Welcome to Week 0, college football fans! We are so back. Need a little something extra primer before all the action starts? Do you want to start an argument with your annoying friend who thinks that Texas is back, for real, this time? Or do you need a bit more college football content to hold you over until your team starts? Whatever you need, here's your guide to the top ten best coaches in college football for the 2023 season.
10. Josh Heupel – Tennessee
Josh Heupel has built an impressive resume in his five years of head coaching. Moving from a high-profile group of five school in UCF to a high-profile power five school in Tennessee is not for everyone, especially given the disarray in Tennessee after the 2020 season. But in year two, Heupel delivered an 11-2 record, a Sugar Bowl victory, and a team in College Football Playoff conversation for longer than any other Volunteer program has been in the playoff era. The SEC is as stacked as ever, and whoever makes it through will be worthy champions and participants in the playoff. But there's more hope now than ever in Tennessee that they might earn a playoff berth this year.
9. Sonny Dykes – TCU
I wouldn't feel good leaving the leader of last year's Hypnotoad revolution off this list. Sonny Dykes stepped into the TCU job last year and took the Horned Frogs to the national championship game and a magical and stunning 13-2 season. Authoring the best TCU season since 1938 is an achievement. Dykes stepped into a floundering program after a successful stint at SMU and set the world on fire with an electric offense capable of burying teams before they knew what happened and a defense that could step up in the clutch on his way to Coach of the Year honors. The only question now is, can he do it again?
8. Kyle Whittingham – Utah
Aside from TCU's incredible run last year, Kyle Whittingham and Utah have been the biggest story from non-traditional powerhouses the previous few years. In Whittingham's last three full seasons (excluding the shortened 2020 season), he's posted double-digit wins and two-straight PAC-12 Championships and Rose Bowl appearances. Much of the conversation around Utah (and the PAC-12) has been about realignment this offseason, per si.com. However, that's overshadowed Utah's fifth straight appearance in the AP Preseason Top 25, and after beating USC twice last year, Utes fans will be dreaming of an appearance in the playoff.
7. Ryan Day – Ohio State
Ryan Day sure inherited a lot from Urban Meyer's championship-caliber Ohio State program. However, it's still an achievement in college football to do a lot with a lot of talent. And there has been a ton of talent to walk through Day's teams. And his 45-6 record speaks to that. Not to mention that Day's teams have penciled in and around the top five every year. But…Day's Buckeyes haven't finished the job yet. And they've lost to Michigan the last two years as well. Can Day finally get the job done? We'll see, but don't expect a lot of patience from Ohio State fans if Michigan makes it three in a row this year. It should be another battle, as both teams are just about at the top of the AP Preseason Top 25
6. Lincoln Riley – USC
A measuring stick often used for great players is “Can they win in a different environment?” It's an even better tool to judge coaches by, too. Riley has absolutely proved he is up to the task. He followed up Bob Stoops' successful stint, leading the Oklahoma Sooner program with an impressive five-year run. Under Riley, Oklahoma lived at the top of the Big 12 standings. Not to mention Riley's QBs in three straight seasons were Heisman Trophy finalists. Including wins by Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray. Riley picked right up where he left off at USC last season, taking the Trojans to the cusp of an appearance in the College Football Playoff and a Cotton Bowl appearance. Riley has a deserved reputation as a quarterback whisperer and offensive mastermind, and USC should only improve going into his second season in Southern California.
5. Brian Kelly – LSU
Brian Kelly was not at the top of most people's lists to get the LSU job last year, and certainly not the guy fans thought would seamlessly fit in and jump-start a program that had slowed since its incredible high point in 2019. But Kelly did just that. A thrilling win over rivals Alabama and a trip to the SEC Championship Game marked a solid start in Baton Rouge. As mentioned, winning in different environments can be challenging. Especially when they are as different as Notre Dame and LSU are. But the longtime Fighting Irish coach proved that his teams will always need to be reckoned with and is crowding an already stacked top of the SEC.
4. Dabo Swinney – Clemson
Dabo Swinney, college football's Michael Scott. One part football coach, one part middle management type who doesn't want his employees (per Deadspin) to get a raise, and one part entertainer (intentionally and unintentionally). But you can't argue with the results. Swinney took Clemson from a “solid program” to the ACC super team and national powerhouse and split the four-part duel with Alabama in the College Football Playoff on their way to two national titles. During Swinney's tenure, Clemson has been one of the two best teams in the nation, and it's a testament to his success that last season's Sugar Bowl loss was considered a major disappointment by some.
3. Jim Harbaugh – Michigan
To make an omelet, you've got to break some eggs, and to make a college football powerhouse, you've got to commit some NCAA violations. Recent news aside, it's always been hard to argue with Jim Harbaugh's results. It's only ever come into question when ownership or fanbases were impatient. And Michigan faithful have certainly been rewarded these last couple of years for their patience. Harbaugh has built the Michigan program in his image, and it's paid off over the previous two years. Back-to-back wins over Ohio State, appearances in the College Football Playoff, and win totals not seen since the Lloyd Carr era and Charles Woodson's Heisman Trophy year. The next step is, of course, making it to the Championship game, but Harbaugh and co. have won 21 of their last 22 regular season games, so you'd be hard-pressed to bet against them.
2. Kirby Smart – Georgia
Kirby Smart and the Georgia Bulldogs are on top of the College Football world after back-to-back titles in 2021 and 2022. Smart has turned Athens into the hottest spot in the country for recruits, churning out NFL-caliber players on their way to dominating the country. Smart and the Bulldogs boast a 29-1 record across the last two seasons. After his first season, Smart hasn't lost more than two games in the regular season as head coach for Georgia. Few programs can boast that they got the better of a Nick Saban-led Alabama Football team. Even less can say they did it twice in a row. The Kirby Smart-led, Georgia Football program is the only one to do it twice in a row and win back-to-back titles in the Saban era. Smart constantly pushes to take his friend and mentor's top spot, but he's not there yet.
1. Nick Saban – Alabama
Sure, College Football is about as “what have you done for me lately” as it gets, but I'm not moving Nick Saban off the top spot until I see Kirby Smart dominate for the better part of two decades like Saban has. Since 2009, Saban has led Alabama to three BCS Championships and three College Football Playoff Championships. Not to mention three other appearances in the national championship game. Saban has constructed a dream killing machine. Few in the SEC, let alone the country, have escaped for even a moment. The most impressive thing about Saban's teams is that even when they're down or drop a game early in the season, they only get better, more challenging, and harder to take down when it matters most.