They all have made a statement in 2022, with convincing victories up to this point.
These 10 coaches have led their teams to success on the gridiron. And if the season ended today, they’d all deserve some consideration. All of their recruiting, staff changes and transfer portal additions have provided a spark, but the scary part is College football is just in the second week of October.
10. Brian Kelly, LSU: The SEC community didn’t welcome him with open arms. Still, he’s making an immediate impact on the conference in year one. Kelly has been one of the most successful coaches in all of College football over the past two decades. So it shouldn’t come as a shocker that he’s having success in the almighty SEC. LSU is 4-1, but could easily be undefeated if it wasn’t for a missed extra point in the opener against Florida State. Kelly has the Bayou Bengals 2-0 in SEC play. And he led LSU to two come from behind fourth quarter rallies in those two victories. Former Arizona State quarterback Jayden Daniels is shaping up to be the SEC’s Newcomer of the Year. His ability to hurt defenses with his arm and legs is unfair. LSU is also third in the SEC, and 19th in the FBS in total defense.
9. James Franklin, Penn State: The Nittany Lions are 5-0 for a second-straight season. However, this time around Franklin plans on keeping quarterback Sean Clifford healthy to keep the streak going. That’s because the veteran gunslinger gives Penn State the best chance to win every game. Not to mention the Nittany Lions are ranked No. 10 in the latest AP Poll, which should quiet Franklin’s critics at the moment. Franklin has his team 2-0 in Big Ten play for the third time in the last four seasons too. The Nittany Lions have scored 33 or more points in four of their five games. Penn State has also played lights out on the road, and posted 35 points at Purdue and 41 at Auburn. Now Franklin’s boys have the week off as they prepare for a tough slate, with two of their next three games against top-five teams.
8. Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State: The Pokes are playing like the best team in the Big 12. Gundy has his team 4-0 for a third-straight season. Not to mention the Pokes are the highest-ranked Big 12 team, sitting at No. 7 in the AP Poll, where they finished last season. Oklahoma State is second in the league and fifth in the nation in scoring offense, averaging a jaw-dropping, 46.2 points per game. Gundy also got his revenge from the Big 12 Championship Game, after beating Baylor by double-digits on the road last week. Quarterback Spencer Sanders has put up stellar numbers, with 1,097 passing yards, 11 touchdowns and two interceptions. He’s also third in the conference and 19th in the country in passing efficiency. The schedule gets tougher for the longest-tenured coach in the Big 12, but he has his team ready.
7. Dabo Swinney, Clemson: The Tigers had an unfamiliar season in 2021, and didn’t win the ACC for the first time in six years. Swinney knows he’s running a powerhouse program, when a 10-3 campaign is considered a down season. However, Clemson appears to be back to normal this fall. After all, the Tigers are 5-0, ranked No. 5 in the AP Poll and are one of two undefeated teams remaining in the ACC. Clemson’s last two victories have been very impressive too, taking down two ranked foes in Wake Forest and NC State. The Tigers are averaging 41 points per game, which ranks second in the ACC and 14th in the FBS. Junior DJ Uiagalelei has elevated his game and been performing like the best quarterback in the league. Clemson’s defense has played solid up to this point, but hasn’t been as dominant as expected.
6. Josh Heupel, Tennessee: He’s only in year two, but has brought the program to heights Derek Dooley, Butch Jones and Jeremy Pruitt never could. The Volunteers are 4-0 for the first time since 2016. Not to mention Tennessee is No. 8 in the AP Poll, which is its’ highest ranking since 2006. There’s no denying Heupel’s offensive mind is paying off on the gridiron. Tennessee is putting up video game numbers this fall. The Volunteers lead the SEC in points per game, and is tied for second in the country. That’s because quarterback Hendon Hooker has played lights out, with 1,193 passing yards, eight touchdown tosses and no interceptions. Hooker is also first in the SEC and sixth in the FBS in passing efficiency. The Volunteers’ defense has been somewhat suspect, so fans should expect shootouts in SEC play.
5. Chip Kelly, UCLA: In year five he has the Bruins surging and looking like one of the best teams in the Pac-12. After all, UCLA is 5-0 for the first time since 2013. The Bruins are one of two remaining undefeated teams from the Pac-12. Kelly has UCLA 2-0 in conference play for the first time in his tenure too. The cherry on top to Kelly’s 2022 campaign, is the fact that the Bruins are No. 18 in this week’s AP Poll. UCLA is averaging a jaw-dropping, 506.4 yards per game, which ranks second in the league and eighth in the FBS. Not to mention Kelly’s squad has scored 26 offensive touchdowns, which is tied for best in the Pac-12. Veteran quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson is numero uno in the league in passing efficiency. Junior running back Zach Charbonnet has rushed for over 100 yards in three games.
