neal Brown, Troy
Expect to see Brown move up this list over the next few seasons. In his debut at Troy, there were signs of progress for the Trojans, as this team finished 4-8 overall and 3-5 in league play. Brown is a disciple of the Air Raid offense and learned under two of the best offensive minds in Mike Leach and Tony Franklin. Prior to taking over as the head coach at Troy, Brown spent two years as Kentucky’s play-caller (2013-14) and three seasons as Texas Tech’s offensive coordinator (2010-12). Additionally, he also worked as an assistant under Larry Blakeney at Troy from 2006-09. Brown’s first year was promising, and more progress should be notable in 2016.
Related: Sun Belt Predictions for 2016
94. John Bonamego, Central Michigan
Considering Bonamego had never coached anything other than special teams since 1999, his hire came as a surprise at Central Michigan. However, Bonamego quickly showed he was capable of keeping this program near the top of the MAC, as the Chippewas gave Oklahoma State all it could handle in the season opener. Central Michigan finished 7-6 in Bonamego’s debut, which included a victory over MAC West champion Northern Illinois and a three-point loss at Syracuse. With a full offseason to put his stamp on the program, Bonamego should keep the Chippewas trending up in 2016.
93. Joey Jones, South Alabama
Jones was instrumental in getting South Alabama’s football program started and also guided the Jaguars to the FBS ranks in 2012. South Alabama went 7-0 in its first season in 2009 and finished 16-4 over the next two years. The Jaguars moved to the FBS ranks in 2012 and struggled to a 2-11 finish. However, Jones quickly brought the program up to a competitive level, recording back-to-back six-win seasons from 2013-14, including the program’s first bowl trip in 2014. The Jaguars slipped to 5-7 last year, but Jones should have this team back in the mix for a winning mark in 2016.
92. Jay Hopson, Southern Miss
Hopson is stepping into one of the most favorable roster situations of any first-year coach in 2016. Southern Miss returns 12 starters – including star quarterback Nick Mullens – from last season’s 9-5 team that claimed the Conference USA West Division title. Hopson has several stops as an assistant on his resume, including stints at Marshall, Ole Miss, Michigan, Memphis and Southern Miss. The Mississippi native was hired as Alcorn State’s head coach in 2012 and guided the Braves to a 32-17 mark in four seasons. With previous experience at Southern Miss, success in his only head coaching stop and ties to the state, Hopson looks like a good fit in Hattiesburg.
91. Brian Polian, Nevada
Following Chris Ault wasn’t easy, but Polian has stabilized the program after a 4-8 debut in 2013. The Wolf Pack have recorded back-to-back 7-6 records and finished 2015 on a high note by beating Colorado State in the Arizona Bowl. Prior to taking over at Nevada, Polian was an assistant from 2005-09 at Notre Dame and at Stanford from 2010-11. He’s regarded as a good recruiter and has the Wolf Pack positioned for improvement with the return of nine starters on offense in 2016.
90. Bob Davie, New Mexico
Davie inherited a mess after Mike Locksley’s three-year stint at New Mexico. The Lobos won just three games from 2009-11, but this program showed immediate improvement under Davie’s watch, finishing with a 4-9 mark in 2012. After winning 11 games through the first three seasons, Davie had a breakthrough 2015 campaign. The Lobos finished 7-6 last year and claimed the program’s first bowl trip since 2007.
89. David Bailiff, Rice
With its tough academic standards, Rice is one of the toughest jobs in the Group of 5 ranks. While Bailiff has experienced his share of ups and downs since taking over in 2007, the program has won 53 games in nine years and made four bowl trips. Additionally, the Owls won the 2013 Conference USA title and have recorded two winning marks in league play over the last three seasons. After a 5-7 record last year, Bailiff will be looking to guide Rice to its fourth bowl in five years in 2016.
Related: Conference USA Predictions for 2016
88. Bobby Wilder, Old Dominion
Old Dominion is a program with a lot of potential, and Wilder has the Monarchs poised to challenge for a bowl bid in their third season at the FBS level. Wilder is the first coach at Old Dominion since the program returned to the gridiron in 2009. The Monarchs went 9-2 in their first season, followed by an 8-3 mark in 2010. Wilder led the program to an 21-5 record from 2011-12, which included back-to-back trips to the FCS playoffs. After finishing 8-4 in a transition year to the FBS level, Old Dominion is 11-12 over the last two seasons and just missed on a bowl appearance last year. Wilder should have the Monarchs in contention for a winning record this fall.
87. Trent Miles, Georgia State
Georgia State is the second program Miles has brought significant improvement to in a short amount of time. He took over at Indiana State in 2008, and after a 1-22 mark through the first two years, Miles guided the Sycamores to 19 wins from 2010-12. Miles was picked as the second coach in Georgia State program history and inherited a team in need of major repair. The Panthers were still transitioning to the FBS level and were short on depth and overall talent. This program has made significant strides over the last three seasons, as Miles guided Georgia State to a 6-7 record last season and an appearance in the Cure Bowl. Even though Miles’ record in Atlanta is just 7-30, he’s a coach on the rise for 2016.
86. Clay Helton, USC
Helton enters 2016 with plenty to prove and no shortage of pressure. After filling in as an interim coach for the 2013 Las Vegas Bowl and again last year after Steve Sarkisian was dismissed, Helton was promoted to the full-time job at the end of the 2015 regular season. Helton is 6-4 in his limited stint as the program’s head coach and guided USC to the Pac-12 South title last year. However, this is his first opportunity to be a head coach on a full-time basis – and he’s doing it at one of the nation’s top programs. Helton wasted no time putting his stamp on the program by overhauling the staff and finished strong on the recruiting trail by signing the No. 8 class in the nation in February. Helton doesn’t have the big-time name recognition that Lane Kiffin or Sarkisian brought to the program when they were hired. Could that be a good thing for USC? Only time will tell how this hire will work out.
85. Barry Odom, Missouri
Odom has the tough assignment of following Gary Pinkel at Missouri. Pinkel finished his career in Columbia with a school-record 118 victories and guided the program through a transition to the SEC. While Odom has big shoes to fill, he’s certainly up to the task. He’s a former Missouri player (1996-99) and later worked in Columbia as an off-field assistant with Pinkel from 2003-08, before coaching safeties from 2009-11. In 2012, Odom was hired at Memphis as the defensive coordinator and helped the Tigers engineer significant improvement on that side of the ball. Odom was hired as Missouri’s defensive signal-caller last year and led this unit to a No. 2 finish in the SEC in scoring defense. There’s no question about Odom’s ability to coordinate a defense. However, this is his first opportunity to be a head coach at the FBS level.
Related: SEC Predictions for 2016
84. Derek Mason, Vanderbilt
After a rough 3-9 debut in 2014, Vanderbilt showed improvement in Mason’s second season with a 4-8 finish. The Commodores also went 2-6 in SEC play after a winless conference record in 2014. Mason’s decision to assume play-calling duties on defense helped to spur the improvement in the win column, as Vanderbilt limited opponents to 21 points a game and 5.2 yards per play. With the defense on track, Mason’s next goal is to generate more improvement out of an offense that managed only 15.2 points a game last season. If the offense takes a step forward, Vanderbilt could push for a bowl game in 2016.
