Rivals National Columnist Mike Farrell is here with a some thoughts on some Power Five coaches that don’t get enough attention, some teams close to winning 10 games for the first time in a long time and the Mount Rushmore of Ohio State football since 1980.
1. COACHES THAT EXCEL IN DIFFICULT SITUATIONS
We all know how much attention Nick Saban, Dabo Swinney and the rest get from the national media. Heck, even disappointments like Jim Harbaugh are talked about all the time. But what about the coaches that do a great job at difficult places to little or no fanfare? Let’s give them some love.
1. Dave Clawson, Wake Forest — Most fans simply do not appreciate how difficult it is to win at Wake Forest. For one, it’s the smallest school in the entire Power Five and it has some of the toughest academic standards, meaning the pool of prospects it can recruit is diminished. Plus, it is right down the road from bigger brands North Carolina and NC State, so the Demon Deacons typically are not getting the cream of the crop when it comes to in-state talent. On top of that, he inherited a program that had progressively gotten worse toward the end of the Jim Grobe era, so he was starting out behind the eight ball. Making it to five consecutive bowl games is an amazing feat, and it’s a bit of a surprise that some of the bigger programs in the country haven’t come calling.
2. David Shaw, Stanford — Despite being the four-time Pac-12 Coach of the Year, Shaw is still very underrated in terms of what he’s done at Stanford, another school that has tough academic standards limiting the players it can recruit. In 10 seasons, he has four top-10 finishes in the polls, five seasons of double-digit wins and three Pac-12 titles. When people think that all he did was inherit a great situation from Harbaugh, they forget that Harbaugh never won the conference, and went only 29-21 during his tenure. Shaw has gone 86-34, and continues to field a team that is very competitive every single season.
3. Dave Doeren, NC State — NC State has always been the little brother program in the Tar Heel State, but that hasn’t stopped Doeren from putting together some really good squads. He’s 55-46 in eight seasons with six bowl appearances. If you throw out his first season at the helm, he’s really only had one sub-par year (2019), and the Wolfpack continually punch above their weight in the middle class of the ACC. Oh, and you can’t forget what he did at Northern Illinois – 23-4 with two MAC titles and a 15-1 record in conference.
4. Bronco Mendenhall, Virginia — When Mendenhall (somewhat shockingly) left BYU to take over a Virginia program that had completely bottomed out under Mike London, he had a very tall task ahead of him. All the Cavs have done is make a bowl every season besides his first (last season they declined the invitation due to COVID), and win the Coastal in 2019, the first time they’ve ever won the division since the ACC went to the two division format in 2005. He’s got this program trending in the right direction, and has in many respects out performed Justin Fuente at rival Virginia Tech, who was hired the same year.
5. Justin Wilcox, Cal — Justin Wilcox simply knows defense, and his teams are built on that. Despite up-and-down QB play, and playing in a tough Pac-12 North with the likes of Oregon, Washington and Stanford, Wilcox’s Golden Bears teams have been competitive every season. Last year was a complete throw-away, as they only played four games, including a strange Sunday game at UCLA, and they had their two easiest games on the calendar cancelled. Don’t be surprised if Cal is back making noise in the Pac-12 again.
2. PROGRAMS THAT COULD SNAP LONG DOUBLE-DIGIT WIN DROUGHTS
Winning 10 games has become the barometer of elite success for teams since the sport transitioned to a 12-game schedule. And for some programs the double-digit win goal would break a long streak of single-digit win seasons.
Indiana (Last 10-win season: Never) — Despite having played football since 1887, the Hoosiers have never had a double-digit win season, and have only two nine-win campaigns, the most recent coming in 1967. Tom Allen has this team trending in the right direction though, and coming off of last season’s second place finish in the Big Ten East, Indiana has a good a chance as it’ll have in a long time, as it returns its entire outstanding defensive back unit, WR1 Ty Fryfogle, and most importantly quarterback Michael Penix Jr., assuming he’s healthy for week one after tearing his ACL toward the end of last season. However, the schedule is tough this season, with road trips to Iowa, Penn State and Michigan, as well as home dates with Ohio State and Cincinnati. However, the Hoosiers have the talent to do it.
Iowa State (Last 10-win season: Never) — Another school that’s been playing football since before the turn of the 20th century, Iowa State has yet to hit the double-digit mark in its 128 years of college football. But Matt Campbell has proven to be an outstanding coach, and the Cyclones are bringing back a ton of production this season, with the return of Brock Purdy at QB and Heisman contender Breece Hall at RB. More than likely, they will be favored in all of their games except when they visit Oklahoma. Throw in a trip to the conference championship game and a bowl game, and this is the best shot that they have ever had to finally break through.
