2024 college football coach rankings: Deion Sanders falls slightly among Power

68 DeShaun Foster: Somebody has to be ranked last, and as is usually the case, it’s a newcomer who has yet to coach a game. Foster is in a unique spot. He was the choice to replace Chip Kelly at UCLA, and not only is he stepping into the head coaching spot for the first time (he’s been an assistant and former player in Westwood for years), but he has to do so as UCLA makes the move to the Big Ten. 2023 rank: n/a 67 Fran Brown: This hire is one that I look forward to following. Brown was a good coach and incredible recruiter for Georgia, but will his recruiting acumen translate to upstate New York? It’s a very different sell, but Brown is off to a strong start. Now we await what kind of results the Orange can get on the field. 2023 rank: n/a 66 Jeff Lebby: A somewhat controversial hire given Lebby’s previous ties to Art Briles, but it’s also a return to what worked at Mississippi State. The school was in an impossible situation following the unexpected death of Mike Leach, and Zach Arnett brought a completely different approach. With Lebby, State is hoping to get back to the exciting offensive approach that had success under Leach and Dan Mullen. 2023 rank: n/a 65 Ryan Walters: No coach should be judged by their first year at a program, particularly when it’s their first season as a head coach. That said, fair or not, the first season often sets the tone, and Walters could have gotten off to a better start at Purdue. The Boilermakers went 4-8 last season and have seen key contributors leave via the portal. The 2024 season will be important. 2023 rank: 64 (-1) 64 Kenny Dillingham: Dillingham took over an Arizona State program that needed to be stripped down to the studs, and last season was just the first step in that process. Now the rebuild heads into its second year but that process continues in a new conference. Expectations are low in 2024, but given the plan and Dillingham’s connection to the school, he should have plenty of runway left with which to work. 2023 rank: 65 (+1) 63 Clark Lea: The 2022 season felt like a big step forward for the Commodores as they improved from 2-10 to 5-7 in Lea’s second season, including two SEC wins. Unfortunately, last year saw the ‘Dores drop to 2-10 again while failing to win an SEC game. Few jobs in the Power Four are more difficult than Vandy, and things don’t get easier with the addition of Oklahoma and Texas to the league. 2023 rank: 56 (-7) 62 Tony Elliott: It feels like a make-or-break season for Elliott at Virginia. After a 3-7 start in 2022, the Hoos went 3-9 last season and have gone 3-12 in ACC play under Elliott. His predecessor, Bronco Mendenhall, won at least four ACC games in each of his final four seasons with the program. If Elliott doesn’t win four this year, you wonder if we’ll still be ranking him next May. 2023 rank: 66 (+4) 61 Deion Sanders: No coach has ever generated as much attention with so few noticeable results. Coach Prime came out the gates hot last season, winning his first three games and pulling off upsets of Nebraska and TCU, but the hype cooled off quickly. Both the coaching staff and roster have been overhauled, and we’ll soon find out if the second go-round of this grand experiment finds more success. If not, I don’t know that there will be a third year. 2023 rank: 55 (-6) 60 Troy Taylor: Here’s some hope for DeShaun Foster. Taylor was our lowest-ranked coach last year, and he climbs nine spots after going 3-9 with the Cardinal last season. I figure the double-OT win over Colorado was worth at least five spots on the ballots of some of our voters. Can Taylor and the Cardinal improve in their first season in the ACC? I don’t know, but they’ll rack up airline miles either way. 2023 rank: 69 (+9) 59 Scott Satterfield: How does one follow one of the most successful coaches in program history? Well, hopefully, better than the 3-9 mark Satterfield’s Bearcats posted last season, but it was a tricky spot. Not only was Satterfield replacing Luke Fickell, but Cincinnati took a step up in weight class by joining the Big 12. Perhaps they’ll find more success in the new version of the Big 12 this season. 2023 rank: 54 (-5) 58 Sam Pittman: While Pittman is a personal favorite of many of our voters as a human being, he’s heading in the wrong direction in these rankings. Pittman drops 16 spots after going 4-8 last season and 1-7 in the SEC. Only one other coach fell further in our rankings this season, and Pittman enters 2024 on one of the hottest seats in the SEC. 2023 rank: 42 (-16) 57 Justin Wilcox: I find Wilcox to be one of the more underrated coaches in the country, and our final rankings confirm the feeling for me yet again. Wilcox has done a solid job at a program where it is challenging to win consistently, and the Golden Bears are coming off a bowl appearance and went 4-5 in a strong Pac-12 last year. It won’t get any easier in 2024 as the Bears switch coastlines. 2023 rank: 58 (+1) 56 Brent Brennan: The 2024 season will be Brennan’s first at a power-conference school, but he starts higher thanks to his success at San Jose State. Brennan won two Mountain West titles in his seven seasons with the Spartans, including last year. Now he steps into a good spot with one of the best QB-WR duos in the new-look Big 12. 