Athlon ranks every FBS college football coach for 2019
Ranking all 130 college football head coaches before the 2019 season is an impossible task. However, as Athlon Sports has done for each of the last eight years leading up to the start of the upcoming season, we set out to sort out every FBS head coach from No. 1 to the bottom. And for the eighth straight year, Alabama's Nick Saban takes the top spot. Clemson's Dabo Swinney jumps to No. 2 with Ohio State's Urban Meyer retiring, while Washington's Chris Petersen checks in at No. 3 and Texas A&M's Jimbo Fisher at No. 4.
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.
How did we compile the rankings for all 130 coaches? For starters, it’s an impossible task. However, we tried to weigh every possible factor into this ranking. 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.
Every team has a different variety or built-in resources available, and hierarchy in college football also plays a vital role in how successful programs are. Those factors, along with career biography/resume, success in developing talent and landing prospects on the recruiting trail factored into the ranking. Additionally, how well programs value staff (is the head coach better as a CEO or hands-on approach) and the facilities or program resources matter into forming an outlook of how coaches have performed at different stops throughout their career.
Again, wins and the career biography to this point are important. But our rankings also take into account a blank slate. If you start a program from scratch, which coach would you hire knowing what they accomplished so far and their career trajectory? Remember, you don't get the assistants - only the head coach. And head-to-head wins do not matter for this ranking. Athlon's editorial staff has voted on a ranking of coaches for all 10 conferences. Here are the results for all 130 head coaches:
2019 Coach Rankings
Ranking All 130 College Football Head Coaches for 2019
130. Scot Loeffler, Bowling Green
Bowling Green isn’t far removed from winning a MAC title (2015), but this program won only nine games in three years under former coach Mike Jinks. Loeffler is a native of Ohio and has worked as an assistant since 2000 at a variety of programs and in the NFL. Loeffler served as offensive coordinator at Temple (2011), Auburn (2012), Virginia Tech (2013-15) and Boston College (2016-18) before landing the head-coaching job at Bowling Green. Loeffler’s offenses at Boston College did not finish higher than sixth in the ACC in scoring in each of his three seasons. Additionally, Loeffler has no previous experience as a head coach.
129. Thomas Hammock, Northern Illinois
Rod Carey’s departure to Temple prompted Northern Illinois to turn to a familiar face as the program’s head coach. Hammock was a prolific running back for the Huskies from 1999-02 but his career was cut short by a heart condition. After landing a job as a graduate assistant at Wisconsin from 2003-04, Hammock returned to DeKalb to coach running backs under Joe Novak for two years (2005-06). He joined Minnesota’s staff as an assistant from 2007-10 and returned to Madison for a three-year run (2011-13) as the Badgers’ running back coach. Hammock has spent the last five years in the NFL as an assistant with the Ravens. This will be Hammock’s first opportunity to be a head coach, but he certainly knows what it takes to win at Northern Illinois and is the perfect fit to replace Carey.
128. Jake Spavital, Texas State
Spavital is only 34 years old, but he has already assembled an impressive resume at the FBS level. The Oklahoma native landed his first full-time job on Dana Holgorsen’s staff at West Virginia as the program’s quarterback coach from 2011-12. He left Morgantown to call the plays at Texas A&M from 2013-15 and worked as the offensive coordinator at California in 2016. After one season with the Golden Bears, Spavital returned to West Virginia to work as Holgorsen’s offensive coordinator. Under Spavital’s watch, the Mountaineers ranked third in the Big 12 in scoring in 2017 (34.5 ppg) and second in ‘18 (40.3). Spavital doesn’t have any previous experience as a head coach, but this is a solid hire for a Texas State program looking to make a jump in the Sun Belt.
127. Tyson Helton, WKU
Helton was hired to get WKU back on track and in contention for Conference USA titles after Mike Sanford went 9-16 from 2017-18. The former Houston quarterback has no previous head coaching experience, but he’s worked as an assistant at a handful of programs – Hawaii, Memphis, UAB, Cincinnati and USC – in addition to last year’s stint as the offensive coordinator at Tennessee. Under Helton’s direction, the Volunteers averaged 22.8 points a game and 5.5 yards a play. He was also a key assistant on Jeff Brohm’s staff from 2014-15 at WKU, helping the Hilltoppers average over 40 points a game in both seasons.
126. Walt Bell, UMass
Bell has been considered a rising star from his stops as an assistant at Arkansas State (2014-15), Maryland (2016-17) and Florida State (2018), so this is a solid hire for the Minutemen for 2019 and beyond. The Tennessee native doesn’t have any previous experience as a head coach and is stepping into a difficult roster situation for his first year in Amherst.
125. Brent Brennan, San Jose State
Brennan – a native of California – inherited a major rebuilding project when he arrived in San Jose prior to the 2017 campaign. Progress has been hard to identify through his first two years on campus, as the Spartans are just 3-22 in that span. Brennan arrived at San Jose State after working as an assistant coach at Oregon State and previously worked with the Spartans from 2005-10.
124. Tom Arth, Akron
Akron is a tough job, but this is also a program with potential in a state with plenty of high school talent. The Zips went to two bowl trips under former coach Terry Bowden, and the administration hopes Arth can take this program to another level. The former NFL quarterback and Ohio native played his college ball at John Carroll and got into coaching at that program in 2010. Arth was promoted to head coach for the Blue Streaks in 2013 and went 40-8 over four years. He left to take over at Chattanooga prior to the 2017 campaign. After a 3-8 mark in his first season, Arth’s team jumped to 6-5 the following year. With his connections to the state and youth (38 years old), Arth should infuse some energy into the program this fall.
Related: MAC Football Predictions for 2019
123. Mike Bloomgren, Rice
Rice is one of the toughest jobs in college football, so it will take another year or two to evaluate Bloomgren’s rebuilding effort. The Owls went 2-11 in Bloomgren’s debut last fall, finishing near the bottom of Conference USA in most statistical categories. Bloomgren and his staff played a handful of young players last season and a similar plan is likely to be in place for 2019. Prior to Rice, Bloomgren worked as the offensive coordinator and line coach at Stanford (2011-17).
122. Shawn Elliott, Georgia State
Elliott’s tenure at Georgia State started in 2018 with a 7-5 mark and a postseason victory over WKU in the Cure Bowl. However, the Panthers didn’t build on that momentum last year, finishing 2-10 overall with just one win in Sun Belt action. A young roster was largely to blame, but the experience should pay dividends for this program in 2019 and beyond. Counting his interim stint at South Carolina in 2015, Elliott is 10-20 overall as a head coach.
121. Mike Neu, Ball State
The 2019 season is a critical one for Neu. Ball State is 10-26 under Neu’s direction and has yet to record a winning record. However, the Cardinals won three games in league play (4-8 overall) last season. The three-win mark in MAC contests was the program’s highest during Neu’s tenure. The former Ball State quarterback has an experienced team returning this fall and on-field progress in 2019 would help Neu escape the hot seat.
120. Dana Dimel, UTEP
Just like his C-USA West counterpart Mike Bloomgren, Dimel inherited a major rebuilding project last season. And as expected, UTEP struggled to generate massive improvement in Dimel’s first year. The Miners went 1-11 but were a little more competitive than the previous season by losing four games by nine points or less. UTEP brings back 12 starters, so some slight improvement should be noticeable in Dimel’s second year. Dimel arrived at UTEP after stints as an assistant at Arizona (2006-08) and Kansas State (2009-17). He also went 22-13 as Wyoming’s head coach from 1997-99 and 8-26 at Houston (2000-02). Dimel is 31-50 in eight overall years as a head coach.
Related: Conference USA Predictions for 2019
119. Bob Davie, New Mexico
The 2019 season is a make-or-break campaign for Davie. The Lobos peaked with a 9-4 record in 2016 but have regressed to 3-9 in back-to-back years. Under Davie’s watch, New Mexico has been to two bowl games but is 33-54 overall. Of Davie’s seven years in Albuquerque, five resulted in two or fewer wins in Mountain West play. Davie also went 35-25 in a stint at Notre Dame from 1997-01.
118. Tony Sanchez, UNLV
With no bowl appearances through four years, and a new shared stadium with the Raiders opening in 2020, this will be a crucial year for Sanchez. UNLV is 16-32 under Sanchez’s watch, with the program’s best year coming in 2017 and a 5-7 mark. Sanchez was a successful high school coach in Las Vegas prior to taking over at UNLV. From 2009-14, he went 85-5 at Bishop Gorman High School and won six NIAA 4A Championships.
117. Chip Lindsey, Troy
In terms of fit for a new coach, it doesn’t get much better than Lindsey at Troy. The 44-year-old coach is a native of Alabama and played his college ball at North Alabama. Lindsey also worked as a high school coach at Colbert Heights, Hoover and Spain Park in the Yellowhammer State. His collegiate coaching career began in 2010 with a stint as quarterbacks coach under Larry Blakeney at Troy and a one-year run in an off-field role at Auburn (2013). Lindsey was hired as offensive coordinator at Southern Miss (2014-15), Arizona State (2016) and Auburn (2017-18) prior to taking over at Troy.
116. Steve Campbell, South Alabama
Campbell was hired to elevate South Alabama’s standing in the Sun Belt, and as expected, the former Central Arkansas coach will need a year or two to mold this program. The Jaguars finished 3-9 and 2-6 overall in Campbell’s debut last fall but finished the season on a high note with a win over Coastal Carolina. Campbell previously worked as the head coach at Mississippi Gulf Community College (87-22 from 2004-13), Delta State (27-8 from 1999-01) and Central Arkansas (33-15 from 2004-17). In Campbell’s career as a head coach, he’s had only one losing record (2018).
115. Doug Martin, New Mexico State
New Mexico State is a tough job, and Martin’s task only got tougher once this program became (once again) an FBS Independent after the 2017 season. The Aggies never exceeded three wins in a single season over Martin’s first four years at the helm (2013-16). However, he guided New Mexico State to a breakout season in 2017. The Aggies finished 7-6 and beat Utah State in the Arizona Bowl. The seven wins marked the program’s first winning season since 2002, while the trip to Tucson was New Mexico State’s first bowl since 1960. Martin previously went 29-53 as a head coach at Kent State from 2004-10. He’s 49-106 overall as a head coach at the FBS level.