83. Mark Stoops, Kentucky
Stoops is making progress at Kentucky, as the Wildcats have recorded back-to-back 5-7 finishes after a 2-10 record in 2013. However, while 2016 isn’t necessarily a make-or-break year for Stoops, getting to a bowl game is a reasonable expectation. The roster talent has improved over the last four years, with Kentucky recording four straight top-40 signing classes. Additionally, Stoops upgraded his staff with the addition of offensive coordinator Eddie Gran. With three winnable SEC games in Lexington, getting to 6-6 isn’t out of the question for Stoops in 2016. The fourth-year coach isn’t on the hot seat, but the pressure is starting to build.
82. Jim Grobe, Baylor
Turmoil has surrounded Baylor’s football program this offseason and continued with the dismissal of coach Art Briles in late May. Instead of promoting from within, the Bears are turning to Grobe as the program’s head coach for the 2016 season. Grobe has been out of coaching since the end of the 2013 season, but he should be a stabilizing force for Baylor. Grobe coached at Ohio from 1995-00 and accumulated a 33-33-1 record with two winning seasons. He was hired at Wake Forest in 2001 and brought significant improvement to one of the ACC’s toughest jobs. Grobe went 77-82 from 2001-13 in Winston-Salem, which included an ACC title and an Orange Bowl appearance in 2006. Grobe isn’t the long-term answer at Baylor, but he’s a good one-year solution.
81. Kalani Sitake, BYU
As a former BYU player, there’s not a coach better equipped to lead the program than Sitake. He does not have any prior head coaching experience, but Sitake has developed a strong resume as an assistant, including stops at Oregon State, Utah and Southern Utah. Sitake also worked under two good head coaches in Utah’s Kyle Whittingham and Oregon State’s Gary Andersen. The schedule isn’t easy for Sitake’s debut, but the Cougars are in good hands with the former Cougar fullback at the helm.
80. Philip Montgomery, Tulsa
Chad Morris and Tom Herman garnered most of the offseason attention among the coaching hires in the American Athletic Conference last year, but Montgomery quietly pieced together an impressive debut. Tulsa went 6-7 last season, which represented a four-game improvement from 2014. Prior to taking over as Tulsa’s head coach, Montgomery worked as an assistant under Art Briles at Houston (2003-07) and again at Baylor from 2008-14. Montgomery is a sharp offensive mind and should have Tulsa back in contention for a bowl trip in 2016.
79. Will Muschamp, South Carolina
Muschamp was fired at Florida after a 28-21 four-year stint from 2011-14, but he’s getting a second chance in the SEC. After one season as Auburn’s defensive coordinator, Muschamp was hired at South Carolina to replace Steve Spurrier. While Muschamp is certainly familiar with life in the SEC, he’s inheriting a program that needs major repair after a 3-9 2015 campaign. And it’s no secret the challenges of winning at Florida and South Carolina are different. Muschamp hired a good staff and is known as a good recruiter, but the access to talent is different at South Carolina. Muschamp will be better in his second stint as a head coach in the SEC. However, this job is more challenging than the one in Gainesville.
Related: SEC Predictions for 2016
78. Bob Diaco, UConn
Offense seems to be the focal point for a league that features coaches like Houston’s Tom Herman, SMU’s Chad Morris and Tulsa’s Philip Montgomery. However, defense leads the way at UConn with Diaco in charge. The New Jersey native was regarded as one of the nation’s top assistants during a stint as Notre Dame’s defensive coordinator (2010-13) and helped the Fighting Irish reach the national championship game in 2012. Diaco went 2-10 in his debut (2014), but the Huskies showed improvement in 2015 by finishing with a 6-7 record. Diaco is building a stellar defense in Storrs, and with a little improvement by the offense in 2016, UConn could push for seven or eight wins this fall.
77. Terry Bowden, Akron
Bowden guided the Zips to a breakthrough season in 2015. Akron won eight games – the most in school history – and claimed the program’s first bowl victory (Famous Idaho Potato Bowl). Bowden is 19-30 through four seasons at Akron, but the program has showed marked improvement under his watch. After a 1-11 debut in 2012, the Zips finished 5-7 in back-to-back years before the 2015 breakout campaign. Prior to his stint at Akron, Bowden went 29-9 at North Alabama, 47-17-1 at Auburn, 45-23-1 at Samford and 19-13 at Salem.
76. Craig Bohl, Wyoming
Bohl is just 6-18 through two years at Wyoming, but there’s no reason to panic. After all, this is the coach that went 104-32 at North Dakota State and won three consecutive national championships from 2011-13. It’s only a matter of time before Bohl has Wyoming back in the mix for winning seasons, and 2015 was clearly a rebuilding year with youth littering the depth chart on both sides of the ball. Progress in the win column could be minimal in 2016, but Bohl is still the right coach for this program.
75. Mike MacIntyre, Colorado
MacIntyre inherited a mess and a program that went 4-21 from 2011-12 under former coach Jon Embree. There were no quick fixes in MacIntyre’s rebuilding effort, and the former San Jose State coach has made some progress over the last three seasons. The Buffaloes finished 4-8 in MacIntyre’s first year (2013), regressed to 2-10 in 2014 but finished 4-9 last season. While Colorado has been more competitive under MacIntyre’s watch, this program still has only two Pac-12 wins over the last three seasons. Prior to Colorado, MacIntyre went 16-21 in three years at San Jose State, including a 10-2 record in 2012.
Related: Pac-12 Predictions for 2016
74. Blake Anderson, Arkansas State
After cycling through four different full-time head coaches in four years, Arkansas State has stability at the top. Anderson enters his third season with the Red Wolves and has guided the program to back-to-back bowl appearances and a 16-10 record. Arkansas State claimed the Sun Belt title last season and begins 2016 as one of the favorites to win the league crown once again. Prior to Arkansas State, Anderson worked for two years under Larry Fedora at North Carolina and also has stops on his resume as an assistant from Southern Miss, UL Lafayette, MTSU and New Mexico.
73. Rick Stockstill, MTSU
Consistent. That’s the best way to describe Stockstill’s tenure at MTSU. Since taking over the program in 2006, Stockstill has guided the Blue Raiders to a 64-61 record and has four bowl appearances over the last seven years. MTSU has a winning mark in league play over the last four seasons and has only one year of fewer than six wins since 2009. With one of the league’s top quarterback-receiver combinations (Brent Stockstill to Richie James) in place, 2016 could be the perfect opportunity for Stockstill to break through and win the Conference USA East title.
72. Skip Holtz, Louisiana Tech
Holtz’s three-year run at South Florida ended after a 16-21 record, but the rest of his resume as a head coach features plenty of highlights. After a four-year stint as an assistant at Notre Dame from 1990-93, Holtz was hired as UConn’s head coach and recorded a 34-23 mark in five seasons. With a chance to work under his father Lou Holtz, Skip returned to the assistant ranks in 1999 at South Carolina and remained with the Gamecocks until 2004. Holtz took over East Carolina’s program in 2005 and guided the Pirates to a 38-27 record and four consecutive bowl trips. While the stint at USF was a disappointment, Holtz is back on track with a 22-17 mark in three years at Louisiana Tech.
71. Rod Carey, Northern Illinois
Carey inherited big shoes to fill from Dave Doeren in 2012. Doeren guided Northern Illinois to a BCS bowl appearance that year, with the Huskies losing 31-10 in the Orange Bowl to Florida State. The program hasn’t slipped under Carey’s watch, as Northern Illinois is 31-11 and has three trips to the MAC title game over the last three seasons. The Huskies finished 8-6 last year, but the program was hit hard by injuries at the quarterback position. Carey should have Northern Illinois back in the mix to win the MAC once again in 2016.
