So fall weather is upon us, Thanksgiving is around the corner, and the college football season marches on. There have been no shortage of surprises and disappointments alike, and it seems like there’s been a major upset every week.
Is it too premature for me to proclaim coaches of the year yet? Perhaps, but barring any late-season surges or last-minute collapses, here we go.
ACC Coach of the Year (Atlantic Division): Dave Doeren, NC State
Doeren’s team is one of the youngest in the nation (only 19 seniors) and they’ve cooled off after a 4-0 start, but they’re miles ahead of last year’s 3-9 calamity. The Wolfpack are still in control of their own destiny, and they have a fairly soft schedule the rest of the way (Georgia Tech, Wake Forest, and North Carolina).
ACC Coach of the Year (Coastal Division): Mike London, Virginia
Entering the 2014 season, there were serious questions in Charlottesville about London’s future. Despite his considerable recruiting success, the on-field product was lacking. But the Cavaliers have proved critics wrong this season, and they look like they’re building a salty defense. London seems to be off the hot seat, at least for now.
Big Ten Coach of the Year (East Division): Randy Edsall, Maryland
Edsall’s team was so-so in the ACC before moving to the Big Ten this past summer, but he’s really built something that fans can be proud of–the Terps currently stand at 6-3 overall and look to carry a lot of momentum into the postseason. Maryland is blessed with excellent facilities and they’re in an area of the country that is dripping with high school talent.
Big Ten Coach of the Year (West Division): Jerry Kill, Minnesota
Who can say enough about Kill? He’s improved Minnesota’s facilities, he’s helped change what is historically a difficult area to recruit, his staff loves him, and he’s done this all while battling epilepsy. Kill’s next job is to win the Gophers’ first bowl game since 2004. Given their 6-2 overall record, Gopher fans just might get their wish.
Pac-12 Coach of the Year (South Division): Rich Rodriguez, Arizona
Fans and commentators alike have been pointing to 2014 as the year that the Wildcats begin to make serious noise. But that’s crazy, right? I mean, it’s no picnic going up against Arizona State, USC, and UCLA in the South Division. But the ‘Cats and RichRod are sitting pretty at 6-2 right now, and while it doesn’t seem like they’ll win the South this year, it’s something great to build on.
Pac-12 Coach of the Year (North Division): Sonny Dykes, Cal
The defense still needs work, but Dykes’s air-raid offense has finally taken off in Year Two, giving opposing secondary coaches fits. There’s still plenty to like about the direction of this program, and fans are noticing. The real question is what will happen during “The Big Game” against Stanford on November 22nd….
SEC Coach of the Year (East Division): Mark Stoops, Kentucky
Kentucky football is popular? Well, basketball is still king in Lexington, but there’s no denying what Stoops is building on the gridiron at UK. A defensive guru, Stoops is infusing toughness and swagger into his players, and they’re very close to being able to compete with anybody–in the nation’s toughest conference.
SEC Coach of the Year (West Division): Dan Mullen, Mississippi State
Mullen has really taken the reins in Starkville, as they’re no longer the little brother in the Magnolia State. They’re just as competitive and dangerous as the hated Rebels, and the Egg Bowl rivalry game on Thanksgiving is gonna be one for the ages. Mullen, who was Tim Tebow’s offensive coordinator at Florida, has done an outstanding job molding the local talent into his offensive and defensive schemes.
Big 12 Coach of the Year: Gary Patterson, TCU
Patterson’s TCU teams are known for their stingy defenses, but check out what their offense has done under new leadership: 48 points per game and the sixth-best passing offense in the nation. Trevone Boykin has developed into an award-worthy quarterback, and the receivers, plagued by drops last year, have vastly improved.
American Athletic Conference Coach of the Year: Justin Fuente, Memphis
I mentioned Fuente in my previous blog post as a coach on the rise. And while Memphis (5-3, 3-1 in conference) is currently playing a cupcake schedule, they’ve shown enough improvement on offense to be a bowl contender. Having a top 30 defense doesn’t hurt, either. Don’t forget: Fuente mentored the Cincinnati Bengals’ Andy Dalton while both were at TCU.
C-USA Coach of the Year (West Division): Skip Holtz, Louisiana Tech
Holtz had a below-average debut with LA Tech (4-8 record), and his flame burned out at USF, but he’s done a fine job at keeping the Bulldogs relevant in their second season in C-USA. Their offense has turned some heads this season, and defensive coordinator Manny Diaz is molding his unit into a disciplined one.
C-USA Coach of the Year (East Division): Bill Clark, UAB
Clark is a rare breed: a legendary high school coach who has done well at the NCAA level. An Alabama native through and through, Clark spent five years as offensive coordinator at South Alabama before being named head coach at Jacksonville State in 2013. After a year there, he moved to UAB, where he’s already defying expectations. He’s upgraded the facilities and recruiting, and the Blazers currently stand at 5-4–they won only five games in the previous two years combined.
MAC Coach of the Year (West Division): Matt Campbell, Toledo
Campbell, the second youngest coach in the nation at age 34, is 23-12 in two and a half seasons at Toledo, where he took over for Tim Beckman (now at Illinois).
MAC Coach of the Year (East Division): Terry Bowden, Akron
If you have the last name of Bowden, you’re automatically included on this list. Seriously, though, Bowden’s return to coaching has been good, given that the Zips are in a fertile recruiting region and have exceptional facilities.
Mtn. West Coach of the Year (Mountain Division): Jim McElwain, Colorado State
McElwain’s squad is rocking and rolling into November with an 8-1 record; their only loss was in Week Two to Boise State. But who would’ve thought that the Rams would have a better overall record than the Broncos (6-2)?
Mtn. West Coach of the Year (West Division): Brian Polian, Nevada
The Wolf Pack (6-3) are officially bowl eligible in Year Two of the Polian regime. With a vastly-improved defense, Nevada is taking advantage of a down year in the division and could be on pace to make it to the Mountain West Championship Game.
Sun Belt Conference Coach of the Year: Willie Fritz, Georgia Southern
Fritz, formerly of Sam Houston State, has only been Georgia Southern’s coach since January, but his offense has been borderline unstoppable, rushing for over 400 yards per game. Their only two losses have been by a combined five points to ACC opponents Georgia Tech and NC State.