114. Sean Lewis, Kent State
For the second year in a row, Lewis ranks as the youngest coach at the FBS level. The 33-year-old Wisconsin graduate was a promising hire for Kent State prior to the 2018 season, and the Golden Flashes showed signs of progress last fall. While the final record was only 2-10, Kent State was more competitive than it was the previous year, and the offense improved its scoring average by 11 points from 2017. Look for the Golden Flashes to take another step forward in 2019.
Related: MAC Football Predictions for 2019
113. Frank Wilson, UTSA
Wilson’s tenure at UTSA started off on a high note with a 6-7 mark and the program’s first bowl trip in 2016. The Roadrunners went 6-5 the following year but slipped to 3-9 last fall. The primary culprit in UTSA’s three-win 2018 campaign is an offense that averaged only 14.2 points a game. Wilson is known for his recruiting prowess, and the program’s roster rank has climbed to No. 6 in the conference. The 2019 season will be a crucial one for this staff to show the program is back on track after a disappointing three-win campaign.
112. Eli Drinkwitz, Appalachian State
Drinkwitz inherits a tough job replacing Scott Satterfield at Appalachian State, but the Mountaineers should be in good shape with the Oklahoma native taking over in 2019. Drinkwitz arrives in Boone after spending the last three seasons as NC State’s offensive coordinator. The Wolfpack finished ninth in the ACC in Drinkwitz’s first year but improved to fourth in the conference in 2017 and third last fall. Prior to his stint at NC State, Drinkwitz worked at Arkansas State (2012-13) and Boise State (2014-15). Drinkwitz has no previous experience as a head coach, but all signs point to Appalachian State winning at a high level under his watch.
111. Tim Lester, Western Michigan
Injuries to starting quarterback Jon Wassink have hindered Western Michigan in back-to-back years, but Lester is still 13-12 since returning to his alma mater prior to the 2017 season. The former Bronco quarterback guided the program to a 7-6 finish, a trip to the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl and a tie for second place in the MAC West last season. With 17 returning starters in place for 2019, Lester has a chance to push Western Michigan into MAC title contention. He also went 40-23 during stints as a head coach at Saint Joseph’s (2004) and Elmhurst (2008-12).
110. Jamey Chadwell, Coastal Carolina
Chadwell was promoted to the full-time role after Joe Moglia’s retirement following the 2018 season. The Tennessee native already has one season of experience in this role, as he guided the Chanticleers to a 3-9 mark as an interim coach while Moglia was on medical leave in the 2017 campaign. Prior to joining Coastal Carolina’s staff in 2017, Chadwell spent four years as the head coach at Charleston Southern. The Buccaneers went 35-14 with two FCS Playoff bids under Chadwell’s watch. He also spent one year (2012) as the head coach at Delta State and three at North Greenville (2009-11).
109. Mel Tucker, Colorado
Tucker is the Pac-12’s only new head coach for the 2019 season, and his background on defense in a conference known for offense makes this an interesting fit in Boulder. Tucker spent the previous three years under Kirby Smart as the defensive coordinator at Georgia and worked during the 2015 campaign at Alabama on Nick Saban’s defensive staff. Tucker also coached in the NFL from 2005-14, including a stint as Jacksonville’s interim coach in ’11. The Ohio native started his coaching career as a graduate assistant on Nick Saban’s staff at Michigan State in 1997 and followed him to Baton Rouge (2000), before spending four years on Jim Tressel’s staff at Ohio State (2001-04). This is Tucker’s first opportunity to be a head coach at the FBS level.
108. Chris Ash, Rutgers
Landing a spot in the Big Ten was a big deal for Rutgers. However, in a division with Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State, it’s not an easy job to maintain success. Ash spent time as an assistant at Iowa State, Wisconsin, Arkansas and Ohio State before landing his first head-coaching gig at Rutgers. After a 2-10 debut in 2016, Ash’s team improved to 4-8 and won three games in Big Ten play the following year. However, the Scarlet Knights slipped to 1-11 last season. Improvement in 2019 is a must if Ash wants to return for 2020 and beyond.
107. Will Healy, Charlotte
Charlotte hit a home run with its hire of Healy this offseason. The Tennessee native started his coaching career as an assistant at Chattanooga in 2009 and stayed with the Mocs until he was hired as Austin Peay’s head coach prior to the ’16 season. Prior to Healy’s arrival in Clarksville, the Governors went 1-34 from 2013-15. Austin Peay finished 0-11 in Healy’s first year but showed marked improvement with an 8-4 mark in 2017. The Governors finished 5-6 last season, with two defeats by four points costing the team another winning record. Charlotte is a program with a ton of upside. Healy is the right coach to help the 49ers take a big step forward over the next five years.
106. Bobby Wilder, Old Dominion
Old Dominion returned to competition prior to the 2009 season, and Wilder has been instrumental in the football program’s rise to the FBS level. The Monarchs recorded five consecutive winning records (2009-13) at the FCS level and recorded back-to-back trips to the playoffs (2011-12). ODU was competitive right away when it moved to the FBS, recording an 11-13 mark from 2014-15. The Monarchs went 10-3 with the program’s first bowl trip in 2016 but are 9-15 over the last two seasons. Wilder hopes the infusion of junior college talent and coaching changes on both sides of the ball can provide a return to bowl eligibility in 2019.
105. Chuck Martin, Miami (Ohio)
Martin inherited a program that won only eight games in the three years prior to his arrival and has accumulated a 22-39 record since 2014. After a 5-19 start to Martin’s tenure, the RedHawks have shown improvement over the last three seasons. During that span, Miami is 17-20 overall and has won 16 of its last 24 MAC contests. Martin guided the program to one bowl trip after a 6-6 record season mark in 2016. Prior to taking over in Oxford, Martin guided Grand Valley State to a 74-7 record and two Division II titles from 2004-09.
104. Randy Edsall, UConn
The Huskies have struggled in Edsall’s second act in Storrs. UConn is only 4-20 over the last two years and a deeper look at the team’s performance in 2018 shows just how far this program needs to come to be competitive in the AAC. The Huskies surrendered 50.4 points and 617.4 yards a game – both records at the FBS level – and averaged only 22.2 points a game. Edsall and his staff are building with youth, so there could be some noticeable progress by the end of 2019. While progress has been hard to find in Edsall’s second stint, he previously went 74-70 with the program from 1999-2010 and 22-34 at Maryland from 2011-15.
103. Philip Montgomery, Tulsa
The 2019 season could be a make-or-break year for Montgomery’s tenure at Tulsa. After guiding the program to back-to-back bowl trips in 2015-16 and recording a 10-win season in 2016, the Golden Hurricane are just 5-19 over the last two years. Additionally, Montgomery’s offense has slipped significantly on the stat sheet after averaging 42.5 points a game in ’16.
102. Matt Luke, Ole Miss
Luke – a former Ole Miss player – was promoted to head coach after Hugh Freeze resigned prior to the 2017 season. Navigating a late coaching change in the offseason is never easy, but Luke guided the Rebels to a 6-6 finish and defeated rival Mississippi State that year. The six-win season was enough for Luke to be awarded the full-time job at his alma mater. Ole Miss was banned from postseason play last season and finished 5-7 with just one victory in SEC action. Luke is 11-13 overall and 4-12 since taking over as head coach in Oxford. The former Ole Miss lineman took steps to move this program forward this offseason by hiring Rich Rodriguez as the offensive play-caller and Mike MacIntyre as the defensive signal-caller.
101. Mike Locksley, Maryland
After helping Alabama’s offense average 45.6 points a game and winning the Broyles Award as the nation’s top assistant coach last season, Locksley is getting a second chance to be a head coach at the FBS level. However, unlike the first job (New Mexico), this one appears to be a great fit for the Washington, D.C. native. Locksley has extensive ties to the DMV area, and his connections should help keep some of the talent in College Park. He previously worked as an assistant at Maryland from 1997-02 and again from 2012-15 (with a stint as interim coach in ’15). Locksley also has stops from jobs at Army, Florida and Illinois, but his previous stint as a head coach resulted in a 2-26 mark with the Lobos.
100. Jonathan Smith, Oregon State
Oregon State is a tough job, but Smith certainly knows what it takes to win in Corvallis. However, as indicated by the 2018 season, the Beavers have a long climb back to a winning season. The former Oregon State quarterback went 2-10 in his debut at his alma mater last fall, but the offense showed signs of life and provides optimism for 2019. Before taking over at Oregon State, Smith worked as the offensive coordinator at Washington (2014-17), Boise State (2012-13) and Montana (2010-11).
99. Lovie Smith, Illinois
Smith was an intriguing hire by athletic director Josh Whitman prior to the 2016 season. As an NFL head coach with the Bears (2004-12) and Buccaneers (2014-15), Smith compiled an 89-87 record and took the 2006 Chicago squad to the Super Bowl. However, while Smith had an impressive resume at the NFL level, his last stop in college came during the 1995 season at Ohio State. Through three years, the jury is still out on whether or not Smith is going to work out at Illinois. After a 3-9 debut in 2016, Smith went 2-10 in ’17 and 4-8 in ’18. The Fighting Illini are 9-27 overall in Smith’s tenure. This program has played a lot of young players over the last few years, so there’s optimism the youth will turn into wins in 2019 and ’20.
98. Jay Hopson, Southern Miss
Hopson has guided Southern Miss to three consecutive winning seasons and a 15-9 mark in Conference USA play since 2016. The Golden Eagles missed out on a bowl trip following a 6-5 record last fall but should be in contention for the West Division title in 2019. Hopson previously went 32-17 at Alcorn State from 2012-15 and won at least nine games every year after a 4-7 mark in ’12. The Mississippi native also has stops on his resume from time as an assistant at Marshall, Ole Miss, Michigan and Memphis.