70. Doc Holliday, Marshall
Holliday is known for his recruiting prowess, but he’s doing more than just winning on signing day for the Thundering Herd. Holliday is 50-28 in six seasons and has guided Marshall to three consecutive years of at least 10 wins. The Thundering Herd won the 2014 Conference USA title and finished No. 23 nationally in the Associated Press poll. Additionally, Marshall is 4-0 in bowl games under Holliday’s watch.
69. Frank Solich, Ohio
Solich is the dean of MAC coaches and enters 2016 with a 138-80 record in his career. Solich guided Nebraska to a 58-19 record from 1998-03 and was hired at Ohio in 2005. The Bobcats are 80-61 under Solich and only have two losing seasons since his arrival. Additionally, Ohio has played in six bowl games over the last seven years and recorded three trips to the MAC title game since 2006. Solich isn’t flashy, but he’s brought consistent success to the Bobcats.
68. Mark Hudspeth, UL Lafayette
Hudspeth opened his tenure at UL Lafayette with four straight 9-4 campaigns and four consecutive trips to the New Orleans Bowl. Even though the Ragin’ Cajuns had personnel losses to overcome for 2015, this program wasn’t expected to suffer too much in the win column. However, Hudspeth’s team slipped to 4-8 and finished the year with a four-game losing streak. Was 2015 just a small speed bump for Hudspeth? The guess here is yes, as the Ragin’ Cajuns should rebound back into a bowl this fall.
67. Scott Satterfield, Appalachian State
Replacing a coaching legend like Jerry Moore wasn’t easy for Satterfield, but the former Appalachian State quarterback has settled in and emerged as the top coach in the Sun Belt. Satterfield went 4-8 in his debut with the Mountaineers in 2013 but guided the program to a 7-5 mark in its first year at the FBS level. Appalachian State fell just short of a Sun Belt title last season with an 11-2 record and also earned the program’s first bowl victory with a 31-29 win over Ohio in the Camellia Bowl. Prior to taking over as the head coach at Appalachian State, Satterfield worked from 1998-08 as an assistant under Moore and also had short stints at Toledo (2009) and FIU (2010-11).
66. Matt Wells, Utah State
Last season’s 6-7 record represented Utah State’s first losing mark since 2010. Even though the six victories was a disappointment, this program has progressed significantly after recording zero winning seasons from 1998-2010. Wells is 25-16 over the last three years and has not finished lower than second in the Mountain West’s Mountain Division. Additionally, Utah State has played in three consecutive bowl games. Injuries and turnover in the assistant coach ranks have hit the program hard over the last couple of seasons, but the Aggies are still in good shape with Wells on the sidelines.
65. Lovie Smith, Illinois
Even though the timing (March) was unusual, new athletic director Josh Whitman wasted no time putting his stamp on the program. On his first official day on the job, Whitman fired Bill Cubit and made a standout hire by bringing Smith to Champaign. While Smith hasn’t coached in college since 1995, he brings plenty of name value to Illinois, which should add credibility on the recruiting trail. In 11 seasons as a head coach in the NFL, Smith went 89-87 and guided the Bears to a Super Bowl appearance in 2006. It may take a year for Smith to adjust to the collegiate ranks, and he’s already getting a late start due to the March hire. However, he hired a good staff to ease the transition and there’s plenty of potential for this program to improve in the Big Ten West.
64. Dave Clawson, Wake Forest
Clawson wasn’t going to be able to immediately turn around Wake Forest in his first two seasons, but there have been signs of improvement. The Demon Deacons are 6-18 under Clawson’s direction and have recorded back-to-back 1-7 records in ACC play. But the program’s depth and talent level is improving, as evidenced by four losses coming by eight points or less in 2015. Clawson is a proven winner from three prior stops – Bowling Green, Richmond and Fordham – and has a blueprint for getting Wake Forest back in contention for winning seasons. With a favorable schedule ahead in 2016, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Demon Deacons hit the six-win mark.
Related: ACC Predictions for 2016
63. Dave Doeren, NC State
Doeren replaced Tom O’Brien at NC State after a successful two-year stint at Northern Illinois and has made steady progress over the last three seasons in Raleigh. The Wolfpack went 3-9 in Doeren’s debut but rebounded with an 8-5 mark in 2014 and finished 7-6 last year. Additionally, NC State has recorded back-to-back bowl trips and has inked three consecutive top 50 recruiting classes. While there are signs of progress, Doeren is just 6-18 in conference play and has yet to defeat a Power 5 opponent that finished a season with a winning record. The 2016 schedule is challenging, and the Wolfpack have to break in a new quarterback with Jacoby Brissett out of eligibility. This fall should provide good insight into just how far this program has developed under Doeren’s watch.
62. P.J. Fleck, Western Michigan
Fleck is known for his energy and ability to recruit. However, through three seasons at Western Michigan, Fleck is proving to be more than a coach that just wins on signing day. After a 1-11 record in Fleck’s first season (2013), the Broncos are 16-10 over the last two years. Additionally, the program is coming off back-to-back bowl games for the first time in program history. Fleck also guided Western Michigan to its first postseason win by defeating MTSU 45-31 in the Bahamas Bowl last year. With 13 returning starters back for 2016, Western Michigan should challenge for its first trip to the MAC title game since 2000.
61. Jeff Brohm, WKU
In just two seasons at WKU, Brohm has quickly emerged as the No. 1 coach in Conference USA. Brohm was promoted to head coach in 2014 after Bobby Petrino left to return to Louisville. The Hilltoppers finished 8-5 in Brohm’s first year but claimed the Conference USA title with a 12-2 mark in 2015. Additionally, Brohm has emerged as one of the top offensive minds in the Group of 5 ranks. WKU has ranked inside of the top 10 nationally in scoring offense over the last two seasons and finished third nationally by averaging 7.23 yards a play in 2015. Even with quarterback Brandon Doughty off to the NFL, WKU’s program is in good hands with Brohm leading the way.
60. D.J. Durkin, Maryland
Durkin was considered one of the rising stars in the assistant ranks over the last few seasons and lands at a program (Maryland) with some upside. The Ohio native comes to College Park after one season at Michigan, where he coordinated a Wolverine defense that ranked third in the Big Ten in fewest points allowed. Prior to Michigan, Durkin worked for five seasons at Florida and also spent time at Stanford (2007-09) and Bowling Green (2005-06). Durkin has a lot of work ahead in 2016 after Maryland finished 3-9 last year. However, Durkin hired a good staff and should be able to utilize his experience as an assistant under two of the nation’s best coaches – Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh – to help Maryland improve over the next few seasons.
59. Tommy Tuberville, Cincinnati
After back-to-back 9-4 seasons, Tuberville slipped to 7-6 in his third year at Cincinnati. The win total regression was largely due bad luck with a minus-19 turnover margin. A quick rebound to nine wins again wouldn’t be a surprise for the Bearcats, as there’s a track record of success for Tuberville. He went 20-17 at Texas Tech from 2010-12, 85-40 at Auburn from 1999-08 and 25-20 at Ole Miss from 1995-98. In Tuberville’s 20-year coaching career, he’s had only four seasons with losing records.
58. Matt Rhule, Temple
Rhule delivered a breakout season for Temple in 2015, as the Owls tied a program record with 10 victories. Temple finished 10-4 overall last year and claimed the American Athletic East Division title. Rhule is no stranger to success at Temple, as he worked as an assistant under Al Golden from 2006-10 and again for one year with Steve Addazio (2011). Rhule also has one season of experience in the NFL, working with the Giants’ offensive line in 2012. After three years at Temple, it’s clear Rhule is one of the top coaches in the Group of 5 ranks.
