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Forde-Yard Dash: The Best Power 5 Coaches of 2021

The Dash has opinions on the overperformers—and underperformers—of 2021. Plus, a holiday reading list and a sports watcher’s paradise in Cincinnati.

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (flame-retardant coaching pants sold separately in Ann Arbor): 

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It’s almost award season, and The Dash has opinions on who has done the best coaching jobs in 2021—with the caveat that things can change in the next two weeks. So here are the Power 5 COY selections, and how they might be altered by big games yet to be played.

Big Ten Coach of the Year: Mel Tucker (31), Michigan State. He’s probably the national COY at this point, too. Tucker has the Spartans in both the Big Ten and national title races in his second season, after being a late hire before last season and taking over a program in decline amid a pandemic. If he beats Ohio State Saturday, hand him all the hardware and a fat new contract—and watch out for LSU and others beating down his door to hire him away.

Potential last-minute alteration: Jim Harbaugh, Michigan. If the Spartans don’t beat Ohio State and the Wolverines do, advancing to the Big Ten championship game for the first time, you can probably flip that conference vote. Give it to the guy who had his contract restructured and staff overhauled, then produced while on the hot seat.

Not COY: James Franklin, Penn State; Tom Allen, Indiana. No happiness in Happy Valley. No L.E.O. in Bloomington.

SEC Coach of the Year: Kirby Smart (32), Georgia. This dominant season hasn’t all been as simple as high-powered recruiting resulting in an overwhelming talent advantage—although that is part of it. Georgia is doing it with defense, but also is doing it with the guy who was supposed to be the quarterback (again) and with a receiving corps that has been radically revamped from was expected when preseason camp opened.

Potential last-minute alteration: none. The ballot box is closed here.

Not COY: Ed Orgeron, LSU; Dan Mullen, Florida. From national champion to fired in 19 games. From toast of Gainesville to needing a second half rally to beat Samford.

Big 12 Coach of the Year: Dave Aranda (33), Baylor. Thumping Oklahoma to run the Bears’ record to 8–2 was strong, especially coming off a 2–7 COVID-19 debut season. There were questions about whether Aranda was suited to be more than a great defensive coordinator, and he’s answering them in the affirmative quite emphatically this season.

Potential last-minute alteration: Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy, if the Cowboys win out and crash the playoff. Gundy already has beaten Aranda and Baylor. If he can solve his eternal Oklahoma problem and knock the Sooners out of the Big 12 title game, that would be a huge step forward.

Not COY: Steve Sarkisian, Texas. Can’t lose to Kansas in Austin. Can’t lose five in a row. Can’t have an emotional support monkey sidebar attached to your debut season. It’s been bad.


ACC Coach of the Year: Dave Clawson (34), Wake Forest.

Potential last-minute alteration: If Wake tanks, Pittsburgh’s Pat Narduzzi and North Carolina State’s Dave Doeren are options.

Not COY: Dabo Swinney, Clemson; Mack Brown, North Carolina; Manny Diaz, Miami. While Clemson’s slide has been more shocking, it shouldn’t completely obscure the extremely disappointing seasons for two teams that started the year in the top 15 and now are both 5–5.

Pac-12 Coach of the Year: Mario Cristobal (35), Oregon. He’s got the biggest win of the season—for any team—on his resume. He’s dealt with injuries and even an emergency absence of his offensive coordinator. And he’s three wins away from landing the first CFP bid for the Pac-12 in five years.

Potential last-minute alteration: Jonathan Smith, Oregon State; Kyle Whittingham, Utah. Both still have shots at the Ducks. The Beavers are going bowling for the first time since 2013, and the Utes have come through a tragic year with a chance to lock up the Pac-12 South.

Not COY: Clay Helton, USC; David Shaw, Stanford. Helton is no longer around. Stanford is no longer competitive.


Christmas is coming—not as soon as some of you freaks would like, putting up your trees and outdoor decorations already—and The Dash has gift ideas. The holiday reading list (36) is here:

Across the River: Life, Death and Football in an American City, by Kent Babb. The story of the often tragic challenges life throws at the football players (and all students) at Edna Karr High School in New Orleans is unflinchingly told by Babb, the gifted writer for the Washington Post.

It’s Better To Be Feared, by Seth Wickersham. NFL super insider at ESPN goes deep on the New England Patriots’ rise to become, as the advance material calls it, “the greatest dynasty in football history.” Wickersham has the inside stories and backstories—good and bad—that have gone into the Patriots’ two decades of triumph and controversy.

The Big East: Inside the most entertaining and influential conference in college basketball history, by Dana O’Neil. The ace college hoops writer for The Athletic breathes fresh life into one of the great periods in the sport, from the birth of the league to its explosive growth in the 1980s. She also chronicles its demise, near death and full-circle comeback to prominence.

I Keep Trying to Catch His Eye: A Memoir of Loss, Grief and Love, by Ivan Maisel. This one hurts, whether you know Ivan personally or do not. But it is an achingly articulate and raw telling of what happens when a young man takes his own life, as Ivan’s son Max did in 2015. Nobody should have to write that book, but Ivan did it with courage and honesty that might help others going through something similar.


The Georgia defense (37) is on pace to set an all-time FBS mark for performance against the national scoring average. To date the Bulldogs are allowing 7.6 points per game in a season where the average team is scoring 28.7. That’s a differential of 21.1 points.

The current highest differential belongs to Alabama 2011, which surrendered 8.2 points in a season where the national average was 28.3—a differential of 20.1.

There are harder games to come, of course, against better offenses. But the next opponent is FCS Charleston Southern, and it seems quite possible that the Bulldogs’ points allowed average goes down this week before it may go up later. Stay tuned on this stat watch.


Blake Anderson (38), Utah State. After his wife passed away from cancer in 2019, Anderson soldiered through that season at Arkansas State and the next before seeking a fresh start in Logan. In his first year, the Aggies have quietly put together a great season and could win their first Mountain West Conference championship.


Butch Davis (39), Florida International. On his way to unemployment, Davis nuked the administration this week, including a claim that the football program is underfunded. Then sports journalist Alex Kirshner dug up this handy information showing that FIU had a higher total operating expenditure on football than anyone else in Conference USA in 2019-20. Maybe the losing record is a you problem, Butch. Not a them problem.

Watch NCAA football games online all season long with fuboTV: Start with a 7-day free trial!


When hungry and thirsty in Cincinnati, The Dash recommends a pilgrimage to The Holy Grail (40) downtown. It is a sports watcher’s paradise, with a bazillion TVs and solid food and a fine array of local beer offerings. Get a pint of whatever is on tap from Taft’s Brewing and thank The Dash later.

MORE DASH: Quick Triggers | Big 12 Karma | Status Quo Upheaval

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