College football's 25 most intriguing coaches of 2018

Back by popular demand — or force of habit — we present the annual Yahoo Sports college football Most Intriguing lists. First up, the 25 Most Intriguing Coaches:

1. Urban Meyer, Ohio State
Didn’t see this ranking coming as recently as a week ago. But now a coach with three national titles and a previously endless line of credit with his employers is on administrative leave and under serious scrutiny. Meyer’s stellar career already took one bizarre turn with his burnout at Florida, and this could be another. A promising Ohio State season hangs in the balance.

2. Chip Kelly, UCLA
The coach who probably did the most to permanently change the tempo of football is back in the college game after a five-year detour through the NFL and TV analyst ranks. Now that so many other teams play at the breakneck pace Kelly popularized at Oregon, will his philosophy be as effective? We won’t know for a while. The Bruins’ cupboard is pretty bare and it will take some time for Kelly to re-stock it.

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3. Herm Edwards, Arizona State
Absolutely one of the oddest hires in recent college football history. Edwards is 64 years old, hasn’t coached in a decade, hasn’t coached college since 1989, and has never been a college head coach. He will talk a great game, that is a given. Will he coach a great one as well? Athletic director Ray Anderson’s credibility is on the line alongside Edwards’.

4. Jim Harbaugh, Michigan
From savior to hot seat in three seasons, that’s the unexpected arc of Harbaugh’s tenure at his alma mater. Harbaugh has created endless headlines with recruiting stunts, audacious spring practice journeys, brazen satellite camps and odd personal philosophies — most recently declaring chicken a “nervous bird” that should not be eaten. But with a 1-5 record against rivals Ohio State and Michigan State, he hasn’t made enough headlines for winning the games that matter most. He has a roster flush with talent this year, though, creating the potential for a breakthrough season.

While OSU’s Urban Meyer waits to see if he’ll be on the sidelines this season, rival coach Jim Harbaugh’s seat at Michigan is getting a bit warm. (AP)
While OSU’s Urban Meyer waits to see if he’ll be on the sidelines this season, rival coach Jim Harbaugh’s seat at Michigan is getting a bit warm. (AP)

5. Nick Saban, Alabama
After winning his sixth national title in the most dramatic way possible — a walk-off bomb from a backup quarterback — Saban’s claim to being the greatest college coach ever is stronger than ever. But now he has an increasingly lively and contentious quarterback controversy on his hands, plus another staff makeover. Dealing with those issues adds some curiosity to the otherwise predictable Alabama domination.

6. Scott Frost, Nebraska
Orchestrated an undefeated miracle at Central Florida, then turned down Florida for the daunting challenge of coming home to reinvigorate his alma mater. Nebraska hasn’t factored into the national championship picture since 2001 and hasn’t won a conference title since 1999, two droughts Frost will be expected to end. Can he recruit well enough to make Nebraska what it was when he played quarterback for the Cornhuskers 21 years ago?

7. Kirby Smart, Georgia
Saban protégé had him all but beaten in the national championship last January, and couldn’t quite shut the door. But Smart’s second season gave every indication that he is the new rising power in the sport, and the subsequent recruiting onslaught has only strengthened that notion. But Kirby has his own quarterback situation, with starter Jake Fromm being pushed by heralded freshman Justin Fields.

8. Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M
The Aggies went all-in on their quest to win a national title, dangling a whopping $75 million contract to lure Fisher away from Florida State. To get A&M where it aspires to be, all Fisher has to do is take down his former boss, Nick Saban, and the rest of the SEC West. Fisher turned down LSU a year before but decided the time and money were right to leave the school where he won the 2013 national title.

9. Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma
Whiz kid coordinator immediately backed up his promotion to head coach at a blueblood by taking the Sooners to the College Football Playoff. But Heisman Trophy winner and No. 1 NFL pick Baker Mayfield is gone, which will make the second act a bit more challenging. This still looks like the best team in the Big 12, though, so expectations remain high.

10. Willie Taggart, Florida State
He’s come a long way in a hurry — from Western Kentucky to South Florida to Oregon to FSU in a matter of six years. Taggart inherits a program coming off its worst season in more than four decades, but should have the parts for an immediate (if not complete) rebound. No African-American coach has ever taken over a program within five years of it winning a national title, until now.

11. Dan Mullen, Florida
He did the improbable, making Mississippi State annually competitive in the toughest division in America. The job of restoring Florida — a program he helped win two national titles as an assistant coach — should be easier by comparison. Then again, 8-4 or 9-3 won’t be greeted with anywhere near the same level of satisfaction after changing ‘Villes from Stark to Gaines — and the Georgia roadblock in the SEC East is real.

12. Jeff Monken, Army
In an era of unprecedented passing, nobody hates throwing it more than Monken. His 2017 Army team attempted 65 passes in 13 games, fewest in FBS in 12 years and fewest by the program since 1990. Yet the Cadets won 10 games, tied for the most in school history. With an 18-8 record over the past two seasons at one of the hardest jobs in America, would an outmanned program in a power conference be willing to embrace extreme option football and hire Monken?

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13. Paul Chryst, Wisconsin
In terms of public demeanor, there isn’t much intrigue here. But beneath that bland exterior is a homebred Badger who quickly has taken a good program to an elite level, going 34-7 in three seasons. His fourth Wisconsin team looks like his best yet. Is it good enough to break the Big Ten East’s five-year stranglehold on the conference title?