2023 rank: n/ a 55 Dave Aranda: What is the best way to ensure you plummet in our rankings? Set incredibly high expectations with early success and then fail to meet them. Baylor went 12-2 with a Sugar Bowl win in 2021, and Aranda saw his name mentioned for high-profile jobs like USC. The Bears are 9-16 since, including a 3-9 mark last season. As a result, Aranda falls further than any other coach in the rankings this year and is firmly on the hot seat in Waco. 2023 rank: 28 (-27) 54 Brent Key: What is the best way to climb in our rankings? Exceed expectations. That’s exactly what Key did in his first full season at Georgia Tech. He went 4-4 as the interim in 2022 and followed it up with a 7-6 mark last year. Key is now 9-6 in ACC games with the Yellow Jackets, giving off the impression that he could become a program institution.   2023 rank: 63 (+9) 53 David Braun: Where did that come from? If you don’t remember, Braun was named interim coach at Northwestern shortly before the season started primarily because he was new to the staff and had no connection to any of the hazing accusations that cost Pat Fitzgerald his job. Then, Braun led the Wildcats to an 8-5 mark, far exceeding anybody’s reasonable expectations. 2023 rank: n/a 52 Sherrone Moore: We don’t typically see first-year coaches start this high in the rankings, but Moore isn’t your typical first-year coach. He served four games as head coach last season thanks to Jim Harbaugh’s various transgressions and won them all, including victories against Penn State and Ohio State. Plenty of coaches are ranked ahead of him without wins that impressive, but it’ll be interesting to see how Moore performs as captain of a ship coming off a national title. 2023 rank: n/a 51 Bill O’Brien: BOB is back! This is one of the more interesting hires of the cycle. Alabama had success with O’Brien as offensive coordinator, though Crimson Tide fans weren’t always fond of him. Now, after a year back in the NFL, O’Brien gets a crack at a college head coaching job for the first time since 2013 at Penn State. O’Brien is familiar with the area, but BC was always a difficult job that isn’t getting easier in the current college sports landscape. 2023 rank: n/a 50 Brent Pry: One of this season’s biggest climbers, and it’s easy to see why. After a sluggish start in Blacksburg, the Hokies finished the 2023 season strong and are viewed by some as a dark horse in the ACC this season. I don’t know how much of an improvement we’ll realistically see on last year’s 7-6 mark, but Pry already feels like a good fit at Tech. 2023 rank: 67 (+17) 49 Kalani Sitake: BYU always played a difficult schedule as an independent program. Last year was a good reminder, though, that it’s one thing to play Power Five programs occasionally but another to do it every week. The Cougars had their first losing season since 2017, finishing 5-7 and winning only two conference games. Not suprisingly, Sitake’s standing took a hit in these rankings. 2023 rank: 41 (-8) 48 Manny Diaz: This marks a return to the rankings for the first time since 2021 when Diaz was at Miami. It didn’t work out well for him in Coral Gables (though, who has it turned out well for there lately?), but after two seasons as Penn State’s defensive coordinator, Diaz is getting another crack at Duke. It’s not the easiest job in the country, but Mike Elko left him a solid foundation, which could help Diaz get the Blue Devils up and running quickly. 2023 rank: n/a 47 Billy Napier: The head man in Gainesville enters 2024 on a scorching hot seat, but his standing in these rankings didn’t suffer too badly following a 5-7 season. The Gators haven’t finished higher than fourth in the SEC East in either of Napier’s two seasons, and he’s only 6-10 overall in conference play. There’s a good chance he won’t get a fourth season without serious improvement this year, but if you look at Florida’s schedule, it’s hard to see from where that improvement will come. 2023 rank: 43 (-4) 46 Shane Beamer: After leading the Gamecocks to bowl games in his first two seasons, Beamer’s team took a step back last year. South Carolina finished 5-7, and their three SEC wins came against teams that went a combined 4-20 in conference play. On the flip side, the Gamecocks were competitive in nearly every game they played, so there’s a sense they’re not far away from a bounce-back season. 2023 rank: 40 (-6) 45 Rhett Lashlee: Lashlee is coming off a conference title after SMU went 11-3 and undefeated in league play last year. Of course, the Mustangs were AAC members last season and will debut in the ACC in 2024. There’s no shortage of people willing to disparage the ACC (including plenty in the CFP selection committee!), but it’s still a significant step up in class compared to last year’s American. Can the Mustangs get out the gate quickly? 