Forde-Yard Dash: Coach of the Year Candidates

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Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football, where the Mountain West Conference rides to the #AfterDark fans’ rescue with a pair of 10:30 p.m. EDT kickoffs this Saturday:

MORE DASH: The Undefeateds | Buyer Beware | Big Ten Preview

FOURTH QUARTER: COACH OF THE YEAR LEADERS … AND FOLLOWERS

Consider this the end of Part I of the season, with most of the 77 FBS teams currently playing somewhere between one-third and one-half of the way through their schedules. Part II begins this weekend, with the resumption of the Big Ten and Mountain West. Part III kicks in when the Pac-12 and MAC round out the field in November.

Among the six conferences that have played, this is how The Dash sees the Coach of the Year race in each:

SEC leader: Sam Pittman (31), Arkansas. The least-acclaimed Power 5 hire of the season currently looks like the best. A guy who put in 28 years as a college assistant without ever being a coordinator has found his calling (of the Hogs). The Razorbacks were on a 20-game SEC losing streak when Pittman took over, and now they’re a bad call away from being 3-1. Hard to believe this is the same program that came into 2020 on a nine-game losing streak, the last six of them by double digits.

Arkansas Razorbacks head coach Sam Pittman during the second half against the Ole Miss Rebels at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Arkansa won 33-21.

While Pittman’s work is certainly laudable, it is all the greater an indictment of predecessor Chad Morris. When playing hard results in this dramatic of a difference, that says a lot about what was going on before the new staff arrived. (Morris’s rebound job as offensive coordinator at Auburn isn’t going very well, either. The Tigers are on pace for their most meager total offense numbers of Gus Malzahn’s tenure.)

Not Coach of the Year: LSU’s Ed Orgeron, Malzahn.

ACC: Justin Fuente (32), Virginia Tech. The Hokies are 3-1 despite constant COVID-related roster churn in the opening weeks, with dozens of unavailable players and even a few coaches. Fuente has reinvented his team as a power running outfit, leading the nation among teams that have played more than one game in rushing yards per game (312) and yards per carry (6.93). The guys powering the running game are transfers Khalil Herbert (Kansas) and Raheem Blackshear (Rutgers), plus dual-threat quarterbacks Hendon Hooker and Braxton Burmeister.

Not Coach of the Year: Virginia’s Bronco Mendenhall, Duke’s David Cutcliffe, Louisville’s Scott Satterfield.

Big 12: Chris Klieman (33), Kansas State. Yeah, the opening loss to Arkansas State was bad, although there were a lot of players out for virus-related reasons. But the three victories since then have been strong, highlighted by the second annual upset of Oklahoma. The Wildcats also lost starting quarterback Skyler Thompson during the Texas Tech game and still won that—and the next one against TCU—with freshman Will Howard. Klieman is now 80-12 as a Division I head coach. The guy knows what he’s doing.

Not Coach of the Year: Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley, Texas’ Tom Herman.

AAC: Sonny Dykes (34), SMU. The Mustangs are 5-0, which isn’t a complete shock, but they’ve won the last two after season-ending injuries to their top receiver and No. 2 rusher. If they beat Cincinnati in Dallas Saturday, they have a great chance of claiming the regular-season championship and a spot in the title game.

Not Coach of the Year: UCF’s Josh Heupel, Tulane’s WIllie Fritz.

CUSA: Doc Holliday (35), Marshall. Thundering Herd unbeaten and have a great chance of staying that way. Holliday is in his 11th season at Marshall. He had a big-season run from 2013-15, going 33-8, hit a 3-9 speed bump and has gotten back to consistent winning since then. As of now, this is by far his best defensive team.

Not Coach of the Year: Middle Tennessee’s Rick Stockstill, North Texas’ Seth Littrell.

Sun Belt: Jamey Chadwell (36), Coastal Carolina. The Chanticleers are undefeated and ranked, both of which are rather stunning developments. Chadwell has been a quiet winner at the Division II and FCS levels, and was an astute hire at Coastal. After going 3-9 and 5-7 his first two seasons at an FBS newcomer, he’s got the Chanticleers strutting like the proud and fierce roosters they are.

Not Coach of the Year: Georgia State’s Shawn Elliott, Louisiana-Monroe's Matt Viator.

STAT OF THE WEEK

Virginia (37) needs a new pregame routine. A different breakfast. An alternate route to the stadium. Something. The Cavaliers are the worst first-quarter team in the country.

The Cavaliers (1-3) have been outscored 48-3 in the first quarter this season. They trailed Duke 10-0, Clemson 10-0, North Carolina State 14-0 and Wake Forest 14-3 — kicking a field goal late in the first period against the Demon Deacons to break a streak of 48 straight unanswered points against them. Improved third-down execution would certainly help; Virginia is 6-18 converting third downs in the first quarter thus far. An injury to starting quarterback Brennan Armstrong certainly hasn’t helped the offense the last two games.

COACH WHO EARNED HIS COMP CAR THIS WEEK

Mike Norvell (38), Florida State. His tenure in Tallahassee couldn’t have started any worse, with the Seminoles opening 1-3 and Norvell missing the second game (a blowout loss to rival Miami) after testing positive for COVID-19. Things looked so bleak Saturday with No. 5 North Carolina coming to town that an FSU fan said he would get a tattoo of Norvell’s infamous college picture in cornrows if the ‘Noles somehow won. Well, send the kid to the ink parlor, because FSU jumped to a 31-7 lead and held on for its biggest win since 2016 (at least).

COACH WHO SHOULD RIDE THE BUS TO WORK

Dan Mullen (39), Florida. Lose a game. Say something ridiculous. Have a COVID outbreak on the team that leads to two postponed games. Test positive for COVID yourself. He’s had better weeks.

POINT AFTER

When hungry and thirsty in the greater Palo Alto area, hit the outdoor perfection that is Rosotti’s Alpine Inn (40) in Portola Valley. There is a spacious beer garden with picnic tables, TVs and space heaters when needed. Order the sausage fest (brat, Polish and Louisiana hot link) and whatever is on tap from Russian River Brewing and thank The Dash later. 

MORE DASH: The Undefeateds | Buyer Beware | Big Ten Preview