57. Bryan Harsin, Boise State
The bar is set high at any program whenever nine wins is considered a disappointing year. That’s the standard set at Boise State, as the Broncos are one of the top Group of 5 programs and should challenge for the bowl spot in the New Year’s Six on an annual basis. Harsin did just that in year one, finishing 12-2 with a victory over Arizona in the Fiesta Bowl in 2014. However, the Broncos slipped to 9-4 last year and lost the division title to Air Force. Don’t expect Boise State to be under 10 wins for too long, as Harsin has this program on the verge of a quick rebound in 2016.
56. Willie Taggart, South Florida
Taggart was feeling the pressure to produce after a 6-18 start to his tenure at South Florida. But Taggart certainly eased concerns about the direction of the program with an 8-5 mark and a trip to the Miami Beach Bowl last year. The 8-5 record improved Taggart’s overall mark at USF to 14-23, and the Bulls should start out 2016 as the favorite to win the American Athletic East Division. Prior to taking over at USF, Taggart went 16-20 in three years at WKU, which included back-to-back 7-5 campaigns. After a slow start to his tenure, Taggart seems to have this program trending up for 2016 and beyond.
55. Rocky Long, San Diego State
With a fertile recruiting area in its backyard, San Diego State has been considered a sleeping giant. After having some sporadic success from 1986-2009, this program took a big step forward in 2010 with a 9-4 mark in Brady Hoke’s second year with the Aztecs. After Hoke left for Michigan, Long was promoted to the top spot. Under his watch, San Diego State continues to climb even higher in the Mountain West. The Aztecs have earned four consecutive bowl trips and finished 2015 by tying the school record with 11 victories. Long also worked as New Mexico’s head coach from 1998-08, guiding the program to a 65-69 record with five bowl trips. He’s also regarded as one of the top defensive minds in the Group of 5 conferences and should have San Diego State in contention for 10 (or more) wins in 2016.
54. Kirby Smart, Georgia
Smart patiently waited for his first opportunity to be a head coach, and the former Georgia defensive back lands at his alma mater after nine seasons at Alabama. While Smart is back at his alma mater, there’s plenty of pressure to win right away. After all, he’s replacing a coach (Mark Richt) who won 145 games in 15 seasons. The challenge for Smart is simple: Elevate Georgia into contention for playoff berths and be a consistent SEC title contender. That’s something that has eluded the Bulldogs in recent years, as the program’s last SEC title was in 2005. Smart certainly has the right background and experience to win big. However, this is his first opportunity to be a head coach and it comes at one of top 10 jobs in the nation.
53. Willie Fritz, Tulane
Tulane made one of the offseason’s best coaching hires by bringing Fritz to New Orleans after a successful two-year stint at Georgia Southern. From 2014-15 with the Eagles, Fritz went 17-7 and helped the program complete a successful transition to the FBS level. Prior to taking over at Georgia Southern, Fritz guided Sam Houston State to 40 wins from 2010-13 and back-to-back appearances in the FCS Championship (2011-12). He also coached at Central Missouri from 1997-09, recording a 97-47 mark in that span. Fritz has been a winner at each coaching stop and should continue that track record at Tulane over the next few years.
52. Matt Campbell, Iowa State
Campbell was an outstanding hire for Iowa State and easily one of the best coaching moves of the 2015-16 carousel. The 36-year-old coach comes to Ames after four full seasons (and one bowl game in 2011), earning a 35-15 record with the Rockets. Toledo did not have a losing season under Campbell’s watch and recorded bowl trips in three out of four years. Campbell has been on a fast rise through the coaching ranks and played his college ball at the ultra-successful Mount Union program. Iowa State is a tough job, so Campbell will find it tough to match is win total from Toledo on an annual basis. However, the Cyclones should take a step forward under Campbell’s direction and contend for bowl games on a consistent basis.
51. Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech
Kingsbury is known as one of the nation’s top offensive-minded coaches and has Texas Tech trending up after a 7-6 mark in 2015. The Red Raiders went 8-5 in Kingsbury’s debut (2013) but regressed to 4-8 in 2014. However, Texas Tech had a solid rebound year last season and could challenge for a winning mark in Big 12 play in 2016. Prior to taking over as the head coach in Lubbock, Kingsbury engineered some of the nation’s top offenses at Houston and Texas A&M. At 36 years old, Kingsbury is still learning on the job and could move up this list in future seasons.
50. Troy Calhoun, Air Force
Air Force has been a consistent winner under Calhoun’s watch, and the program is coming off its first trip to the Mountain West Conference title game. The Falcons won the Mountain Division last year and lost by three points on the road at San Diego State in the conference title game. Calhoun has recorded a 67-50 mark since replacing Fisher DeBerry in 2007. Air Force also has eight bowl appearances under Calhoun and just one season of fewer than six wins. Calhoun is also the Mountain West’s longest-tenured coach and the 18 victories over the last two years is the best mark by the program since posting 22 from 1997-98.
49. Paul Chryst, Wisconsin
Chryst had a solid debut in his return to Madison, as the Badgers finished 10-3 and capped the 2015 season with a victory over USC in the Holiday Bowl. Chryst is entrenched in the program, as he’s a Madison native, played his college ball with the Badgers and spent time as an assistant at Wisconsin under Barry Alvarez in 2005 and with Bret Bielema from 2006-11. However, Chryst will be tested in 2016, as Wisconsin takes on a brutal schedule, including a non-conference game versus LSU and crossover matchups in Big Ten play against Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan State. Prior to taking over for Gary Andersen at Wisconsin, Chryst went 19-19 in three years at Pittsburgh. So far, so good for Chryst at his alma mater.
48. Kevin Wilson, Indiana
Things are looking up for Indiana after the Hoosiers reached the postseason for the first time in Kevin Wilson’s tenure. After a 1-11 debut in 2011, Indiana has made progress under Wilson’s watch, finishing with at least four wins in each of the last four seasons. That may seem like a small feat, but this job is the toughest in the Big Ten East and has only two bowl appearances since 1994. Indiana has been more competitive under Wilson, and he was rewarded with a contract extension at the end of the 2015 season. Additionally, the program is investing more into facilities and stepped up in assistant salaries to hire Tom Allen as the program’s new defensive coordinator. The Big Ten East isn’t forgiving, but Indiana will be a tough out for the rest of the division with Wilson continuing to push this program to improve over the next few years.
47. Steve Addazio, Boston College
After starting his tenure at Boston College with back-to-back 7-6 records, the Eagles regressed with a 3-9 mark in 2015. However, it’s unfair to penalize Addazio too much for last year’s record, as the Eagles were hit hard by injuries on offense and averaged only 9.1 points in ACC contests. Can Addazio quickly get Boston College back on track? The defense ranked among the nation’s best last year and still returns enough of a core (six starters) to prevent a huge drop in production. Additionally, the addition of transfer quarterback Patrick Towles should provide some stability to the offense. Prior to Boston College, Addazio went 13-11 in two years at Temple and also worked as an assistant at Florida, Indiana and Notre Dame.