Related: Conference USA Predictions for 2019
97. Mike Bobo, Colorado State
Bobo started his tenure in Fort Collins with three consecutive 7-6 campaigns. The Rams went 15-9 in Mountain West play and earned three bowl trips in that span. However, Colorado State regressed to 3-9 last fall and won just two matchups in conference action. Improving the defense was a priority last offseason, but the Rams gave up 36.8 points a game and ranked last in the conference versus the run. A healthy year out of quarterback Collin Hill and six starters back on defense could help this team improve in 2019.
96. Mike Houston, East Carolina
Houston is likely to rank much higher on this list in the coming years, as the former James Madison coach was a home-run hire for East Carolina this offseason. Houston spent the last three years with the Dukes, guiding the program to a 37-6 mark, three playoff trips and an FCS national title in 2016. Prior to the stint at James Madison, Houston went 14-11 at The Citadel (2014-15) and 29-8 at Lenoir-Rhyne (2011-13). Houston’s stint at The Citadel is notable, as the Bulldogs made a four-game jump in wins after a 5-7 debut. East Carolina enters the year with question marks on both sides of the ball, but Houston could propel this team to be among the league’s most improved by the end of 2019.
95. Sonny Dykes, SMU
SMU just missed a bowl in Dykes’ first full year at the helm last season. The second half of 2018 provided optimism for this staff, as the Mustangs won three out of their final six games, with the three defeats all coming by 10 points or less. Dykes is known for offensive acumen, and SMU’s attack could take off with Texas transfer Shane Buechele leading the way in 2019. Dykes previously went 22-15 at Louisiana Tech (2010-12) and 19-30 at California (2013-16). He’s 46-53 overall as a head coach at the FBS level.
94. Jay Norvell, Nevada
Norvell’s first season at Nevada resulted in a 3-9 finish in 2017, but the Wolf Pack showed marked improvement last fall. Nevada went 8-5 and finished second in the West Division with a 5-3 record in league action. The Wolf Pack also earned the program’s first bowl trip since 2015, knocking off Arkansas State 16-13 in overtime in the Arizona Bowl.
93. Chad Lunsford, Georgia Southern
In his first full season as Georgia Southern’s head coach, Lunsford led the program to an eight-game jump in wins from the previous year. The Eagles finished 10-3 overall, with the only defeats coming against Clemson, Troy and ULM. Lunsford is 12-7 in his overall tenure in Statesboro and clearly has this program back on track going into 2019.
92. Jim McElwain, Central Michigan
McElwain’s last stint as a head coach (Florida) ended his dismissal during the 2017 season. While his tenure in Gainesville ended in surprising fashion, McElwain is a proven winner at the FBS level and is a good hire for a Central Michigan program looking to rebound after a 1-11 season last fall. The Montana native went 22-16 at Colorado State from 2012-14 and led Florida to back-to-back SEC East titles from 2015-16. He also worked in the NFL for a season with the Raiders, coached under Nick Saban at Alabama as the offensive coordinator from 2008-11 and has other stops on his resume from Louisville, Michigan State and Fresno State.
91. Matt Viator, ULM
ULM is one of college football’s toughest jobs, but this program has made steady gains under Viator’s tenure. The Warhawks finished 4-8 in Viator’s debut in 2016 and again in ’17. However, the program went 6-6 last fall to earn ULM’s first non-losing record since 2013. Viator had a successful run at McNeese State from 2006-15, as he guided the Cowboys to a 78-33 record and five FCS Playoff trips.
90. Rod Carey, Temple
Temple’s coaching search after Geoff Collins left for Georgia Tech certainly didn’t lack for intrigue. Manny Diaz was originally hired to replace Collins, but he left to be the head coach at Miami after Mark Richt retired. The school had another brief search and eventually pulled Carey away from Northern Illinois. The Minnesota native went 52-30 and posted five winning records over six seasons (2013-18) in his tenure with the Huskies. Northern Illinois claimed the 2014 and ’18 MAC titles and posted two double-digit win seasons (2013-14). Carey’s teams were usually strong on defense, and while the Huskies struggled on offense in 2018, this unit ranked in the top four of the MAC in scoring every year from 2013-17.
89. Nick Rolovich, Hawaii
Rolovich is the Mountain West’s top coach on the rise for 2019. The former Hawaii quarterback took over at his alma mater in 2016 and went 7-7 in his first year. The Rainbow Warriors slipped to 3-9 in 2017, but the program rebounded in a big way last fall. Hawaii finished 8-6 overall – the program’s first winning record since 2010 – and earned a trip to the Hawaii Bowl. The Rainbow Warriors also earned a winning mark in Mountain West action with a 5-3 record after beating San Diego State in the regular season finale. Hawaii returned to its run-and-shoot scheme last fall, which helped the offense average 30.8 points a game and rank first in the conference in passing offense.
88. Manny Diaz, Miami
Diaz – a native of Miami – is the perfect fit to replace Mark Richt. After accepting the head-coaching job at Temple in mid-December, Diaz returned to Coral Gables once Richt decided to retire. Diaz spent the last three years working as Richt’s defensive coordinator, helping the Hurricanes rank near the top of the ACC on that side of the ball. He also has stops as a defensive play-caller from stints at Mississippi State, Louisiana Tech, Texas and Middle Tennessee. Diaz has no previous experience as a head coach. However, Diaz and his staff seem to be pushing all of the right buttons going into the 2019 campaign.
87. Clay Helton, USC
After a 5-7 finish by USC in 2018, Helton sits squarely on the hot seat this season. A handful of staff changes, along with the development of quarterback JT Daniels should help Helton’s program take a step forward in 2019. But will it be enough to buy him another year? The Trojans are 32-17 under Helton’s watch, claimed the 2017 Pac-12 title and finished No. 3 overall in the final Associated Press poll in 2016.
86. Jeremy Pruitt, Tennessee
After successful stops as a defensive coordinator at Florida State, Georgia and Alabama, Pruitt (after an extended search in Knoxville) was athletic director Phillip Fulmer’s pick to replace Butch Jones. As expected, Tennessee was a work in progress in Pruitt’s first year. The Volunteers finished 5-7 overall and seventh in the SEC East with a 2-6 mark in league play. While Tennessee missed on a bowl for the second year in a row, Pruitt led this team to upset wins over Auburn and Kentucky. There are no quick fixes available in Knoxville, which is why Pruitt hit the recruiting trail hard this offseason and landed a standout class to restock both sides of the ball. Pruitt seems to have this program going in the right direction, but the development of the offensive and defensive lines will be critical to reaching six wins and a bowl in 2019.
Related: SEC Predictions for 2019
85. Joe Moorhead, Mississippi State
After helping Penn State’s offense become one of the best in college football from 2016-17, high expectations surrounded Moorhead’s debut in Starkville last season. The Bulldogs never seemed to find their rhythm on offense in 2018, finishing 10th in the SEC in scoring and 13th in total passing yardage. However, this program leaned on one of the nation’s top defenses to finish 8-5 overall and 4-4 within the SEC. Moorhead previously went 38-13 at Fordham from 2012-15 and is 46-18 overall counting his tenure at Mississippi State.
84. Tom Allen, Indiana
Indiana has finished 5-7 in both years under Allen’s watch. The Hoosiers were likely a little better than the record indicated, but a brutal Big Ten slate hindered the program’s bowl hopes. Allen stepped away from calling the defensive signals this year, which should allow more time to focus on the overall direction of the program. Prior to taking over as head coach in Bloomington, Allen worked for one year as Kevin Wilson’s defensive coordinator in 2016 and also had stops at USF, Ole Miss and Arkansas State.
83. Billy Napier, Louisiana
Napier’s first season in Lafayette was a successful one. The Ragin’ Cajuns finished 7-7, won the Sun Belt’s West Division and earned a trip to the Cure Bowl. The Georgia native has assembled an impressive resume since the start of his coaching career in 2005. Napier has worked under Dabo Swinney at Clemson and Nick Saban at Alabama and also spent time at Colorado State and Arizona State in assistant roles. Louisiana is a program with upside, and Napier looks like the right coach to tap into that in 2019 and beyond.
82. Kalani Sitake, BYU
Sitake is the perfect fit to lead BYU and seems to have the program back on track after a 4-9 finish in 2017. The Cougars are 20-19 under Sitake’s direction and have two winning marks over his three years in Provo. BYU finished 9-4 in 2016 and rebounded from the four-win campaign to post a 7-6 mark last season. With rising star quarterback Zach Wilson leading the way on offense, the Cougars should be poised to record their third winning record in Sitake’s tenure this fall.
81. Chad Morris, Arkansas
Morris stepped into a program in need of major repair, so last year’s 2-10 mark wasn’t a total surprise. The only victories for the Razorbacks in 2018 came against Eastern Illinois and Tulsa, but the program also squandered late leads against Colorado State and Ole Miss. Despite the 2-10 mark, Morris and his staff reeled in a top 25 class and added two impact transfers at the quarterback position. While there’s a lot of work to do, Morris took steps to get this program back on track and progress should be noticeable in 2019. Morris stepped into a similar situation at SMU in 2015. After a 2-10 debut that year, the Mustangs jumped to 5-7 in ’16 and 7-5 in ’17.
80. Steve Addazio, Boston College
Consistent is the best word that sums up Addazio’s tenure at Boston College. After directing Temple to a 13-11 mark over two years, Addazio was hired prior to the 2013 campaign. The Eagles have won seven games in five of his six years at the helm and also made five bowl appearances. Addazio has not won more than seven games in a season and is 18-30 with no winning mark in ACC play during his tenure at Boston College.
79. Rick Stockstill, MTSU
As evidenced by Stockstill’s No. 7 rank in Conference USA, this is a deep league at the top for coaches. Stockstill ranks in the top 10 of college football’s longest-tenured coaches going into 2019, guiding MTSU to an 87-78 record since 2006. The Blue Raiders have earned eight bowl trips in that span, including four in each of the last four seasons. MTSU also won the program’s first division title last fall. Stockstill has only one year of fewer than five wins (2011) but also has just one season of more than eight (2009).
