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Monday Measure: Making our coach of the year selections for every conference

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We’re entering conference championship week, so it’s time to hand out some hardware.

Here are our choices for Coach of the Year in all of the conferences across college football.

AAC

Nick Bromberg: Luke Fickell, Cincinnati

The Bearcats are the closest an AAC team has ever been to a College Football Playoff berth so this is a no-brainer.

Sam Cooper: Philip Montgomery, Tulsa

Everyone expected Cincinnati to be really good, but nobody expected Tulsa to be undefeated in conference games and playing for the AAC title.

ACC

Nick: Mack Brown, North Carolina

It’s hard to find a more worthy coach than Brown. North Carolina has bounced back under his watch and could end up in a New Year’s Six game.

Sam: Brian Kelly, Notre Dame

This will (probably) be the only year Notre Dame plays in the ACC, and Kelly should have the inside track to win the award with his team undefeated and on the verge of a playoff berth.

Big 12

Nick: Matt Campbell, Iowa State

Iowa State has a chance to win its first Big 12 title. How crazy is that?

Sam: Campbell

It’s been pretty remarkable to watch Campbell build up the Iowa State program, and now he is on the precipice of a Big 12 title.

Big Ten

Nick: Tom Allen, Indiana

This is perhaps the most obvious Power Five selection. Indiana is clearly the second-best team in the Big Ten East and likely the entire conference.

Sam: Allen

It’s Allen. He has raised the level of play significantly in Bloomington and his player development has been very evident.

Indiana coach Tom Allen congratulates players during the second quarter of an NCAA college football game against Rutgers, Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020, in Piscataway, N.J. (AP Photo/Corey Sipkin)
Indiana coach Tom Allen congratulates players during the second quarter of an NCAA college football game against Rutgers, Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020, in Piscataway, N.J. (AP Photo/Corey Sipkin)

C-USA

Nick: Jeff Traylor, UTSA

UTSA lost out to UAB in the West Division but the Roadrunners finished the season 7-4 and will go to the Frisco Bowl in Traylor’s first season.

Sam: Doc Holliday, Marshall

The loss to Rice was a tough look but Marshall has clearly been C-USA’s top team in 2020.

MAC

Nick: Mike Neu, Ball State

The Ball State coach gets the nod here after the Cardinals went 5-1 in the six-game regular season. Ball State hadn’t won more than five games in a normal season since 2013.

Sam: Lance Leipold, Buffalo

Buffalo has been dominant and Leipold has proven his ability to build a program. That’s why you see his name listed as a possible candidate for bigger coaching jobs.

Mountain West

Nick: Brent Brennan, San Jose State

San Jose State hadn’t won six games in a season since 2015 when the Spartans went 6-7. SJSU is 6-0 in 2020 and has a chance to win the Mountain West title on Saturday.

Sam: Brennan

It’s hard to build a program up essentially from scratch, but that’s what Brennan has done at SJSU. The Spartans won a combined three games in his first two years, but are now in the conference title game.

Pac-12

Nick: Karl Dorrell, Colorado

An undefeated Colorado would have been fun but 4-1 is a really good season for a team that hadn’t finished better than 5-7 since 2016.

Sam: Dorrell

Dorrell was hired late after Mel Tucker left for Michigan State and had very little in-person activity with his new team because of the pandemic. The fact that he has CU at 4-1 is really impressive.

SEC

Nick: Nick Saban, Alabama

I have to give the nod to the coach of the first team to go 10-0 in the SEC. While Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz deserves consideration, going undefeated in this weird year is more impressive than a possible 6-4 season.

Sam: Saban

Guys like Jimbo Fisher and Dan Mullen deserve some recognition, but it’s hard to give the award to anybody other than Saban this year. The Crimson Tide have bounced back from a rare two-loss season with vengeance.

Sun Belt

Nick: Jamey Chadwell, Coastal Carolina

This is the most obvious choice of any conference. Chadwell is in the conversation for a Power Five job after Coastal went 11-0 in the regular season.

Sam: Chadwell

Chadwell is a no-brainer pick here, especially considering Coastal Carolina is in just its fourth season as an FBS program.

