Now that Shark Week is over, it's time for College Football List Week. Every day this week, Pat Forde will provide a list previewing some element of the 2012 season. Today, Forde's 25 most intriguing coaches.
1. Lane Kiffin, USC
Until last season, his head-coaching career could be summed up thusly: overemployed and annoying. Then he won 10 games and got Matt Barkley to come back for his senior year. Now the most prominent impediment to a seventh consecutive SEC national title is a coach who was ridiculed and reviled during his one season in the league. Yeah, pretty intriguing.
2. John L. Smith, Arkansas
No new coach has been handed as much talent and potential as Smith, who got the job in the spring after Bobby Petrino sent a motorcycle and his career skidding off a country road. Smith could win a national title, could be a bust, could be anything in between. No matter what happens, it won't be boring.
3. Nick Saban, Alabama
He should have a legitimate chance to win his third national title in four seasons. Not even the Bear (cue angels singing on high) did that. It also would elevate Saban's status further in any discussion of the all-time greats.
4. Urban Meyer, Ohio State
Tormented genius has won everywhere, then burned out at Florida post-Tim Tebow. He has gone back to his home state with two national titles and a signed contract with his family to not let football rule his life. Can he live up to the contract and win big? This season won't provide the ultimate answer because Ohio State is banned from the postseason, but we'll start gathering evidence.
5. Bill O'Brien, Penn State
Merely the guy who is replacing Joe Paterno, at a school that has endured a scandal unlike anything in college sports history. O'Brien's job became a lot harder this summer when the NCAA slammed the school with heavy sanctions and several key players transferred at the 11th hour. Can he make this work over the long haul? Does he even want to anymore?
6. Les Miles, LSU
You know it's an interesting season in college football when the grass-eating, syntax-fracturing Mad Hatter ranks no higher than sixth on a list of intriguing coaches. But it's not for a lack of drama – his best player (Tyrann Mathieu) was suspended for the season, creating a second annual August eruption of off-field chaos in Baton Rouge.
7. Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia
Colorful, caffeinated offensive savant returns to the Big 12 (where he was an assistant for nine seasons) and brings an immediate contender with him. He could lead the league in points. And pints. “Holgo” only makes the odd mix of Mountaineers and the prairie all the more fascinating.
8. Chip Kelly, Oregon
He flirted hard with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the offseason, then reversed course and came back to the day-glo powerhouse he has built in Eugene. With an NCAA Committee on Infractions ruling still to come (sometime), Kelly has the Ducks aiming at what could be a third consecutive 12-win season.
9. Mike Leach, Washington State
After two seasons of writing books, doing radio and suing people, The Pirate is back on the sideline. The Palouse is the perfect environment for Leach: remote, untamed and home to a program suitably desperate to win. He will do it his way, and that way should work – unless he blows himself up first.
10. Chris Petersen, Boise State
The last time Petersen had a major rebuilding job, the results were awful: The Broncos went 10-3 in 2007. The record in his other five years at Boise: 63-3. Which is just silly. The best coach this side of Saban should be just fine in his final season in the Mountain West before transitioning to the Big East.
11. David Shaw, Stanford
He inherited Andrew Luck as a senior and didn't screw it up. To the contrary, Shaw started his head-coaching career 9-0 and went 11-2 last season, with alumni-pleasing victories over USC, Cal and Notre Dame. But now the job of replacing Jim Harbaugh gets tougher. Does Shaw have what it takes?
12. Rich Rodriguez, Arizona
A big winner at West Virginia and a big bust at Michigan, it's Act Three time for RichRod. Tucson seems a better fit than Ann Arbor, and after USC there is room for upward mobility from the basement of the Pac-12 South. What lessons did Rodriguez learn from the three-year failure at Michigan, and how will he apply them at Arizona?
13. Brian Kelly, Notre Dame
This is Year Three for Kelly with the Fighting Irish, and that's tended to be make-or-break in South Bend. Parseghian, Devine and Holtz won national titles in Year Three. Davie, Willingham and Weis lost their momentum and/or job in Year Three. In this critical season, Kelly has a schedule full of landmines and a quarterback position full of question marks.
