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Saturday, November 26, 2022
Rushad Machhi

Column: Ranking college football's best coaches in the midseason Shad Poll

Guess who’s back, back again? The Shad Poll’s back, tell a friend!

That’s right folks, the midseason edition of arguably the most important rankings in college football has returned! Just as a reminder, this poll does not rank teams or players, it ranks head coaches. In the previous edition of the Shad poll, I ranked coaches based on criteria mainly focusing on his career accomplishments. However, this time, I have decided to ignore the coach’s history and concentrate on the coach’s 2014 performance, including:

  • Has the coach outperformed or underachieved based on the talent on his roster? Part of what makes Dan Mullen’s run so special in the SEC West is that he has not had a recruiting class ranked higher than 26th since 2010. Meanwhile Steve Spurrier and Will Muschamp haven’t had a class ranked below 25th in that time span, yet they both have a combined eight losses between them this year (Spoiler alert: neither of them made the poll).
  • Has the coach won the games that he should have won? Nick Saban and Bo Pelini (most likely the only time these two will be mentioned in the same sentence) have lost this year, but neither of them was egregious or surprising, giving them points in the poll, while Mark Richt lost to Florida, which harms his position.
  • How well has the head coach handled distractions? Every season, the NCAA tries to enforce its ridiculous rules, often implicating a player of significance such as Todd Gurley. Mark Richt has steadied the ship at Georgia for the most part (sigh, Florida) earning him back some of the points he lost.
  • Impressive wins vs. bad losses. Coaches high on this list will have more impressive wins vs. bad losses. Impressive wins include Mississippi State’s and Auburn’s romps over LSU, while bad losses include Wisconsin losing to Northwestern and Ohio State losing to Virginia Tech (Ladies and gentlemen, your 2014 Big Ten favorites!).

Enough of the babbling, let’s get to the good stuff!

25. Jerry Kill: Minnesota head coach (7-2 overall, 4-1 conference) Good Wins: Iowa Bad losses: @Illinois

That loss at Illinois wasn’t bad, it was catastrophic. It makes even less sense after their annihilation of Iowa this past weekend. If they didn’t lose that Illinois game, Kill and the Golden Gophers would be in sole possession of first place of the Big Ten West, more than likely ranked and most importantly a higher position in the Shad Poll. Besides that horrible loss, Kill has done a solid job, keeping Minnesota alive in the Big Ten past the first week of November, a proposition that would have been laughed at in past years. He has a tough task against Ohio State this week, and while I don’t expect Minnesota to win, I could see the upset being pulled off, so give Jerry Kill a lot of credit for even making me think the Golden Gophers have a chance against the Buckeyes.

24. Gary Pinkel: Missouri head coach (7-2, 4-1) Good Wins: None Bad Losses: Indiana

Pinkel owns the most confusing and embarrassing loss of the season, that home loss to Indiana. With the Hoosiers still winless in the pathetic Big Ten, that loss sticks out like a zit that just grows even bigger. Pinkel also currently holds first place in the SEC’s other division (I believe it’s the East?), although that could disappear very quickly with a road trip to Texas A&M coming up. If the Tigers had just done what it needed to and won that Indiana game, both Missouri and Pinkel would be significantly higher in all of the polls.

23. Gary Andersen: Wisconsin head coach (7-2, 4-1) Good Wins: None Bad Losses: @Northwestern

Andersen gets the nod over Pinkel because his bad loss is not nearly as bad as Pinkel’s. Don’t get me wrong, that loss at Northwestern is still horrific and inexcusable, but since then Andersen has shown that he is willing to adapt by implementing a two quarterback system, which has righted the ship. A huge game against Nebraska looms this week, the game that will most likely decide the Big Ten West. Andersen needs this game to show that he is truly a big time coach worthy of being included in the Shad Poll.

