CRUSHING IT: The coaches who did the best jobs in the first half of the 2019 college football season
10. Nick Saban, Alabama (6-0)
Best Win: Alabama 47, Texas A&M 28
Worst Game: Alabama 47, South Carolina 23
Midseason Thought: It’s Alabama. It’s supposed to be 6-0 with barely a yawn. Ask Clemson how much fight it takes to play at the highest of levels each week. Ask Georgia how it’s going with all the NFL talent on its roster.
The defense needs to be a whole lot better when the lights finally come on – the schedule hasn’t been that bad so far – but overall, Bama is 6-0 at the midway point, and the machine keeps rolling along. That’s nothing to take for granted.
9. Willie Fritz, Tulane (5-1)
Best Win: Tulane 42, Army 33
Worst Loss: Auburn 24, Tulane 6
Midseason Thought: The fake late against Houston – followed up by the game-winning touchdown pass – were enough to make Fritz a Coach of the Year in the social media world, but it’s more than that. The Green Wave are looking and playing like possible American Athletic Conference champs – or at least in the mix – but the big boys are coming up.
8. Scott Satterfield, Louisville (4-2)
Best Win: Louisville 62, Wake Forest 59
Worst Loss: Florida State 35, Louisville 24
Midseason Thought: Talk about a total program-changer, Louisville got itself a star. Remember how bad the Cardinals were last year and how hopeless the defense was? Now they’re 4-2, they just handed Wake Forest its first loss, and yeah … they might go bowling. It’s been just half a season, but it’s looking like a brilliant hire.
7. Sonny Dykes, SMU (6-0)
Best Win: SMU 41, TCU 38
Worst Game: SMU 37, Arkansas State 30
Midseason Thought: Well isn’t this a slice of something. SMU fans who still have to hear the words death and penalty at least a few times a week have a fun team that’s blowing up on offense for a program that hasn’t played this well in decades. The schedule gets nastier, but Dykes in Year Two has put together a team good enough to be in the mix for the AAC title and a New Year’s Six game.
6. Matt Rhule, Baylor (6-0)
Week 7: Baylor 23, Iowa State 21
Worst Game: Baylor 21, Rice 13
Midseason Thought: Rhule keeps showing why the NFL was so hot for his services. He’s been able to do a total overhaul of the program and its style, winning with defense, limited mistakes, and the mental toughness to come through in tight game after tight game. From 1-11, to 7-6, to an undefeated start – he and his staff have been fantastic this year.
5. Gus Malzahn, Auburn (5-1)
Best Win: Auburn 27, Oregon 21
Worst Loss: Florida 24, Auburn 13
Midseason Thought: There’s a chance that Oregon really is one of the four best teams in college football, and to start the season, Malzahn made the call to start a true freshman quarterback against a team with a guy who’d probably have been the New York Giant starting QB had he left early. Bo Nix wasn’t perfect, but he beat Justin Herbert.
Malzahn might always be one loss away from a hot seat list, but 5-1 after facing Oregon, Texas A&M, Mississippi State, Tulane – yeah, this year Tulane – and Florida on the slate? Ol’ Gus is doing alright.
4. Ryan Day, Ohio State (6-0)
Best Win: Ohio State 34, Michigan State 10
Worst Game: Ohio State 45, Florida Atlantic 21
Midseason Thought: It’s being glossed over because he made it look so easy, but think about just how much pressure was and is on Day. He has more NFL talent on his roster than the rest of the Big Ten combined, and he’s at Ohio State, where it’s unacceptable to win by anything less than a gajillion. His team has been nothing short of perfect so far.
3. Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma (6-0)
Best Win: Oklahoma 34, Texas 27
Worst Game: Oklahoma 45, Kansas 20
Midseason Thought: Remember, in the 2018 Alabama spring game, Jalen Hurts – to be kind – struggled throwing the ball. It was a bad day, and obviously it was an aberration, but don’t just assume it was a given that the Oklahoma offense was going to lose its second straight Heisman-winning, No. 1 overall draft pick quarterback and be just as good. It’s even better so far under Hurts, and the hiring of coordinator Alex Grinch has given the Sooners a real, live defense.
Also remember that 1) Oklahoma lost last year’s Red River Showdown game against Texas, and 2) this is the first time Oklahoma has been 6-0 to start a season since 2011.
2. Ed Orgeron, LSU (6-0)
Best Win: LSU 42, Florida 28
Worst Game: LSU 66, Vanderbilt 38
Midseason Thought: Before last season, Orgeron was No. 1 on just about every hot seat list. LSU was going to lose to Miami, it wasn’t going to handle the tough schedule, he failed before at USC (sort of, not really) and Ole Miss, and now he has a killer team with an unstoppable attack. The D needs to play up to its talent level at some point, but 42 points or more in each of the first six games?! No team in college football has two better wins than at Texas and against Florida.
1. Paul Chryst, Wisconsin (6-0)
Best Win: Wisconsin 35, Michigan 14
Worst Game: Wisconsin 24, Northwestern 15
Midseason Thought: Four shutouts in six games. You have to go back to the 1962 Minnesota Golden Gophers for the last time that happened in the Big Ten.
No. 1 in total defense. No. 1 in time of possession. No. 1 in pass defense. No. 1 in third down conversions. No. 1 in run defense. No. 1 in scoring defense. No. 5 in fewest penalties.
Name a team that has two wins on the resumé like Michigan and Michigan State that has been closer to being perfect in all phases? There wasn’t been so much as a blip in the wipeout paycheck games against Kent State and Central Michigan, and this is college football’s only team that has yet to trail in any game.
The road games are coming – five of the first six were in Camp Randall – but over the first half of the season, no team was better coached.