Athlon ranks every FBS college football coach for 2017.
Ranking all 130 college football head coaches is an impossible task. But with the 2017 season right around the corner, Athlon Sports is continuing its countdown to Week 1 by evaluating all 130 coaches and ranking them from best to worst.
When evaluating and ranking all 130 coaches, we established a simple criteria: Everything is considered when ranking head coaches. 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: Is the coach more involved with X's and O's or more of a CEO? In our rankings, we valued coaches who are more involved with X's and O's. How is the coach when it comes to the recruiting trail? Are there factors such as facilities or budget concerns that have an overall impact on the program? Is the coach successful at only one stop? Or has that coach built a solid resume from different jobs? What type of shape was the program in when the coach took over the job? What is the overall trajectory of the program?
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.
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 or the previous year's FBS coach rankings do not matter for this season's 130 list.
Athlon's editorial staff has voted on a ranking of coaches for all 10 conferences and the four FBS Independent programs. Here are the results for 130 teams:
College Football 2017 Coach Rankings by Conference
Ranking All 130 College Football Head Coaches for 2017
130. Jay Norvell, Nevada
Norvell has been an assistant in the NFL and college ranks since 1986 and finally landed his first opportunity to be a head coach at the FBS level following the 2016 campaign. After Nevada parted ways with Brian Polian, Norvell was hired to help the program return to the top of the Mountain West. As an assistant, Norvell made stops at Northern Iowa, Wisconsin and Iowa State, while calling the plays or sharing the co-offensive coordinator title at Nebraska, UCLA, Oklahoma, Texas and Arizona State. Additionally, he’s garnered valuable information from working under standout coaches like Bob Stoops and Barry Alvarez, while playing at Iowa under Hayden Fry. Norvell has a wealth of experience as an assistant, but the first-year coach figures to have a transition period in his debut in Reno.
129. Shawn Elliott, Georgia State
With an improved stadium situation and a prime location in Atlanta for fertile recruiting territory, Georgia State is a job with potential in the Sun Belt. Elliott is just the third coach in program history and this will be his first full-time job. Before taking over in Atlanta, Elliott worked as an assistant at South Carolina from 2010-16 and Appalachian State from 1997-09. Elliott was regarded for his work as an offensive line coach and served as South Carolina’s interim coach in 2015 after Steve Spurrier resigned midway through the season. The Gamecocks went 1-5 under Elliott but lost all five games by 10 points or less.
128. Brent Brennan, San Jose State
As a California native with strong roots on the recruiting trail, Brennan seems like the right coach to get San Jose State back on track after the program failed to post a winning record under former coach Ron Caragher. While the 2017 season is Brennan’s first as a head coach, he’s no stranger to the program. From 2005-10, Brennan worked under Dick Tomey (2005-09) and Mike MacIntyre (2010) at San Jose State as an assistant coach. The California native spent the last six seasons at Oregon State as a receivers coach and also has previous stint at Cal Poly (2001-04).
Related: Mountain West 2017 Predictions
127. Everett Withers, Texas State
Withers and his Texas State staff promised a “Party in the End Zone” last year, but the Bobcats finished 2-10 and failed to win a game in conference play. As expected with any new staff, there was roster turnover and a transition in schemes, which certainly hindered this team’s ability to compete last season. The program’s only victories in 2016 came in overtime against Ohio and versus FCS opponent Incarnate Word. And as a sign of how much work Withers and this staff need to do in 2017: Texas State lost nine of its 10 games by 20 or more points. With the addition of graduate transfer quarterback Damian Williams, along with the No. 1 recruiting class by the 247Sports Composite, the Bobcats should take a step forward in 2017.
126. Mike Jinks, Bowling Green
Jinks faced a tough assignment in his first year on campus in 2016. Not only were the Falcons replacing several key players from the 2015 MAC Championship team, Jinks was learning the ropes in his first season as a head coach at the FBS level. As expected, Bowling Green got off to a slow start. The Falcons opened with a 1-8 start before winning their final three games to finish 4-8. The end of the 2016 campaign provided optimism for Jinks and his staff, which should help this team take another step forward in 2017. With no previous head coaching experience at the FBS level and only three years of experience as an assistant, Jinks was a curious hire for Bowling Green (one of the MAC’s better coaching jobs). However, if Jinks and the Falcons pick up where they left off last season, the Texas native should move up this list in 2017.
125. Mike Neu, Ball State
Neu returned to his alma mater last season to take over as the program’s head coach after Pete Lembo left to be an assistant at Maryland. Neu’s first year had its share of ups and downs. The Cardinals started 3-1 but finished 4-8 and won only one game in MAC play. However, six of Ball State’s eight losses came by 10 points or less. The Indiana native previously worked in the NFL as an assistant with the Saints, spent two years at Tulane (2012-13) and also had a stint in the Arena Football League from 1998-08. The former Ball State quarterback hopes to get the Cardinals back in the postseason this year for the first time since 2013.
Related: MAC Football 2017 Predictions
124. Paul Haynes, Kent State
Haynes enters 2017 squarely on the hot seat. The former Kent State defensive back is just 12-35 at his alma mater over the last four years. Additionally, the Golden Flashes have managed only eight wins in MAC games during that span. Prior to taking over as Kent State’s head coach, Haynes worked at a handful of programs as a defensive assistant, including Arkansas, Ohio State, Michigan State and Louisville. Defense has been a strength for the Golden Flashes over the last two years, finishing second in the MAC in fewest yards per play allowed. However, Kent State’s offense hasn’t finished higher than 11th in the league in scoring.
123. Doug Martin, New Mexico State
Martin has the unique distinction of coaching at two of college football’s toughest jobs. Before taking over at New Mexico State, Martin guided Kent State to a 29-53 record from 2004-10. The Golden Flashes had three seasons of at least five wins (and one six-win campaign) under Martin’s direction but never recorded a winning mark. Progress has also been tough to come by in Las Cruces. The Aggies are 10-38 under Martin and have yet to eclipse three wins in a season.
122. Scottie Montgomery, East Carolina
Montgomery arrived at East Carolina regarded for his work as an offensive assistant at Duke (2006-09 and 2014-15) and also in the NFL with the Steelers from 2010-12. However, his debut resulted in a 3-9 record last season and the Pirates are likely to be picked near the bottom of the American Athletic Conference once again in 2017. To speed up the rebuilding process, Montgomery picked up a couple of graduate transfers, including former Duke quarterback Thomas Sirk, Clemson running back Tyshon Dye and Minnesota defensive end Gaelin Elmore. East Carolina has missed out on bowl games in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2004-05.
121. Tyson Summers, Georgia Southern
It’s no secret high expectations surround the Georgia Southern job, as it’s one of the best in the Sun Belt and has a lengthy track record of success. With that in mind, it’s no surprise Summers is already under pressure to turn things around after a 5-7 record in 2016 – his first in Statesboro. The Eagles finished 2016 on a high note by beating Troy, but the five-win season represented a four-win regression from 2015. Prior to taking over at Georgia Southern, Summers worked as a defensive coordinator at Colorado State and UCF, while also spending time as an assistant at UAB. The Georgia native hopes to show progress in his second season in Statesboro.
120. Tim Lester, Western Michigan
Lester is the MAC’s only new coach for 2017. And the former Western Michigan quarterback has some big shoes to fill. Former coach P.J. Fleck elevated the program’s profile on the recruiting trail and led the Broncos to a MAC title, Cotton Bowl appearance and a No. 15 finish in the Associated Press poll in 2016. Can Lester continue the momentum in Kalamazoo? As a former player and assistant (2005-06) with the program, Lester has a good idea of what it takes to win at Western Michigan. Additionally, he’s accumulated experience as an assistant with Power 5 programs Purdue (2016) and Syracuse (2013-15) over the last four seasons. Lester has previous head coaching experience from a stint at Saint Joseph’s (2004) and Elmhurst (2008-12). He went 40-23 over five years between those two programs.
119. Brad Lambert, Charlotte
Starting a program from scratch is no easy assignment. That’s exactly the task Lambert has navigated over the last four seasons with the 49ers as the first coach in program history. After two years as a FCS Independent, Lambert guided Charlotte through a transition to the FBS ranks. The 49ers are 6-18 since joining the FBS level and 16-30 overall under Lambert. He’s yet to record a winning record, but the program took a step forward by winning four games overall and three in league play last season.
118. Sean Kugler, UTEP
Kugler took over at his alma mater prior to the 2013 season and is likely facing a make-or-break 2017 campaign. After a 2-10 debut, the Miners finished 7-6 and played in the New Mexico Bowl in 2014. However, UTEP is just 9-15 over the last two seasons and has won only five conference games in that span. Kugler came to El Paso after working for three years with the Steelers as the offensive line coach. However, the offense has not finished higher than ninth in the league in scoring in Kugler’s tenure and standout running back Aaron Jones must be replaced this offseason.
117. Major Applewhite, Houston
Applewhite has big shoes to fill in replacing Tom Herman at Houston. Under Herman’s watch, the Cougars went 22-4 over the last two years, won the Peach Bowl in the 2015 season and claimed the American Athletic Conference’s No. 1 recruiting class in 2016. While Herman won’t be easy to replace, Applewhite was also instrumental in the program’s success over the last two seasons as the program’s offensive coordinator. After leading the American Athletic Conference in scoring in 2015, the Cougars ranked fifth by averaging 35.8 points per game last season. The former Texas quarterback also has experience as an assistant from stints at Texas, Alabama, Rice and Syracuse. Applewhite already has one game as the program’s head coach under his belt (Las Vegas Bowl), but the real work begins in 2017.
116. Luke Fickell, Cincinnati
Fickell has strong roots throughout Ohio. He’s a native of the state, played his college ball at Ohio State and also worked with the Buckeyes as an assistant coach. That experience and background should help Fickell continue to build on those connections on the recruiting trail for the Bearcats. The Ohio native also spent 2011 as Ohio State’s interim coach after Jim Tressel resigned prior to the season. Fickell guided Ohio State to a 6-7 mark that year and was retained on Urban Meyer’s staff as a co-defensive coordinator in 2012. Over the last couple of seasons, Fickell has teamed with Chris Ash and Greg Schiano to mold some of the nation’s top defenses. While Fickell was an interim coach for one season, this is his first opportunity to run a program on a full-time basis. With his experience in the state of Ohio, Fickell should be a solid hire for Cincinnati as it looks to rebound after winning 11 games over the last two years.
115. Lance Leipold, Buffalo
After a successful stint at Wisconsin-Whitewater, Leipold is looking to replicate that success at Buffalo. In two years with the Bulls, Leipold is 7-17 and 4-12 in conference action. That’s a far cry from the 109-6 record at Wisconsin-Whitewater, along with the six Division III championships. However, the track record of success from his previous stop should provide some confidence this coaching staff will help the Bulls take a step forward over the next few seasons. Buffalo returns 14 starters for 2017, including quarterback Tyree Jackson, standout linebacker Khalil Hodge and one of the MAC’s top offensive lines.
