By Cole Frederick/Sports Correspondent
Coach Rankings Part II
7. Ed Orgeron, LSU. Orgeron is 15-6 in just under two seasons in Baton Rouge, but it’s tough to say whether or not he’s actually done a good job. LSU isn’t any closer to competing with Alabama than they were in the last few years under Les Miles, but it’s still a solid program that’s somewhat relevant nationally. It didn’t appear as if Orgeron would last long at LSU after the Tigers were pummeled by Mississippi State early last season, but the wins over Florida and Auburn certainly eased some concerns. Orgeron could be feeling some pressure early if his Tigers lose to Miami and Auburn in the first three weeks of the season.
6. Will Muschamp, South Carolina. Muschamp’s tenure at Florida ended with a whimper after only four seasons, and when he was hired to replace Steve Spurrier at South Carolina, not many expected Coach Boom to have much success. The Gamecocks’ 6-7 campaign in 2016 took people by surprise given how bad they were the previous year, and USC took another step forward with a 9-4 record a season ago. Georgia is the favorite in the SEC East, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see South Carolina contend for the division title this season given how well Muschamp has recruited. The Gamecocks have an over/under of 7, according to BetDSI Sportsbook, and possess the talent to win 9 to 10 games in 2018.
5. Gus Malzahn, Auburn. Malzahn’s fifth season on The Plains was by far his most fascinating. The Tigers won 10 games, won the SEC West Division and defeated each of their two biggest rivals by double digits. But Georgia crushed the Tigers in the SEC Championship Game, and Auburn’s two biggest rivals went on to meet in the national title game while the Tigers lost to Central Florida. Was it a great year? Yes. Was it a disappointing year? Absolutely. Malzahn was seconds away from winning a national title, and he’s managed to beat Nick Saban twice. The good outweighs the bad, but his teams often feel like they never reach their full potential. Regardless, Malzahn earned a seven-year, $49 million-dollar contract extension, and it’s hard to argue against paying him that kind of money. He runs a clean program (by college football standards, at least), has a great staff, recruits well and for the most part has good teams. Auburn is poised to have another solid season in 2018, but how long will that be enough for the Tigers?
4. Kirby Smart, Georgia. Georgia fans who believe that Smart is the second co-ming of Nick Saban eventually might be proven right, and the program in Athens is being constructed in the same mold as Alabama in the early years of the Saban dynasty. Before Smart can be mentioned in the same breath as the nation’s elite coaches, however, he first needs to prove he can sustain this level of success at Georgia. With the way he recruits, all signs point to the Bulldogs being around for the long haul, and they’ll likely win 11 or 12 games in 2018. Could we be in store for a national title game rematch in Atlanta for the SEC title this December?
3. Dan Mullen, Florida. For years, Mullen overachieved at Mississippi State and left many wondering what he could accomplish at a bigger program with more resources. We’ll finally get to see what Mullen can do in the next few years as he takes over in Gainesville. He’ll be expected to rebuild the Gators quickly before Georgia se-parates itself from the rest of the division. Some fans might not agree with Mullen over Smart, but Mullen’s tenure at Mississippi State was incredibly impressive. He never beat Saban but he turned the Bulldogs into a consistent winner during a stretch when the SEC West was unquestionably the best division in college football. Florida might not win the East this year, but it won’t be long before Mullen is in Atlanta.
2. Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M. When Texas A&M poached Fisher from Florida State, it was a major move for both the school and the conference. Only four active coaches have won national titles, and two of them are now in the SEC West with Fisher and Saban (the other two being Urban Meyer and Dabo Swinney). Kevin Sumlin fielded several good teams in College Station, but the program lacked a certain toughness needed to win in the SEC. Fisher, another Saban disciple, turned Florida State into the ACC version of Alabama, and amassing an 83-23 record in eight years. His tenure turned stale in his final season, however, and he needed a change of scenery. Once he establishes his culture at Texas A&M, Fisher could easily turn the Aggies into a national power.
1. Nick Saban, Alabama. Was there ever any doubt who would be in the top position? Saban will reside in this spot until he retires, which at this point might be approximately 20 years from now. Seriously, the guy is a machine. He never slows down. He remains the best recruiter in the sport and his teams are loaded with depth. Saban just won his fifth title at Alabama since 2009 and his sixth overall in 2017, and his team will be the favorites to win it all again in 2018. It doesn’t matter who the quarterback is; Saban last year started a QB who could barely throw in Jalen Hurts. It doesn’t matter who his coordinators are; Alabama cycles through more coordinators than Leo DiCaprio goes through supermodel girlfriends. None of it matters as long as Saban is at the helm. They’re a lock to win 11-plus games every year, and they’ve proven twice they don’t even need to win a conference title to win the national championship. You might be tired of seeing the Crimson Tide dominate the college football landscape, but they aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, and you can thank – or blame – Nick Saban for that.