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College Football Coach Rankings 2020: Big 12

My "Coach Rankings 2020" aims to compile a definitive list of the best coaches in the sport in each Power Five league. To do this, I tried to weigh the current trajectory of the coach's program, past success at current school and former schools, as well as recruiting impact. Obviously this list is highly subjective, and there should be plenty of spirited debate about which order these coaches fall. Next up in the series is the Big 12, a league that has seen a lot of coaching turnover over the last few years, but has a group with loads of potential.  

1. Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma
Lincoln Riley

Record at Oklahoma: 36-6
Record Overall: 36-6
Notable Accomplishments: 3 Conference Titles, 3 CFB Playoff Appearances, Broyles Award, Big 12 Coach of the Year (2018)

When Bob Stoops made a stunning decision to retire just months prior to the 2017 season, Lincoln Riley was tasked with the difficult job of replacing the legendary head coach. All he has done since then is win three straight Big 12 Titles, go to the Playoff three straight years, and coach three Heisman Finalists (two of them winners). That's quite an impressive resume already for Riley, and the innovative offensive mind doesn't appear to be slowing down anytime soon. No defense in the league has shown they can stop his offense yet, and Riley continues to be a force on the recruiting trail in bringing in skill position talent. Already he is the top coach in the league, but to reach truly elite status, he has to prove he can win on the grand stage. That would mean winning a Playoff game or two, which has eluded Riley in his three trips. At some point, you'd expect his defense to finally catch up to the record-setting pace the offense is firing at. If it does, it wouldn't shock me at all to see Riley hoist a National Title in short order, and continue to earn accolades along the way.

2. Gary Patterson, TCU
Record at TCU: 172-70
Record Overall: 172-70
Notable Accomplishments: 6 Conference Titles, Home Depot Coach of the Year Award (2014), Big 12 Coach of the Year (2014)

Few coaches in college football mean as much to their respective programs as Gary Patterson at TCU. Taking over at TCU in the early 2000's, he's seen the program move from the Conference USA to the WAC, to the Mountain West, and now the Power Five. During those transitions, Patterson has consistently kept the Horned Frogs as contenders on the national stage. They've finished ranked in the Top 25 13 times under Patterson, and have won a number of major bowl games, including a Rose Bowl in 2010, and a Peach Bowl in 2014. However, Patterson falls below Riley on this list because of the past two years, where TCU has gone 12-13 overall, including missing a bowl in 2019 for the first time since '13. In fact, since the move to the Big 12, TCU has understandably taking somewhat of a step back, finishing below .500 in the league six times. That doesn't diminish the success that Patterson has had previously, but does put some pressure on the 60-year-old as we embark on a new decade in college football.

3. Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State
Record at Oklahoma State: 129-64
Record Overall: 129-64
Notable Accomplishments: One Conference Title, Big 12 Coach of the Year Award (2010), 14 straight bowl appearances

Much like Patterson, Mike Gundy is a coach with a history of longevity and success at his school. Gundy took over for Les Miles when he took the LSU job, and after a 4-7 debut campaign, Oklahoma State has not missed the postseason since. That's a remarkable run anywhere, but particularly for an OSU program that has struggled to gain respect in both the Big Eight and Big 12. Included in that span have been some really amazing highs, most notably the 2010 and 2011 seasons. 2011 will always operate as a major what-if in college football history, as the Cowboys were flawless with the exception of a shocking loss to Iowa State on the road. If not for that loss, Oklahoma State would've gone to the BCS National Championship Game against LSU, a team that would've had a difficult time slowing down Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon. Either way, Gundy deserves a lot of credit for the consistency he has developed in Stillwater, a continued run of success that too often gets ignored by the national media.