114. Mark Whipple, UMass
Life as a FBS Independent isn’t an easy path, and the Minutemen finished 2-10 in their first year since leaving the MAC after the 2015 campaign. Whipple has experienced plenty of success throughout his career, posting a 129-87 overall mark over three different programs. He previously guided UMass to 49 wins from 1998-03 and claimed the 1998 FCS National Championship. After coaching stops with the Steelers, Browns, Eagles and as Miami’s offensive coordinator, Whipple returned to UMass prior to the 2014 season. He’s struggled to rekindle the success from his first stint with the Minutemen, as UMass is just 8-28 over the last three years.
113. Justin Wilcox, California
Wilcox returns to the West Coast for his first head coaching opportunity. The former Oregon defensive back spent most of his coaching career on the West Coast prior to a stint in 2016 as Wisconsin’s defensive coordinator. Under Wilcox’s direction, the Badgers finished third in the Big Ten by limiting opponents to just 15.6 points a game last fall. The Oregon native’s one season at Wisconsin came after two years as the defensive play-caller at USC (2014-15). He also worked in the same role at Washington (2012-13), Tennessee (2010-11) and Boise State (2006-09). Wilcox also spent three years as California’s linebacker coach from 2003-05. Considering the Golden Bears have not finished higher than eighth in the Pac-12 in scoring defense over the last five years, choosing a coach with a solid defensive background should fix some of the issues on that side of the ball. And to help ease Wilcox’s transition to head coach, he hired two proven coordinators and former head coaches – Beau Baldwin on offense and Tim DeRuyter on defense.
112. Geoff Collins, Temple
The outlook on Temple’s program has significantly changed over the last 10 years. After being dismissed from the Big East after 2004 and forced to spend time as an Independent (2005-06) and a stint in the MAC (2007-11), the Owls returned to the Big East in 2012 and remained in the league as it shifted to the American Athletic Conference. This program has taken a significant step forward on the gridiron in recent years, as Temple has four bowl appearances since 2009 and posted 20 wins over the last two years – the most in a two-year stretch in program history. Collins has big shoes to fill in replacing Matt Rhule but was one of college football’s rising stars in the assistant ranks and is poised to keep the program performing at a high level. Collins helped Florida’s defense rank among the SEC’s best from 2015-16 and also had previous stops in his career at Mississippi State (2011-14), FIU (2010) and UCF (2008-09). This is the first head coaching job for Collins.
111. Tony Sanchez, UNLV
Entering his third year in charge, Sanchez has UNLV trending in the right direction. The Rebels went 3-9 in his debut but improved to 4-8 last season and could push for a bowl game in 2017. Prior to taking over at UNLV, Sanchez had a successful run as the head coach at Bishop Gorman High School. From 2009-14, Sanchez guided the high school to an 85-5 record and posted three undefeated seasons. Making the jump from high school coach to the collegiate ranks has been relatively seamless for the California native. Expect Sanchez to climb this list in future seasons.
110. Chris Ash, Rutgers
As expected, Ash’s first season at Rutgers was a struggle. The Scarlet Knights finished 2-10 overall and winless in Big Ten play (0-9). The problems weren’t just limited to wins and losses. A deeper look at the stats showed just how far this program has to go to catch the middle of the conference. Rutgers was held scoreless in four games and gave up 40 points a contest in Big Ten action. It’s no secret Ash is going to need another year or two to recruit and restock the roster. However, judging by his track record as an assistant at Ohio State, Arkansas and Wisconsin, Ash should help this program take a step forward in the next couple of seasons.
109. David Beaty, Kansas
Beaty only has two wins through his first two seasons in Lawrence, but Kansas is making progress. The Jayhawks ended a 19-game losing streak in Big 12 play by defeating Texas last year and finished 2-10 overall. While there are few moral victories, Kansas lost two other Big 12 games by seven points or less last fall. Beaty is accumulating the right pieces and upgraded his staff with the addition of play-caller Doug Meacham this spring. The Texas native needs more time to turn this program around.
108. Paul Petrino, Idaho
The Vandals are moving back to FCS after the 2017 season, but Petrino and his staff have a chance to close out the FBS run with another solid year. Idaho had a breakthrough season last fall, finishing 9-4 and claiming a postseason victory over Colorado State in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. The nine wins represented the program’s first winning mark since 2009 and equaled the total number of victories recorded from 2011-15. Petrino is 15-33 overall at Idaho and returns enough talent to push for back-to-back bowl games for the first time in program history.
107. Tom Allen, Indiana
After Kevin Wilson’s dismissal in early December, Indiana athletic director Fred Glass didn’t have to look far for his replacement. Allen – an Indiana native – was promoted to head coach after spending 2016 as the program’s defensive coordinator. The Hoosiers’ defense showed marked improvement under Allen’s watch. After giving up 6.4 yards per play in 2015, Indiana cut that total to 5.1 last season. Even though Allen now carries the head coach title, he’s still going to play a key role in shaping the defense. However, this will be his first full year as the program’s head coach, and the Big Ten’s East Division is one of the toughest in college football. Prior to Indiana, Allen worked as a defensive coordinator for one year at USF (2015) and spent three years as an assistant at Ole Miss. He’s 0-1 in his head coaching career after Indiana lost 26-24 to Utah in the Foster Farms Bowl.
106. Lovie Smith, Illinois
It’s not often a program can hire a coach who led a team to a Super Bowl appearance, but that’s exactly the opportunity Illinois was awarded last season. Athletic director Josh Whitman aimed high after his arrival in March and secured Smith with a significant six-year deal. As expected with a late start and a roster in need of repair, Smith’s debut was a struggle. Illinois finished 3-9, with two of those wins coming in Big Ten action. And with less than 10 returning starters for 2017, Smith is facing a tough second act in Champaign. Prior to taking over at Illinois, Smith spent two years at Tampa Bay’s head coach and finished with an 8-24 mark. His tenure in Chicago was significantly better, as Smith guided the Bears to an 81-63 record and a berth in the Super Bowl for the 2010 season. Smith was a big-name hire at the right time for Illinois. However, it’s going to take a few years to turn this program around.
105. Barry Odom, Missouri
Odom had a difficult assignment in replacing Gary Pinkel – Missouri’s all-time winningiest coach – prior to the 2016 campaign. And as expected, Odom’s debut had its share of ups and downs. The Tigers started 2-2 but lost five in a row to enter November with a 2-7 mark. Victories in two out of the last three games helped to close out the 2016 campaign on a high note and prevent a winless season in SEC play. While Odom’s debut resulted in the fewest wins for the program since 2001, there’s optimism for 2017. The offense returns nearly intact, and the defense played better after Odom assumed play-calling duties late in the season. Prior to taking over for Pinkel, Odom helped Memphis’ defense improve significantly from 2012-14 and also worked as an assistant at Missouri from 2009-11 and again in 2015 as the coordinator. Can Odom’s team build off a promising close to the 2016 season?
104. Joe Moglia, Coastal Carolina
Moglia might have the most interesting background of any college football head coach at the FBS level. After a coaching career that spanned from 1968-83 at a few high schools and Lafayette and Dartmouth, Moglia decided to venture into business. He worked at Merrill Lynch and eventually became the CEO of Ameritrade in 2001 and remained in that role until 2008. Moglia went back into coaching in 2009 as an assistant in an off-field role at Nebraska and was later hired as the head coach with the Omaha Nighthawks of the United Football League in 2011. Coastal Carolina picked Moglia as its head coach prior to the 2012 season and the move has worked out well for the program. The Chanticleers are 51-15 over the last five seasons and have won at least eight games every year. This is Coastal Carolina’s first year at the FBS level, but the program is in good shape with Moglia at the controls.
103. Jay Hopson, Southern Miss
As a native of Mississippi and a former Southern Miss assistant, Hopson was a good pick to replace former coach Todd Monken after he left for the NFL last season. The Golden Eagles had their share of ups and downs in Hopson’s first year, as the program was picked to win Conference USA’s West Division in the preseason, yet finished 7-6 overall and 4-4 in league play. An injury to quarterback Nick Mullens and an unlucky minus-17 turnover margin played a huge role in the seven-win season, but Southern Miss finished on a high note by winning the New Orleans Bowl. Hopson previously went 32-17 in four years at Alcorn State and also has stops on his resume as an assistant at Memphis, Michigan, Ole Miss and Marshall.
102. John Bonamego, Central Michigan
Central Michigan was left in a difficult position following coach Dan Enos’ departure to Arkansas just before National Signing Day in 2015. However, the program was able to a familiar face in Bonamego as its next head coach. The veteran NFL assistant accumulated a wealth of experience at the next level working as a special teams coordinator and was a player at Central Michigan in the 1980s. Bonamego’s last collegiate experience prior to taking over as CMU’s head coach came in 1998 at Army. The Chippewas proceeded to go 7-6 in Bonamego’s first year and claimed a share of the MAC West title with a 6-2 mark in league play. The record in 2016 was nearly identical (6-7) but featured a slight regression in conference wins (three). Central Michigan has been to back-to-back bowl trips under Bonamego’s watch.
101. Matt Viator, ULM
Viator came to ULM after a successful 10-year run at McNeese State and guided the Warhawks to a 4-8 mark in his debut last fall. While the four-win season may not move the needle, Viator had to overcome the loss of his starting quarterback (Garrett Smith) in mid-October. ULM also showed progress late in the year by winning two out of its final four games. During his tenure at McNeese State, Viator led the Cowboys to a 78-33 record and five trips to the FCS playoffs.
100. Frank Wilson, UTSA
Wilson has always garnered plenty of praise and accolades for his work on the recruiting trail. But after one season at UTSA, the former LSU assistant is more than just a good recruiter. The Roadrunners showed marked progress in his first year, finishing 6-7 overall and 5-3 in league play. Additionally, UTSA earned its first bowl trip in program history and finished second in Conference USA’s West Division. Prior to taking over at UTSA, Wilson worked as an assistant at LSU, Tennessee, Southern Miss and Ole Miss. He also spent time as the head coach at O.P. Walker High School in Louisiana from 2000-03. The Roadrunners are trending up entering 2017.
99. Seth Littrell, North Texas
Littrell was a rising star in the coordinator ranks before his hire last season at North Texas. And after his first year in Denton, it’s clear the Mean Green are trending in the right direction. After finishing 1-11 in 2015, Littrell guided North Texas to a 5-8 mark and a bid in the Heart of Dallas Bowl in his debut. The four-game improvement from 2015 to 2016 was the most by any team in Conference USA’s West Division last year. Prior to North Texas, the Oklahoma native worked at Texas Tech, Arizona, Indiana and North Carolina and emerged as one of the nation’s top offensive-minded coaches. Littrell’s 2015 offense with the Tar Heels led the ACC in scoring (40.7 ppg) and ranked third in 2014.
98. Rod Carey, Northern Illinois
Northern Illinois set the bar high for the rest of the MAC in recent years. The Huskies reeled off six consecutive West Division titles and recorded at least 11 wins every year from 2010-15. Carey was promoted to head coach after Dave Doeren left for NC State, with this first game coming in the Orange Bowl against Florida State. Northern Illinois went 23-5 over Carey’s first two years and lost only one game in MAC play. However, the Huskies have been hit hard by injuries at the quarterback position over the last two years and slipped to 13-13 in that span. And for the first time since 2007, Northern Illinois did not make a bowl appearance last season. Can Carey get the Huskies back on track in 2017?