22. Kyle Whittingham: Utah head coach (7-3, 3-3) Good Wins: @UCLA Bad Losses: Washington State

Whittingham has let the rest of the Pac 12 know that they will no longer be the new push over from the Mountain West. They swept both Los Angeles teams, including that big one over UCLA, and have remained competitive in all other big Pac 12 contests, including a heartbreaking 16-19 loss to Pac 12 South front runner Arizona State. Still, that loss to Washington State shows that the Utes are maybe a year away from being true Pac 12 threats but credit to Whittingham for making Utah a threat despite mediocre recruiting classes.

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21. Kevin Sumlin: Texas A&M head coach (7-3, 3-3) Good Wins: @Auburn Bad Losses: @Alabama

Losing on the road to Bama is nothing to be ashamed about, but losing 59-0 is. That kind of loss should never happen under watch of a great coach who has the talent that Sumlin has to work with. Sumlin has rebounded nicely, regaining lot of credibility by going to Auburn and hanging on to a monumental victory. For a team that looked like a real playoff contender to begin the season, Sumlin could not maintain that momentum, but that impressive victory over Aurburn while handling the Kenny “Not so Trill” Hill situation at the same time gets him onto the poll.

20. David Cutcliffe: Duke head coach (8-1, 4-1) Good Wins: @Georgia Tech Bad Losses: None

Cutcliffe continues to work miracles at Duke, who are on their way to an unfathomable second consecutive ACC title game. His teams are winning the games they should, and their one loss at Miami is not crippling. Keep up the amazing work David, and enjoy your spot on the Shad Poll!

19. Dabo Swinney: Clemson head coach (7-2, 6-1) Good Wins: None Bad Losses: None

This was a steady rebuilding season from Dabo. His Clemson team lost a lot of talent from last season, so this year was expected to be relatively average. Clemson easily had a chance to make some noise against a Florida State team without Jameis Winston for the day, but they just did not have enough in the tank to pull the upset. Clemson has so far avoided the back breaking loss that always seems to plague them, and even in a rebuilding year, I would take Swinney’s team over Cutcliffe’s, hence his placement over Duke’s head man.

18. Jim Mora: UCLA head coach (8-2, 5-2) Good Wins: @Arizona State, Arizona Bad Losses: None

Mora’s UCLA team really doesn’t have any terrible losses, but for a team that many penciled into the inaugural college football playoff, they have really underachieved with all the pro talent they have on the team. Their sweep of the two major Arizona teams was nice, including the one over Arizona State which continues to look even better as the Sun Devils keep winning. Still, at the end of the year, this team should be in the top ten and in the mix for the playoff, not a middle of the pack afterthought.

17. Brian Kelly: Notre Dame head coach (7-2) Good Wins: None Bad Losses: None

Kelly has done a solid job leading Notre Dame back into the national picture up until this past weekend, where they lost at Arizona State. The 55-31 final score is very deceiving, as Kelly’s team fought back from an early hole to climb back to 34-31 midway through the fourth quarter, only for things to fall apart the rest of the way. Notre Dame also let a victory over Florida State slip out of their hands in the last minute with a poorly executed pick play. A season of close calls should not diminish the excellent rebound job Kelly has executed, and they should be an even tougher team next season.

16. Rich Rodriguez: Arizona head coach (7-2, 4-2) Good Wins: @Oregon Bad Losses: None

Rich Rod continues to showcase his mastery of Oregon, earning another signature win for his program against a team that has a spot in the playoff as of now. While a hot start was followed with close losses to USC and UCLA, the Wildcats have clearly overachieved from a talent and expectations standpoint, and Rodriguez has managed to thrust himself back into the conversation as people begin to forget his terrible stint at Michigan.

15. Bo Pelini: Nebraska head coach (8-1, 4-1) Good Wins: None Bad Losses: None

This week’s game at Wisconsin will really determine Nebraska’s season. A loss would signal another average season, what Nebraska fans have come to expect under the Pelini era. However, a victory would be a huge turning point and show that Nebraska’s program is really heading in the right direction. Up to this point, Nebraska is who we thought they would be, beating up on an awful Big Ten while losing a close one at Michigan State, their only marquee matchup of the season thus far. Taking care of business can only take a coach so far, and the 15 ranking seems like the perfect place to drop Pelini.

