Sep 23, 2017; Waco, TX, USA; Oklahoma Sooners head coach Lincoln Riley before the game against the Baylor Bears at McLane Stadium. The Sooners defeat the Bears 49-41. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
We are 26 days away from Week 0 of the 2020 college football season in Big 12 country… or at least what we expect the start of the season to be as of the afternoon of August 3. That could certainly change later today following the meeting of the league’s athletic directors, but I can’t write about that until I know what happens.
So, I will be continuing with my Big 12 head coaches power rankings as planned in an attempt to pretend for even a few brief moments that the world of college athletics does not remain in complete turmoil. Call it naive or immature, I don’t care. I’m the writer here so I call the shots.
With that said, I want to make clear that these rankings are based solely on the success a coach has had at his current school. If that were not the case, four-time FCS national champion Chris Klieman would certainly be much higher — as would one-time national champion Les Miles.
With that out of the way, here are my rankings.
10 – Dave Aranda, Baylor
Well, obviously, when you’re ranking coaches off of their success at their current school, then the coach who has never coached a game at said school will be at the bottom of the ranking.
Nobody should expect Aranda to remain at the bottom of these rankings for long, though. He has been one of the best defensive coordinators in the country for nearly a decade during stops at Utah State, Wisconsin and LSU.
I fully expect Aranda to have success in Waco and solidify himself as a coach in the Big 12’s top-tier.
9 – Les Miles, Kansas
It would be hard to call Miles’ first season in Lawrence, which ended with a 3-9 record overall and 1-8 mark in league-play, a smashing success, but it certainly had some high-points for a program that has not had much to celebrate in the last decade.
The Jayhawks won their first road game against a Power 5 opponent in 48 tries when they beat Boston College just six days after losing to FCS Coastal Carolina. Miles’ team also beat Texas Tech on homecoming, the program’s first homecoming win since 2009.
Kansas still has a long way to go to become relevant in even the bowl game discussion, but they took some positive steps in year-one under Miles.
8 – Matt Wells, Texas Tech
Matt Wells’ first season in Lubbock would look considerably different from the outside if three-points-or-fewer losses to Baylor, Kansas, TCU and Kansas State had gone the Red Raiders’ way. That would have given the program its first eight-win season since 2013, which was Kliff Kingsberry’s first year at the helm.
Alas, none of those games went Tech’s way and they ended Wells’ first year 4-8 and 2-7 in the Big 12. This was going to be a weird job for anyone considering the offensive personnel in the program being geared towards the air raid and the defense essentially being in shambles.
It would not really shock me if Tech ended up surprising some people in year-two under Wells after another year spent working on the defense and bringing in more personnel to match his system.
7 – Neal Brown, West Virginia
Despite returning less than 10 total starters and losing one of the best quarterbacks in program history in Will Grier, Neal Brown’s first season in Morgantown nearly ended in a bowl berth. The Mountaineers also battled a ton of injuries during the middle part of the season, which contributed to Iowa State’s 38-17 dismantling of them in Breece Hall’s breakout game.
Still, Brown’s team won two of its last three games and finished the year 5-7 overall, which should breed some sort of hope for West Virginia fans entering 2020. Brown was one of the hottest names on the coaching carousel in 2019 after massive success at Troy that saw him win at least 10 games in three-straight seasons.
West Virginia could be the league’s most improved team in 2020 and Brown could make a big jump in these rankings ahead of 2021.
6 – Chris Klieman, Kansas State
We should have seen this coming. Seriously.
Klieman and his system are too dang similar to Bill Snyder for him to not have immediate success at Kansas State. The Wildcats won eight games in his first season, including a win over Oklahoma, and came seven points short of winning double digits.
The tough-nosed, grind-it-out style that Bill Snyder used for decades to bring Kansas State into college football relevancy is basically the same thing Klieman used to help North Dakota State maintain its dominance of FCS college football. It is unlikely Kansas State will ever dominate in that same way, but it would be stupid to think the Wildcats aren’t going to be competitive and towards the top of the Big 12 most every year.
Dang it, seriously, we should have seen this coming.
5 – Tom Herman, Texas
Herman was one of the most highly sought after coaching candidates after massive success at the University of Houston, but his time at Texas could largely be considered a disappointment in comparison.
In three seasons, Herman has compiled a 25-15 record overall and 17-11 mark in Big 12 play with three bowl wins. The Longhorns have also reached the Big 12 title game one time and won the Sugar Bowl in 2019, but they’ve failed to live up to the talent on their roster, which should on-paper make them one of the leading national title contenders each season.
Herman has been far from a failure during his tenure in Austin, but he has failed to reach the massive expectations that come at a school like Texas.
4 – Matt Campbell, Iowa State
No coach in the league has done more with less in the last three years than Campbell. The two-time Big 12 coach of the year has led the Cyclones to three-straight winning seasons and has elevated the program to heights not reached since the mid-to-late 1970s while doing it with rosters that stack up near the bottom of the league in talent based on 247’s team talent calculator.
This year’s edition of the Cyclones should be Campbell’s most talented team yet, and expectations entering the season for the team match that. Campbell should become the first coach in Iowa State history to lead the program to four-straight bowl berths.
3 – Gary Patterson, TCU
Uh… Well… This is kind of awkward.
I had already written this entire section of the article when one of Patterson’s players took to Twitter on Monday to expose Patterson for using the n-word. Who knows how that will end for the country’s second-longest tenured head coach behind only Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz, but it will certainly be worth monitoring in the coming days.
Regardless of that, Patterson has long-since solidified himself as one of the top coaches in the country, compiling a 172-70 record during 20 seasons in Forth Worth. Nobody knew how Patterson’s success would carry over once the Horned Frogs joined the Big 12 in 2012, but the program has largely maintained its trajectory while going 63-40 in the last eight years.
He has led one of college football’s great ascensions by leading a program to conference titles in three separate conferences and is one of the sport’s most respected defensive minds.
2 – Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State
The program’s all-time leader in wins, Gundy has elevated Oklahoma State football to a level well above its historical status nationally, most notably finishing No. 3 in the AP Poll in 2011. His teams are a threat to win every week and the program has had only one losing season during his tenure — and it came in his first year.
With almost 20 starters returning, including the nation’s best running back and one of the nation’s best receivers, Gundy could have his best team since that 2011 crew in 2020.
1 – Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma
Riley’s first three seasons as the head man in Norman have gone as well as any coach in recent memory. He’s compiled a 36-6 record, won three Big 12 titles, earned three berths in the College Football Playoff, coached two Heisman Trophy winners and a Heisman runner-up.
The only thing missing from Riley’s resume at this point is a national title, and the Sooners will almost certainly be in contention for that every single season that he’s the head coach.
There is no questioning it, Riley is the best coach in the Big 12.