78. Charlie Strong, USF
The 2019 season will be a critical one for Strong. USF went 10-2 in Strong’s first year (2017) but slipped to 7-6 last fall. While a winning record and a bowl game isn’t necessarily a bad thing for any program, the Bulls lost their last six games – all by 10 points or more. With a revamped staff and 15 returning starters, there’s optimism for a rebound this fall. Strong previously had a successful stint (37-15) at Louisville from 2010-13. During that run, the Cardinals played in the Sugar Bowl in 2012 and posted back-to-back seasons of 11 more wins (2012-13). Strong parlayed that success into the top spot at Texas. However, he was dismissed after a 16-21 stint from 2014-16.
77. Chris Creighton, Eastern Michigan
Eastern Michigan is one of the toughest FBS jobs, but Creighton is quietly building a consistent winner in Ypsilanti. The Eagles went 3-21 over his first two years but have won at least five contests in each of the last three seasons. Additionally, Eastern Michigan posted seven wins and went to bowl games during the 2016 and ’18 campaigns. Just how impressive is Creighton’s tenure? Consider this: The Eagles have only three postseason bids in program history and two of those have come under Creighton’s watch.
76. Jason Candle, Toledo
Candle was promoted from offensive coordinator to head coach after Matt Campbell left for Iowa State. The Rockets haven’t missed a beat under Candle’s watch, as the program is 27-13 over the last three years. Toledo posted a 9-4 mark in Candle’s debut (2016) and won 11 games and a MAC title the following year. The Rockets finished 7-6 last fall but were just a couple of plays away from nine wins. Candle is regarded for his offensive acumen, and Toledo has ranked first or second in the MAC in scoring in each of the last three years.
Related: MAC Predictions for 2019
75. Lance Leipold, Buffalo
Leipold guided Buffalo to new heights in 2018. The Bulls posted double-digit victories (10) for the first time, claimed the MAC East title and earned the third bowl trip in program history. Several key players from last year’s team have to be replaced, but Leipold is a proven winner and should keep Buffalo in contention for a winning record in 2019. The Bulls are 23-27 under Leipold’s watch and are 16-10 after a 7-17 start to his tenure. Prior to taking over at Buffalo, Leipold went 109-6 with six Division III national championships at Wisconsin-Whitewater.
74. Skip Holtz, Louisiana Tech
Consistency sums up Holtz’s tenure in Ruston. The Bulldogs are 46-33 since 2013 and posted five consecutive winning records. Additionally, Louisiana Tech has earned five straight bowl trips and claimed the 2014 and ’16 C-USA West titles. Holtz previously went 16-21 at USF from 2010-12, 38-27 at East Carolina (2005-09) and 34-23 at UConn (1994-98). In 19 overall years as a head coach, Holtz is 134-104 overall with 14 bowl appearances.
73. Geoff Collins, Georgia Tech
Collins is a home-run hire for Georgia Tech. The Georgia native previously worked in Atlanta from 1999-2001 and again in ’06 in off-field roles and had stops as an assistant at Western Carolina, FIU, Mississippi State, and Florida before landing his first opportunity as a head coach. Collins spent two years at Temple and guided the program to a 15-10 mark with two bowl trips in that span. Considering the talent lost and overall transition in scheme, progress is likely to be slow in Collins’ debut this fall. However, the long-term outlook for the Yellow Jackets is bright under the new staff.
72. Blake Anderson, Arkansas State
Anderson is the unquestioned No. 1 coach in the Sun Belt going into the 2019 season. In five years at the helm in Jonesboro, Anderson has guided Arkansas State to a 39-25 overall record and five bowl trips. The Red Wolves also have an impressive 31-9 mark in conference play under Anderson’s watch. Additionally, the program claimed at least a share of two conference titles (2015-16) and finished as the West Division’s runner-up to Louisiana last fall.
71. Kevin Sumlin, Arizona
Sumlin’s first season in Tucson resulted in a disappointing 5-7 record, but the Wildcats weren’t far from a bowl game after losing four games by five points or less. A healthy year out of quarterback Khalil Tate should make a difference in 2019, but a tough schedule won’t make Sumlin’s life any easier. Prior to taking over at Arizona, Sumlin went 51-26 over six years at Texas A&M. The Aggies won 11 games in Sumlin’s debut (2012) but did not record a finish in the top 25 after the ’13 season. He also had a stop at Houston from 2008-11. The Cougars went 35-17 over four years and finished No. 20 nationally with a 12-1 mark in 2011.
70. Herm Edwards, Arizona State
Arizona State’s decision to hire Edwards was criticized by many (including us at Athlon Sports), but the former NFL coach exceeded expectations with a solid 7-6 finish last fall. The Sun Devils recorded a winning mark in Pac-12 play (5-4), picked up a quality non-conference win versus Michigan State and defeated rival Arizona 41-40 in the regular season finale. Of Arizona State’s six losses, five came by seven points or less and none were by more than 11 points. Edwards previously went 39-41 with the Jets from 2001-05 and 15-33 with the Chiefs (2006-08). Replacing quarterback Manny Wilkins and receiver N’Keal Harry won’t be easy, but after his first year in Tempe, there should be confidence in Edwards and this staff to fill the voids going into 2019.
Related: Pac-12 Football Predictions for 2019
69. Justin Wilcox, California
The Pac-12 is known for its offense, but California went with defense when it hired Wilcox to replace Sonny Dykes prior to the 2017 season. The move has paid dividends for the Golden Bears over the last two years. After a 5-7 debut, California improved to 7-6 overall in 2018. Additionally, Wilcox has quickly transformed the defense into one of the best in the Pac-12. Prior to his arrival, the Golden Bears allowed 42.6 points a game in 2016. That total declined to 28.4 in ’17 and fell to 20.4 in ’18.
68. Mario Cristobal, Oregon
After having three head coaches over three seasons, the Ducks enter 2019 with some much-needed stability. Cristobal was promoted to head coach after Willie Taggart left for Florida State and finished 9-4 in his debut in Eugene. The biggest highlight of Cristobal’s first year was a win over Washington in overtime, but the Ducks also closed on a high note by beating Michigan State in the Redbox Bowl. Cristobal continued the momentum over the offseason by landing the Pac-12’s No. 1 recruiting class and hiring Andy Avalos from Boise State to coordinate the defense. Cristobal previously went 27-47 with two bowl trips at FIU – one of the toughest jobs in college football – from 2007-12.
67. Lane Kiffin, FAU
After an 11-3 record and a Conference USA title in Kiffin’s first year, high expectations surrounded FAU going into the 2018 campaign. However, the Owls slipped to 5-7 and just 3-5 in conference play. Bad luck played a huge role in the losing record, as FAU posted a minus-seven turnover margin and lost four games by eight points or less. Kiffin is 16-10 through two years in Boca Raton and previously went 28-15 at USC and 7-6 at Tennessee. Despite the 5-7 mark last fall, Kiffin still ranks as one of the top coaches in Conference USA and should have the program back on track in 2019.
66. Troy Calhoun, Air Force
With 12 years on the sidelines in Colorado Springs, Calhoun is the Mountain West’s longest-tenured coach. After back-to-back 5-7 campaigns, Calhoun hopes his 13th season marks the return of Air Force into the postseason. That should be attainable with 14 returning starters and a favorable slate of home games in 2019. Calhoun is 87-67 during his tenure at Air Force and has guided the program to nine bowl appearances. The Falcons also posted two double-digit win seasons (2014 and ’16) and claimed the ’15 division title under Calhoun’s direction.
65. Gary Andersen, Utah State
Utah State turned to a familiar face to replace Matt Wells this offseason. Andersen is back in Logan after spending the 2018 season as an assistant at Utah. He previously went 26-24 with the Aggies from 2009-12, and a closer look at the record shows how big of an impact he had on this program. Utah State went 4-8 in each of Andersen’s first two years but finished 18-8 over the last two seasons. In 2012, Utah State went 11-2 – the program’s first double-digit win total – and finished No. 16 in the Associated Press poll. Andersen previously went 4-7 at Southern Utah (2003) and 20-7 at Wisconsin (2013-14) and had a 7-23 stint at Oregon State. While Andersen’s tenure in Corvallis didn’t go as expected, the guess here is his second act at Utah State should be as successful as his first one in Logan.
64. Doc Holliday, Marshall
Holliday has posted winning records in six out of his nine seasons at the helm in Huntington and returns a team projected near the top of the list of favorites to win Conference USA in 2019. The Thundering Herd have been to six bowl games since 2011 and posted three consecutive double-digit win seasons from 2013-15. Holliday guided Marshall to a 13-1 mark with a No. 23 finish in 2014, which tied the program’s highest win total at the FBS level. It’s no secret Holliday is regarded as an excellent recruiter. However, in addition to reeling in talent, Holliday has also proven he's more than capable of building one of Conference USA’s top programs on an annual basis.
63. Luke Fickell, Cincinnati
Fickell is one of the top Group of 5 coaches on the rise after guiding Cincinnati to an 11-2 record last season. The 11-win campaign marked a seven-win jump by the Bearcats after a 4-8 finish in Fickell’s first year. In addition to the on-field improvement, Fickell and his staff continue to reel in talent on the recruiting trail to solidify this program’s place as an AAC title contender on an annual basis. Fickell is a native of Ohio and has spent his entire collegiate coaching career in the state. He worked for one year (2011) as Ohio State’s interim coach and spent from 2002-10 and 2012-16 working as an assistant in Columbus.
62. Josh Heupel, UCF
The transition from Scott Frost to Heupel was nearly perfect for UCF last season. After a 13-0 record under Frost in 2017, the Knights finished 12-1 and once again claimed the AAC title. UCF finished No. 11 in the final Associated Press poll after falling to LSU in the Fiesta Bowl. Losing star quarterback McKenzie Milton in the regular season finale to a serious leg injury was a major setback for the offense, but Heupel kept the offense performing at a high level, especially in the second half of the AAC title game versus Memphis. The second-year coach will have a few more challenges to navigate in 2019, but Heupel has UCF poised to push for a New Year’s Six bowl.