14. Les Miles: LSU head coach (7-3, 3-3) Good Wins: Ole Miss Bad Losses: None

After some early struggles, Les Miles has corrected LSU’s course and almost had them back in the SEC West conversation with what should have been a monumental upset over Alabama had a last minute defensive lapse not occurred. With the Tigers losing gobs of talent to the NFL from last season, the early struggles were justified, and the team continues to improve every week with the turning point arguably being a blow-out victory over Kentucky. A victory over Ole Miss indicated that they finally grew up but that close loss over Alabama shows that they still have room to grow. Still, Miles has done a fantastic job nurturing and guiding a young team through the thorny SEC West.

13. Mark Richt: Georgia head coach (7-2, 5-2) Good Wins: Clemson, @Missouri Bad Losses: Florida

Poor, poor Mark Richt. He just can’t ever seem to get over the hump. That backbreaking Florida loss continues to reiterate Richt’s career narrative that he just is not good enough to win it all. Other than that and a close loss at South Carolina, Richt has once again been solid, guiding the team through the stupid Todd Gurley autograph suspension. However, a season that had playoff potential sadly will end with another “what-if” for Richt.

12. Mark Dantonio: Michigan State head coach (7-2, 4-1) Good Wins: Nebraska Bad Losses: None

11. Urban Meyer: Ohio State head coach (8-1, 5-1) Good Wins: @Michigan State Bad Losses: Virginia Tech

The matchup between Meyer’s and Dantonio’s teams should have been titled “The battle for the Shad Poll,” as Meyer emerged victorious from that battle. Dantonio had been steady all season, and his team looked poised for a repeat Big Ten title as they got to host Ohio State. Besides a meltdown at Oregon, an understandable defeat, Dantonio for the first time since the Kirk Cousins era had an offense that could build up leads for his always stout defense to hold. However, Meyer once again came through as a big time coach and outcoached Dantonio for what should be the deciding game in the Big Ten East as shockingly it was Dantonio’s defense, not offense, that failed him in another big game this year. While Ohio State’s loss against Virginia Tech sticks out like a sore thumb, and in the end might prevent them from making the playoffs, an offense that struggled earlier in the year has now looked explosive as of late, thanks to Meyer and his nurturing of quarterback J.T. Barrett. Once again, Meyer shows why he is the best in the Big Ten and gets the nod over Dantonio here.

10. Gus Malzahn: Auburn head coach (7-2, 4-2) Good Wins: @Kansas State, LSU, @Ole Miss Bad Losses: Texas A&M

The Malzahn magic had to end eventually, and it finally did this past weekend against Texas A&M, in what was really an inexcusable loss. The Tigers were poised to be a playoff team but instead they fell in a trap game to A&M at home. A head coach is supposed to keep his team’s focus in the present, and clearly Auburn was looking ahead to their matchup with Georgia, laying a complete egg in the first half against the Aggies, and making costly mistakes that could have saved their season if avoided. Since returning to Auburn, Malzahn has been special, but this past weekend was really disappointing and hurt Malzahn’s ranking.

9. Bill Snyder: Kansas State head coach (7-2, 5-1) Good Wins: @Oklahoma Bad Losses: None

Another year, another impressive coaching performance from Snyder. Snyder is never able to haul in elite talent to Kansas State, but his teams are always gritty and disciplined, and this year nothing has changed. Unfortunately, their recent loss at TCU takes them out of playoff and likely Big 12 contention as well, but this has been another masterful coaching job as he still has the distinction of being the only team to hold Auburn under 30 points this season.

8. Hugh Freeze: Ole Miss head coach (8-2, 4-2) Good Wins: Alabama Bad Losses: None

Freeze’s victory over Saban is the signature win of his career so far, and after several great recruiting classes, Freeze has put it together and has the Rebels performing on the field. Freeze still cannot escape that ending at LSU however, where a delay of game penalty erased a decent field goal chance and resulted in an additional offensive play that ended up being an intercepted pass to seal LSU’s victory. A delay of game is almost always on the coach and one that costs a team a chance at victory is an unforgivable mistake that great coaches do not make. Freeze has done enough this season to include himself among the elite of the coaching world, but he has to make sure a blunder like that never happens again.