46. Dino Babers, Syracuse
Babers is one of the top coaching hires in the 2015-16 coaching carousel and comes to Syracuse after a successful two-year stint at Bowling Green. The Orange needed to get this hire right, as the program can’t afford to fall too far behind in the top-heavy ACC Atlantic. Under Babers’ watch, the Falcons won back-to-back MAC East titles and finished 18-9 from 2014-15. Prior to Bowling Green, Babers went 19-7 in two seasons at Eastern Illinois (2012-13) and also made stops as an assistant at Baylor, UCLA, Pittsburgh, Texas A&M and Arizona. Babers’ four-year stint at Baylor as an assistant under Art Briles proved to be one of the most influential stops in his career and helped the California native emerge as one of the nation’s top offensive minds. Babers led Bowling Green’s offense to an average of 42.2 points a game last season and also developed Jimmy Garoppolo into a NFL draft pick while at Eastern Illinois. Hiring Babers should help get Syracuse moving back in the right direction.
45. Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia
Holgorsen enters 2016 in an interesting position. Last season, the Mountaineers recorded their highest win total (eight) since joining the Big 12 in 2012. However, contract negotiations between Holgorsen and athletic director Shane Lyons ended earlier this spring. Holgorsen is not signed beyond 2017, so there’s some uncertainty about his future in Morgantown. Under Holgorsen’s watch, West Virginia is 36-28 overall and has played in four bowl games over the last five years.
44. Sonny Dykes, California
Coming off his best season at California (8-5 in 2015), Dykes has momentum and a contract extension on his side. The Golden Bears went 1-11 in Dykes’ first year with the program but improved to 5-7 in 2014 and recorded their first winning season since 2011 with a solid 8-5 campaign in 2015. Additionally, quarterback Jared Goff went No. 1 in the NFL Draft, which certainly doesn’t hurt Dykes on the recruiting trail. The Golden Bears also received good news in mid-May, as transfer quarterback Davis Webb is headed to California instead of Colorado. Repeating last year’s 8-5 mark will be tough, but Dykes has this program trending in the right direction.
43. Bronco Mendenhall, Virginia
Mendenhall might be one of the nation’s most intriguing coaches to watch in 2016. Virginia’s decision to hire Mendenhall to replace Mike London was arguably the biggest surprise of the offseason coaching carousel. Mendenhall has spent most of his career out west, including stops as an assistant at Oregon State, Northern Arizona, New Mexico and BYU. Mendenhall was promoted to head coach at BYU in 2005 and led the Cougars to 99 wins over the last 11 years. Mendenhall has a strong track record of success and is regarded for his work with defenses. However, the schedule will be tough on annual basis and adapting to a new recruiting area and conference opponents will require a transition period.
42. Gary Andersen, Oregon State
Andersen’s decision to leave Wisconsin for Oregon State came as a surprise. In his two seasons with the Badgers, Andersen went 19-7 and guided the program to a Big Ten West Division title in 2014. And prior to Wisconsin, Andersen went 26-24 at Utah State and finished his tenure in Logan with back-to-back bowl appearances. While Andersen’s hire came as a surprise, Oregon State’s 2015 performance was not. The Beavers were in clear rebuild mode last year and struggled to a 2-10 finish. Andersen has a track record of success but it’s going to take some time to get the Beavers back in contention for winning seasons.
41. Mike Riley, Nebraska
A 6-7 record in his first season at Nebraska certainly isn’t what Riley had in mind. However, a deeper look at the Cornhuskers’ 2015 season shows this team wasn’t far from eight or nine wins. Six of Nebraska’s seven losses came by eight points or less, with the close defeats largely fueled by a minus-12 turnover margin. With small improvement in the turnover department, the Cornhuskers should be able to rebound back into the right side of the winning column in 2016. Prior to Nebraska, Riley went 93-80 at Oregon State – one of the Pac-12’s toughest jobs – and also spent time in the NFL as a head coach with the Chargers. And here’s another positive sign for Nebraska: The Cornhuskers are off to a great start on the recruiting trail for the 2017 signing class. Riley didn’t inherit a team stocked with depth and was hit by some bad luck last year. 2016 should provide some better insight into the direction of this program under Riley’s watch.
40. Ken Niumatalolo, Navy
Navy embarked on a new era for its football program in 2015 by joining the American Athletic Conference. However, the change from being a FBS independent to a conference member didn’t have any impact on the Midshipmen. Niumatalolo guided Navy to a school-record 11 wins last season and finished No. 18 in the final Associated Press poll. Under Niumatalolo’s direction, the Midshipmen are 68-37 since the 2007 Poinsettia Bowl and have only one season of fewer than eight wins.
39. Pat Narduzzi, Pittsburgh
Narduzzi ranks ninth among his ACC counterparts for 2016, but the second-year coach should move up this list in future seasons. In his first year in the Steel City, Narduzzi led Pittsburgh to an 8-5 overall record and a second-place finish in the ACC’s Coastal Division. Three of the five losses last season were by a touchdown or less, with the other two defeats coming at the hands of Notre Dame and Navy (in its home stadium in the Military Bowl). Narduzzi has Pittsburgh trending in the right direction and should have this team positioned for another run at eight or nine wins in 2016.
38. Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech
A case could be made for Johnson to rank higher among his ACC counterparts here, but the Yellow Jackets are coming off their worst season (3-9) since a 1-10 mark in 1994. Despite the disappointing 2015 campaign, Georgia Tech is 61-44 under Johnson’s direction and is just one year removed from winning 11 games and the Orange Bowl in 2014. Additionally, the Yellow Jackets have just one losing season (2015) in ACC play under Johnson. A quick turnaround in 2016 wouldn’t be a surprise with Johnson’s track record, as he went 62-10 in five seasons at Georgia Southern (1997-01) and 45-29 at Navy (2002-07) before landing at Georgia Tech in 2008.
37. Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M
Sumlin has slipped on this list over the last few seasons, and 2016 will be an important year for the fifth-year coach. After an 11-2 finish in 2012, Texas A&M went 9-4 in 2013 and recorded back-to-back 8-5 campaigns. Additionally, the Aggies are just 11-13 in SEC play over the last three seasons and have not finished in the top 25 over the last two years. Sumlin’s program also suffered a setback with the departure of two talented quarterbacks – Kyler Murray and Kyle Allen – prior to last season’s bowl game. Graduate transfer Trevor Knight alleviates some of the concern under center, but the Aggies are also breaking in a new offense behind coordinator Noel Mazzone. Sumlin took a step forward by hiring John Chavis to coordinate the defense last year, and now it’s up to Mazzone to provide stability on offense.
36. Larry Fedora, North Carolina
Fedora delivered a breakout year in his fourth season in Chapel Hill. The Tar Heels finished 11-3, won the Coastal Division and finished No. 15 nationally in the Associated Press poll. The 11-win season was a huge boost for Fedora after 6-7 mark in 2014. Fedora has a solid 32-20 record over the last four years and has never finished below .500 in ACC play. Prior to North Carolina, Fedora had a successful stint at Southern Miss, recording a 34-19 mark in four seasons. The Tar Heels face a tougher schedule and have a few key personnel question marks to address, but Fedora’s team opens 2016 as the favorite in the ACC Coastal.
35. Jim Mora, UCLA
The Pac-12 has one of the nation’s deepest collections of coaches. Need evidence? Mora ranks eighth on this list, but a strong argument could be made for the UCLA head coach to rank higher after a 37-16 mark over the last four seasons. Under Mora’s watch, the Bruins have won at least eight games every year and claimed the Pac-12 South title in 2012. UCLA has some key players to replace from its 2015 team, but a favorable schedule and the development of sophomore quarterback Josh Rosen has this program poised to enter the 2016 season as the favorite in the South Division.