2023 rank: n/a 44 Joey McGuire: How will the new Big 12 affect the way people view McGuire? Through two seasons, McGuire’s Tech teams have gone 15-11 overall and 10-8 in conference. That’s good! You see results like that and understand why folks in Lubbock are so high on their head coach. But, now that Oklahoma and Texas are out of the way, will expectations change? McGuire certainly isn’t the only Big 12 coach we can ask that about, but with the state of Texas being such a focal point of the league and Tech being one of the dwindling number of Texas schools remaining, the pressure is different. 2023 rank: 46 (+2) 43 Curt Cignetti: Only one coach new to the Power Four starts ranked higher than Cignetti, but we’ll have more on him later. The 2024 season will be Cignetti’s first at this level, but he’s had plenty of experience and success at stops along the way. Between his time at IUP, Elon and James Madison, the 62-year-old Cignetti is 119-35 in his career with four conference titles. He had James Madison appear in the AP Top 25 in each of the last two seasons (the program’s first two seasons at the FBS level), and Indiana hopes his successful approach to building a program brings consistency to its program. 2023 rank: n/a 42 Neal Brown: At this time last year, I was fairly certain Neal Brown wouldn’t survive the upcoming season. The Mountaineers were coming off a 5-7 record in his fourth season, and the natives were growing restless. Brown responded with a 9-4 season that saw the ‘Eers go 6-3 in the Big 12, his first season with a winning record in conference play. As a result, the vibes are much higher in Morgantown heading into 2024, as is Brown’s ranking here as he climbed 17 spots. Only six coaches had a bigger jump this year. 2023 rank: 59 (+17) 41 Mike Locksley: It’s an interesting season for Locksley and the Terrapins. He climbs eight spots in the rankings this season after a second straight 8-5 campaign, but while the Terps have won three straight bowls, they’re yet to finish with a winning record in Big Ten play. Perhaps getting out of a division with Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State will help, but the Terps must also replace Taulia Tagovailoa at QB. It’s not often the sixth season at a school feels like a fresh start, but you get that sense in College Park. 2023 rank: 49 (+8) 40 Greg Schiano: Another year ranking coaches, another year where I feel like Schiano is underrated. To the credit of our voters, Schiano did climb 10 spots following a 7-6 season — Rutgers’ first winning campaign since 2014, its first in the Big Ten. Rutgers has never been an easy job, and it only became more difficult when it joined the Big Ten at a financial deficit to the rest of the league in one of the most difficult divisions in the country. But Schiano finds a way to build this program up, and the Knights enter the season as a wild card in the conference. 2023 rank: 50 (+10) 39 P.J. Fleck: We’ve got a run on Big Ten coaches here, but while the previous three were all climbers, Fleck went the opposite direction. Removing the COVID season of 2020, the Gophers went 29-10 from 2019-2022 but fell to 6-7 last season and posted their first losing Big Ten record in a full season since Fleck’s second year in 2018. I’m not sure that warrants as steep a drop in the rankings as Fleck took, but there are a lot of dramatic changes this year with all the shifting across the Power Four level. 2023 rank: 24 (-15) 38 Pat Narduzzi: The Pitt coach has been an interesting case in these rankings. I’m curious if his gruff persona affects how people view him, which causes him to miss out on some of the credit he deserves, considering what he’s accomplished with the Panthers. He’s won an ACC title and played for another, which is more than plenty of other ACC coaches ranked ahead of him can say. That said, his teams can also be a tough watch at times! That was the case last season when the Panthers finished 3-9 after going 20-7 over the previous two seasons. It was Narduzzi’s worst season at Pitt, and his stock took a hit amongst our pollsters. 2023 rank: 29 (-9) 37 Mack Brown: When Brown returned to North Carolina ahead of the 2019 season, he was a top-10 coach due to having won a national title at Texas. His stock has dropped every season since, and he tumbled all the way out of the top 25 this year. Brown is 38-27 in his second stint with the Tar Heels, which isn’t terrible, but when you look at the talent the Heels have had at QB in that time and how open the Coastal had been while it existed, you’re left with the feeling the results should’ve been better. 2023 rank: 22 (-15) 36 Bret Bielema: The Illinois coach made a bug jump last year after the Illini went 8-5, finishing with their best record since the Rose Bowl season of 2007. Bielema falls this season after the Illini took a step backward, finishing 5-7 last year. Things have certainly improved in the program — there are a lot more Illini names being heard in the NFL Draft than there had been for a long time — but Bielema is 18-19 overall and 12-15 in the Big Ten at Illinois. It’s a significant improvement on where the program had been, but the hope is for more seasons that resemble 2022 than 2023.  