4. Lincoln Riley, USC: What he has accomplished since accepting the job has been nothing short of remarkable. Everyone has jumped back on USC’s bandwagon, which hasn’t happened since Pete Carroll was patrolling the sidelines. Riley has basically been the General Manager of the Trojans with the way he assembled key transfers players, and plugged them in the right places to be successful. Although the Trojans are 5-0 for the second time in the last three seasons, Riley has the team ranked No. 6 in the AP Poll. It’s USC’s highest ranking since December of 2017. Gunslinger Caleb Williams has played phenomenal, and Riley is a quarterback guru. He has thrown for 12 touchdowns and is No. 2 in the league in passing efficiency. USC is numero uno in the Pac-12 in scoring offense, averaging 42.2 points per game.
3. Sonny Dykes, TCU: He has the Horned Frogs a year ahead of schedule, and it’s just his first season on the job. TCU is 4-0 for the first time since 2017, which has sent shockwaves across the nation. Dykes’ boys are one of three remaining undefeated teams in the Big 12. Not to mention the Horned Frogs crashed the AP Poll this week for the first time since 2019, and landed at No. 17. Dykes has the offense humming too, which shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering his track record. Not only are the Horned Frogs No. 1 in the conference, but they’re No. 2 in the FBS in scoring and total offense. After TCU dismantled Oklahoma, it caught everyone’s attention. Veteran quarterback Max Duggan had his coming out party and been playing like an All-American. He also leads the FBS in passing efficiency.
2. Dino Babers, Syracuse: All the naysayers counted him out before the season even started. However, Babers has silenced all of his critics with a 5-0 start to his 2022 campaign. It’s the first time the Orange won their first five games since 1987. Not to mention Syracuse is 2-0 in ACC play and ranked No. 22 in the AP Poll, its’ first appearance in nearly three years. The Orange are averaging 38.4 points per game, which is fourth-best in the ACC and 23rd in the country. Junior quarterback Garrett Shrader has thrown for 1,219 yards, 10 touchdowns and an interception. Shrader is also No. 2 in the league and No. 8 in the country in passing efficiency. Sean Tucker is ninth in the FBS in rushing yards. Syracuse is coming off its’ first shutout victory since the opener in 2019. The measuring stick comes against NC State.
1. Lance Leipold, Kansas: The Jayhawks been the biggest surprise to the season through five weeks. Leipold has Kansas 5-0 for the first time since 2007. Not to mention Kansas finally surfaced in the latest AP Poll at No. 19 after nearly a 14-year absence. It’s mind-boggling that the Jayhawks were picked to finish last in the preseason Big 12 media poll back in July. And Leipold’s convincingly proved why games aren’t played on paper. The Jayhawks are one of three remaining undefeated Big 12 teams. And that’s because of dynamic junior quarterback Jalon Daniels. He has passed for 11 touchdowns, and only been picked off once. Not to mention Daniels is No. 2 in the Big 12 and No. 7 in the country in passing efficiency. Kansas’ ultimate measuring stick will be at home Saturday against TCU.
Bret Bielema, Illinois: Illinois is 4-1 in his second season, and would be undefeated if it wasn’t for a three-point loss at Indiana. Bielema has won five of his last six games overall. Chase Brown leads the country in rushing yards, and the Fighting Illini are No. 3 in the FBS in total defense.
Jim Harbaugh, Michigan: He didn’t crack the list because the Wolverines were expected to dominate the Big Ten this fall. After all, Michigan started the season ranked eighth in the AP Poll. However, he’ll be judged on games against Penn State, Michigan State and Ohio State.
Lane Kiffin, Ole Miss: The Rebels are back in the AP top-10 and landed at No. 9. Ole Miss beat a top-15 Kentucky team, which raised eyebrows across the SEC. The victory basically let everyone know that the Rebels are contenders, and they’re 5-0 for the first time since 2014.
Jamey Chadwell, Coastal Carolina: He has the Chanticleers 5-0 for a third-straight season. The Sun Belt was the best Group of Five league in non-conference play. Unfortunately, Coastal Carolina will only play one Power Five opponent during the regular season, which is Virginia.
Kirby Smart, Georgia: The Bulldogs are the defending National Champs, so until a team snatches the red carpet from under them, Smart will stay in the mix. Georgia still has to face three ranked foes in Tennessee, Mississippi State and Kentucky. Smart needs to win the SEC this time too.
Ryan Day, Ohio State: The Buckeyes are arguably the best team in the country and Day has them catching fire at the right time. Everyone knows what’s at stake and been dialed in. Quarterback C.J. Stroud has performed like a Heisman contender, but Day won’t be judged until he beats Michigan.
Nick Saban, Alabama: The Crimson Tide are on a mission this fall. Not even an injury to Heisman winner Bryce Young could stop Alabama from annihilating Arkansas. Now Saban has a chance to get revenge on Jimbo Fisher when Alabama hosts Texas A&M this Saturday.