4. Matt Campbell, Iowa State
Record at Iowa State: 26-25
Record Overall: 61-40
Notable Accomplishments: 2 MAC West Division Titles, 2 Time Big 12 Coach of the Year (2017, 2018)

One of the fastest rising names in the coaching profession resides in Ames, Iowa. Matt Campbell has gone from a relatively unknown commodity when he took over at Iowa State into a well-respected head coach who continues to be connected to other Power Five jobs. For now, Campbell seems content to keep crafting an ISU program that was stuck in the cellar of the Big 12 when he first took over, but is now consistently at the top of the league standings. With that being said, Campbell is still awaiting his major "breakthrough" that could shoot him further up this list. While ISU has contended for a league title, they have yet to play for a Big 12 Championship Game, a reasonable goal for 2020 and beyond. Even more realistic, is the goal of beating their Cy-Hawk rival, Iowa. Campbell and the Cyclones came incredibly close in 2019, but he is still waiting on his first victory over the in-state rival. Neither of those might happen in 2020, or both might, but no matter what Campbell deserves a ton of credit for how quickly he has transformed this Iowa State program into a legitimate contender.

5. Chris Klieman, Kansas State
Record at Kansas State: 8-5
Record Overall: 80-18
Notable Accomplishments: 4 FCS National Titles, 5 FCS Conference Titles

From this point on, I think you could interchange nearly any head coach on this list with the other, as there isn't a whole lot of clear separation between some of these coaches. But, Chris Klieman earns this spot over others because of the work he's already done. He won four FCS National Titles while coaching North Dakota State, with the only year he didn't win being the 2016 campaign. That's a ludicrous run no matter where you're at, even if it is a FCS power like NDSU. Klieman made the expected jump to FBS, and his first season at Kansas State didn't disappoint. The Wildcats went a very respectable 8-5, and pulled off a major upset of Oklahoma that nearly derailed the Sooners' Playoff hopes. It was a pretty stirring debut season for Klieman, who is tasked with the stiff challenge of replacing a coaching legend in Bill Snyder. Snyder meant so much to this Kansas State program (his name is on the stadium!), but I think Klieman should be able to show that other coaches can win in Manhattan. He might not turn the Wildcats into a consistent conference title favorite, but he is the type of X and O football coach that should develop this program into a perennial postseason team.

6. Tom Herman, Texas
Record at Texas: 25-15
Record Overall: 47-19
Notable Accomplishments: One Conference Title, American Athletic Coach of the Year (2015), Broyles Award

There isn't a long list of coaches who have had as meteoric of a rise in college football this past decade than Tom Herman. Ten years ago, he was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Rice, now he is the head man at the largest institution in the state of Texas, and one of the sport's signature blue bloods. In between those jobs, Herman was the OC at Iowa State and Ohio State before an impressive two-year run at Houston as the head coach. While at Houston, Herman went 22-4, and pulled off a few memorable upsets, including beating Oklahoma and Florida State. So far, his Texas tenure has had his moments, but like Campbell, he still is searching for that "breakthrough". A Sugar Bowl win over Georgia at the end of the 2018-2019 campaign looked like it might provide the groundwork for a return to glory, but UT's disappointing 8-5 mark this past season killed most of the buzz Herman had been building. Despite this, Herman still remains a terrific offensive mind who has proven his worth on the recruiting trail. He has a real ability to connect with these young kids, that is a signature talent in the modern world of college football. It would not be shocking if he is able to have a redemptive 2020 and rise swiftly up this ranking.

7. Neal Brown, West Virginia
Record at West Virginia: 5-7
Record Overall: 40-23
Notable Accomplishments: One Conference Title, Sun Belt Coach of the Year (2017)

Neal Brown is a fabulous football coach, and it felt wrong ranking him so low in any coach ranking. But, the fact of the matter is that he just hasn't done enough at the Power Five level to warrant a ranking much higher than this, as his debut season was a solid, but underwhelming, 5-7 record. Brown does deserve a lot of credit for his previous work as OC at both Texas Tech and Kentucky, but most importantly, his work as head coach at Troy. After a 4-8 debut campaign, Brown led the Trojans to a record of 31-8 over the next three seasons. In that span, they won the conference in 2017, and won their respective division in 2018. They also pulled off a shocking upset of LSU in Baton Rouge, one of the more shocking upsets in recent college football history. It will be fascinating to see whether Brown is able to achieve the same success at West Virginia. This is a school that has had recent success, but is certainly an odd fit in the current Big 12. Perhaps Brown will be able to use that to his benefit, and reach into recruiting areas in the Midwest and Northeast.