61. Derek Mason, Vanderbilt
Mason’s tenure at Vanderbilt has stabilized after a 7-17 start from 2014-15. The Commodores have won at least five games in each of the last three years and hold a 17-21 mark in that span. Vanderbilt finished with a 6-7 record in 2016 and ’18 and earned bowl trips in both of those years. Additionally, the Commodores have won three in a row over rival Tennessee. Mason is 24-38 overall since replacing James Franklin. The defense (Mason’s specialty) has to show improvement in 2019, especially with the offense replacing standout quarterback Kyle Shurmur.
60. Matt Wells, Texas Tech
Wells is probably better this ranking would suggest within in the Big 12, but this conference is deep in terms of coaching talent. He arrives in Lubbock after a successful six-year stint at Utah State. The Aggies went 19-9 over his first two years, and after falling to 9-16 over the next two seasons, rebounded to go 16-9 from 2017-18. Utah State played in four bowl games under Wells and had two seasons of double-digit victories. Wells’ background is on offense, but he was able to blend a high-scoring attack with an effective defense. Replicating that formula would help Texas Tech take a step forward in the next few years.
Related: Big 12 Football Predictions for 2019
59. Seth Littrell, North Texas
Littrell’s is one of college football’s top coaches on the rise. After working as an assistant at Texas Tech (2005-08), Arizona (2009-11), Indiana (2012-13) and North Carolina (2014-15), Littrell inherited a program that had eight consecutive losing seasons from 2005-12 and went 1-11 in the year prior to his arrival (2015). The Mean Green showed marked improvement in Littrell’s first season, finishing 5-8 overall with a trip to the Heart of Dallas Bowl due to APR scores. The program improved its win total by four games once again in 2017, as North Texas finished 9-5 and claimed the C-USA West Division title. Littrell’s team went 9-4 last fall to improve his overall record in Denton to 23-17. Offense is Littrell’s specialty, and North Texas has ranked in the top two of C-USA in scoring in each of the last two years.
58. Les Miles, Kansas
Miles coaching in Lawrence and returning to the Big 12 won’t lack for intrigue. After he was dismissed at LSU during the 2016 season, Miles spent 2017-18 away from the sidelines. The Ohio native went 114-34 during his stint with the Tigers and won the 2007 national championship. From 2005-15, Miles did not win fewer than eight games in a single season. Prior to coaching in Baton Rouge, Miles went 28-21 over four years at Oklahoma State. After having access to some of the best talent in the nation at LSU, how will Miles adapt to a rebuilding situation at Kansas?
57. Chris Klieman, Kansas State
Replacing Bill Snyder won’t be easy. However, Klieman seems like the right fit in Manhattan. He replaced Craig Bohl at North Dakota State and guided the Bison to a 69-6 mark from 2014-17. Under Klieman’s watch, North Dakota State won four FCS national championships and lost only four games in conference play. Klieman also made stops as an assistant at Kansas, Missouri State and Northern Iowa before becoming a head coach in 2014.
56. Barry Odom, Missouri
Odom had big shoes to fill in replacing Gary Pinkel prior to the 2016 season. After a 4-8 debut that year, Odom is 15-11 over the last two seasons and has guided the program to back-to-back bowl trips. Missouri is also .500 (8-8) in SEC play in that span. As a former player at Missouri, Odom certainly knows what it takes to win in Columbia and seems to have this program on the right track after winning 15 games the last two seasons. Even though the Tigers are banned from postseason play, Odom’s team returns one of the SEC’s top offenses and should rank in the top 25.
55. Hugh Freeze, Liberty
After a forced resignation at Ole Miss due to off-field issues, Freeze is back on the sidelines after a two-year absence. While his tenure in Oxford didn’t end well, Freeze did lead the program to a 39-25 mark from 2012-16. Additionally, the Rebels recorded four winning marks and bowl trips under Freeze’s tenure. Prior to Ole Miss, Freeze went 10-2 at Arkansas State (2011) and 20-5 at Lambuth from 2008-09.
54. Craig Bohl, Wyoming
After a 6-18 start to his tenure at Wyoming, Bohl has guided the program to three seasons of at least six wins. The Cowboys won the Mountain Division and finished 8-6 in 2016, followed by an 8-5 mark in ’17 and a 6-6 record last fall. Although Bohl’s overall record is only 28-35, Wyoming is one of the toughest jobs in the Mountain West and the program has made significant strides over the last three years. Prior to Wyoming, Bohl went 104-32 at North Dakota State with three consecutive national championships (2011-13).
53. Willie Fritz, Tulane
Tulane continues to make steady progress under Fritz’s watch, and the 2019 team is likely to be the best of his tenure in New Orleans. After winning four games in 2016, the Green Wave increased that total to five in ’17 and seven last season. Tulane’s bowl trip in 2018 was the program’s first since ’13. Fritz is 16-21 through three years at Tulane. Prior to his current stint with the Green Wave, Fritz went 17-7 in two years at Georgia Southern (2014-15), 40-15 at Sam Houston State (2010-13) and 97-47 at Central Missouri (1997-09). Fritz once again ranks as one of Athlon’s top coaches on the rise going into the upcoming season.
52. Pat Narduzzi, Pitt
Pitt recorded its first losing mark under Narduzzi’s watch in 2017, but this program rebounded in a big way last fall. The Panthers claimed their first ACC Coastal Division title and finished 7-7 overall in 2018. Last season’s success bumped Narduzzi to 28-24 overall in the Steel City. He’s guided Pitt to three bowl games over four years and also has three winning records in ACC play. Narduzzi was regarded as one of the nation’s top defensive coordinators during his tenure as an assistant at Michigan State (2007-12). However, Pitt has yet to finish higher than eighth in the ACC in scoring defense.
51. Ed Orgeron, LSU
LSU’s decision to replace Les Miles with Ed Orgeron on a full-time basis prior to the 2017 season was met with plenty of skepticism. However, two years into Orgeron’s tenure in Baton Rouge, it’s clear he’s a different coach than the one that went 10-25 at Ole Miss from 2005-07. LSU went 9-4 and finished No. 18 overall in 2017 but offseason question marks meant low expectations for this team going into ’18. The Tigers exceeded most preseason predictions last fall, finishing 10-3 and 5-3 within the SEC. Orgeron’s team finished No. 6 nationally in the final Associated Press poll and beat UCF in the Fiesta Bowl. Of LSU’s three losses last fall, two came by eight points or less. In addition to his interim stint at USC in 2013 (6-2 overall), Orgeron is 41-36 overall as a head coach. Catching Alabama in the SEC West is still Orgeron’s top priority, and the hire of former Saints assistant Joe Brady to tweak the offense should help this team improve on that side of the ball.
Related: SEC Predictions for 2019
50. Will Muschamp, South Carolina
South Carolina faces a brutal 2019 schedule, so even though Muschamp’s team could be better than it was last fall, it may not show up in the win column. The Gamecocks are 22-17 and have made a bowl appearance in all three years of Muschamp’s tenure. The program has made strides overall since his arrival in 2016, but South Carolina’s record in SEC play is just 12-12 since 2016. This is Muschamp’s second stint as a head coach in the SEC. He led Florida to three winning records and a 28-21 mark from 2011-14. He also has stops as a defensive coordinator at LSU, Auburn and Texas prior to becoming a head coach. Can Muschamp elevate South Carolina with Georgia and Florida on the rise in the SEC East? That’s the big question looming in the next couple of seasons.
49. Butch Davis, FIU
FIU is still a relative newcomer to the FBS level, but that doesn’t minimize just how far this program has improved under Davis’ direction. The Panthers are 17-9 and have recorded back-to-back bowl trips for just the second time in program history. FIU has just four winning records since 2004 and two of those have come under Davis’ tenure. The Panthers fell just short of the program’s first trip to the Conference USA title game last fall, but with 13 starters back, Davis should have this team in contention for the East Division crown once again. Success at a high level is nothing new for Davis. He went 51-20 at Miami from 1995-00 and finished 28-23 at North Carolina (2007-10). Davis also had a four-year stint as the head coach for the Browns, compiling a 24-35 record with one playoff trip from 2001-04.
48. Willie Taggart, Florida State
Taggart’s debut in Tallahassee didn’t go according to plan, but he also inherited a bigger mess than most realized prior to the 2018 season. Florida State finished 7-6 in the year before Taggart’s arrival and some of the concerns that popped up in 2017 weren’t a one-year aberration. Instead, the depth, attrition and lack of development at a couple of positions became an even bigger concern in 2018. Taggart and his staff were left with a mess along the offensive line, which sank Florida State to 5-7 and the program’s first season without a bowl since 1981. While last season was certainly a disappointment in Tallahassee, Taggart’s track record suggests there will be improvement in 2019. He went 2-10 in his first year at WKU (2010) and went 7-5 in back-to-back seasons (2011-12). After a 6-18 start to his tenure at USF, the Bulls won 18 games under his watch the next two years. He also had a one-year stint at Oregon (7-5) in 2017. Taggart is 52-57 overall as a head coach. A revamped staff and some work on the recruiting trail seem to have the Seminoles poised to improve this fall.
Related: ACC Football Predictions for 2019
47. Dana Holgorsen, Houston
Houston made a huge splash this offseason by hiring Dana Holgorsen from West Virginia with a monster five-year, $20 million contract. Holgorsen’s affinity for the city of Houston is no secret, and there’s plenty to like about this fit for both sides. In addition to the fertile recruiting territory, Houston has the resources and upside to consistently contend for the AAC title and a spot in a New Year’s Six bowl. Also, Holgorsen’s high-powered offense should be an excellent fit considering the talent available within the state of Texas. Holgorsen went 61-41 at West Virginia and had only one losing season over eight seasons. The Mountaineers had two years of double-digit wins and finished in the Associated Press poll in two out of Holgorsen’s last three years in Morgantown.
46. Rocky Long, San Diego State
Long just continues to churn out winning seasons at San Diego State. The Aztecs have posted eight consecutive winning records under Long’s direction and claimed two outright conference titles during that span. San Diego State also recorded three straight years of double-digit victories (2015-17) and has not posted a losing record in conference play under Long’s watch. Before his promotion to head coach at San Diego State, Long went 65-69 as New Mexico’s head coach from 1998-2008. He’s also regarded as one of the top defensive minds in the nation. The Aztecs finished 7-6 last fall, but it’s safe to assume Long will have this program going back in the right direction this season.