Coastal Carolina head coach Jamey Chadwell waits to lead his team onto the field before an NCAA football game against Georgia, Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020, in Atlanta. Coastal Carolina won 51-0. (AP Photo/John Amis)
Coastal Carolina head coach Jamey Chadwell waits to lead his team onto the field before an NCAA football game against Georgia, Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020, in Atlanta. Coastal Carolina won 51-0. (AP Photo/John Amis)

Auburn finally moves on from Gus Malzahn

It finally happened. Auburn fired Gus Malzahn.

Malzahn and the hot seat have gone hand in hand for years. And the heat was turned up especially high in 2018 and 2019.

This season, with the backdrop of a pandemic, Auburn sort of faded into the background. The Tigers closed out the regular season on Saturday at 6-4 with a rather uninspiring 24-10 win over Mississippi State. There have been plenty of those this season.

Auburn hasn’t had a single win this year against a team with a winning record. The three times the Tigers played a winning team, they lost by an average margin of 20.3 points. There was also a loss to lowly South Carolina along the way.

Though there’s a bowl game ahead, the MSU game marked the end of another SEC season on The Plains that was just OK. It wasn’t great. A few might call it good. But it’s a far cry from the lofty expectations the school has for its football program.

And so Auburn athletic director Allen Greene — and the big-money boosters behind the scenes — decided it was time to make the move and fired Malzahn on Sunday. It’s a move that will reportedly cost Auburn in the neighborhood of $30 million between salaries owed to Malzahn and his assistants.

It’s not hard to understand why Auburn made the move. Whether it proves to be the right move is anybody’s guess.

Sure, Malzahn won a lot of games at Auburn. He reached a national title game. He won two SEC West titles. He beat Alabama three times. But when you’re treading water in the middle of the highly competitive SEC for too long, people start to get antsy and clamor for change. Frankly, it’s surprising it took this long.

Malzahn won an average 8.5 games per season over his eight-year run. The Tigers were consistently competitive, but there wasn’t much evidence that Malzahn had another run at a national title — or even an SEC West title — in him any time soon. The uptempo offense that made him so attractive as a coaching candidate back in 2013 had lost its luster with quarterback Bo Nix, a heralded five-star recruit, looking no better than an average SEC starter through two seasons.

A coaching change brings a jolt of energy. And it brings hope. Whether the hopes that come with the new guy are realistic is another question. This is Auburn we’re talking about. It’s a pressure-cooker job.

If a high-profile name gets the gig, he will be backed by a swarm of well-wishers and optimism. But as soon as things start to go sideways on the field, the heat will rise and the cycle will restart itself.

- Sam Cooper

Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn watches during the second half of an NCAA college football game against LSU on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020, in Auburn, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn watches during the second half of an NCAA college football game against LSU on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020, in Auburn, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

A very strange bowl season is ahead

Welcome to conference championship week … and the start of bowl season. The weirdness of the 2020 college football season continues on Saturday when we’ll have seven conference championship games and the first bowl game of the season on the same day.

Saturday’s Frisco Bowl kicks off at 3:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2. It features SMU and UTSA. And will likely be over before the SEC championship game kicks off and before the ACC championship game concludes.

Yes, we’ll have our first bowl game of the season over with before we know who the SEC champion is.

The Frisco Bowl’s placement on the schedule underlines how weird this 2020 bowl season is going to be. The pandemic caused the NCAA to waive win requirements for bowl games so you’re going to see a lot of teams below .500 in bowl games. Especially as teams like Stanford, Virginia, Pitt and Boston College decline bowl opportunities to give their players the opportunity to spend the Christmas season with their families. There are going to be some really bad teams in bowl games this season.

We typically find out every bowl game matchup on the Sunday after the conference championship games. That’s obviously not going to happen this year.

The Myrtle Beach Bowl is on Dec. 21 and then there are two bowl games each on Dec. 22 and Dec. 23. Throw in bowl games on Christmas Eve (the New Mexico Bowl) and Christmas Day (the Camellia Bowl) and teams are going to need to know long before Dec. 20 where they’re playing their postseason games.

It’s also an open question if every bowl game on the schedule actually gets played. Nine games have been canceled so far because of the pandemic and we can only hope that every team selected for a game isn’t unable to play because of COVID-19. Hopefully we’ll get a full bowl season. But if it’s anything like the regular season it’s going to include some cancellations.

- Nick Bromberg

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