97. David Bailiff, Rice
With tough academic standards, maintaining and building a consistent winner at Rice is not easy. Bailiff has managed to navigate the difficulty of this job to deliver 56 wins since 2007 and guide the program to four bowl appearances, including a Conference USA title in 2013. Additionally, after having just one season of double-digit victories prior to 2007, the Owls also have two 10-win campaigns under Bailiff’s direction. However, since an 8-5 record in 2014, Rice is just 8-16 over the last two years and went 3-9 – its lowest win total since 2009 – last season. Can Bailiff turn things around for the Owls in 2017?
96. Jeff Tedford, Fresno State
After a four-year absence, Tedford is back as a head coach at the FBS level at his alma mater. While Tedford’s tenure at California ended with a 3-9 record in 2012 and his dismissal, he accumulated an 82-57 record from 2002-12 and guided the Golden Bears to nine winning seasons. Additionally, Tedford’s 82 wins are the most in California school history. Following his departure from Berkeley, Tedford had a limited role with the Buccaneers in 2014, worked as the head coach for the BC Lions in 2015 and was an offensive consultant for Washington last year. The state of California is familiar territory for Tedford and his background on offense should provide immediate help for a Fresno State attack that managed only 17.7 points per game last season. However, Tedford posted two losing records over his final three years as California’s head coach and has not worked in an on-field role at the college level since 2012.
95. Matt Wells, Utah State
Is 2017 a make-or-break year for Wells at Utah State? The former Aggie quarterback was promoted to head coach in 2013 after Gary Andersen left to take the top spot at Wisconsin. Wells guided the program to a 19-9 record in his first two seasons, which included a trip to the Mountain West Conference title game in 2013. However, Utah State is just 8-16 over the last two years and finished 1-7 in league play in 2016. Adding to the difficulty of a significant turnaround in 2017 is a depth chart that returns only nine starters. Can Wells get Utah State back in contention for a bowl in 2017?
94. Chris Creighton, Eastern Michigan
Eastern Michigan is one of the nation’s toughest jobs, so it’s no surprise Creighton gets a significant bump in the coach rankings after a breakthrough season. After guiding the Eagles to a 3-21 record from 2014-15, Creighton led EMU to a 7-6 mark last season. The seven wins represented the program’s first winning record since 1995. Additionally, the trip to the Bahamas Bowl was Eastern Michigan’s first postseason bid since 1987. Creighton had three previous stops as a head coach on his resume prior to taking over at Eastern Michigan. He went 32-9 at Ottawa from 1997-00, 63-15 at Wabash from 2001-07 and 42-22 at Drake (2008-13).
93. Nick Rolovich, Hawaii
Hawaii showed marked improvement in Rolovich’s first season. The Rainbow Warriors improved their win total by four games from 2015 and claimed the program’s first bowl bid since 2010. And with 13 returning starters in place for 2017, Rolovich’s team could be the biggest threat to San Diego State and the top spot in the Mountain West’s West Division. Prior to taking over at Hawaii, Rolovich worked as Nevada’s offensive coordinator from 2012-15 and had a previous stint at Hawaii from 2008-11. The former Rainbow Warrior quarterback is a coach on the rise.
92. Randy Edsall, UConn
Edsall is back at UConn after leaving the program after the 2010 season. Under Edsall’s direction from 1999-10, the Huskies won 74 games, claimed the Big East title and a BCS bowl bid in 2010 and won at least eight games from 2007-10. Edsall left Storrs as the program’s winningest coach and spent from 2011-15 at Maryland. The Terrapins went 2-10 in Edsall’s first year but showed progress with a 4-8 mark in 2012 and back-to-back bowl games in 2013-14. However, Edsall was dismissed after a 2-4 start in 2015 and spent the 2016 season in an off-field role with the Lions. While Edsall’s return came as a bit of a surprise, he knows what it takes to succeed at UConn. Additionally, his hire of Rhett Lashlee as coordinator should provide some immediate punch for an offense that averaged only 14.8 points per game last year.
91. Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech
Kingsbury is 24-26 through four seasons at his alma mater and enters 2017 squarely on the hot seat. The former Texas Tech quarterback took over the program in 2013 after joining the collegiate ranks as an assistant in 2008. Kingsbury spent four years at Houston, followed by a successful one-season stint at Texas A&M in 2012. The Red Raiders appeared to be trending in the right direction after an 8-5 mark in Kingsbury’s debut. However, the program has one winning record over the last three years and is just 13-23 in Big 12 play since 2013. Scoring points hasn’t been a problem for Texas Tech, but the defense has surrendered over 40 points a game in three consecutive seasons.
Related: Big 12 Football Predictions for 2017
90. Terry Bowden, Akron
Bowden has an extended track record of success, accumulating a 164-99-2 career mark at five different coaching stops. The high point of Bowden’s five-year run at Akron came in 2015. The Zips finished 8-5 – the highest win total in Akron history – and earned the program’s first bowl victory with a win over Utah State in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. Bowden is 24-37 over five seasons with the Zips and has won at least five games in each of the last four years. The son of coaching legend Bobby Bowden started his career as a graduate assistant with the Seminoles in 1982 and landed his first head coaching gig at Salem in 1983. He guided the Tigers to a 19-13 record from 1983-85 and spent one year at Akron as the program’s quarterbacks coach in 1986 before taking over at Samford in 1987. Bowden went 45-23-1 with the Bulldogs and was hired at Auburn prior to the 1993 campaign. The Tigers went 47-17-1 under Bowden’s direction, including an 11-0 mark in 1993. Bowden resigned as Auburn’s head coach during the 1998 season and didn’t resurface on the sidelines until 2009 at North Alabama.
89. Mark Hudspeth, Louisiana
Hudspeth started his tenure at Louisiana with four consecutive 9-4 seasons and a perfect 4-0 mark in New Orleans Bowl appearances. As a result, Hudspeth’s stock was on the rise, and the Mississippi native became one of the top Group of 5 coaches in the nation. But over the last two seasons, Louisiana is just 10-15 and has not finished higher than fifth in the Sun Belt. Despite the two-year setback, Hudspeth is still 46-31 overall at Louisiana. Prior to guiding the Ragin’ Cajuns, Hudspeth was the head coach at North Alabama (66-21) and had stints as an assistant at Mississippi State (2009-10) and Navy (2001).
88. Joey Jones, South Alabama
Entering his ninth season at South Alabama, Jones ranks as the Sun Belt’s longest-tenured coach. The Mobile native was hired to build the program from scratch in 2008 and has guided the Jaguars to a 48-42 record since 2009. Additionally, the program has two bowl trips in that span, as well as four straight seasons of at least five wins – not bad for a program that joined the FBS level in 2012. Prior to South Alabama, Jones had a short stint as Birmingham-Southern’s head coach and also spent time in the high school ranks in the state of Alabama.
87. Butch Davis, FIU
After a six-year absence, Davis is back on the sidelines and in familiar territory. The Oklahoma native has extensive experience and connections to the state of Florida, including a stint as Miami’s head coach (1995-00) and a previous four-year run as an assistant with the Hurricanes from 1984-88. Despite dealing with NCAA scholarship sanctions and a bowl ban in 1995, Davis guided the program to a 51-20 mark over six seasons. He was hired away from Coral Gables to coach the Browns in 2001 but lasted only four years, compiling a 24-35 record. Davis resurfaced at North Carolina in 2007 and inherited a program coming off back-to-back losing records. However, the Tar Heels quickly showed improvement under Davis, finishing 8-5 in three consecutive years. His tenure in Chapel Hill ended due to a NCAA investigation following the 2010 campaign. Davis is a proven winner and regarded for his past work on the recruiting trail. This should be a good hire for FIU.
86. Mike Sanford, WKU
WKU is the only Conference USA program with at least eight victories in each of the last four seasons. While Jeff Brohm leaves big shoes to fill, the Hilltoppers won’t be slowing down anytime soon. That’s due to Sanford’s arrival, as the 35-year-old coach is one of the offseason’s top hires. Sanford takes over at WKU after two seasons at Notre Dame, where he helped the Fighting Irish average over 30 points a game in back-to-back years. He also has previous stints at Boise State (2014), WKU (2010) and Stanford (2011-13). Sanford has worked under a few standout coaches, including Brian Kelly (Notre Dame), Willie Taggart (WKU) and David Shaw and Jim Harbaugh at Stanford.
85. Scott Frost, UCF
In his first year in Orlando, Frost guided UCF to a six-game improvement in the win column, which tied for the biggest jump in victories among FBS teams from 2015 to 2016. Frost’s success with the Knights comes as no surprise. The former Nebraska quarterback quickly moved through the ranks as an assistant. After stints as a graduate assistant at Nebraska (2002) and Kansas State (2006), Frost was hired at Northern Iowa (2007-08) and at Oregon (2009-15). The last three seasons of Frost’s time in Eugene were spent as the team’s offensive coordinator, guiding the Ducks to the No. 1 spot in the Pac-12 in scoring for three consecutive years. UCF could be the biggest threat to USF in the American Athletic Conference’s East Division in 2017.
84. Bob Davie, New Mexico
Davie inherited a program in need of major repair after Mike Locksley’s three-year stint (2009-11) in Albuquerque. After winning just three games in that span, the Lobos won four in Davie’s debut (2012) and followed that season with seven victories over the next two years. While the rebuilding process wasn’t easy, New Mexico has now posted back-to-back winning records and claimed a share of the Mountain West’s Mountain Division title in 2016. The Lobos are 16-10 over the last two years and the nine-win campaign in 2016 was the program’s highest since 2007. Prior to New Mexico, Davie went 35-25 in five seasons at Notre Dame and has a career 62-61 record.
83. Chad Morris, SMU
SMU has made steady progress under Morris and appears primed for a breakthrough year in 2017. The Mustangs finished 2-10 in Morris’ debut (2015) but improved to 5-7 last season and just missed on a bowl after losing two games by eight points or less. After a lengthy career as a high school coach in Texas (1994-09), Morris was hired as Tulsa’s offensive coordinator in 2010. The Golden Hurricane averaged a healthy 41.4 points per game that season, which caught the attention of Clemson coach Dabo Swinney. Morris was hired by Swinney prior to the 2011 campaign and was instrumental in the development of the Tigers’ high-powered offense from 2011-14. Additionally, Morris helped recruit Heisman finalist and NFL first-round pick Deshaun Watson to Death Valley. With plenty of ties and recruiting experience in the state of Texas, Morris is the right coach to transform SMU into a consistent winner.
82. Mike Bobo, Colorado State
Colorado State has finished 7-6 in each of Bobo’s two seasons in Fort Collins and seems poised to turn a corner in 2017. The Rams started 2-3 last year but rallied to win four out of their last six, including a 63-31 victory over Mountain West champion San Diego State. Additionally, four of Colorado State’s losses in 2016 came by 11 points or less. With most of the core returning for 2017, Bobo’s team should be able to push Boise State and Wyoming for the Mountain West’s Mountain Division title. Another positive sign for Bobo: Colorado State is opening a new stadium this season. That certainly won’t hurt his efforts on the recruiting trail or ability to elevate this program in the Mountain West.