45. Mike Norvell, Memphis
Memphis continued its rise under Norvell last fall, as the Tigers finished 8-6 and claimed the AAC West title for the second year in a row. Norvell is 26-14 over three seasons and has won at least eight games every year. Additionally, the Tigers are 17-7 in AAC play. Prior to taking over as the head coach at Memphis, Norvell was regarded for his work as an offensive coordinator at Pitt (2011) and Arizona State (2012-15). That track record of success on offense has continued with Memphis, as the Tigers have not finished lower than third in the AAC in scoring over the last three years.
44. Mark Stoops, Kentucky
Kentucky was the biggest surprise in the SEC last season, as Stoops guided the program to its first double-digit win total (10) since 1977. The 10-win campaign pushed Stoops’ overall record to 36-39 since taking over in Lexington prior to the 2013 season. The Wildcats have won at least seven games and played in a bowl in each of the last three years. After a 12-24 start to his tenure, Stoops is 24-15 since 2016. Kentucky is one of the SEC’s toughest jobs, but this program has made considerable strides since Stoops arrived. Despite the loss of running back Benny Snell and edge rusher Josh Allen, Stoops’ work on the recruiting trail and in player development should allow this team to get back to a bowl in 2019.
Related: SEC Football Predictions for 2019
43. Ryan Day, Ohio State
Make no mistake: Replacing Urban Meyer will be difficult. However, Day certainly seems up to the task. The New Hampshire native started his coaching career as an assistant at Temple in 2006 (and again in ’12) and spent time at Boston College (2007-11 and 2013-14) before leaving to work in the NFL with the Eagles and 49ers under Chip Kelly. Day joined Ohio State’s staff in 2017 and took over the play-calling duties in ’18. Additionally, Day served as the team’s interim coach for the first three games of the season, defeating Oregon State, Rutgers and TCU to start 3-0. Ohio State’s offense led the Big Ten by averaging 42.4 points a game last fall, and quarterback Dwayne Haskins thrived under Day’s watch by tossing 50 touchdowns to only eight picks. With experience working under Chip Kelly and Meyer, Day has two of the best mentors a coach could find at the college level.
42. P.J. Fleck, Minnesota
After a 5-7 record in his first year at Minnesota, Fleck guided the Golden Gophers to a 7-6 finish and a bowl victory last fall. And with 16 starters back for 2019, another step forward is within reach for Fleck and this Minnesota program. Prior to taking over in Minneapolis, Fleck guided Western Michigan to a 30-22 record over four years. The Broncos went 1-11 in 2013 but improved to 13-1 and earned a Cotton Bowl trip in ’16. Fleck is regarded as an excellent recruiter and is 42-35 overall in six years as a head coach.
41. Jeff Tedford, Fresno State
As we mentioned in Bryan Harsin’s writeup, it’s a close call for the top spot in the Mountain West coach rankings. Harsin got the nod at No. 1 but little separates these two coaches. Tedford inherited a Fresno State team that went 4-20 in the two years prior to his arrival. The Bulldogs showed marked improvement under Tedford’s direction. The Bulldogs went 10-4 with a West Division title in 2017, and the encore was even better in ’18. Tedford guided the program to a 12-2 finish and a win over Boise State in the conference title game for the Mountain West Championship. Fresno State also ranked No. 18 in the Associated Press poll – the program’s first top-25 finish since 2004. Tedford previously had a successful stint at California, recording an 82-57 mark with just two losing seasons from 2002-12.
Related: Mountain West Predictions for 2019
40. Bryan Harsin, Boise State
It’s a close call between Harsin and Fresno State’s Jeff Tedford for the No. 1 spot in the Mountain West coach rankings. Harsin – a former Boise State quarterback – returned to his alma mater after spending the 2013 season as the head coach at Arkansas State. Harsin went 7-5 in his lone season with the Red Wolves and had big shoes to fill in replacing Chris Petersen on the blue turf. However, Boise State has continued to win at a high level under Harsin. The Broncos are 52-15 over the last five years and won at least 10 games in four of those seasons. Boise State also claimed two Mountain West titles (2014 and ’17) and has three top-25 finishes under Harsin’s direction.
39. Neal Brown, West Virginia
West Virginia made one of the offseason’s best coaching moves when it hired Brown to replace Dana Holgorsen. The Kentucky native arrives in Morgantown after a successful four-year run at Troy. Brown had to replace legendary Troy coach Larry Blakeney and went 4-8 in his debut with the Trojans. However, Troy won at least 10 games in each of the next three years and claimed a share of the Sun Belt title in 2017. Brown finished his tenure with the Trojans with a 35-16 mark and a 14-2 record in conference play from 2017-18. Prior to Troy, Brown worked as the offensive coordinator at Texas Tech (2010-12) and Kentucky (2013-14).
38. Scott Satterfield, Louisville
Louisville couldn’t lure Jeff Brohm home, but athletic director Vince Tyra still hit a home run by hiring Scott Satterfield to replace Bobby Petrino. Satterfield spent the last six seasons at Appalachian State, compiling a 51-24 mark at his alma mater. The Mountaineers moved from the FCS level to FBS in Satterfield’s second year (2014) and never recorded a losing mark over the next five seasons. Appalachian State won at least nine games in each of Satterfield’s last four years at the helm, including the 2018 team that won the Sun Belt title. Satterfield’s background is on offense, but the Mountaineers were also strong on defense during his tenure. Satterfield ranks as the best hire among new coaches for 2019.
37. Dave Doeren, NC State
Doeren has quietly led NC State to 18 victories over the last two years, which is the most in a two-year window for this program since the Wolfpack won 19 from 2002-03. Additionally, NC State’s No. 23 finish in the Associated Press poll in 2017 was the first top 25 ranking since 2010. After a 3-9 mark in his first year in Raleigh, Doeren has not won fewer than seven games in a single season. He’s 43-34 with five bowl trips in his tenure at NC State. Prior to taking over in Raleigh, Doeren went 23-4 at Northern Illinois from 2011-12.
36. Ken Niumatalolo, Navy
For the third year in a row, the No. 1 spot among coaches in the American Athletic Conference belongs to Niumatalolo. The Hawaii native has recorded an 87-58 mark since taking over in Annapolis prior to the 2007 Poinsettia Bowl. Niumatalolo has guided Navy to nine bowl trips over 11 full years at the helm and has only three seasons of fewer than eight victories. Navy’s 2015 campaign was the best of Niumatalolo’s tenure, as the Midshipmen finished 11-2 and No. 18 in the Associated Press poll. The AAC’s longest-tenured coach has some work to do after a 3-10 mark last fall, but as indicated by Niumatalolo’s track record, it’s safe to assume this program will rebound.
35. Mack Brown, North Carolina
Brown’s return to Chapel Hill is one of the ACC’s most intriguing storylines for the 2019 season. And the Tar Heels are certainly hoping for Brown to rekindle the magic from his first stint from 1988-97. During that run, the Tar Heels went 69-46-1, posted three seasons of 10 victories, and played in six consecutive bowl games. After leaving North Carolina, Brown went 158-48 at Texas from 1998-2013. During that run, the Longhorns won the 2005 national title and won 10 or more games in nine consecutive seasons (2001-09). However, Texas had only one top 25 finish over Brown’s last four years in Austin. In addition to his stints at Texas and North Carolina, Brown was the head coach at Appalachian State in 1983 and Tulane from 1985-97. His overall record stands at 244-122-1.
Related: ACC Predictions for 2019
34. Matt Rhule, Baylor
Baylor took a big step forward in Rhule’s second year and the upward trend of this program is likely to continue in 2019. The Bears finished 1-11 in 2017 but made a six-game jump in wins last fall to finish 7-6. Additionally, Rhule’s team closed the year on a high note by beating Vanderbilt in the Texas Bowl. Rhule got the job in Waco after an impressive 28-23 stint at Temple. His tenure in Philadelphia also started slow (8-16 in his first two years) but showed marked improvement (20-7) over the next two seasons. Rhule played his college ball at Penn State and had a stint with the Giants as an assistant coach in 2012. The New York native has popped up for openings in the NFL over the last two offseasons.
33. Dave Clawson, Wake Forest
Wake Forest is arguably the toughest job in the ACC, but Clawson has guided this program to three consecutive winning seasons. That type of streak has happened only one other time in Winston-Salem since 1953. Additionally, Clawson has led Wake Forest to three consecutive bowl games for only the second time in school history. The Demon Deacons are 28-35 overall under Clawson’s watch. He also went 32-31 at Bowling Green (2009-13), 29-20 at Richmond (2004-07) and 29-29 at Fordham (1999-2003).
32. Frank Solich, Ohio
Solich is the nation’s oldest coach (75) and also holds the title of the longest-tenured Group of 5 coach. However, he’s showing no signs of slowing down entering the 2019 campaign. Instead, Solich has a good opportunity to add to his trophy case in Athens, as Ohio is Athlon’s pick to win the MAC this season. Under Solich’s watch, the Bobcats are 106-75 since 2005. Additionally, the program has won at least eight games in each of the last four seasons and has played in nine bowl games over the last 10 years. Ohio has not had a losing record since 2008. Counting his six-year run at Nebraska (1998-03), Solich is 164-94 overall as a head coach.
Related: MAC Predictions for 2019
31. Bill Clark, UAB
As we mentioned in last year’s Conference USA coach rankings, UAB’s return to the gridiron was one of college football’s best storylines in recent memory. And after last season, it’s time to add another chapter to the program’s rise. The Blazers won a school-record 11 games, claimed the Conference USA title and a Boca Raton Bowl victory last fall. The 11 wins came a season after the program returned to action after a two-year hiatus. During the 2017 campaign, UAB was one of the biggest surprises in college football. Clark guided the Blazers to an 8-5 stint and a trip to the Bahamas Bowl. He previously led the program to a 6-6 mark in 2014 – a four-win jump from the previous year. In four overall seasons as a head coach, Clark is 36-18 and does not have a losing record on his resume at the collegiate level. While UAB must replace several key players on last year’s team, don’t count out another run at the conference title. After all, restocking a roster seems like a manageable task when Clark and his staff had to fight to get the program restarted, push for upgraded facilities, build a team from scratch and win a conference title in just two years. Navigating all of those obstacles to win 19 games since 2017 clearly shows Clark is one of the top Group of 5 coaches in the nation.