34. Mark Helfrich, Oregon
Life after Marcus Mariota wasn’t going to be easy, but Oregon’s 2015 season was hindered by an early-season injury to quarterback Vernon Adams. After a 3-3 start, Helfrich guided the Ducks to a 9-4 final record in 2015, which included road wins at Washington, Arizona State and Stanford. The nine-win season elevated Helfrich to 33-8 in three years at Oregon and an impressive 22-5 mark in Pac-12 play. Helfrich faces a couple of challenges in 2016, as the Ducks need to improve on defense and find a quarterback to replace Adams. The hire of Brady Hoke as the team’s new defensive coordinator should help, and Helfrich seems to have two capable quarterbacks in Dakota Prukop and Travis Jonsen.
33. Justin Fuente, Virginia Tech
Fuente has big shoes to fill in replacing Virginia Tech coaching legend Frank Beamer. However, as Fuente’s four-year run at Memphis showed, he’s certainly capable of keeping Virginia Tech near the top of the ACC. Fuente inherited a Memphis program that was in disarray and won three games in the two years prior to his arrival. The Tigers showed steady improvement under his watch, winning four games in 2012 and transitioned to the American Athletic Conference in 2013. Memphis went 3-9 in the tougher AAC but finished 19-6 from 2014-15. The Tigers’ 10-win season in 2014 set a new program high for wins and also resulted in Memphis’ first top 25 finish in the Associated Press poll. Fuente is also regarded for his work with quarterbacks and played a key role in Andy Dalton’s development at TCU during his stint as the offensive coordinator from 2009-11.
32. Charlie Strong, Texas
With an 11-14 record through two seasons in Austin, the pressure is starting to build on Strong to turn things around. While Strong didn’t inherit a roster filled with talent, Texas is one of college football’s best jobs and the expectation level is certainly higher than six wins. After a 6-7 record in his first year, Strong went 5-7 last season and the losing mark prompted changes. Five new assistants were hired, including Sterlin Gilbert as the team’s play-caller on offense to bring a new spread, up-tempo approach to Texas. Strong has a track record of turning around programs, as evidenced by his 37-15 mark in four years at Louisville (2010-13). Assuming Texas continues to recruit at a high level and the offense improves in 2016, the future still looks bright for Strong’s long-term outlook in Austin.
Related: 15 Biggest Wild Card Teams for 2016
31. James Franklin, Penn State
After a 24-15 three-year stint at Vanderbilt, high expectations surrounded Franklin’s arrival at Penn State. However, improvement has been tough to come by for the Nittany Lions over the last two seasons. Penn State has posted back-to-back 7-6 records under Franklin, but the program was still digging out from recent NCAA sanctions. Entering 2016, Penn State’s overall depth has improved with back-to-back top 20 signing classes, and Franklin is attempting to fix the offensive woes by hiring Joe Moorhead as the program’s new play-caller. Franklin didn’t have the instant success most predicted at Penn State, but there’s still plenty of time for the third-year coach to get the Nittany Lions closer to Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State in the Big Ten East pecking order.
30. Jim McElwain, Florida
An argument could be made for McElwain to rank higher on this list after leading the Gators to a SEC East title and a 10-4 record in his first season in Gainesville. McElwain’s first year came with its share of obstacles, as Florida lost starting quarterback Will Grier to a midseason suspension and struggled on offense in the second half of 2015. Despite the offensive woes, the Gators still managed to hold onto the East title and head into 2016 as a projected top 25 team. Prior to Florida, McElwain went 22-16 at Colorado State, increasing his win total each year after a 4-8 debut in 2012. One area for McElwain to work on - recruiting. Florida has ranked No. 13 (2016) and No. 21 (2015) after three top-10 finishes from 2012-14.
29. Gus Malzahn, Auburn
Malzahn’s tenure at Auburn started on a high note with a 12-2 record and an appearance in the national championship. The Tigers fell short of winning it all in 2013, but all signs seemed to point to this program as one on the rise. However, that hasn’t been the case. Over the last two seasons, Auburn is just 15-11 and needed a win over Memphis in the Birmingham Bowl to avoid a losing record (7-6). Additionally, the 2-6 mark in SEC play last year was the program’s lowest win total in conference action since 2012. Another problem spot for Malzahn was his side of the ball - the offense. The Tigers averaged 5.4 yards per play – the lowest of Malzahn’s tenure as head coach. With a declining win total in each of the last two seasons, 2016 is shaping up to be a critical year for Malzahn.
Related: SEC Predictions for 2016
28. Rich Rodriguez, Arizona
A year after a Pac-12 South title and a trip to the Fiesta Bowl, Arizona took a step back in the win column with a 7-6 overall mark and a 3-6 record in league play. The seven wins in 2015 were the fewest by Arizona under Rodriguez’s watch, but despite injuries to key players on offense, the Wildcats earned their fourth consecutive winning record. Rodriguez is widely regarded as one of the nation’s top offensive minds and should get this program back on track over the next two seasons. Scoring points won’t be a problem for the Wildcats, but the defense has to improve. Rodriguez took steps to fix this unit in the offseason, hiring new play-caller Marcel Yates to highlight a revamped staff. Prior to taking over in Tucson, Rodriguez went 60-26 at West Virginia from 2001-07 and 15-22 in three years at Michigan.
27. Todd Graham, Arizona State
High expectations surrounded Arizona State last season, but the Sun Devils finished with their lowest win total (six) in Todd Graham’s four years in Tempe. The 6-7 record last season was just the second losing mark in Graham’s 10-year career as a FBS head coach. However, it’s safe to assume Graham won’t allow Arizona State to be down for long. Graham has a strong track record of success at the FBS level, leading Rice to a six-game improvement in the win column in his only year with the Owls (2006), finishing 36-17 at Tulsa from 2007-10 and leading Pittsburgh to a 6-6 mark in one season (2011) with the Panthers.
26. Mike Leach, Washington State
Entering his fifth year in Pullman, Leach seems to have Washington State poised to challenge for eight or nine wins on a consistent basis. After a surprising loss to Portland State in Week 1 last season, the Cougars rebounded by winning nine games and finished 6-3 in league play – the program’s first winning mark in Pac-12 action since 2003. Under Leach’s watch, Washington State is 21-29 overall and has played in two bowl games over the last four years. Success is nothing new to Leach, as he went 84-43 at Texas Tech from 2000-09. Leach is one of college football’s top offensive-minded coaches and returns one of the nation’s top quarterbacks for 2016 in Luke Falk.
25. Les Miles, LSU
Miles might be the toughest coach to rank in the SEC. He’s won 112 games in 11 seasons, guided LSU to the 2007 national championship and a No. 2 finish in 2011. However, Miles was nearly fired at the end of 2015 and the Tigers have not finished higher than No. 13 in the Associated Press poll over the last four years. That’s not ideal for a program that has the No. 4 roster in the nation and averages a 6.2 finish in signing classes over the last five seasons. Additionally, LSU is just 14-10 in SEC play in the last three years. With Leonard Fournette and a strong defense returning, the Tigers could win it all in 2016. However, after last year’s bizarre coaching drama and recent finishes, LSU – just like its coach – is one of the hardest teams to figure out this offseason.
24. Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern
A quick peek at Northwestern’s year-by-year history provides plenty of insight into why Fitzgerald deserves a spot among the Big Ten’s top coaches. The Wildcats have made 12 bowl trips in program history, with six coming under Fitzgerald’s watch. Additionally, two of the program’s four double-digit win seasons occurred in Fitzgerald’s tenure. Overall, the former Northwestern linebacker has guided his alma mater to a 70-56 record and two top 25 finishes in the Associated Press poll. Winning at Northwestern isn’t easy, but Fitzgerald has transformed this program into a consistent bowl team.