81. Ed Orgeron, LSU
Orgeron is getting a second chance as a head coach in the SEC after a solid 6-2 stint as LSU’s interim coach last season. LSU is a dream job for the Louisiana native, and the Tigers are banking on Orgeron filling the CEO role, with well-paid coordinators Matt Canada (offense) and Dave Aranda (defense) essentially serving as head coaches on their side of the ball. The offense was a weakness under former coach Les Miles, but this unit played better after Orgeron loosened the reins last season, and the addition of Canada should pay immediate dividends. Orgeron’s first tenure in the SEC (2005-07) at Ole Miss did not go well. The Rebels were just 10-25 under his watch and won only three SEC games in that span. However, after a 6-2 run as USC’s interim coach in 2013, along with the stint last season, it seems Orgeron has learned a lot since the three-year run at Ole Miss. Orgeron should be better prepared for this stint at LSU, but is he the right hire to help the program close the gap on Alabama?
80. Lane Kiffin, FAU
Kiffin was instrumental in Alabama’s success and development on offense over the last three seasons. He helped the Crimson Tide average over 35 points a game in three consecutive years and led the SEC by posting 38.8 points per contest in 2016. Kiffin’s acumen on offense is no secret and he won’t have trouble attracting talent to Boca Raton. How will Kiffin handle his third opportunity to coach at the FBS level? There’s certainly some baggage with this hire, but Kiffin went 7-6 at Tennessee in 2009 – a two-game improvement from 2008 – and finished 28-15 at USC. This hire has a chance to pay big-time dividends for FAU.
79. Doc Holliday, Marshall
After leading Marshall to 33 wins from 2013-15, Holliday enters 2017 looking to get the program back on track. The Thundering Herd regressed to 3-9 last season, which was the fewest wins under Holliday’s watch. The West Virginia native is 53-37 in seven years at Marshall and has guided the program to four bowl trips. The Thundering Herd claimed the 2014 Conference USA title and also finished No. 23 in the final Associated Press poll that season. Holliday is a good recruiter and should be able to get the program back on track over the next two years.
78. Bill Clark, UAB
UAB’s football program has experienced quite a journey since the 2014 season. After the program was eliminated following the regular season finale in December of 2014, president Ray Watts reversed his decision and reinstated the team the following June. While the two-year shutdown was unnecessary, UAB’s program is back and in a much better position. Additionally, the Blazers still have the right man for the job in Bill Clark. The Alabama native has extensive coaching ties to the state, as he worked as a high school for several seasons before landing on South Alabama’s staff in 2008. After five years with the Jaguars, Clark was hired as Jacksonville State’s coach in 2013. He went 11-4 with the Gamecocks that year and left to take over at UAB prior to the 2014 season. The Blazers went 6-6 in Clark’s debut – a four-game improvement from 2013. With a new practice facility under construction, along with the ongoing talk of a new stadium, Clark has the necessary resources to build a solid program in Birmingham.
77. Chuck Martin, Miami
The RedHawks were one of the nation’s most improved teams over the course of the 2016 season. After an 0-6 start, Miami finished with six straight wins in the regular season and barely lost to Mississippi State in the St. Petersburg Bowl to finish 6-7. The six-win mark in Martin’s third season was the highest for the program since a 10-win campaign in 2010 and eclipsed the victory total (five) from his first two years (2014-15). Martin took over in Oxford after a successful stint as an assistant under Brian Kelly at Notre Dame (2010-13) and previously led Grand Valley State as the program’s head coach, recording two Division II titles and 74 wins from 2004-09. Martin clearly has Miami trending up entering the 2017 season.
76. Jason Candle, Toledo
Candle is a rising star in the MAC and leads a Toledo team that could be the favorite to win the conference in 2017. The Ohio native was promoted to head coach after the 2015 regular season when Matt Campbell left to take over at Iowa State. The Rockets won Candle’s first game (2015 Boca Raton Bowl) and finished 9-4 last year, with three losses coming by five points or less. From 2012-15, Candle called the plays for Toledo’s high-powered offense, which led the conference in scoring in 2014. He was hired by Tim Beckman at Toledo in 2009 and remained in an assistant capacity when Campbell was promoted to head coach prior to the 2012 season. He also has a previous stop on his resume from a stint at Mount Union (2003-08).
Related: MAC Football Predictions for 2017
75. Jeff Monken, Army
Monken is coming off a breakthrough season at West Point. Army finished 8-5, defeated rival Navy and claimed the Heart of Dallas Bowl trophy after a 38-31 overtime victory over North Texas. Last year’s bowl trip was Army’s first since 2010 and the eight-win season was the highest since the Black Knights posted 10 in 1996. Monken is 14-23 overall in three years at West Point. Prior to Army, Monken went 38-16 at Georgia Southern from 2010-13 and also had a stint at Georgia Tech and Navy as an assistant under Paul Johnson.
74. Jim Mora, UCLA
Last season’s 4-8 record was the first losing mark for UCLA under Mora’s watch. While the four-win season was the program’s lowest since 2010, it’s hard to dock Mora too much in the overall landscape since quarterback Josh Rosen was lost midway through the year with a shoulder injury. How quickly can Mora get the Bruins back on track? He’s 41-24 over the last five years, including two 10-win campaigns. Additionally, UCLA won the 2012 Pac-12 South title and has a winning record in league play in four out of the last five years. Recruiting talent hasn’t been a problem for Mora with a 13.8 average finish in national team rankings since 2013. However, the Bruins are just 25-20 in Pac-12 games from 2013-16.
73. Bobby Wilder, Old Dominion
Old Dominion returned to the gridiron in 2009 after the program was disbanded in 1941. Wilder was tapped as coach to build the program from scratch after spending nearly his entire coaching career as an assistant coach at Maine (1990-06). The Monarchs quickly showed how far Wilder was able to take this program in a short amount of time. Old Dominion started 17-5 from 2009-10 as a FCS Independent and later qualified for the FCS playoffs in the Colonial Athletic Association in 2011-12. After spending one season (2013) as a FCS Independent, the Monarchs made the jump to the FBS level and Conference USA. Wilder led the program to a 6-6 record in its FBS debut, followed by a 5-7 mark in 2015 and a breakthrough 10-3 season last fall. The Monarchs also scored the program’s first bowl trip and victory in the Bahamas Bowl.
72. Rick Stockstill, MTSU
Stockstill is Conference USA’s longest-tenured coach and has successfully led MTSU to five consecutive non-losing seasons. Since taking over the program in 2006, the Blue Raiders are 72-66 under Stockstill and have earned six postseason trips. Additionally, MTSU has just one season of fewer than five wins and recorded 10 victories – the program’s highest since joining the FBS level in 1999 – in the 2009 season. Stockstill should have the Blue Raiders in the mix to win Conference USA’s East Division title in 2017.
71. Mike Norvell, Memphis
Norvell is one of college football’s top coaches on the rise entering 2017. In his first year at Memphis, Norvell picked up where Justin Fuente left off, guiding the Tigers to an 8-5 record. The Tigers easily handled Kansas, beat eventual American Athletic champ Temple and defeated Houston in the regular season finale. And with the lethal pass-catch combination of quarterback Riley Ferguson and receiver Anthony Miller returning in 2017, Memphis should be picked near the top of the conference and could be the favorite in the West Division. Norvell has been on a fast rise through the coaching ranks after beginning his career at Central Arkansas in 2006. After spending one season there, Norvell was hired as a graduate assistant by Todd Graham at Tulsa in 2007 and was later promoted to an on-field assistant in 2009. After four years with the Golden Hurricane, Norvell worked as an offensive coordinator under Graham at Pitt (2011) and again to Arizona State (2012-15).
70. Kalani Sitake, BYU
Sitake’s first season at the helm in Provo registered as one of the best debuts by a new coach in 2016. The Cougars finished 9-4, defeated FBS opponents Arizona, Michigan State and Mississippi State and lost all four games by three points or less. Sitake set the bar high at his alma mater following Bronco Mendenhall’s departure to Virginia after the 2015 season. With stints as an assistant under Gary Andersen and Kyle Whittingham, he’s also learned from two of the Pac-12’s top coaches. Expect Sitake to climb this list over the next few years.
69. Blake Anderson, Arkansas State
Arkansas State experienced its share of coaching turnover since 2010. The program cycled through five different coaches from 2010-14, as Hugh Freeze, Gus Malzahn and Bryan Harsin each left Jonesboro for a more high-profile job. While the coaching turnover created some headaches, stability isn’t a question anymore with Anderson entering his fourth season at the helm. Under Anderson’s watch, Arkansas State is 24-15 since 2014 and has played in three consecutive bowl games. Additionally, the Red Wolves are 20-4 in league play, losing only one Sun Belt contest over the last two seasons.
68. Neal Brown, Troy
Brown’s stock is on the rise after an impressive 2016 season. After replacing long-time coach Larry Blakeney, Brown went 4-8 in his first season at the helm in 2015. But the Trojans showed marked improvement last fall by finishing 10-3 and beating Ohio in the Dollar General Bowl. The 10-win campaign was the first double-digit victory total by the program at the FBS level. Additionally, the bowl win was Troy’s first since 2010. At 37-years-old, Brown is one of college football’s youngest coaches and has been on a fast rise through the coaching ranks after spending time as an assistant at Troy, Texas Tech and Kentucky prior to 2015. The Trojans should be co-favorites with Appalachian State for the league crown in 2017.
67. Skip Holtz, Louisiana Tech
Louisiana Tech has emerged as one of Conference USA’s top programs under Holtz’s direction. He took over in Ruston prior to 2013 after Sonny Dykes left for California and guided the Bulldogs to a 4-8 record that season. However, Louisiana Tech has earned three straight seasons of nine victories and three consecutive postseason trips. The Bulldogs have also earned two West Division titles and have not lost more than two games in league play since 2013. Prior to Louisiana Tech, Holtz went 16-21 at USF (2010-12), 38-27 at East Carolina (2005-09) and 34-23 at UConn from 1994-98. Holtz has a career record of 119-93.
66. Frank Solich, Ohio
Solich is the MAC’s longest-tenured head coach and has transformed Ohio into one of the most consistent programs in the conference. The Bobcats have not had a losing season since 2008 and made eight bowl games over the last nine years. Solich has accumulated an 88-67 overall mark at Ohio and guided the program to four MAC Championship appearances. Prior to taking over at Ohio, Solich went 58-19 at Nebraska from 1998-03 and worked under legendary coach Tom Osborne from 1983-97 as an assistant.
65. Kirby Smart, Georgia
Smart was hired to elevate Georgia into an annual contender in the SEC, and the former Alabama assistant has plenty of work to do after an 8-5 debut in 2016. The Bulldogs finished 4-4 in SEC play last season, which was the program’s first non-winning record in conference action since 2010. However, Smart’s team wasn’t too far removed from double-digit wins. Georgia lost three of its games by three points or less, including a one-point defeat to rival Georgia Tech. After coaching in the shadow of Nick Saban at Alabama for nine seasons, Smart landed the opportunity to coach at his alma mater after Georgia parted ways with Mark Richt. Smart is regarded for his work on defense, but his ability to land elite recruiting classes (No. 3 nationally in 2017) will help the Bulldogs quickly replenish the roster. After one season, plenty of questions remain about Smart and whether or not he can elevate Georgia in the national conversation. However, the work on the recruiting trail, along with the returning talent this season, should provide better insight into this tenure in 2017.