30. Bronco Mendenhall, Virginia
Virginia has made significant progress under Mendenhall’s direction and enters 2019 as Athlon’s pick to win the ACC’s Coastal Division. The Cavaliers went 2-10 in Mendenhall’s first year (2016) but improved to 6-7 in 2017. Virginia took another step forward last season with an 8-5 finish and victory over South Carolina in the Belk Bowl. Additionally, with three losses by four points or less, the Cavaliers were just a few plays away from double-digit victories in 2018. Before taking over at Virginia, Mendenhall went 99-43 at BYU from 2005-15. The Cougars never had a losing season under his watch and played in a bowl game in all 11 years in his tenure. Mendenhall has a 115-65 overall record as a head coach.
29. Gus Malzahn, Auburn
High expectations surrounded Auburn going into last season, but the Tigers finished 8-5 overall and 3-5 within the SEC. Auburn needs to rebound to cool some of the pressure on Malzahn, but a tough schedule awaits this team in 2019. Malzahn is 53-27 overall since taking over in 2013. During the 2013 campaign, the Tigers won the SEC and played for the national championship. However, the program went 23-16 over the next three years and recorded only one winning mark in SEC action. Auburn rebounded by winning the SEC West title and finished 10-4 in 2017 but ended the year with back-to-back losses to Georgia and UCF. Malzahn led Arkansas State to a 9-3 mark in 2012, which places his overall record at 62-30 as a head coach.
28. Jeff Monken, Army
Army has made significant strides under Monken and heads into 2019 with aspirations of finishing in the top 25 once again. The Black Knights went 6-18 over Monken’s first two years (2014-15) but have reeled off three straight winning records. Army has won 21 games over the last two seasons and finished No. 20 nationally in 2018. The Black Knights have also defeated Navy in three consecutive years. Monken went 38-16 as Georgia Southern’s head coach from 2010-13. He’s 73-44 overall as a head coach.
27. Justin Fuente, Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech took a step back last season, but Fuente is still one of the ACC’s top coaches. The Hokies went 10-4 with an ACC Coastal Division title in Fuente’s first year (2016) and finished 9-4 in 2017. Roster turnover and injuries hindered Virginia Tech last fall, as Fuente’s team slipped to 6-7 overall. Replacing legendary coach Frank Beamer wasn’t an easy task, but the Hokies are 15-9 in ACC play over the last three years and should be a much-improved squad in 2019. Fuente was instrumental in turning around a struggling Memphis program from 2012-15. The Tigers went 7-17 over his first two years but won 19 games from 2014-15 and also claimed a share of the conference title in '14. The Oklahoma native is also regarded for his work on offense and developing quarterbacks.
Related: ACC Predictions for 2019
26. Dino Babers, Syracuse
In just three years at the helm, Babers has elevated Syracuse into one of the ACC’s top teams. The Orange went 4-8 in back-to-back seasons (2016-17) under Babers, but the foundation set in those two years paid off in 2018. Syracuse finished second in the ACC Atlantic with a 6-2 mark in league play, along with a 10-3 mark overall. Additionally, the Orange finished No. 15 in the final Associated Press poll. That was the program’s first top 25 ranking since 2001. Babers previously had successful stints as a head coach at Bowling Green (18-9 with a MAC title) and Eastern Illinois (19-7). He’s also regarded as one of college football’s top offensive-minded coaches.
25. Paul Chryst, Wisconsin
This might seem low for Chryst, but his ranking among Big Ten coaches also shows just how deep this conference is in terms of coaching talent. The former Wisconsin quarterback worked as an assistant in Madison from 2005-11 before becoming the head coach at Pitt in 2012. He went 19-19 through three years (2012-14) with the Panthers and was hired as Wisconsin’s head coach prior to the ’15 campaign. Chryst led the team to 10 wins in his first year, followed by a 24-4 mark over the next two seasons. The Badgers slipped to 8-5 last fall, but this program is still 42-12 with two Big Ten West Division titles under his watch.
24. David Cutcliffe, Duke
Duke is one of the toughest Power 5 jobs at the FBS level, but Cutcliffe continues to reel off winning seasons. The Blue Devils are 67-72 with six bowl trips under his watch and claimed the 2013 ACC Coastal title. While Cutcliffe’s overall record in Durham is under .500, Duke is 52-39 over the last seven years. Also, the No. 23 final ranking at the end of the 2013 season marked the program’s first top 25 finish since 1961. Of the Blue Devils’ 14 bowl appearances, six have come under Cutcliffe’s direction. The veteran coach is also one of the top quarterback gurus in college football. Cutcliffe also went 44-29 from 1998-2004 at Ole Miss, which puts his overall record at 111-101 going into the 2019 season.
23. Jeff Brohm, Purdue
Brohm was rewarded with a monster contract after passing on a return to his alma mater (Louisville) to stay in West Lafayette. And with Brohm at the helm, Purdue should continue to rise in the Big Ten West. After winning just three Big Ten games from 2013-16, the Boilermakers have recorded nine over the last two years. Purdue is 13-13 under Brohm’s watch and has played in back-to-back bowl games. Prior to taking over at Purdue, Brohm went 30-10 with two Conference USA titles at WKU. He’s also regarded as one of the top coaches on offense at the FBS level.
22. Matt Campbell, Iowa State
The Big 12’s depth at head coach is illustrated by Campbell’s rank at No. 5. The Ohio native has Iowa State on the rise going into the 2019 season. The Cyclones finished 3-9 in Campbell’s debut in 2016 but have finished 8-5 in each of the last two years. Additionally, Iowa State has recorded winning records in consecutive seasons in Big 12 play for the first time in program history. The program’s 16 victories since 2017 are tied for the most in a two-year period. The Cyclones are 19-19 under Campbell’s watch and are projected to finish in the top 25 by Athlon Sports in 2019. Campbell played his college ball at Mount Union and spent time there as an assistant before working at Bowling Green and Toledo. Campbell served as the Rockets’ head coach from 2011-15 and went 35-15 with four bowl trips.
21. Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern
Northwestern is one of the toughest Power 5 jobs, but Fitzgerald continues to push this program to new heights. The Wildcats finished 9-5 and claimed their first trip to the Big Ten Championship Game last fall. Since Fitzgerald took over in 2006, Northwestern is 96-70 overall and has played in nine bowl games. The Wildcats also have three seasons of at least 10 victories and four finishes in the final Associated Press poll under Fitzgerald. Just how big of an impact has Fitzgerald had on his alma mater? Northwestern has only five seasons of at least 10 victories and three have come under his watch.
20. Kirk Ferentz, Iowa
Ferentz enters 2019 as the nation’s longest-tenured coach and an overall mark of 152-101 at the helm in Iowa City. The Hawkeyes have not posted a losing record since 2012 (4-8) and have just two since 2001. Ferentz guided Iowa to three consecutive years of double-digit victories from 2002-04, ’09 and again in ’15. The Hawkeyes nearly won the Big Ten title that season and finished No. 9 nationally after a loss to Stanford in the Rose Bowl. Since 2001, Iowa has only one season (2012) of fewer than six wins.
19. Scott Frost, Nebraska
Frost returned to Lincoln tasked with elevating his alma mater back into the mix for Big Ten titles and more of a factor on the national scene. As expected, there were growing pains in Frost’s first year, but Nebraska showed improvement down the stretch with a 4-2 finish over the final six games. Despite a 4-8 mark in his first year, Frost heads into 2019 with momentum on his side. Led by quarterback Adrian Martinez, the Cornhuskers will be a trendy pick to win the Big Ten’s West Division this fall. Frost previously went 19-7 at UCF from 2016-17. The Knights were 0-12 in the year prior to Frost’s arrival but improved by six games the following year. And in 2017, UCF went undefeated (13-0) and finished No. 6 nationally in the final Associated Press poll.
18. Chip Kelly, UCLA
Kelly didn’t make an immediate splash at UCLA, as the Bruins finished 3-9 in his debut last fall. However, this program got better over the second half of 2018 and should take a step forward in the win column this season. Kelly’s innovative offense may need another year to take off, but his track record at Oregon suggests this program won’t be down for long. From 2009-12, Kelly recorded a 46-7 mark with three Pac-12 titles in Eugene. He also went 26-21 in three years with the Eagles (2013-15) and 2-14 with the 49ers (2016).
17. David Shaw, Stanford
The depth of the Pac-12 coaches is on display when Shaw ranks No. 4 in the conference. Shaw was promoted to head coach after Jim Harbaugh left for the NFL, and the Stanford alum has helped this program emerge as a consistent contender for the conference title. The Cardinal are 82-26 in Shaw’s tenure since the 2011 season. Additionally, Stanford has won three conference titles and finished No. 3 nationally after the 2015 campaign. The Cardinal have only one season of fewer than nine wins (2014) and just three years below 10.
16. Kyle Whittingham, Utah
Whittingham is the Pac-12’s longest-tenured coach (14 years) and has a 120-61 mark since taking over in Salt Lake City. In addition to the longevity and success over an extended period of time, Whittingham led Utah through a transition from the Mountain West to the Pac-12. The Utes had a perfect 13-0 season in 2008 and finished a combined 20-6 before joining making the switch to a Power 5 conference in 2011. Whittingham guided the program to an 8-5 mark in its Pac-12 debut and led a quick rebound after back-to-back 5-7 campaigns in 2012-13. Utah has won at least nine games in four out of the last five seasons and claimed a Pac-12 South Division title for the first time in school history last fall. With a loaded team in place for 2019, Whittingham could lead this program to its first Pac-12 title.