7. Todd Graham: Arizona State head coach (8-1, 5-1) Good Wins: @USC, Utah, Notre Dame Bad Losses: None

Graham has constructed a playoff contender at Arizona State, and that in itself is amazing. The Sun Devils continue to win the ones they need to and have shown the resiliency to never count themselves out, shown by their hail-mary victory over USC. With an impressive victory over Notre Dame this past weekend, if Graham manages to win out and win the Pac 12, they should find themselves in the playoff come January.

6. Art Briles: Baylor head coach (8-1, 5-1) Good Wins: TCU, @Oklahoma Bad Losses: None

Besides a tough loss at West Virginia, an extremely difficult place to win, Briles has utilized another explosive offense en route to a spot atop the Big 12 rankings once again. Their brilliant comeback victory over TCU saved their season, and despite a no-name, non-conference season, if they win out, Briles should earn a spot in the playoff as consecutive Big 12 champs, an amazing accomplishment at Baylor.

5. Mark Helfrich: Oregon head coach (9-1, 6-1) Good Wins: Michigan State, @UCLA, @Utah Bad Losses: None

Helfrich has continued Chip Kelly’s offensive dominance, and Oregon looks like it’s finally ready to reclaim Pac 12 supremacy. The rest of their season looks relatively easy, and as long as they are able to beat their Pac 12 South foe in the title game, they should be in the first playoff. Helfrich and his team would be ranked higher had they not lost to a less talented Rich Rod Arizona team, which seems to have their number in recent years.

4. Gary Patterson: TCU head coach (8-1, 5-1) Good Wins: Oklahoma, @West Virginia, Kansas State Bad Losses: None

Patterson has forever been known as a defensive guru, but this season he has adapted to his team and constructed an explosive offense led by Trevone Boykin. The defense, while not as dominant as in years past, is still solid, and they have bounced back in their second year in the Big 12 to become a contender. Had they not given up an out of character 21-point comeback at Baylor a few weeks ago, the Horned Frogs would be undefeated and at the top of the Big 12. Baylor still has a tough game against Kansas State, so TCU still has lots of hope of earning a Big 12 championship in just their second season in the league, and Patterson’s ability to coach and adapt deserves a lion share of the credit.

3. Jimbo Fisher: Florida State head coach (9-0, 6-0) Good Wins: Clemson, Notre Dame (I Guess?) Bad Losses: None

Fisher still has not lost a game in almost two years, but he almost has a number of times this season. Florida State has taken care of business thus far against a relatively weak schedule, with both of their toughest matchups taking place at home. Even though they have a huge talent gap over their opponents, Florida State has yet to really exert themselves over any team they have faced, and that is why Jimbo has not impressed me much this far. The best part about his coaching season is how he’s weathered the storm around all of Jameis Winston’s scandals and maintained a clean sheet in the midst of all that chaos.

2. Nick Saban: Alabama head coach (8-1, 5-1) Good Wins: Texas A&M, @LSU Bad Losses: None

Saban’s Bama team owns the most impressive victory of the year in their 59-0 shutout beat down of Texas A&M, and once again, Saban has guided the Tide to championship contention. Another last minute victory at LSU shows how Saban has once again built a mentally strong team that has what it takes to win the SEC and the national championship. The biggest game of the season comes up when the Shad poll ranked No. 2 Saban faces No. 1…

1. Dan Mullen: Mississippi State head coach (9-0, 5-0) Good Wins: @LSU, Texas A&M, Auburn Bad Losses: None

It cannot be reiterated the amazing job that Mullen has done this year. His offense resembles those of which he coordinated at Florida when he had Tim Tebow under center. Now he has Dak Prescott, who he has elevated to a Heisman contender. As I mentioned earlier, Mullen really has not been able to recruit prime talent to Mississippi State, yet he still is undefeated in the ridiculous SEC West. Hats off to Dan Mullen, as he owns the top ranking in this prestigious poll in college football.

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