Pitt (Last 10-win season: 2009) — Since the Panthers moved to the ACC, they have yet to top eight wins, and are obviously itching to do so. However, Pat Narduzzi has a lot of guys to replace from last year’s roster, including standouts on the defensive line Rashad Weaver and Patrick Jones. This season their toughest non-conference game is with a flailing Tennessee team, so going 4-0 before ACC play is definitely possible. They also get Miami, North Carolina and Clemson all at home, and while they probably won’t be favored in any of those contests, they will definitely have a better shot at upsetting those three teams than usual.
Boston College (Last 10-win season: 2007) — Jeff Hafley made a very solid debut in an unprecedented season last year, going 6-5 against a tough slate. This year, with Phil Jurkovec back under center and a talented offensive line back in front of him, BC’s offense looks like it could definitely keep up with some of the big boys in the conference. Outside of the trip to Clemson, BC should be right in every game this season, and could finally break its double-digit drought last broken when Matt Ryan was under center.
Texas A&M (Last 10-win season: 2012) — For all of the hype and fanfare around Jimbo Fisher during his time leading the Aggies, he has yet to break through to the 10-win plateau, but that comes with a bit of an asterisk: With a shortened season last year, the Aggies went 9-1, only losing to eventual champion Alabama. Had their game against Ole Miss not been cancelled, we would probably be looking at a 10-win team. But nevertheless, it’s been a minute since Johnny Manziel led the Aggies to an 11-2 record in their first season in the SEC. This year’s team has question marks at QB after Kellen Mond graduated and went to the NFL, but they’ve still got some playmakers on defense, led by potential top-10 draft pick DeMarvin Leal. Alabama will also be a tough game, but the matchup with the Crimson Tide is in College Station this year, as is the game with Auburn. The only matchups they won’t be favored in are ones against aforementioned Alabama, and potentially the regular-season finale at LSU.
UCLA (Last 10-win season: 2014) — It’s taken awhile for the Chip Kelly era to get going in Westwood, but the Bruins have improved their winning percentage every season under the former Oregon coach. This season, they have a veteran roster led by senior quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who has become more comfortable each year in Kelly’s system. The Bruins got a boost in the transfer market too with the addition of former Michigan RB and LA native Zach Charbonnet who, in addition to Brittain Brown, should make for a really good 1-2 punch in the backfield. However, this season’s schedule is doing them no favors, with a non-conference game against LSU, and cross-divisional opponents in Oregon, Stanford, Washington and Cal, who are projected as the four top teams in the Pac-12 North.
3. THE MOUNT RUSHMORE OF OHIO STATE FOOTBALL
Finally it’s time for the Mount Rushmore of Ohio State football since 1980, the toughest I’ve done so far.
RB Eddie George — The 1995 Heisman Trophy winner, George was one of the most dominant backs in Big Ten history during his last two seasons in Columbus. As a senior, he rushed for more than 1,900 yards and 24 touchdowns, winning every RB award and honor you could name that year: Walter Camp, Maxwell, Doak Walker, Big Ten Player of the Year, unanimous All-American. His No. 27 jersey is retired for a reason.
OT Orlando Pace — Perhaps the most dominant collegiate offensive tackle we’ve ever seen, Pace was an absolute mountain of a man, standing at 6-foot-7 and weighing in at over 320 pounds, yet nimble on his feet. As a senior, he finished fourth in Heisman Trophy voting, the highest for an offensive lineman in the history of the award. The college football All-Century team member was twice a unanimous All-American, the Big Ten’s MVP and Offensive Player of the Year in 1996, and the Outland Trophy winner in that same season. Arguably the best to ever do it.
LB Chris Spielman — A two-time consensus All-American, Spielman was the embodiment of a Big Ten linebacker during his tenure at Ohio State – tough as nails, phenomenal tackler, and endless motor. Before even coming to college, he was the first high school athlete to ever have his picture on a box of Wheaties (remember when that meant something?). As a senior, he won the Lombardi Award, and was subsequently inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame and named a member of the All-Century team.
QB Troy Smith — The 2006 Heisman Trophy winner, Smith had the third-highest percentage of first-place votes in the history of the award, and the second-highest winning margin of votes. That season, he led the Buckeyes to the national title game, going 12-0 in the regular season, including an epic win over then-No. 2 Michigan in what was called the Game of the Century. Along with the Heisman, Smith won almost every other award he was eligible for that season, along with being a consensus All-American, and now has his No. 10 jersey retired in Columbus.