64. Derek Mason, Vanderbilt
Mason’s tenure at Vanderbilt got off to a rocky start with a 3-9 record in 2014, but the Commodores have showed marked improvement over the last two years. The program finished 4-8 and snapped an 11-game losing streak in SEC play by defeating Missouri and Kentucky in 2014. The Commodores took another step forward in 2016 by finishing 6-7 and picking up victories against C-USA champion WKU, Georgia, Ole Miss and Tennessee. The six-win campaign allowed Vanderbilt to snap a two-year bowl drought with a trip to the Independence Bowl. Mason came to West End regarded for his work at Stanford on the defensive side of the ball, and it’s no surprise Vanderbilt finished fifth in the SEC in scoring defense last season. The Commodores appear to have turned a corner under Mason and enter 2017 with momentum and an opportunity to earn a winning record and bowl trip.
Related: SEC Football Predictions for 2017
63. Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma
Not only is Riley the youngest coach at the FBS level, but he’s also taking over one of the nation’s top teams for 2017 after Bob Stoops decided to retire in early June. The Texas native has worked for the past two years under Stoops as Oklahoma’s offensive coordinator, guiding the Sooners to an average of over 40 points a game in both seasons. Prior to joining the Sooners’ staff, Riley called the plays for five years at East Carolina (2010-14) and also had a stint as an assistant coach under Mike Leach at Texas Tech. The 33-year-old coach is considered one of the nation’s top coaches on the rise and heads into his first opportunity as a FBS head coach with a chance to lead the Sooners to the CFB Playoff in 2017.
62. Steve Addazio, Boston College
The ACC’s coaching depth is on display when Addazio ranks No. 14 among league coaches. The Connecticut native is 24-27 through four seasons in Chestnut Hill, with only one non-winning record (2015). Addazio started his tenure with back-to-back 7-6 campaigns and the one-year dip to 3-9 was followed by another solid seven-win season. The Eagles are only 2-14 in league play over the last two years and just 10-22 under Addazio’s four seasons. Prior to Boston College, Addazio went 13-11 in two years at Temple and also worked as an assistant at Florida, Indiana, Notre Dame and Indiana.
61. Dave Doeren, NC State
The outlook on Doeren’s tenure at NC State changed significantly late in the 2016 season. The Wolfpack entered mid-November with a 4-4 record but finished the year by beating Syracuse and rival North Carolina to reach six wins. A victory over Vanderbilt in the Independence Bowl gave Doeren back-to-back seven-win campaigns and three consecutive trips to postseason games. In four years with the Wolfpack, Doeren has a 25-26 record and a 2-1 mark in bowl appearances. Why the change in outlook? NC State has momentum for 2017 after last season's finish and returns a solid core to push for eight (or more wins) this fall. One area to watch this season is what transpires in league play. NC State is just 9-23 in ACC games under Doeren and has yet to defeat Clemson, Louisville or Florida State in that span.
60. Mark Stoops, Kentucky
After showing small signs of progress through Stoops’ first three seasons in Lexington, Kentucky had a breakthrough year in 2017. The Wildcats finished 7-6 last fall and earned the program’s first bowl bid since 2010. Additionally, Kentucky recorded its first non-losing mark in league play since 2006 and snapped a five-game losing streak against rival Louisville. After four years, Stoops is 19-30 overall and 8-24 in SEC action. With a solid roster foundation in place, along with the momentum from last season, Kentucky should be able to take another step forward in the win column in 2017.
59. Willie Fritz, Tulane
Fritz likely needs another season to rebuild the roster, but the Kansas native has Tulane moving in the right direction. The Green Wave finished 4-8 in Fritz’s debut last year and wasn’t far from a winning record after losing four games by 10 points or less. Tulane is the fourth stop as a head coach in Fritz’s career. From 1997-09, he went 97-47 at Central Missouri and only had two seasons with a losing record during that span. His next stop came at Sam Houston State, where the Bearkats went 40-15 and played for the FCS Championship two times from 2010-13. Fritz helped Georgia Southern transition from the FCS ranks to the FBS level from 2014-15 and recorded a 17-7 record in an impressive stint in Statesboro.
58. Charlie Strong, USF
After a three-year stint at Texas, Strong has returned to familiar territory. The Arkansas native has extensive ties to the state of Florida, including a lengthy stint as an assistant with the Gators from 1991-94 and again from 2003-09. Strong also established connections on the recruiting trail from his stint with Florida, as well as a four-year run at Louisville. From 2010-13, Strong guided the Cardinals to a 37-15 record, including a 23-3 run over the final two seasons. While his tenure at Texas resulted in a 16-21 mark, Strong should be a better fit at USF and inherits a team capable of finishing 2017 ranked inside of the top 25.
57. Philip Montgomery, Tulsa
Montgomery is just two years into his tenure at Tulsa, but the Golden Hurricane have showed marked improvement under his watch. After finishing 2-10 in 2014, Tulsa went 6-7 in Montgomery’s first year with a trip to the Independence Bowl. A full year to learn Montgomery’s high-powered offense paid big dividends for the Golden Hurricane last fall. Tulsa finished sixth nationally by averaging 42.5 points a game and became the only FBS team to have a 3,000-yard passer, two 1,000-yard rushers and two 1,000-yard receivers. The Golden Hurricane’s 10-win campaign in 2016 was the first double-digit victory total by the program since 2012. Prior to Tulsa, Montgomery worked as an assistant at Baylor (2008-14), Houston (2003-07) and three different high schools in Texas.
56. DJ Durkin, Maryland
Durkin is one of the Big Ten’s rising stars, and it’s only a matter of time before he moves up in our rankings. Additionally, Durkin’s No. 11 rank among the Big Ten shows just how deep this league is in coaching talent. Prior to taking over as Maryland’s head coach before the 2016 season, Durkin gathered a wealth of knowledge and experience as an assistant at Stanford, Bowling Green, Florida and Michigan. He worked under some of college football’s top coaches in those stints, including Jim Harbaugh and Urban Meyer. The Terrapins finished 3-9 in 2015 but showed marked improvement in Durkin’s first year, finishing with a 6-7 record. The Terrapins also won three games in league play and earned a trip to the Quick Lane Bowl. Additionally, Durkin is upgrading the roster via the recruiting trail. Maryland’s 2017 class ranked No. 18 in the 247Sports Composite and is considered the best in school history.
55. Will Muschamp, South Carolina
Muschamp’s first head coaching job in the SEC resulted in his dismissal, but he’s off to a good start after one season at South Carolina. The Gamecocks finished 6-7 in Muschamp’s debut – a three-game improvement from 2016 – and earned a trip to the Birmingham Bowl. The emergence of talented true freshman quarterback Jake Bentley was a big reason why South Carolina played better in the second half of last season, and his development is a cornerstone for Muschamp to build around. From 2011-14, Muschamp went 28-21 at Florida and was only 17-15 in SEC play. Additionally, he’s had stints as an assistant at Auburn, Texas and LSU. Considering Muschamp’s pedesterian tenure at Florida, his hire at South Carolina was met with plenty of skepticism. He’s just one year into the job with the Gamecocks, but all signs suggest Muschamp has the program trending in the right direction.
54. Bryan Harsin, Boise State
After Chris Petersen left for Washington, the Broncos turned to a familiar face to lead the program. Harsin – a former Boise State quarterback – was hired as the head coach in 2014 and has guided the Broncos to a 31-9 record over the last three years. Prior to taking over at Boise State, Harsin worked as an assistant with the program from 2002-10 and spent two seasons as the co-offensive coordinator at Texas (2011-12). Additionally, Harsin recorded a 7-5 record in one season (2013) as the head coach at Arkansas State. One number to watch: Boise State has not finished in the top 25 of the final Associated Press poll in back-to-back years for the first time since 2000-01. Additionally, the Broncos have lost at least three games in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1998-99.
53. Scott Satterfield, Appalachian State
As a former player and assistant under legendary coach Jerry Moore, Satterfield had extensive ties to Appalachian State when he was promoted to head coach in 2013. It’s no secret Moore left big shoes to fill, and Satterfield’s promotion from offensive coordinator to head coach had an added challenge of the program transitioning to the FBS level in 2014. While those obstacles were huge, Appalachian State hasn’t missed a beat under Satterfield. The Mountaineers finished 4-8 in the final year at the FCS level in 2013 but improved to 7-5 in Satterfield’s second season (2014). Over the last two years, Appalachian State has quickly emerged (as expected) as one of the Sun Belt’s top programs. Satterfield led the team to an 11-2 record in 2015, followed by a 10-3 mark last fall. The Mountaineers have also earned back-to-back bowl victories and should begin 2017 as a co-favorite with Troy to win the Sun Belt.
52. Bronco Mendenhall, Virginia
After spending most of his coaching career out West, Mendenhall took on a new challenge in 2016 at Virginia. As expected, there was a bit of a learning curve in the ACC and a rebuilding project to tend to in Charlottesville. Mendenhall finished 2-10 and ended the year with a seven-game losing streak in his first season with the Cavaliers. Last season was the first time Mendenhall had a losing record and did not guide a team to a bowl game in his coaching career. Mendenhall accumulated an impressive 99-43 mark at BYU, but he will need another year or two to restock the roster and build the program in his image.
51. Craig Bohl, Wyoming
After transforming North Dakota State into a FCS powerhouse, Bohl has Wyoming on track to become a factor in the Mountain West on an annual basis. The Cowboys went 6-18 in Bohl’s first two seasons but finished 8-6 last year and claimed the Mountain West’s Mountain Division. Bohl is 14-24 over the last three seasons in Laramie. In 11 years at North Dakota State, Bohl recorded a 104-32 record and guided the Bison to three consecutive FCS national titles from 2011-13. With quarterback Josh Allen returning, along with Bohl’s overall roster development, the Cowboys will be one of the Mountain West’s top teams in 2017.
50. Rocky Long, San Diego State
The Aztecs are coming off one of – if not the best – two-year run in school history. Long has guided San Diego State to back-to-back Mountain West titles, 22 wins, two bowl victories and a No. 25 finish in the Associated Press poll from 2015-16. And since 2011, Long is 54-26 with the Aztecs with no losing seasons. Prior to taking over as head coach, Long worked as Brady Hoke’s defensive coordinator at San Diego State from 2009-10 and went 65-69 as New Mexico’s head coach from 1999-08. Long is also regarded as one of the top defensive minds in college football.
49. Jeff Brohm, Purdue
Brohm’s high-powered offense should provide a much-needed boost to Purdue. After earning 10 bowl trips from 1997-07, the Boilermakers have just two postseason appearances over the last nine years. Brohm is just one part of the rebuilding effort for the program, as Purdue is planning on providing a makeover to its facilities to keep up with the rest of the Big Ten. In three years at WKU, Brohm went 30-10 and guided the Hilltoppers to back-to-back Conference USA titles. Additionally, Brohm’s acumen on offense was on display, as WKU was the only team from 2014-16 to average over 40 points a game in three consecutive years. He also has two seasons of Big Ten experience as an assistant at Illinois from 2010-11. Brohm has a lot of work to do in 2017 and beyond, but he’s the right hire for Purdue.