23. Butch Jones, Tennessee
Tennessee has made steady progress over the last three seasons and is poised to win the SEC East in 2016. Jones is the driving force behind the improvement, as the Volunteers have increased their win total by two games in each of the last two years. Tennessee went 5-7 in Jones’ first season (2013) but rebounded to 7-6 in 2014 and finished 9-4 in 2015. Last year’s nine wins were the most for this program since a 10-win season in 2007. The Volunteers are also recruiting at a higher level, inking three consecutive top-15 classes after recording a No. 24 finish in 2013 and a No. 20 rank in 2012. Tennessee isn’t the first successful coaching stop for Jones, as he went 27-13 in three years at Central Michigan (2007-10) and finished 23-14 in three seasons at Cincinnati (2010-12).
22. Kyle Whittingham, Utah
Whittingham’s stock continues to rise among Pac-12 coaches after leading Utah to a 10-3 record last season – the program’s best mark since joining the league in 2011. Additionally, the Utes have back-to-back finishes (2014-15) in the Associated Press poll for the first time since 2008-09. Whittingham has only two losing seasons in his Utah tenure and has four years of at least 10 wins, including a perfect 13-0 mark in 2008. Utah doesn’t recruit on the same level as South Division rivals UCLA or USC, but the Utes will always be a factor in the Pac-12 with Whittingham leading the way.
21. Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State
Oklahoma State has emerged as an annual threat to win the Big 12 title under Gundy’s watch, and last year’s 10-3 mark represented the Cowboys fourth double-digit win season over the last six years. The 10-win season was capped by an appearance in the Sugar Bowl, giving Gundy 10 consecutive bowl trips. In 11 years guiding his alma mater, Gundy is 94-47 and is already the winningest coach in program history. The Cowboys finished No. 3 nationally in 2011 and have not experienced a losing season since 2005.
20. Dan Mullen, Mississippi State
Mississippi State is the toughest job in the SEC West, but the program has made steady progress under Dan Mullen’s watch. The Bulldogs have recorded six consecutive winning seasons and set a school record with 19 victories over the last two years. Additionally, Mullen has guided Mississippi State to six straight bowl games after the program recorded just one postseason trip from 2001-09. The Bulldogs also spent time as the No. 1 team in the College Football Playoff committee rankings in 2014. Despite losing quarterback Dak Prescott and a couple of other key contributors in 2016, Mullen won’t let Mississippi State slide too far in the SEC West.
19. Kirk Ferentz, Iowa
Ferentz’s tenure at Iowa seemed to be at a crossroads entering 2015. After an 11-2 finish in 2009, the Hawkeyes failed to win more than eight games in a season over the next five years, which included a 4-8 mark in 2012. And after a 7-6 record in 2014, Ferentz’s seat was starting to warm. However, Ferentz and Iowa responded with a school-record 12 wins, fell just short of winning the Big Ten title and made the program’s first trip to the Rose Bowl since 1990. Since taking over in 1999, Ferentz has recorded a 127-87 record and has only one losing season since 2001.
Related: Big Ten Predictions for 2016
18. Bret Bielema, Arkansas
Bielema inherited a program in need of repair after a 4-8 mark under John L. Smith in 2012. Establishing a foundation for success took a year, as the Razorbacks went 3-9 in Bielema’s debut, but there were signs of progress late in the 2013 season. Arkansas used that momentum to finish 7-6 in 2014, which included a 31-7 Texas Bowl blowout over Texas. And the Razorbacks took another step forward in 2015, finishing 8-5 and 5-3 in conference play and just outside of the top 25 in the final Associated Press poll. Considering how difficult the SEC West is, going from 0-8 in conference play (2013) to 5-3 (2015) is quite an accomplishment for Bielema. Entering 2016, it’s clear Bielema has this program trending up and on stable ground.
17. Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss
Over the last few seasons, no team in the SEC West has improved its standing nationally more than Ole Miss. Freeze is a big reason for the improvement, as he came to Oxford with a track record of success. Freeze went 20-5 in two seasons at Lambuth and finished 10-2 in his only year at Arkansas State (2011). It didn’t take long for Freeze to generate improvement at Ole Miss, as the Rebels increased their win total by five games in his first year. And after an 8-5 finish in 2013, Ole Miss continued its rise with a 9-4 record in 2014, followed by a 10-3 mark in 2015. The program has recorded back-to-back New Year’s Six bowl appearances and finished No. 10 in the Associated Press poll last year. While three NFL first-round picks must be replaced in 2016, Ole Miss is equipped to handle the transition with four straight top-20 recruiting classes.
16. Mark Richt, Miami
Despite winning 145 games in 15 seasons at Georgia, Richt was dismissed at the 2015 regular season. While Richt won plenty of games at Georgia, a change of scenery (for both parties) and a return to his alma mater isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Richt seems to be energized by transition to Miami, and his return to Coral Gables should help this program take a step forward. The Hurricanes are still looking for their first trip to the ACC title game, and Richt should be the right coach to get this team back in contention for division titles and top 25 finishes. Another bonus for Miami in the coaching transition: Richt plans on calling the plays in 2016.
15. David Cutcliffe, Duke
Thanks to Cutcliffe’s nine-year run with the Blue Devils, Duke is no longer an easy pick to finish in the cellar of the ACC Coastal. Prior to Cutcliffe’s arrival in 2008, the Blue Devils recorded 13 consecutive losing seasons. Cutcliffe guided the program to 15 wins in his first four years, before leading Duke to a 6-7 mark and a bowl trip in 2012. Since 2012, the Blue Devils are 27-13 and have played in three consecutive bowls, with an ACC Coastal title in 2013.
14. Tom Herman, Houston
The H-Town Takeover for Herman and Houston’s football program is officially underway. In Herman’s first season, the Cougars won the American Athletic Conference, finished with a 13-1 record and defeated Florida State in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. And with a strong core of talent returning for 2016, Herman has Houston positioned as the top Group of 5 program once again this season. Herman was regarded as one of the nation’s top assistant coaches prior to his hire with the Cougars. Herman worked as Ohio State’s offensive coordinator under Urban Meyer from 2012-14 and was an instrumental part of the Buckeyes’ 2014 championship team. Herman also has stops as a play-caller at Iowa State, Texas State and Rice. Herman is the top coach from the Group of 5 ranks.
13. Chris Petersen, Washington
Petersen’s record through two seasons in Seattle is only 15-12, but there are plenty of signs this program is on the right path. The Huskies went 8-6 in Petersen’s first year (2014) and finished 7-6 last season. Despite the slight decrease in wins, Washington was considered a top 25 team in advanced metrics. The seven-win 2015 campaign featured a handful of underclassmen in key roles and an additional year of experience should allow the Huskies to push for a breakout year and contend for the Pac-12 title. Prior to Washington, Petersen went 92-12 and claimed two BCS bowl victories in eight seasons at Boise State. Although it’s a small sample size, Petersen has already emerged one of the Pac-12’s top coaches.
12. Bobby Petrino, Louisville
If this list was just based on the X’s and O’s ability of a coach, Petrino would be ranked No. 2 in the ACC over Clemson’s Dabo Swinney. In his second stint with the Cardinals, Petrino – regarded as one of the nation’s top offensive-minded coaches – is 17-9 over the last two seasons and has Louisville projected to finish among the nation’s top 25 teams for 2016. Petrino also has stops on his resume from Arkansas (2008-11) and WKU (2013), with a four-year run at Louisville from 2003-06. Entering 2016, Petrino has the program on stable ground and poised to be a consistent top 25 team over the next few seasons.