14. Lane Kiffin, Florida Atlantic
His career reboot picked up speed last year with an 11-3 debut season at previously moribund FAU. That proved Kiffin can still dial up plays and acquire playmakers with the best of them, but it wasn’t enough to earn him a ticket back to a Power Five job. One more big season in Boca Raton may change that, if Kiffin can avoid the juvenile antics that have alienated some potential suitors.

Lane Kiffin has Floria Atlantic in position for another successful season. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
Lane Kiffin has Floria Atlantic in position for another successful season. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

15. Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia
Season No. 8 in Morgantown has the feel of make or break for Holgo, who has never seriously threatened to win the Big 12. He has a leading Heisman Trophy candidate in quarterback Will Grier and an excellent receiving corps, which means the Mountaineers could score more than they have in years. If there isn’t significant improvement from last year’s 7-6 record, it could be time for a change.

16. Bryan Harsin, Boise State
He’s done a good job replacing Chris Petersen in Boise, but hasn’t yet threatened the Power Five power structure the way Petersen and Dan Hawkins (remember him?) once did. With a lot of returning talent from an 11-3 team, this year could change that. The Boise Bus could be back in gear in 2018 — and if so, Harsin will be approached about other jobs.

17. Dabo Swinney, Clemson
A career of unbroken progress finally hit a Crimson wall last season. A Swinney-coached team turned in its first truly disappointing performance in a huge game in years, getting throttled by Alabama 24-6 in the College Football Playoff semifinals. But Dabo and Clemson aren’t going anywhere — they’ll be back in the playoff mix again this season and could win it all if Swinney navigates a ticklish quarterback situation.

18. Kevin Sumlin, Arizona
Fired at Texas A&M, Sumlin collected a massive buyout and then landed in a decent spot. He inherits sensational dual-threat quarterback Khalil Tate, and if he can do what he did the last time he inherited a QB in a new job — a guy named Johnny Manziel — then Arizona will be a surprise challenger in the Pac-12 South.

19. Larry Fedora, North Carolina
A smart coach on the hot seat would do everything he could to avoid controversy heading into a crucial season. Then there is Fedora, whose bizarre July philippic on the demise of tackle football leading to the demise of America only increased speculation about the demise of his tenure with the Tar Heels. UNC has gone from 11 wins to eight to three in the last three seasons, which means a rebound is mandatory in 2018.

20. Jeremy Pruitt, Tennessee
The end result of Tennessee’s tortured search for a football coach last winter was the defensive coordinator at Alabama — which was funny, since the fan base viciously turned on old athletic director Dave Hart for his ties to the hated Crimson Tide. But this was a Phil Fulmer hire, after a Phil Fulmer coup, so Pruitt will have some early protection (unless of course Fulmer decides he wants to coach the team himself).

21. Ed Orgeron, LSU
Coach O’s 9-4 debut season didn’t do much to convince a skeptical public that he’s the guy who can beat Nick Saban. Orgeron wasted no time jettisoning offensive coordinator Matt Canada, then basically threw Canada under the bus in July at SEC Media Days. (“A mistake,” Orgeron said of Canada’s hiring.) Athletic director Joe Alleva may quickly come to the same conclusion regarding his head coach.

LSU head coach Ed Orgeron speaks during NCAA college football Southeastern Conference media days at the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta, Monday, July 16, 2018. (AP Photo/John Amis)
LSU head coach Ed Orgeron speaks during NCAA college football Southeastern Conference media days at the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta, Monday, July 16, 2018. (AP Photo/John Amis)

22. Mario Cristobal, Oregon
The only thing more surprising than Cristobal’s firing at Florida International six years ago was his hiring here. He did good work at FIU — but that is Conference USA, and this is the Pac-12. This hire is either a major leap of faith by Oregon administrators or proof that the job isn’t what it once was, when uniform gimmicks and hurry-up offense were on the cutting edge of the sport. Perhaps it’s both those things.

23. Joe Moorhead, Mississippi State
How will a lifelong northeasterner fare in Starkville? Perhaps really well. Moorhead brings his creative offensive mind from Penn State to a team with a lot of returning talent, starting with dual-threat quarterback Nick Fitzgerald. Moorhead’s acclimation to Southern cooking and humidity may take longer than the transition on the field.

24. Josh Heupel, Central Florida
Four years ago, he was fired as offensive coordinator at Oklahoma. Now he’s the first-year head coach of a program coming off an undefeated season. Heupel resurrected his career with big production as the OC at Missouri with quarterback Drew Lock, and now will have a chance to carry that over to UCF star QB McKenzie Milton. Only problem is, there’s nowhere to go but down from 13-0.

25. Brian Kelly, Notre Dame
The longest tenured coach Fighting Irish coach since Lou Holtz enters his ninth season with the usual pressure and anxiety surrounding him. He turned a hot-seat season into an 8-1 start last year, but lopsided November losses changed the tenor of the season. Then prized defensive coordinator Mike Elko unexpectedly bolted for Texas A&M. Season opener against Michigan looms large.

Just missed the list: Tom Herman, Texas; James Franklin, Penn State; Mark Richt, Miami; Kalani Sitake, BYU; Mike Norvell, Memphis; Jason Candle, Toledo; Mike Leach, Washington State; Clay Helton, USC: Jeff Brohm, Purdue; Chad Morris, Arkansas; Chris Petersen, Washington; Mark Dantonio, Michigan State; Steve Addazio, Boston College; Mike Bloomgren, Rice; Blake Anderson, Arkansas State.

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