48. Matt Campbell, Iowa State
Iowa State’s 2016 record was only 3-9, but Campbell has this program trending in the right direction. The Cyclones won two of their games in November and five of the nine defeats came by 10 points or less. While a winning season or bowl berth is always preferred, Campbell’s team showed some fight in Big 12 play and just needs more overall roster talent to take the next step. Prior to Iowa State, Campbell went 35-15 at Toledo and won nine games in three out of his four seasons. Look for Campbell to push the Cyclones into contention for six wins this fall.
47. Clay Helton, USC
The outlook on Helton’s first full year at the helm changed dramatically during the course of the 2016 season. After a 1-2 start and a sluggish offense against Alabama and Stanford, Helton decided to switch quarterbacks. The move from Max Browne to Sam Darnold paid huge dividends for the Trojans, as this team went on to win its last nine games, including the Rose Bowl over Penn State. The 10-3 record in Helton’s first full season improved his overall total at USC to 16-7. With Darnold returning (and better as a sophomore), the Trojans are a legitimate playoff contender.
46. Mike Riley, Nebraska
After a 6-7 record in Riley’s debut in 2015, Nebraska took a step forward last year and finished 9-4 overall. Even though Riley is 15-11 and has a winning mark (9-8) in Big Ten play, the third-year coach isn’t sitting idle. He dismissed long-time assistant Mark Banker in favor of Bob Diaco as the program’s new defensive coordinator. Diaco is a standout hire, but it may take a year to transition to the new 3-4 scheme. Prior to Nebraska, Riley went 93-80 at Oregon State from 1997-98 and 2003-14. Considering Oregon State is one of the Pac-12’s toughest jobs, Riley has a good idea of what it takes to win at programs with fewer resources. But in Lincoln, the third-year coach has more to work with and a national recruiting base to acquire talent. With expectations of contending for Big Ten Championships, the next two seasons are critical for this coaching staff.
45. Dino Babers, Syracuse
Babers is just one year into his Syracuse tenure, but there are positive signs for this program following the 2016 campaign. The Orange finished 4-8 overall and 2-6 in league play, which was headlined by an upset victory against Virginia Tech in mid-November. Syracuse’s bowl hopes were dashed late in the year by an injury to starting quarterback Eric Dungey, while a young defense continued its learning curve by giving up at least 35 or more points in each of the last four games. Babers was regarded for his work on offense and with quarterbacks at Eastern Illinois and Bowling Green, and Syracuse’s attack should take off in 2017 with another year to learn the scheme. In five seasons as a head coach, Babers has recorded a 41-24 record. He also has a wealth of experience as an assistant from stops at Baylor, UCLA, Pitt, Texas A&M, Arizona, San Diego State and Purdue.
44. Dave Clawson, Wake Forest
Clawson came to Wake Forest with the reputation as a coach who knew how to rebuild a program. And after three seasons, it’s safe to say Clawson has the Demon Deacons trending in the right direction and poised to become a consistent bowl team in the ACC. After back-to-back 3-9 finishes to start his tenure, Clawson guided Wake Forest to a 7-6 record last season. Additionally, the Demon Deacons capped 2016 with their first bowl appearance since 2011. Wake Forest is the fourth program Clawson has successfully brought improvement to as a head coach. He inherited a Fordham program that went 0-11 in his first year (1999) but improved to 9-3 by 2003. Clawson went 29-20 at Richmond from 2004-07 and also accumulated a 32-30 record in five years at Bowling Green (2009-13).
43. Troy Calhoun, Air Force
Calhoun enters his 11th season at his alma mater with a 77-53 overall mark and nine winning records over the last 10 years. The Falcons also have nine bowl trips under Calhoun’s direction and claimed the Mountain West’s Mountain Division title in 2015. He’s also guided Air Force into two seasons of double-digit victories, with only one losing mark (2013). The former Air Force quarterback has a huge task in front of him in 2017. The Falcons return only seven starters and have a significant rebuilding assignment ahead on defense. However, as Calhoun’s tenure has indicated, Air Force should remain near the top of the Mountain West this year.
42. Matt Rhule, Baylor
Make no mistake: Rhule is inheriting a mess and a major clean up is needed from the Art Briles era. And while it isn’t a huge deal, Rhule faces a transition period since he has no previous ties to the state of Texas in his coaching career. Getting a feel for the landscape and recruiting battles may take a year or two. However, Rhule seems to be a good fit in Waco after a successful four-season stint at Temple. After a 2-10 debut in 2013, the Owls finished 6-6 in 2014, followed by back-to-back 10-win campaigns. Additionally, Temple claimed the 2016 American Athletic Conference title. The New York native played his college ball at Penn State under Joe Paterno and accumulated a wealth of experience as an assistant at UCLA, Western Carolina, Temple and with the Giants before becoming a head coach.
41. P.J. Fleck, Minnesota
Few coaches in college football can match Fleck’s overall enthusiasm and energy level on a day-to-day basis, but the Illinois native is more than just a salesman for the program. After a successful playing career at Northern Illinois and a brief stint in the NFL, Fleck turned to the coaching ranks in 2006 as a graduate assistant at Ohio State. He returned to his alma mater in 2007 and remained in DeKalb until 2009. A two-year stint with Rutgers (2010-11) allowed Fleck to follow Greg Schiano to Tampa Bay in 2012. Fleck returned to college in 2013 as Western Michigan’s head coach and went 1-11 in his debut. However, the Broncos weren’t down for long. Fleck upgraded the team’s talent level with standout MAC recruiting classes and emerged as one of the top Group of 5 coaches over the last three seasons. Western Michigan posted back-to-back 8-5 campaigns from 2014-15, followed by a 13-1 season, a MAC Championship and an appearance in the Cotton Bowl last year. Fleck is a dynamic recruiter and has the right personality to take Minnesota’s program up a notch in the Big Ten West Division.
40. Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M
Sumlin hasn’t matched the initial success from his first two years in College Station, but Texas A&M has won at least eight games in each of the last three seasons. In Sumlin’s first year (also the program’s first in the SEC in 2012), the Aggies finished 11-2 overall and finished No. 5 in the Associated Press poll. The emergence of Johnny Manziel certainly helped to ease Texas A&M’s transition into the SEC, and the program finished 9-4 in a solid second trip through the league in 2013. But equaling the initial success has eluded Sumlin over the last three years. Despite winning eight games each season, the Aggies have not recorded a winning mark in SEC play or a top 25 finish. Sumlin is 44-21 at Texas A&M and 79-38 overall in his coaching career. Is 2017 a make-or-break year?
39. Pat Narduzzi, Pitt
After cycling through three full-time coaches (Paul Chryst, Todd Graham and Dave Wannstedt) from 2010-14, Pitt has found stability behind Narduzzi. The Panthers are 16-10 under Narduzzi’s direction and have recorded back-to-back winning marks in ACC play. Additionally, Pitt has finished outright or shared second place in the Coastal Division in both of Narduzzi’s seasons. While Narduzzi was one of the nation’s top assistant coaches (and defensive coordinators) at Michigan State, he’s still looking to find the right mix on that side of the ball in the Steel City. Pitt finished 10th in the ACC in scoring defense in 2015 and 13th in 2016.
38. Rich Rodriguez, Arizona
Arizona is just two years removed from the Pac-12 South title, but there is building pressure on Rodriguez. The Wildcats were hit hard by injuries and struggled to find the right pieces for a new defense last season, finishing with a 3-9 record and just one win in league play. The losing mark was Arizona’s first under Rodriguez, but the program is just 10-15 since winning the South title. Adding to the growing pressure for 2017 is a new athletic director. Through five years, Rodriguez is 36-29 with four bowl trips in Tucson. Prior to Arizona, Rodriguez was dismissed after a 15-22 record at Michigan but had a successful run at West Virginia (2001-07).
37. Todd Graham, Arizona State
Similar to in-state rival Arizona and coach Rich Rodriguez, 2017 is shaping up to be an important year for Todd Graham and Arizona State. The Sun Devils started Graham’s tenure with an 8-5 mark in 2012 and back-to-back 10-win campaigns from 2013-14. Arizona State claimed the Pac-12 South title in 2013 and climbed to No. 12 in the final Associated Press poll in 2014. But the program has been trending down over the last two years. The Sun Devils are just 11-14 in that span and went 2-7 in Pac-12 games last season. Injuries to the quarterback position significantly hampered Graham’s offense, but the defense has ranked near the bottom of the Pac-12 in back-to-back years. Graham has a track record of success from previous stops at Rice, Tulsa and Pitt. Will Arizona State take a step forward in 2017?
36. Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia
Armed with a contract extension, there’s stability in Morgantown between Holgorsen and the program. After taking control of the program in 2011, Holgorsen and his high-powered passing attack led by Geno Smith led West Virginia to a 10-3 record, Big East title and an Orange Bowl victory. But the transition to the tougher Big 12 produced a few speed bumps. The Mountaineers finished 7-6 in their new home, followed by a 4-8 mark in 2013. After finishing 15-11 in 2014-15, West Virginia claimed its best season since joining the Big 12. The Mountaineers finished 10-3 last year, ranked No. 18 in the final Associated Press poll and went 7-2 in league play. Even though Holgorsen is known for his ability to build an offense and the passing game, he’s transitioned West Virginia to a balanced attack and has one of the Big 12’s top defensive coordinators in Tony Gibson.
35. Larry Fedora, North Carolina
Fedora and the Tar Heels need to reload after the best two-year stretch in program history since 1996-97. However, Fedora’s acumen on offense should prevent a major drop off on that side of the ball. While North Carolina is likely to slightly regress in the win column with several new faces in key positions on offense, Fedora is still piecing together a solid tenure in Chapel Hill. The Tar Heels started Fedora’s tenure with an 8-4 record in 2013, followed by a 7-6 mark in 2013 and a 6-7 season in 2014. But the program won the Coastal Division and claimed 11 wins in 2015 and finished 8-5 last fall. Prior to taking over at North Carolina, Fedora went 34-19 at Southern Miss. He’s 74-44 in nine seasons as a head coach at the FBS level.
34. Willie Taggart, Oregon
After successful stints at WKU and USF, Taggart inherits his third rebuilding project at Oregon. But the Ducks aren’t in need of major repair. After all, the program is just two seasons removed from playing for the national championship. However, make no mistake about the situation Taggart is walking into. Oregon has slipped in recent years, going 13-12 over the last two seasons and finishing out of the top 25 in 2016 for the first time since 2006. Taggart compiled a 16-20 mark at WKU from 2010-12, winning 14 games over the last two seasons and earning a bowl bid in 2012. He took over at USF in 2013 and went 6-18 through the first two years. But the Bulls showed marked improvement from 2015-16, winning 18 games and claiming a share of the AAC East Division last fall. Taggart’s background on offense should help Oregon regain its edge on that side of the ball, and the hire of Jim Leavitt as coordinator will immediately improve the defense.
Related: Pac-12 Football Predictions for 2017
33. Gary Andersen, Oregon State
Andersen inherited a program in need of repair after Mike Riley left for Nebraska, and the Beavers have showed progress over the last two seasons. After a 2-10 debut in 2015, Oregon State doubled its win total to four and claimed three Pac-12 victories last season. Prior to Oregon State, Andersen went 19-7 in two years at Wisconsin and was 26-24 at Utah State from 2009-12. While the Beavers might be a season away from making a bowl, Andersen has this program pointed in the right direction and another step forward is likely in 2017.