2023 rank: 21 (-15) 35 Mario Cristobal: One of the most polarizing coaches in these rankings every year. Some of our voters consider Cristobal a sure-fire top-20-to-top-15 coach due to his ability to land talent. Then there are others who think getting the talent is great but you have to do something with it. Cristobal has been at Miami for two seasons and is 12-13 with a 6-10 mark in the ACC. Last season was a step forward — the ‘Canes got back to a bowl game — but they left a win or two out on the field. That affects Cristobal’s reputation amongst our voters. 2023 rank: 39 (+4) 34 Brent Venables: The Oklahoma coach took heat after a 6-7 record in his first season, but the change in approach and culture for the program wasn’t something that would take immediately. We began to see the positive effects last year as the Sooners improved to 10-3 and went 7-2 in the Big 12. Now we wait to see how the Sooners adapt to life in the SEC where the schedule gets tougher but expectations won’t lower. I don’t know how it’ll go in Year 1, but I do think this program is better equipped along the lines of scrimmage to deal with it than they were before Venables’ arrival. 2023 rank: 52 (+18) 33 Hugh Freeze: The Auburn coach was ranked 26th last season upon his return to the SEC, but it looks like our voters weren’t overly impressed with the Tigers’ 6-7 season as he drops seven spots this year. I wouldn’t worry about it too much if I’m an Auburn fan, though, because Freeze’s track record suggests there will be improvement. His team’s win total has improved in his second season at every stop. 2023 rank: 26 (-7) 32 Mike Elko: A step up in job and our rankings for Elko. It’s easy to figure out why. People will notice any time you win 16 games over two seasons at Duke and go 9-7 in conference play — all while missing your starting QB for a chunk of a season. The ones in College Station certainly did as Elko has been tabbed to replace Jimbo Fisher. The good news is Elko is familiar with life as an Aggie thanks to four seasons as a defensive coordinator with the program, but the pressure is a bit different when you’re the head coach. 2023 rank: 44 (+12) 31 Jedd Fisch: The new Washington coach took a huge leap in the rankings this year, though it’s not the biggest climb in our poll (in fact, it’s only tied for second). Considering Arizona improved from 1-11 in Fisch’s first season to 5-7 in 2022, it wasn’t out of line to expect further improvement last year, but I don’t think anybody saw a 10-3 campaign coming. Fisch cashed in on the success with the Wildcats with a chance to take over a Washington program that played for a national title last season. It’s a bit of a rebuild situation, but so was what Fisch inherited in Tucson. 2023 rank: 61 (+30) 30 Dave Clawson: This one is surprising. Clawson has long been one of the most respected coaches amongst our panel, routinely finishing high while getting the absolute most out of Wake Forest. I figured he would drop following a 4-8 season, but this feels too harsh for a coach who finished with a losing recordĀ  — outside the COVID season — for the first time since 2015. That said, Wake Forest is the kind of small, private school likely to suffer more than others in today’s college football landscape, so it’ll be interesting to see if Clawson can claw his way back to the top 25. 2023 rank: 15 (-15) 29 Matt Rhule: In his first season at Temple, Matt Rhule went 2-10. His first year at Baylor saw the team go 1-11. By those metrics, a 5-7 record at Nebraska in Year 1 is impressive, though the situation in Lincoln wasn’t nearly as rough as the first two jobs he inherited. What Nebraska fans are most excited about is that Rhule saw a big jump in wins in his second season at both schools, and the hope is he’ll do the same at Nebraska. If he does, you can be sure he’ll be ranked a lot higher than this next spring. 2023 rank: 27 (-2) 28 Gus Malzahn: Like a Waffle House menu, when it comes to Malzahn, you already know what’s on it and what you’ll get before you ever walk in the door. What was different last season was that after going 18-9 in his first two seasons at UCF, the Knights moved to the Big 12. All things considered, a 6-7 record in their first season in the Power Four was a respectable finish. The 3-6 record in conference play isn’t ideal, but it was a better mark than any of the other newcomers posted. 2023 rank: 34 (+6) 27 Jonathan Smith: I would argue that our annual coach rankings were ahead of the curve on Smith; he’s done well here on an annual basis. Now that Smith has landed a Big Ten job at Michigan State, his profile will likely rise further. Considering the total roster overhaul that’s taken place in East Lansing this offseason, I don’t know how expectations should be set this season, but Smith’s track record suggests Sparty will be happy with its decision in the long run. 2023 rank: 32 (+5) 26 Willie Fritz: Making his debut in our Power Four rankings, Fritz is ranked higher than any other newcomer and one spot outside the top 25. It’s a rarity to see a coach with no power conference experience start this highly, but it’s no surprise that Fritz would be the one to do it. The man is a serial winner who has done it at multiple levels. Tulane went 23-4 the last two seasons and beat USC in the Cotton Bowl two years ago. The Big 12 is Fritz’s latest challenge, and his history suggests it’ll be a successful one. 2023 rank: n/a

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