14. Jim Mora, UCLA
Is he the man to shake the Bruins out of their 21st-century malaise? No idea. But the guy with an NFL pedigree has already raised eyebrows with some recruiting decisions (he likes sons of rappers) and a bone-headed comment about how UCLA "doesn't have murders a block from campus" not long after two USC students were killed near its campus. Can't wait until he actually coaches a game.
15. Brady Hoke, Michigan
Wolverines fans are craving a return to elite status, and Hoke's 11-2 debut season went a long way toward satisfying that. But now expectations are up, and we'll see how a career-long battler for respect does from a big dog's vantage point. If Hoke upsets Alabama in the opener, he would move to the right hand of Bo in terms of fan approval rating.
16. Derek Dooley, Tennessee
The Volunteers are a certifiable has-been, unranked since the beginning of 2008 – but don't tell that to the fans, who expect a return to prominence every season. Dooley begins his third season after a thudding end to last season, losing for the first time to Kentucky since 1984 and finishing 5-7. Tennessee needs coaching continuity, but there will be pressure on Dooley if the Vols aren't appreciably better than last year.
17. Bret Bielema, Wisconsin
He has established the top program in the Big Ten, going 32-8 the past three seasons. But it has taken a long time for Bielema to escape the shadow of predecessor and current boss, Barry Alvarez, and establish his own identity for something other than running up the score on overmatched opponents. In a division decimated by probation, the Badgers are a near-lock to make their second consecutive Big Ten title game.
18. Bob Stoops, Oklahoma
"Big Game Bob" has struggled in recent seasons to meet the stratospheric expectations he created – the Sooners have been favored in 32 of their past 34 games, but have lost seven times in that span. Oklahoma is again favored to win the Big 12, and anything less will be a disappointment.
19. Jimbo Fisher, Florida State
He's 2-0 against Florida, and that counts for a lot. But he also has yet to win an ACC championship at a school that once had that on lockdown. Given the returning talent this season and the monster recruiting class, there will be considerable pressure on Fisher to guide the Seminoles to a BCS bowl for the first time in seven seasons.
20. Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M
The architect of a dazzling offense at Houston steps into what has been a graveyard job in recent years. And not only is Sumlin moving up the food chain, so are the Aggies. His first season in College Station coincides with their first season in the SEC. As a welcoming gift, Sumlin gets the only three-game road swing in the league this season (at Auburn, Mississippi State and Alabama, Oct. 27-Nov. 10).
21. Charlie Strong, Louisville
A guy who couldn't get a job for years has the Cardinals poised for a breakthrough season as the Big East favorites. That likely would change the don't-call-us-we'll-call-you dynamic with athletic directors who snubbed him before. Would Strong entertain offers from bigger programs or stay loyal to the guy who gave him his chance, Tom Jurich?
22. Mack Brown, Texas
After a brilliant decade, the past two seasons have seen a significant drop-off. But the Longhorns still have been killing it in recruiting and should have enough talent to again challenge for the Big 12 title. If they don't expect, all the Mack retirement rumors from last season – unfounded or not – to reheat in a hurry.
23. James Franklin, Vanderbilt
It's hard for the coach of the Commodores to make this list, but Franklin is an unusual guy. He has had some striking success on the recruiting trail and has been a bit more chippy and chirpy toward his SEC superiors than the typical Vandy coach. He could be one breakthrough season away from being one of the hottest names in the job market.
24. Charlie Weis, Kansas
After his bravado-bloated bust at Notre Dame, Weis went back to the assistant coaching ranks in both the NFL and college and has reappeared at one of the Big Six conference bottom-feeders. Some of his former Fighting Irish players followed. Will his decided schematic advantage work better this time, at a school with seven winning records in the past 30 seasons?
25. Steve Spurrier, South Carolina
Because you simply cannot have a list of the 25 most intriguing coaches in college football without the HBC.
Just missed the list: Will Muschamp, Jeff Tedford, Mark Dantonio, Randy Edsall, George O'Leary, Larry Fedora, Mike Gundy, Bo Pelini, Skip Holtz, Bob Davie, Frank Solich, Mark Richt, Al Golden.
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