32. Ken Niumatalolo, Navy
Niumatalolo enters his 10th season at the Naval Academy already entrenched as the program’s winningest coach with 77 career victories. The Hawaii native was promoted to the top spot after Paul Johnson left for Georgia Tech at the end of the regular season in 2007, with Niumatalolo leading the team in the 2007 Poinsettia Bowl. The Midshipmen have won at least eight games in eight of Niumatalolo’s nine seasons, including an 11-2 mark in 2015. Navy finished 9-5 last season and claimed the American Athletic Conference’s West Division title. The program’s No. 18 finish in the final Associated Press poll was the first for Navy since a No. 24 rank in 2004.
31. Paul Chryst, Wisconsin
As a native of Madison and a former Badger player and assistant coach, Chryst is the perfect fit at Wisconsin. Before landing his first head coaching gig at Pitt in 2012, Chryst worked under Barry Alvarez in Madison in 2002 and 2005 and with Bret Bielema from 2006-11. Chryst struggled to find the right formula at Pitt as a head coach and never eclipsed the seven-win mark over three years (2012-14). The Panthers finished 19-19 overall under Chryst and earned three bowl trips. However, Chryst is a better fit at Wisconsin and has this program entrenched as the Big Ten West Division favorite for 2017. Since taking over for Gary Andersen prior to the 2015 season, Chryst is 21-6 overall with just four losses in league play. Additionally, Wisconsin claimed the 2016 Big Ten West Division title.
30. Butch Jones, Tennessee
High expectations surrounded Tennessee last season, and while the Volunteers fell short of winning the SEC East, the program recorded a 9-4 record and a No. 22 finish in the Associated Press poll. Contending for the East Division is certainly a fair and yearly expectation in Knoxville, but Jones has guided the program to back-to-back nine-win seasons. The 18 victories over the last two years are the most in Tennessee history since posting 19 from 2006-07. Despite falling short of preseason expectations, it’s clear Jones has helped this program take a step forward. He’s 30-21 overall in four years, and the Volunteers have recorded three consecutive bowl victories for the first time since 1994-96. Prior to Tennessee, Jones finished 27-13 in three years at Central Michigan and went 23-14 in three seasons at Cincinnati. He’s had just two losing records in 10 years as a FBS coach.
Related: SEC Football Predictions for 2017
29. Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss
The 5-7 record by Ole Miss last season was the first losing mark in Freeze’s coaching career. Of course, there were a couple of factors that contributed to the five-win season, as injuries to starting quarterback Chad Kelly and a couple of other key players hindered the quest for another winning mark. While last year’s record was a disappointment in Oxford, Freeze and his staff are dealing with a bigger concern: An ongoing NCAA investigation. A cloud of uncertainty is likely to hang over this program in 2017, but Freeze has compiled an impressive 39-25 mark over five years in Oxford. The 19 wins from 2014-15 were the most in a two-season span since 1961-62 at Ole Miss. Additionally, Freeze guided the Rebels to a No. 10 finish in the Associated Press poll in 2015 and has two trips to New Year’s Six bowl games. Freeze was previously the head coach at Arkansas State for one season (2011) and at Lambuth for two years (2008-09). He’s 69-32 overall in his coaching career.
28. Mike MacIntyre, Colorado
MacIntyre delivered a breakthrough season in his fourth year in Boulder. The Buffaloes finished 10-4 and No. 17 nationally last season, while also claiming the Pac-12 South title. The 10-win season equaled MacIntyre’s victory total (10) from the first three years with the program. It’s no secret MacIntyre inherited a program in need of major repair in 2013 and slow progress through the first couple of years was expected. This isn’t the first time MacIntyre has engineered a significant turnaround. From 2010-12, San Jose State went 16-21 under his watch, improving from a one-win team in 2010 to a 10-win program in the regular season in 2012.
27. Bret Bielema, Arkansas
Bielema took over in Fayetteville under less-than-ideal conditions in 2013. The program was reeling from the dismissal of Bobby Petrino prior to the 2012 campaign, and the Razorbacks slumped to 4-8 under John L. Smith that season. And as expected with the turmoil from 2012, Bielema’s first year at Arkansas was essentially a reset or transition year. The Razorbacks went 3-9 and winless in league play in 2013 but showed marked improvement in 2014. Arkansas rebounded to 7-6 and ended a two-year postseason drought, followed by a 15-11 mark over the last two years. Bielema previously recorded a 68-24 record during a stint at Wisconsin (2006-12) and has only one losing season in his career as a head coach.
26. Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech
Any lingering disappointment from Georgia Tech’s 3-9 season in 2015 was quickly erased last fall. The Yellow Jackets rebounded to 9-4, finished 4-4 in league play and defeated Kentucky in the TaxSlayer Bowl. The nine-win campaign bolstered Johnson’s overall mark to 70-48 at Georgia Tech. Additionally, the program has eight bowl appearances since 2008 and only one losing record in ACC action. Johnson previously went 45-29 at Navy from 2002-07 and 62-10 at Georgia Southern from 1997-01. Johnson has only two losing seasons in 20 years as a head coach.
25. Brian Kelly, Notre Dame
Kelly enters 2017 at a critical point in his tenure with the Fighting Irish. Notre Dame slumped to 4-8 last fall, which was the program’s first losing mark under Kelly and the lowest win total since 2007. Can Kelly get this program (and his tenure) back on track in 2017? The smart money says yes. The Fighting Irish upgraded at coordinator with the additions of Chip Long (offense) and Mike Elko (defense) and lost six games last fall by eight points or less. Needless to say, there’s potential for a quick turnaround in 2017. Kelly is 59-31 overall and guided the program to three finishes in the Associated Press top 25 since taking over at Notre Dame in 2010. He also went 34-6 in a three-year stint at Cincinnati, guided Central Michigan to a 19-16 mark from 2004-06 and compiled an impressive 118-35-2 mark at Grand Valley State from 1991-03.
24. Kirk Ferentz, Iowa
Ferentz is the nation’s longest tenured coach, with a tenure spanning 19 years at the start of the 2017 campaign. While Ferentz has experienced a few low points (4-8 in 2012), Iowa has been a consistent winner under his watch. The Hawkeyes have claimed 135 victories since 1999 and recorded five top-10 finishes in the Associated Press poll. Additionally, Iowa just missed on a playoff berth in 2015 after a close loss to Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship. Also notable: Ferentz has just one losing record since 2001, and the Hawkeyes have won at least four Big Ten games in nine out of the last 10 years.
23. Tom Herman, Texas
It’s a safe bet Herman is going to move up this list in the next few seasons. The California native has produced results at each of his coaching stops, including stints as an assistant at Texas State, Rice and Iowa State. Herman called the plays for Ohio State’s offense for three seasons, including the 2014 team that won the national championship. Herman took over at Houston in 2015 and guided the Cougars to a 13-1 record and a victory over Florida State in the Peach Bowl. Houston took a small step back in the win column in 2016 but still finished 9-3 in the regular season and defeated Oklahoma and Louisville. Herman should do what Charlie Strong struggled to do in Austin: Make Texas an annual Big 12 title contender once again.
22. Gus Malzahn, Auburn
Malzahn set the bar high for his tenure on the Plains after guiding the program to a 12-2 mark, an SEC title and an appearance in the national championship in 2013. But the Tigers haven’t matched that initial success, setting up a critical 2017 campaign for Malzahn. After the 12-2 season, Auburn is 23-16 over the last three years and has only one winning mark in SEC play (2016) during that span. After a 2-6 record in conference action in 2015, the Tigers took a step forward with a 5-3 mark last year. The addition of quarterback Jarrett Stidham should give Auburn’s offense some much-needed balance this fall. Will that be enough for the Tigers to return to double-digit wins?
21. Jim McElwain, Florida
McElwain has emerged as one of the SEC’s top coaches after just two seasons in Gainesville. The former Alabama assistant landed his first head coaching gig in 2012 at Colorado State and quickly transformed the Rams back into one of the Mountain West’s top teams. After a 4-8 debut in 2012, Colorado State improved its win total by four games in 2013 (8-6) and finished 10-2 in the 2014 regular season. With McElwain’s previous SEC experience working under Nick Saban, combined with his success at Colorado State, the Montana native seemed like the right fit to get Florida’s program back on track after Will Muschamp went 28-21 in four years. And so far, McElwain has pushed all of the right buttons over the last two seasons. The Gators are 19-8 under McElwain and have claimed back-to-back SEC East titles.
20. Justin Fuente, Virginia Tech
Replacing a coaching legend like Frank Beamer left Fuente with big shoes to fill in Blacksburg. But after one year, it’s clear the Hokies hit a home run with Fuente. Virginia Tech finished 10-4 in Fuente’s debut and claimed the Coastal Division title with a 6-2 mark in league play. Additionally, the Hokies defeated Arkansas in the Belk Bowl and finished No. 16 in the final Associated Press poll – the program’s first top 25 finish since 2011. Fuente’s strong resume extends to his four-year run at Memphis. After inheriting a team that won three games from 2010-11, Fuente brought immediate improvement to the program. The Tigers finished 4-8 in 2012 and recorded a 3-9 mark after transitioning to the American Athletic Conference in 2013. Memphis went 19-6 over Fuente’s final two years and claimed a No. 25 finish in the final Associated Press poll in 2014. Fuente also had a successful stint as an assistant at TCU under Gary Patterson from 2007-11.
19. Dan Mullen, Mississippi State
While Mississippi State is the SEC West’s toughest job, Mullen has carved out a consistent and successful stint in a brutal division. The Bulldogs are 61-42 under Mullen’s eight years and have earned seven bowl trips in that span. Additionally, Mississippi State’s 19 wins from 2014-15 were the most in a two-year stretch in program history. The Bulldogs also grabbed the No. 1 ranking in the Associated Press poll for the first time in 2014, while earning the top spot in the first CFB playoff rankings that season. Last year’s six wins were the fewest since 2009, but 2016 was expected to be a transition year after quarterback Dak Prescott expired his eligibility. However, with 10 returning starters and the continued development of quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, Mississippi State will be a dark horse team to watch in the SEC this fall.
18. Mike Leach, Washington State
Leach is known for his high-powered passing attacks, but he’s also quietly building a program capable of contending for a top 25 spot on an annual basis. The Cougars are 29-34 under his watch and have won 17 of those games over the last two seasons. A 7-2 finish in conference play ranked second behind rival Washington in the Pac-12 North last year. Prior to Washington State, Leach recorded an impressive 84-43 mark at Texas Tech and guided the program to 10 consecutive bowl trips from 2000-09.
17. Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern
Northwestern is one of the toughest jobs at the Power 5 level, but there’s not a better coach to guide this program than Fitzgerald. The former Northwestern linebacker took over as head coach under difficult circumstances following the sudden passing of Randy Walker prior to the 2006 season. Fitzgerald went 10-14 over his first two years and guided Northwestern to five consecutive bowl trips from 2008-12. The Wildcats slipped to 5-7 in back-to-back seasons but have a 17-9 mark over the last two years. Northwestern has four 10-win seasons in its program history. Two of those have come under Fitzgerald.
