Now that over half the 2012 season is in the books, let’s take a look at the coaches’ power rankings for this season, shall we?
Top Shelf: Nick Saban
If you can have one coach in all of college football to build your football program into a perennial powerhouse, you undoubtedly choose Nick Saban. Saban’s pedigree, record and championships speak for themselves, but what he’s done with a defense that lost six starters and an all-world running back has been nothing short of amazing. Saban has guided an inexperienced defense to tops in the nation in total defense, only allowing 181 yards per game. His attention to detail and command for excellence from his players is fun to watch, even if you hate the Tide. Bama is on autopilot.
Next Level: Les Miles and Steve Spurrier
Les Miles guided his team to a crucial win at home against South Carolina on Saturday, after a tough road loss against the Gators. LSU is still in the top ten, and they are still in the national championship talk. But the offense must improve moving forward to make a legitimate run. Steve Spurrier has made South Carolina a national championship contender, led by a powerful running game and a physical defense. This is still the same ole’ Spurrier, but he’s amended his high-flying offense to fit the strengths of his team. He’s done a marvelous job developing Connor Shaw and adapting to the SEC 2.0, a very different conference than the one we saw him dominate in the 90’s.
Hottest Young Coaches: Dan Mullen and Will Muschamp
What Dan Mullen is doing in Starkville, few could accomplish. He’s winning football games in a very convincing fashion, and he’s up for coach of the year in the conference. But it will largely fall on how the Bulldogs finish, as opposed to how they have started. Still, Mullen is a rising young superstar in the coaching ranks who has a veteran-laid team. Will Muschamp’s job of turning Florida around and guiding them to their #2 ranking in the BCS has been a joy to watch. When hired, he promised to bring a power running game and a physical defense, and he stuck to the course and has done just that in spectacular time. The Gators average over 233 yards per game on the ground and are fourth in total defense in the SEC.
Knocking on the Door: Mark Richt
Mark Richt is knocking on the door to get to the next level, but his loss to South Carolina obviously hurt those chances and rekindles talks about his ‘non-elite’ status as a coach. It just seems time and time again that Richt-led teams always falter against highly ranked opponents, and Carolina put a convincing beating on them earlier this month. What’s it going to take for Richt to get to that next level? Winning out and getting an SEC championship would be a great start.
Better than Advertised: Hugh Freeze and Kevin Sumlin
Hugh Freeze has brought a renewed energy to Oxford, and he’s doing it largely with a 2-10 roster. Outside of Bo Wallace, this is the same team that struggled to get two wins in ‘11, and they are vying for bowl eligibility in his first season. You really have to credit what he’s accomplished through seven weeks. Kevin Sumlin is known for his offense, and that’s exactly what he brought to College Station for the Aggies. Texas A&M leads in scoring offense at 47 points per game, and it doesn’t hurt that he has the best freshman player in the country in Johnny Manziel. Sumlin is off to the races, and with Texas struggling in awesome fashion, Sumlin has a chance to get a great head start on prowling the state for the top recruits.
Caught in the Middle: James Franklin
I want to believe James Franklin is a good coach, and I truly think Vanderbilt has a good one on their hands. He’s changed the atmosphere with his style and the way he’s building the brand, but he’s going to need better players to change the culture. More blue-chip recruits are looking the Dores’ way, but it’s just going to take time to make Vanderbilt not Vanderbilt.
Scraping the Bottom: Gene Chizik, Derek Dooley, Joker Phillips, Gary Pinkel and John L. Smith
There could be four legitimate coaching changes in the SEC after this season, with Gary Pinkel having the best chance to survive out of the five above. Gene Chizik has shown no progression this season, only regression in a rather remarkable fashion. Auburn sits 1-5 and 0-4 in the SEC. The Tigers will do well to win three. Derek Dooley’s seat gets hotter by the week, and his last loss against Mississippi State put it into overdrive. With Alabama and South Carolina looming, an ‘O for October’ is very likely. That won’t sit well with Tennessee fans and boosters. Joker Phillips may be cursed this season. Sitting at 1-6 and losing two of his better quarterbacks to injury, Phillips could be on his way out. The only other win on the schedule looks like Samford. Gary Pinkel has felt the criticism in Columbia in his first SEC season, and the Tigers have been hampered with injuries. But overall, they are just not SEC ready. I think Pinkel gets more time. John L. Smith is probably SMILING today after his third win of the season against Kentucky. Not too much longer Arkansas fans…