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Forde: College football's 25 Most Intriguing Coaches of 2017


(Yahoo Sports)
Back by popular demand (or force of habit), it’s the College Football Most Intriguing lists. First off, the Most Intriguing Coaches for 2017:
1. Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State. The mullet-haired rattlesnake hunter is all man, and now nearly 50. A decade removed from one of the most memorable rants in college football history, Gundy has improbably become the face of the transitioning Big 12 conference and might have his best team in 13 seasons on the job in Stillwater.
2. Brian Kelly, Notre Dame. At one time Kelly appeared on his way to becoming the next great coach of the Fighting Irish, starting down the national title path walked by Rockne, Leahy, Parseghian, Devine and Holtz. Coming off a 4-8 debacle in year seven, he’s coaching for his job amid major staff change and a personal rebooting. Is 2017 a career rebirth or the end of his run in South Bend?
3. Jim Harbaugh, Michigan. One-man publicity whirlwind has made the Wolverines hyper-relevant very quickly. He also upped the ante on the rest of the sport by taking his team to Rome for spring practice. What will he think of next? Who knows? But one of these days the master plan must include beating Ohio State and finishing better than third in the Big Ten East.
4. Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma. The youngest head coach in FBS suddenly replaced one of the most decorated head coaches in FBS when Bob Stoops shockingly retired in June. The 33-year-old Riley’s first team comes with a Heisman-finalist quarterback, a stellar offensive line, a good defensive nucleus – and the same questions Stoops faced about whether the Sooners can compete with the nation’s elite.
5. Tom Herman, Texas. The Longhorns won the race to hire a guy who is widely considered the college game’s next coaching superstar. Now all Herman has to do is elevate the blueblood program out of a seven-year malaise and get back to the business of Big 12 titles and contention for national titles. No pressure, no expectations, Tom.
6. Lane Kiffin, Florida Atlantic. Shady’s back. After being fired by Al Davis, Pat Haden and Nick Saban – the most recent of those dismissals during last season’s College Football Playoff – Kiffin is now a head coach for the fourth time. This job comes at the level where he probably should have started his career. Has the 42-year-old finally matured enough to handle the big chair?
7. Ed Orgeron, LSU. Plan B for the school that lost the Tom Herman Sweepstakes was to promote its interim to the full-time position. That’s Coach O, whose 22-29 career record doesn’t stack up terribly well with the guy LSU fired (Les Miles was 141-55) or the school’s overall winning percentage (.650). Orgeron sincerely loves LSU and the state, but that will go only so far if he doesn’t win big and win fast.
8. Dabo Swinney, Clemson. Once considered too goofy to truly win big, Swinney last January became a member of the most elite fraternity in college football coaching by winning the national title. He’s one of just four active coaches with a championship ring, and recruiting like a guy who plans to win several more. Can he compete for a title without cornerstone quarterback Deshaun Watson?
9. Mark Dantonio, Michigan State. He was the king of East Lansing for years, culminating in a Big Ten title and CFP playoff berth in 2015. Then it all went to hell. The Spartans were the biggest bust of 2016, plummeting to 3-9 and sent reeling by a succession of off-field issues. That was enough to seriously dent Dantonio’s previously ironclad status, and it lends urgency to a ’17 rebound effort.
10. Jimbo Fisher, Florida State. Rebuffed LSU to stay put in Tallahassee and pursue a second national title – which would tie him with program patriarch Bobby Bowden and others. He might have the team to get him there this season – if quarterback Deondre Francois can have a season somewhat like Jameis Winston did in 2013 (minus the off-field issues).
11. Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M. His athletic director, Scott Woodward, put him squarely on the hot seat in late May, declaring that Sumlin “has to win this year.” And by win, he means more than the eight-victory plateau of the past three seasons. Sumlin’s teams have repeatedly flopped in the second half of the year, a trend he must break to retain his $5 million-a-year job.
12. Jim Mora, UCLA. Another coach who once seemed like he had all the answers and now is surrounded by questions. UCLA tenure started 29-11 but the Bruins have been 12-13 the past two years – including consecutive blowout losses to USC. Injuries have played a big role in that decline, but it becomes a flimsy excuse after a while. Opener against Sumlin will carry added freight in terms of job security.
13. Nick Saban, Alabama. The king of college football had his scepter stolen by Swinney last year in a shocking turn of title-game events – after Saban complicated his own championship pursuit by ousting Kiffin following the CFP semifinals. This year he has the rare luxury of returning experience at QB – but also a rare deficit in experienced defensive studs. Can he rule the SEC and the entire sport once again?
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