16. David Cutcliffe, Duke
Duke is one of the toughest Power 5 coaching jobs, but Cutcliffe has brought significant improvement to this program since taking over in 2008. The Blue Devils went 15-33 through Cutcliffe’s first four seasons (2008-11), before recording four consecutive bowl trips from 2012-15. In that span, Duke won at least six games every year, including a 10-4 campaign and a Coastal Division title in 2013. The No. 23 finish in the Associated Press poll in 2013 was the first for the program since 1961. The Blue Devils slipped to 4-8 last year, but there’s no reason for concern in Durham. Cutcliffe returns a promising sophomore quarterback in Daniel Jones, and the program is in much better shape than it was when Cutcliffe took the job. With a 44-29 record from a previous stint at Ole Miss, Cutcliffe has a career mark of 96-90.
Related: ACC Football Predictions for 2017
15. Kyle Whittingham, Utah
Whittingham’s tenure in Salt Lake City continues to bring consistency and success at a high level. Utah has won 28 games since 2014 and recorded a winning mark in Pac-12 play in each of the last three seasons. Additionally, for the first time in program history, the Utes have earned three consecutive top 25 finishes in the Associated Press poll. Whittingham was instrumental in the program’s transition to the Pac-12 in 2011, with his steady approach helping to quickly assimilate in the conference. Under Whittingham’s direction, Utah is 104-50 and has only two losing records since 2005. Additionally, the Utes are 9-1 in bowl games under Whittingham’s direction in that span.
14. Mark Richt, Miami
Richt’s debut season at his alma mater was a successful one, as the Hurricanes finished 9-4 and No. 20 in the Associated Press poll. A nine-win year is certainly a good start for Richt, but the next goal is something that has eluded Miami since joining the ACC: The Coastal Division title. Even though quarterback Brad Kaaya left early for the NFL, the Hurricanes should be picked near the top of the Coastal for 2017. Can Richt deliver a Coastal title in just his second year at the helm? Prior to taking over in Coral Gables, Richt had a 15-year stint at Georgia. The Bulldogs went 145-51 under Richt’s direction and claimed five SEC East titles. Expect Richt to help Miami’s program return to the top 25 and compete for the ACC title on a consistent basis.
13. Mark Dantonio, Michigan State
After winning 11 or more games in five out of six seasons from 2010-15, the Spartans fell to 3-9 last year. While the Big Ten East is getting tougher with Penn State’s rise under James Franklin, and Jim Harbaugh’s arrival at Michigan, it’s hard to envision Michigan State staying down for too long under Dantonio. After all, he’s 90-42 since 2007 in East Lansing and has guided the program to nine bowl trips. Dantonio’s 2015 team won the Big Ten Championship and earned a trip to the CFB Playoff, while the 2013 version played in the Rose Bowl after beating Ohio State in the conference title game.
12. James Franklin, Penn State
Penn State is trending up entering Franklin’s fourth season in Happy Valley. The Nittany Lions are coming off an 11-3 record – the program’s first double-digit victory total since 2009 – a Rose Bowl berth and Big Ten Championship. The 11-win campaign was Franklin’s best at Penn State after starting his career with a 14-12 mark from 2014-15. And with a roster improving on depth after recovering from scholarship sanctions, the Nittany Lions are poised to become a bigger factor in the Big Ten East Division on a more consistent basis. Prior to taking over at Penn State, Franklin guided Vanderbilt – the SEC’s toughest job – to three bowl appearances and 24 wins from 2011-13.
11. Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State
Is Gundy the nation’s most underrated coach? He’s quietly won 104 games – the most in program history by a head coach – since taking over for Les Miles in 2005. Oklahoma State has only one losing record under Gundy and just missed on playing for the national championship in the 2011 season. The Cowboys have won at least 11 games in five out of the last seven seasons and have posted back-to-back 10-win campaigns.
10. Bobby Petrino, Louisville
Petrino’s second act at Louisville has been just as successful as his first stint from 2003-06. The Cardinals were in the mix for the CFB Playoff in early November and finished 9-4 overall. The 7-1 record in ACC play was the program’s best conference record since joining the league in 2014. And of course, quarterback Lamar Jackson claimed the Heisman Trophy after a dominant 2016 season. Since joining the ACC in 2014, Louisville is 26-13 and has not posted a losing mark in conference play. The Cardinals went 41-9 under Petrino’s direction from 2003-06 and claimed two finishes inside of the top 10. Petrino left Louisville for the NFL but lasted only one season (2007) with the Falcons. However, he wasn’t out of work for long, taking over the Arkansas job in 2008. After a 5-7 mark in his first year, Petrino guided the Razorbacks to 29 wins over the final three seasons, including a No. 5 finish in 2011. After his dismissal from Arkansas prior to the 2012 campaign, Petrino sat out that season and resurfaced at WKU in 2013. The Hilltoppers finished 8-4 in Petrino’s only year at the helm, with Charlie Strong’s departure to Texas opening the door for a return to Louisville in 2014.
9. Gary Patterson, TCU
Regardless of whether TCU resided in Conference USA, Mountain West or Big 12, this program has been a consistent winner under Patterson’s watch. He took over as the head coach prior to the 2000 Mobile Alabama Bowl and won 32 games through his first four years (2001-04). The Horned Frogs joined the Mountain West in 2005 and won at least 11 games in five out of the next six years, including a perfect 13-0 mark in 2010. Transitioning to the Big 12 has produced some new challenges, but Patterson has reached a bowl game in four out of the first five seasons in the conference. TCU just missed on a playoff berth after a 12-1 record in 2014 and finished 11-2 in 2015. In addition to his success as a head coach, Patterson is regarded as one of the nation’s top defensive minds.
8. Bill Snyder, Kansas State
Few coaches have had the type of influence on one team similar to the way Snyder has impacted Kansas State in his stint as the program’s head coach. The 77-year-old coach is in his second act after retiring after the 2005 season, and this stint is just as successful as the first one. The Wildcats have won at least six games every year since 2009 and claimed eight or more wins in five out of the last seven years. Snyder inherited a program that won only six games in the five seasons prior to his arrival in 1989. Kansas State finished 1-10 in Snyder’s debut, but the program showed steady progress in the following years. The Wildcats went 5-6 in 1990, followed by a 7-4 mark in 1991 – the program’s first winning record since 1982. Snyder guided K-State to 11 consecutive bowl trips from 1993-03 and one Big 12 title in 2003. With challenges on the recruiting trail and with its location, this is not an easy job to sustain success. Snyder is 202-105-1 in his career with the Wildcats.
Related: Big 12 Football Predictions for 2017
7. David Shaw, Stanford
With its rigorous academic standards, Stanford is one of the toughest jobs in the Pac-12. However, the difficulty of the job also underscores just how good of a coach Shaw has been for the program since 2011. The Cardinal are 64-17 under Shaw’s watch since 2011 and recorded four finishes inside of the top 12 of the final Associated Press poll. Additionally, Shaw has guided Stanford to three Pac-12 Championships and two Rose Bowl victories.
6. Chris Petersen, Washington
In just three seasons, Petersen has transformed Washington into one of the Pac-12’s top programs. The Huskies went 8-6 under Petersen in 2014 and finished 7-6 one year later. However, after building the team with a handful of young players from 2014-15, the youth movement paid off in 2016. Washington won its first Pac-12 title since 2000, claimed 12 regular season wins and a berth in the CFB Playoff against Alabama in the Peach Bowl. Success at a high level is nothing new to Petersen. He went 92-12 at Boise State from 2006-13. As a head coach, Petersen has only three years of fewer than 10 wins and has never recorded a losing record.
5. Dabo Swinney, Clemson
It’s a close call between Swinney and Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher for the top spot in the ACC. We give a slight nod to Fisher, but these two coaches are essentially 1A and 1B. Swinney has transformed Clemson’s program into an annual top-10 team over the last five years. The former Alabama receiver replaced Tommy Bowden as the program’s coach in 2008 and remained in the full-time role after a 4-3 stint over the final seven games. After a 15-12 mark from 2009-10, Swinney has guided Clemson to six consecutive seasons of at least 10 wins and is 28-2 over the last two years. After a runner-up finish to Alabama in the national championship in 2015, the Tigers claimed the program’s first national title since 1981 by defeating the Crimson Tide in January for the 2016 title. Replacing quarterback Deshaun Watson won’t be easy, but with Swinney at the controls and elite recruiting classes filling in the voids, Clemson isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
4. Jimbo Fisher, Florida State
As we mentioned in the writeup for Clemson’s Dabo Swinney, it’s a coin flip for the top spot in the ACC. Fisher gets the nod as Athlon’s top coach in the ACC, as the West Virginia native enters his eighth season in Tallahassee with a 78-17 record. The Seminoles have won at least 10 games in six of seven years under Fisher and claimed the 2013 national championship. Additionally, Florida State has won the Atlantic Division four times since 2010, made one playoff appearance (2014) and claimed back-to-back New Year’s Six bowl trips (2015-16).
3. Jim Harbaugh, Michigan
With Harbaugh at the helm, it’s only a matter of time before Michigan is in the CFB Playoff and among the nation’s best every year. The Wolverines are 20-6 overall and 13-4 in Big Ten play under Harbaugh’s direction. One reason Michigan is poised for a return to the top of college football? Recruiting. The Wolverines have inked back-to-back top-five classes and another standout haul is on the way for 2018. Harbaugh also has a track record of success. At San Diego, he went 7-4 in his first year (2004) and proceeded to record a 22-2 mark over the next two seasons. After going 4-8 in his debut at Stanford (2007), Harbaugh improved the program’s win total in three consecutive years, culminating in a 12-1 finish in 2010. After a 44-19-1 mark with the 49ers from 2011-14, Harbaugh returned to his alma mater and is one of the nation’s best coaches.
2. Urban Meyer, Ohio State
Meyer continued to add to an already impressive resume by guiding Ohio State to an 11-2 mark and a CFB Playoff berth last season. Under Meyer’s direction, the Buckeyes are 61-6 and have won at least 11 games every year. Ohio State won the 2014 national championship and has claimed or won a share of the Big Ten East Division title in each of the last three seasons. The run in Columbus rivals Meyer’s tenure at Florida, as he went 65-15 from 2005-10 with two national titles. He also had a 22-2 mark at Utah from 2003-04 and a 17-6 record at Bowling Green from 2001-02. Simply, Meyer recruits and develops talent as well as any head coach in college football and consistently wins at a high level.
1. Nick Saban, Alabama
Saban continues to build a resume worthy of earning the honor as the best coach in college football history. Since Saban took over at Alabama in 2007, the Crimson Tide are 119-19 and have claimed four national championships. The program has not finished lower than 10th in the final Associated Press poll since 2007 and has just two seasons of three or more losses. Alabama also has six SEC West titles under Saban’s direction and has lost only five conference games over the last six seasons. Saban’s ridiculous track record of success continues with a 48-16 mark at LSU from 2000-04, along with a 34-24-1 record at Michigan State from 1995-99. He also went 9-2 at Toledo in 1990. At 65-years-old, Saban is showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon. With a recent contract extension to 2024, Saban is going to have plenty of time to add to his growing list of accomplishments in Tuscaloosa.