Related: Pac-12 Football Predictions for 2019
15. Tom Herman, Texas
Texas has officially returned to contention for Big 12 titles under Herman’s direction. After a 22-4 stint at Houston (2015-16) with a New Year’s Six bowl victory in 2015, Herman replaced Charlie Strong in Austin prior to the ’17 campaign. The Longhorns went 7-6 in Herman’s first year but won three out of their final four games, including the Texas Bowl over Missouri. Texas opened 2018 with a surprising defeat to Maryland but rebounded to finish 10-4. The Longhorns made the Big 12 Championship Game and finished No. 9 nationally (the program’s first top 25 finish since 2012) after beating Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. The 10-win season marked Texas’ highest win total since 2009. The Longhorns have several key players to replace going into 2019, but Herman’s elite recruiting should minimize the drop off this fall.
14. Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State
Oklahoma State’s streak of consecutive (three) 10-win seasons was snapped in 2018 after a 7-6 mark, but Gundy’s track record suggests the dip in victories won’t last long at his alma mater. The Cowboys are 121-59 under Gundy’s direction and have played in 13 straight bowl games. Oklahoma State hasn’t posted a losing record since 2005 and has four finishes inside of the top 25 over the last six years. Gundy’s best season in Stillwater came in 2011. The Cowboys just missed a trip to the national championship game with a 12-1 record and a No. 3 finish at the end of the year. Gundy’s 121 wins rank as the most by any coach in a tenure at Oklahoma State.
13. Mike Leach, Washington State
Under Leach’s direction, Washington State has emerged as a consistent winner and a contender in the Pac-12 North. The Cougars are 49-40 since Leach’s arrival in 2012 and have played in five bowl games over the last six years. Washington State has won at least eight games in each of the last four seasons and is coming off its best year (11-2) of Leach’s tenure. The Cougars also finished No. 10 nationally last fall, which marked the program’s first top 25 ranking since 2003. And as expected, Washington State’s passing game has ranked among the nation’s best since Leach’s arrival. The Cougars have finished first in the Pac-12 in passing offense in six out of the last seven seasons.
12. James Franklin, Penn State
Franklin came to Happy Valley after a successful three-year stint at Vanderbilt. The Commodores went 4-20 in the two seasons prior to his arrival but finished 24-15 with three bowl trips over three years. Franklin inherited a program dealing with the effects of NCAA scholarship sanctions and went 14-12 over his first two seasons (2014-15). However, the Nittany Lions took a big step forward in 2016 with an 11-3 finish, followed by an 11-2 mark in ’17. Penn State claimed the 2016 Big Ten title and made back-to-back trips to New Year’s Six bowls (Rose and Fiesta). The Nittany Lions are coming off another solid (9-4) season, which puts Franklin’s overall record at 45-21 entering 2019.
11. Brian Kelly, Notre Dame
Kelly added to his solid overall resume at Notre Dame with a 12-1 finish and a trip to the CFB Playoff last fall. Since Kelly took over in South Bend prior to the 2010 campaign, the Fighting Irish are 81-35 and have finished with four years of double-digit victories. Notre Dame made the BCS Championship Game in 2012 and have played in one other New Year’s Six bowl (Fiesta) in ’15. Kelly has consistently won at every stop during his career. He went 118-35-2 at Grand Valley State with two Division II titles from 1991-2003 and finished 19-16 at Central Michigan from 2004-06. Kelly also guided Cincinnati to a 34-6 mark from 2006-09, including a perfect 12-0 regular season in his last year.
10. Dan Mullen, Florida
Mullen made a huge impact in his first year on the job in Gainesville. The Gators finished 4-7 in 2017 but jumped to 10-3 and finished No. 7 nationally in '18. The offense (Mullen’s specialty) also showed marked improvement. After averaging 22.1 points a game and 5.2 yards a play in the year prior to Mullen’s arrival, Florida increased those totals to 35 points a contest and 6.2 yards a snap last fall. Mullen arrived in Gainesville after a successful nine-year stint in Starkville. At Mississippi State – one of the toughest jobs in the SEC – Mullen went 69-44 and led the program to eight bowl appearances. Additionally, the Bulldogs ranked No. 1 for the first time in school history during the 2014 campaign. Mullen is 79-47 overall as a head coach at the FBS level.
9. Mark Dantonio, Michigan State
With three victories in 2019, Dantonio will become the winningest coach in Michigan State history. Under Dantonio’s watch, the Spartans have recorded 107 victories and an outright or share of a conference title three times since 2007. Additionally, Dantonio has recorded six seasons of 11 or more wins, guided the team to a No. 3 finish in the final poll for the 2013 season and led the program to a berth in the CFB Playoff in ’15. After finishing sixth or higher in three consecutive polls from 2013-15, Michigan State has only one finish (’17) over the last three years. Prior to taking over at Michigan State, Dantonio went 18-17 at Cincinnati from 2004-06.
8. Jim Harbaugh, Michigan
Michigan has made significant strides under Harbaugh’s watch. The next step: Win a Big Ten title and earn a trip to the CFB Playoff. Both of those goals were within reach last season and should be the expectation going into 2019. Prior to Harbaugh’s arrival, the Wolverines had only one season of 10 or more wins from 2008-14. Michigan has posted three over the last four years and finished inside of the top 14 in the final Associated Press poll in each of those 10-win campaigns. The Wolverines are 38-14 under Harbaugh’s watch and recorded their best (8-1) mark in Big Ten play last fall. Harbaugh has been successful head coach at every stop in his career. He went 44-19 with a Super Bowl trip with the 49ers (2011-14), guided Stanford to a 29-21 record from 2007-10 and finished 29-6 at San Diego (2004-06). He’s 96-41 overall as a head coach at the collegiate level.
7. Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma
It’s a close call between Riley and TCU’s Gary Patterson for the No. 1 spot in the conference. Few coaches can match the two-year run Riley has pieced together to start his tenure in Norman. The Sooners never missed a beat in the transition from Bob Stoops to Riley. Oklahoma went 12-2 with a CFB Playoff trip in 2017 and followed that successful year with another 12-2 mark and playoff bid last fall. Riley is 24-4 with just two Big 12 losses since taking over prior to the 2017 season. Additionally, Oklahoma has claimed back-to-back conference titles under Riley’s direction. And as one of the nation’s top minds on offense, it’s no surprise Riley has helped the Sooners rank as the No. 1 scoring offense among Power 5 programs for three consecutive years.
6. Gary Patterson, TCU
TCU has played a full season in three different conferences since Patterson became head coach, but the level of success never changes. The Horned Frogs are 167-63 overall since Patterson took over as head coach in the 2000 Mobile Alabama Bowl. During that span, the Horned Frogs have recorded 11 seasons of double-digit victories, including a perfect 13-0 campaign in 2010. TCU also finished 12-1 and just outside the top four for a bid to the CFB Playoff in 2014. The Horned Frogs have settled into the Big 12 with three winning marks in league play over the last five years. In each of those three seasons, TCU ranked as a top-10 team in the final Associated Press poll. Patterson is also one of college football’s top minds on defense, as the Horned Frogs have not finished lower than fifth in the Big 12 in fewest points allowed in a season since joining the conference.
5. Kirby Smart, Georgia
Smart has quickly elevated Georgia into contention for a spot in the CFB Playoff on an annual basis. After a successful run as Alabama’s defensive coordinator from 2008-15, Smart returned to his alma mater prior to the 2016 season. The Bulldogs finished 8-5 overall and just 4-4 in SEC play in Smart’s debut. However, this program took off in 2017 and came within a couple of plays of winning the national championship. Smart guided Georgia to an SEC title and a Rose Bowl win before falling in overtime to Alabama for the title that year. The Bulldogs had another strong 2018 season, as this team claimed the SEC East title and finished just outside the top four for the CFB Playoff. With Smart reeling in elite talent on the recruiting trail, combined with a loaded roster for 2019, Georgia should be in the mix to win it all this season.
4. Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M
Fisher’s first season in College Station was a success. Texas A&M lost by two to national champion Clemson in September and suffered road defeats against Auburn, Mississippi State and Alabama in SEC play. However, an entertaining win over LSU in overtime, along with a Gator Bowl victory over NC State, capped a four-game winning streak to end 2018. The winning streak pushed Texas A&M to 9-4 overall and a No. 16 finish nationally. The No. 16 ranking marked the Aggies first finish in the top 25 since 2013. Fisher came to College Station after winning 83 games and a national championship during an eight-year stint at Florida State. He’s 92-27 overall and has Texas A&M on the rise going into the 2019 season.
3. Chris Petersen, Washington
Petersen enters 2019 as the unquestioned No. 1 coach in the Pac-12. After a 15-12 start to his tenure in Seattle, the Huskies have won at least 10 games and played in a New Year’s Six bowl in each of the last three years. Petersen has guided Washington to two Pac-12 titles and a trip to the CFB Playoff in 2016. Success at a high level is nothing new for Petersen. He went 92-12 over eight years at Boise State from 2006-13). During Petersen’s 13 seasons as a head coach, only three of those saw his team win fewer than 10 games.
2. Dabo Swinney, Clemson
Swinney’s resume at Clemson continues to get better with each season. Since taking over as the program’s interim coach in 2008, Swinney is 116-30 overall and has led the Tigers to two national championships (2015 and ’17). Clemson has made the CFB Playoff in each of the last four years and recorded eight consecutive seasons of 10 or more victories. Swinney has guided the Tigers to four straight ACC titles and lost only two league games over the last four years. After a 19-15 start to his tenure, Swinney is 97-15 since 2011.
1. Nick Saban, Alabama
Saban continues to build a resume that’s likely to be the best in college football history whenever he decides to retire. Through 12 years in Tuscaloosa, Saban has compiled an overall record of 146-21 and won five national championships. The Crimson Tide have not lost more than two games in a season since 2010 and have only six losses in SEC play since ’11. Additionally, Alabama has not finished below No. 7 nationally in the final Associated Press poll since 2011. The Crimson Tide are the only team to make the CFB Playoff in all five years since its inception in 2014. Saban arrived at Alabama after a two-season stint with the Dolphins in the NFL and previously had stops at LSU (48-16 with a national title), Michigan State (34-24-1) and Toledo (9-2). In 23 years as a head coach, Saban is 237-63-1 overall and has six national championship victories.
WANT MORE? Listen to our podcast below.