June 21, 2024


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Staff Picks: Most underrated Power Five college football coaches in CBS Sports rankings entering 2021 season

All the Power Five coaches in college football have been ranked, No. 1 through No. 65. This week, we broke down how each coach placed in their respective conference. There were a lot of voices in the room at CBS Sports and 247Sports when putting together a list of this magnitude, and while there were some uniform beliefs (i.e. Nick Saban at No. 1), such a large crowd meant plenty of disagreements in between. 

So now it’s time to break from the consensus. With our coach rankings in the rearview mirror, our college football staff made their picks for the most underrated coach on the list. As you’ll read below, this was typically a coach that one of us placed higher on our respective rankings than the rest of our colleagues. 

Who was underrated — perhaps criminally — in the minds of our staff writers? Our answers are below. 

Complete Power Five coach rankings: 1-25 | 26-65

Dave Clawson, Wake Forest 

I didn’t have a big problem with Clawson’s ranking among ACC coaches, but I was higher on him nationally than my colleagues. I had the Wake coach at No. 16 in my rankings, but he placed 28th in our aggregate list behind guys like Bryan Harsin (Auburn), Herm Edwards (Arizona State) and Jim Harbaugh (Michigan). Um, excuse me? Before last year, Wake Forest enjoyed four straight winning seasons. And I don’t put that much weight on last year because, well, you understand why. 

On top of winning consistently at one of the ACC’s most difficult jobs, Clawson has done an excellent job of developing talent — particularly, finding avatar wide receivers that he can develop into All-ACC caliber players. The Clawfense usually ranks among the ACC’s better passing offenses, and if nothing else, this is almost always an enjoyable, well-coached team to watch. When you couple in his success at Bowling Green and the FCS level with Fordham and Richmond, how can we not agree that Clawson is a top-20 coach in college football today? — Ben Kercheval

Paul Chryst, Wisconsin

When we filled out our ballots for the Power Five coach rankings earlier this offseason, this was one of the more noticeable spots where I broke from the consensus. Not the most notable — that would be Geoff Collins, who I had about 30 spots ahead of his consensus ranking because I’m a sucker for good branding and a quick turnaround in recruiting — but the aggregate ranking had Chryst at No. 18 while I have him among the top coaches in the game at No. 10. 

Chryst is 56-19 in six seasons at Wisconsin with three division titles and three New Year’s Six appearances, and I think his success is overlooked because there’s an assumption that’s a turnkey operation. Chryst has advantages as a Wisconsin native and former Badgers player that help him, sure, but not enough to be the only reason he’s one of the winningest coaches of the College Football Playoff era. — Chip Patterson

Dave Doeren, NC State

Honestly, I’m not sure how many casual college football fans even know Dave Doeren exists, let alone what he’s done as a coach. Hell, there are probably plenty of fans who consider themselves die-hards unaware of his existence. Doeren’s head-coaching career began at Northern Illinois in 2011, where he went 23-4 over two years and led the Huskies to an Orange Bowl appearance. Yes, that’s right — Dave Doeren led Northern Illinois to the Orange Bowl. Some critics dismissed it a little too easily, saying that Doeren merely took over a program for which Jerry Kill built the foundation. Fine, make that argument if you like, but it’s not difficult to see how Northern Illinois has done since Doeren left it for the NC State job.

At NC State, all Doeren has done is inject life into a program that had become stagnant during the regimes of Chuck Amato and Tom O’Brien. After a 3-9 start in his first season, Doeren’s NC State teams have gone 52-37 overall and 28-30 in the ACC. While those records might not seem great, keep in mind that NC State plays in the same division as Clemson, Florida State and Louisville. And, if we’re honest with ourselves, Doeren’s NC State has been the second-best program within the division in recent years, ahead of Florida State and Louisville. Yet if you were to ask most ACC fans to rank the conference’s best coaches, they might not rank him in the top half of the conference. Hell, we didn’t. — Tom Fornelli

Jimmy Lake, Washington

Lake came in all the way back at No. 51 in our ranking of the 65 Power Five conference (plus Notre Dame) coaches this offseason, but I’m not buying there is a 35-coach gap between he and Oregon’s Mario Cristobal, who came in at No. 16. Sure, Lake is just 3-1 as a head coach. But after eight seasons under Chris Petersen at Boise State and Washington, there is a reason he was immediately anointed Petersen’s successor.

Washington’s defenses were fierce while Lake was the defensive coordinator, and the return of draft-worthy offensive players Cade Otton at tight end and Jaxson Kirkland at offensive tackle suggests there is buy-in to offensive coordinator John Donovan’s system and Lake’s culture. I see Lake following in the mold of fellow Pac-12 North coach David Shaw at Stanford, who has enjoyed a successful tenure after his promotion from a coordinator role.

Another example could be Mark Stoops at Kentucky. Though Stoops was not promoted from within like Shaw or Lake, the program he’s built in a tough division is solid evidence that there is still a place for defensive masterminds as head coaches in today’s offense-centered game. Lake can be a trendier version of Stoops in a job that is far more conducive to winning. That’s why I ranked him 21 spots higher on my ballot than where he ended up in this year’s ranking. — David Cobb

Neal Brown, West Virginia

Take Brown’s 11-11 record in two seasons at West Virginia and throw it out the window. No, in fact, set it on fire and then throw it out the window. The reason Brown got the gig in Morgantown is because of his stellar 35-16 record at Troy, which included three straight double digit-win seasons to close out his career there. 

Jarret Doege was solid last year under center and will return along with eight other starters on offense to build upon the Liberty Bowl win over Army. More importantly, though, is that the defense only gave up 400 or more yards once last season, which has set the tone for what should be a solid season with eight starters returning. Brown is building something big … just give it some time considering the mess that he inherited. — Barrett Sallee