11. Bill Snyder, Kansas State
An argument could be made for Snyder as the top Big 12 coach in Athlon’s 2016 rankings. The Wildcats are always a dangerous opponent with Snyder on the sidelines, and the 76-year-old coach has completely changed the outlook of this program. Prior to Snyder’s arrival in 1989, Kansas State had only two winning seasons since 1955 and just one bowl appearance in program history. After a 1-10 mark in 1989, Snyder went 5-6 in his second year and has won at least four games in every season since his debut. Snyder had a brief retirement in 2006, but he returned to the sidelines in 2009 and has guided Kansas State to six straight bowl appearances and recorded 21 wins from 2011-12. Considering how difficult of a job Kansas State is and the lack of success prior to 1989, it’s a strong testament to Snyder’s coaching ability for this program to have 193 wins under his watch.
10. Brian Kelly, Notre Dame
The Fighting Irish just missed out an appearance in the College Football Playoff last season, but Kelly has the program on stable ground and poised for another run at the top four in 2016. Since taking over in South Bend in 2010, Kelly is 55-23 at Notre Dame, including an appearance in the BCS National Championship game in 2012. The Fighting Irish have won at least eight games in each of Kelly’s seasons at the helm and finished No. 11 in the Associated Press poll last year. Winning at a high level at different programs is nothing new for Kelly. From 1991-03, Kelly went 118-35-2 at Grand Valley State, including back-to-back Division II titles (2002-03). Additionally, he went 19-16 in three years at Central Michigan (2004-06) and 34-6 at Cincinnati from 2004-06. Kelly is a proven winner at four different jobs and clearly has a place among the top 15 coaches in the nation.
9. Dabo Swinney, Clemson
Swinney continues to raise expectations at Clemson. The Tigers fell just short in their quest to win the national title last season and are loaded for another run in 2016. Under Swinney’s watch, Clemson has shed its underachieving label. The Tigers have won at least 10 games in each of the last five seasons and claimed the 2011 and 2015 ACC Championships. Swinney has surrounded himself with a good staff of assistants, including one of the nation’s top defensive minds in Brent Venables. Clemson’s recruiting is also trending up. The Tigers average a 13.2 finish nationally over the last five seasons, which is second in the ACC to Florida State (4.6).
8. David Shaw, Stanford
Stanford’s rigid academic standards are no secret, but the tough admissions and smaller prospect pool hasn’t stopped Shaw from transforming this program into a top 10-15 team nationally on an annual basis. Over the last five seasons, Shaw has guided Stanford to a 54-14 record, and the Cardinal finished No. 3 in the final Associated Press poll last year. Additionally, Stanford has claimed three out of the last four Pac-12 titles and has only one season (2014) of fewer than 11 wins under Shaw’s direction. Despite losing several key pieces from last year’s 12-2 team, Shaw’s leadership should ensure the Cardinal won’t slip too far in the national rankings.
Related: Athlon Sports Top 25 for 2016
7. Jimbo Fisher, Florida State
Fisher has returned Florida State to a spot among the nation’s elite. In six seasons under Fisher, the Seminoles are 68-14 and have won at least 10 games in five of those years. Additionally, Florida State won the 2013 national championship, made the College Football Playoff in 2014 and played in a New Year’s Six Bowl (Peach) last season. Fisher is not only a strong recruiter and a sharp offensive mind, he’s got an eye for identifying talent and moving players from one side of the ball to another or to a different position to find the best fit for their skill set. After winning 10 games in a rebuilding year, Fisher has Florida State poised to contend for a playoff spot and a national title in 2016.
6. Gary Patterson, TCU
As mentioned with Bob Stoops, there’s very little separation among the top three coaches – Stoops, Patterson and Snyder – in the Big 12. With that in mind, we wouldn’t disagree with a ranking that listed Patterson as the No. 1 coach from the Big 12. Patterson has been instrumental in TCU’s rise into a Big 12 title contender, recording a 143-47 record since becoming the program’s coach at the end of the 2000 season. The Horned Frogs have shifted conferences three times under Patterson but appear to be fully entrenched in the Big 12 after winning 23 games over the last two years. Not only is Patterson one of the nation’s top coaches, he’s also one of the best at developing talent and gameplans on defense.
5. Bob Stoops, Oklahoma
There’s very little separation among the top three coaches in the Big 12. Stoops returns the No. 1 spot in Athlon’s rankings after slipping down the list last season. After an 8-5 record in 2014, Stoops hit the reset button on offense and made significant changes to his staff. The moves paid off in a big way for Oklahoma, as the Sooners finished 11-2, won the Big 12 title and played in the College Football Playoff. The eight-win season in 2014 was only the fourth time in Stoops’ 17-year tenure Oklahoma won fewer than 10 games. Maintaining a high level of success at any program for nearly 20 years isn’t easy. But Stoops continues to push the right buttons and should have the Sooners in the mix to earn another trip to the playoffs in 2016.
4. Mark Dantonio, Michigan State
Dantonio has elevated Michigan State to new heights and the Spartans have emerged as an annual contender for the Big Ten title. Under Dantonio’s watch, Michigan State is 87-33 since 2007 and claimed the conference title for the second time in three seasons in 2015. Additionally, last year’s 12-win campaign resulted in a trip to the College Football Playoff. Dantonio has guided the program to at least 11 victories in five out of the last six seasons and has only one losing record (2009) in his tenure in East Lansing. The Spartans lose a handful of key players from last year’s playoff team, but Dantonio should keep Michigan State among the top 10-15 teams in the nation.
3. Jim Harbaugh, Michigan
As expected, it didn’t take long for Harbaugh to return Michigan back among the nation's best. The Wolverines finished 10-3 in Harbaugh’s first season – a five-game improvement from the previous year. Additionally, the 10 wins last season nearly matched the program’s combined victory total from 2013-14 (12). And the expectation level is high going into 2016, as the Wolverines are picked among the favorites to contend for a spot in the College Football Playoff. Prior to Michigan, Harbaugh won 44 games in four seasons with the 49ers, transformed Stanford into a top-five team over four years and also went 29-6 at San Diego. Winning at a high level (and right away) is nothing knew for Harbaugh.
2. Urban Meyer, Ohio State
With 50 wins, a national championship and three top-five finishes in the Associated Press poll in the last four years, Meyer continues to set the bar high for success in the Big Ten. Ohio State is 50-4 overall under Meyer’s watch and has lost only one regular season league contest over the last four years. Success at a high level is something Meyer has experienced at each stop in his coaching career. In two years at Bowling Green, Meyer guided the Falcons to a 17-6 record and went 22-2 in two seasons at Utah. At Florida, Meyer won 65 games in six years and claimed two national titles (2006 and 2008). Despite heavy personnel losses in 2016, Meyer won’t allow Ohio State to slip too far in the win column, which should allow the Buckeyes to compete for another playoff bid this fall.
1. Nick Saban, Alabama
With three national championships over the last five years, the rest of college football is chasing Alabama and Nick Saban. Under Saban’s direction, the Crimson Tide have won 105 games since 2007 and are the only team to make the College Football Playoff in back-to-back seasons. Alabama has only lost more than one game in SEC play once since 2008 and has not finished outside of the Associated Press top 10 since 2007. There’s no question the bar is set high at Alabama and maintaining this level of success isn’t easy for any program. However, Saban is the unquestioned No. 1 coach in the nation and continues to reel in elite talent every year.