In what has been a roller coaster college football year its about time we start to recognize some of the great achievements that have gone on this season. One of them being the Coach of the Year in College Football. There have been a ton of great stories with teams being in positions that at the beginning of the year people would have never given them a chance. Its always easy to focus on the coaches that will be playing in the National Championship, I mean heck the last three coaches to win the award were playing in those games. Chip Kelly, Oregon in 2010, Les Miles, LSU in 2011 and Brian Kelly, Notre Dame in 2012. So assuming everything stays true to form you would potentially be looking at Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher or Alabama skipper Nick Saban. But in all honesty these two great college programs bring in some of the best players to their schools year in and year out that it’s almost easy to be good. Heck I could probably coach these schools to at least a nine-win season with all the talent on those rosters. So Ill shift my focus to teams that are either long shots or have no chance to play in Pasadena on January 7th.
Lets head down the Turnpike from Jimbo’s stomping ground to our first candidate, University of Central Florida’s George O’Leary. Everyone likes to laugh at the American Conference (The Big East for you people late on the scene) for being a push over conference but its still tough to do what UCF has done. Lets not forget they only lost by a field goal to the mighty South Carolina of the SEC. It’s been an impressive transition from Conference USA to the American Conference for O’Leary’s boys and they now find themselves vying for their schools first BCS bowl. People like to talk about the “Big Three” in Florida, being FSU, UF, and Miami but O’Leary has sneakily found themselves as the second best team in Florida, and that’s an accomplishment in itself. Regardless of whether he wins the award or not this year, he can hang his hat knowing he’s done something special down there in Central Florida.
We will venture into SEC country for the next two possible candidates. Lets start west of the Mississippi with Missouri’s Gary Pinkel. People forget that it was Missouri that people thought would cope best with the move to the SEC and not their Big 12 brothers Texas A&M last season, but instead Missouri struggled mightily adjusting to the speed of the SEC finishing 5-7 (2-6). But you don’t become a good coach without making adjustments and that’s exactly what Missouri did. Granted they didn’t face the toughest of opponents early in the season but they rode the momentum into the gauntlet of their schedule versus Georgia and Florida. After going into Athens and beating down the Bulldogs they found out they would be without their starting quarterback James Franklin for 4-6 weeks with a separated shoulder. But Pinkel didn’t let his team feel bad for themselves, instead the next week with a redshirt freshman at the helm the Tigers blew away the Gators. If not for a fourth quarter collapse the following week versus South Carolina, Missouri would most likely be the number three team in the land and it would be Pinkel’s award to lose down the stretch.
Lets go on a little ride down the Mississippi and head east to Auburn Alabama to look into our next potential award winner. Gus Malzahn has taken last years laughing stock of the SEC and turned them around at warp speed. Many people thought this would be a long rebuilding process after Gene Chizik left it in shambles last year. But Malzahn didn’t want to hear any of it. He took his quick high tempo offense (Much to the dismay of Arkansas coach Brett Bielema and Alabama’s Nick Saban) and put it to the test against the vaunted SEC defenses. Well I think safe to say, its working. Lets not forget this team was winless in the SEC last year, yes a big ole donut in conference play finishing 3-9 (0-8). Now his team are potentially one game away from winning the SEC West; the only problem is that one game is against number one Alabama. But either way the job this guy has done is simply remarkable. With big wins against Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M in College Station and a comeback win against Georgia its tough not to think that he’s not the front runner for the award at this point.
Who says smart people cant play football? That sets the scene for the last two candidates, and again we will work west to east. Why? Because we read left to right so we are going to move from left to right on the ole map of ‘Merica! The Baylor Bears are playing some exciting football over in the conference that doesn’t play defense, the Big 12 that is. But that’s not Art Briles fault. All his teams done is demolish the teams in front of them on their way to a 9-0 record and a number 4 ranking in the BCS. It doesn’t take a smart man to know that Mr. Briles is wishing they had the four-team playoff this year! But all jokes aside the man has turned a nobody university into one of the Big 12’s toughest teams. Many coaches falter for quite some time after they have such an elite QB as did Briles in Robert Griffin III, but he has instead taken Bryce Petty and turned him into the dominant quarterback that RGIII was just two years ago. Baylor still face some tough challenges ahead against Oklahoma State next week, and then as they try and claim the state of Texas with games against TCU and the Longhorns. But if they can get through this tough patch of games not only will you potentially see Briles on the COTY award, you could see Baylor in the National Championship Game.
Peyton Manning and Eli Manning still go back to this man every offseason, two pretty good quarterbacks to say the least. That enough should give him some kind of award. But this year his team may be earning it for him. Duke Blue Devil head coach David Cutcliffe. He has turned a team thats even more of a joke than the aforementioned Baylor Bears into a potential ACC Coastal Division Champion. Yes the Duke Blue Devil Football team is two wins away from playing in the ACC Championship game. Most Duke fans didn’t even know they played football this time of year. (Mainly because they have started to focus on their powerhouse college basketball team instead.) But Cutcliffe is giving them a reason to stay tuned on their football team. After program changing wins against Virginia Tech and Miami its safe to say that the 8-2 (4-2) Blue Devils are a team to not be taken lightly. Ranked in the top 25 in the BCS for the first time in schools history, Cutcliffe is trying to do his best Steve Spurrier impressions on the program and pull it out of the conference dumpster. If his team wins out and pulls of the upset of the year versus Florida State in the ACC Championship game the voters would be hard pressed not to put this man on the trophy.
Who do I personally think should win? Gus Malzhan, Auburn
Even if they lose to Alabama in a close game the trophy should be his. That being said, if Duke were to win out I would be shocked if it didnt go to David Cutcliffe. But for now my vote is Malzhan.
Who do I think will win? Art Briles, Baylor
Its tough to turn down what would be the number 3 team in the land if they were to win out. It would almost be a consolation prize to Briles since he wont be able to play for the National Championship.
Notable Mentions, USC’s Ed Orgeron, Ohio State’s Urban Meyer, Minnesota’s Jerry Kill, and Ole Miss’s Hugh Freeze.