8. Les Miles, Kansas
Record at Kansas: 3-9
Record Overall: 145-64
Notable Accomplishments: One National Title, Two Conference Titles, 3 SEC West Division Titles

How do you evaluate Les Miles as a college football coach in the year 2020? He certainly is one of college football's most fascinating and intriguing characters, and it's difficult to overlook his success while at LSU. In Baton Rouge, he won one National Title in 2007, played for one more in 2011, and further developed the "Bayou Bengals" into a national brand. However, the consistent criticism against Miles was that he was unable, or unwilling, to change his ways as the sport of college football evolved. He never modernized his run-heavy, physical offensive style, which made it nearly impossible to contend with the real big boys of the SEC, namely Alabama. That inability to modernize his offense eventually led to his ousting at LSU and after a two-year hiatus, he returned to head coaching with Kansas. Kansas is probably the most difficult job in all of Power Five, so it is going to be fascinating to see what happens with Miles here. To be fair to him, his debut season went about as well as could be expected given the circumstances. The Jayhawks went 3-9 and were the most competitive they've been in years. If Miles is able to get them back to some semblance of respectability, he will deserve a ton of credit, and will go down as a legend in Lawrence. But, given the way the offense looked in 2019 and the reality of the sport, I'd be pretty shocked if his KU run ends up being a success.

9. Matt Wells, Texas Tech
Record at Texas Tech: 4-8
Record Overall: 48-42
Notable Accomplishments: One Mountain West Mountain Division Title, 2-Time MW Coach of the Year (2013, 2018)

Despite being an alum of Utah State, Matt Wells decided to use his success there to take the Power Five leap, taking the Texas Tech job prior to 2019. The Tech job is an interesting one; Mike Leach has proven you can win big there, but it's still a program that often gets lost in the shuffle in the crowded state of Texas. Wells debut campaign didn't impress nor disappoint, as the Red Raiders went 4-8, but lost a number of close games inside the league. Certainly the key for Wells going forward will be finding out a way to finish out the close ones, something that usually comes with more experience and comfortability at the position. It will be also be intriguing to see what type of talent he can bring in to Lubbock over the coming years. This is not going to be a program regularly reeling in five-star recruits every single cycle, but there has been a healthy amount of talent throughout the program in just the past decade. Elevating Tech's recruiting will be crucial for Wells as he tries to distinguish the program from the rest of the conference.

10. Dave Aranda, Baylor
Record at Baylor: 0-0
Record Overall: 0-0
Notable Accomplishments: None

As defensive coordinator at Wisconsin and LSU, Dave Aranda asserted himself as one of the premier defensive minds in collegiate football. He regularly posted elite defensive numbers and was compensated quite handsomely, reeling in 2.5 million dollars annually. But, you always got the feeling Aranda was going to take the jump to head coaching at some point, and Baylor felt he was the right fit once Matt Rhule ditched to the NFL. The good news for Aranda is that Rhule left the program in really good shape, even as the defense graduates a number of important contributors. There's a lot of depth, talent at the skill positions, and a good feeling about the program, a far cry from where it was when Rhule first arrived in Waco. As a defensive guy, I don't think Aranda should be too worried about building a quality defense at Baylor, but the offense has to live up to the rest of this high-powered league. Hiring Larry Fedora as offensive coordinator seems like a great first step for Aranda, as the former UNC head coach is known as an offensive guru, and he's eager to work his way back up the coaching ladder. I really, really like the fit of Aranda with this program, but he'll need some time to adjust to the head coaching role. It's certainly quite an adjustment from a D-Coordinator position, even at a place like LSU. I think Aranda will rise up these ranking soon enough, but he rounds out this conference simply because of his lack of head coaching experience.

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