Ranking the top 25 Power Five college football coaches entering the 2017 season

Who is the best coach in the Power Five conferences?

It was a simple question with a rather easy answer for us here at CBS Sports, but what began as a light debate turned into a rather heavy one once someone finally asked, "How would you rank all the Power Five coaches?"

So that's what we did.

We treated it just like we would a top 25 poll with five voters turning in separate ballots including all 65 coaches (the 64 in Power Five conferences plus Brian Kelly of Notre Dame). Those votes were compiled into one final poll.

Once the question was posed to our five voters, the new question became, "What makes one coach better than the other?" Well, there were no set guidelines for any of us to follow. Whether you wanted to rank coaches based on what they've accomplished already, what you think they could accomplish, or by height, it was your call.

Each of our five voters (Dennis Dodd, Ben Kercheval, Chip Patterson, Barton Simmons and I, Tom Fornelli) were free to rank them based on whatever criteria he felt to be most important.

While I can't speak for my fellow voters, I know that when it came to putting together my ballot, I went with a blend of the coach's accomplishments and just who I would want coaching my team if I were an athletic director looking to hire somebody. Also, I tended to keep coaches entering their first year as head coaches at the bottom of my rankings. Meanwhile, coaches like P.J. Fleck and Willie Taggart -- coaches who are new to the Power Five but not new to being in charge -- got a bit more credit. Based on our final results, this seemed to be a theme with all five ballots.

If you missed the coaches we had ranked from No. 65 to No. 26, you can read about them here.

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Graphic illustration by Michael Meredith
Top 25 Power Five coaches
25
Mike Leach (Last season -- 30): I'll admit I was a bit skeptical about Leach at Washington State after his first three seasons, but he's gone 17-9 the last two years, including a 13-5 record in conference.
24
Paul Johnson (37): When you're running an option offense in a Power Five conference, there's going to be variance. We saw that with Georgia Tech's 3-9 record in 2015, but the Jackets bounced back to go 9-4 last season. Johnson's reputation in these rankings did as well.
23
Jim McElwain (27): Here's the thing about McElwain's first two seasons in Gainesville. You don't feel like the Gators have really been firing on all cylinders to this point under Mac, yet they've won two division titles. So what's going to happen if it all comes together?
22
Brian Kelly (12): Even if Kelly had only had a couple of great seasons at Notre Dame, he hadn't had the horrible season that had haunted his predecessors heading into the 2016 season. And then he had it. A 4-8 mark leaves the future somewhat in doubt, and it also causes him to drop 10 spots in our rankings.
21
Dan Mullen (31): When it comes to Mullen, I know I went into last season wanting to see what would happen without Dak Prescott playing quarterback for him. The fact the Bulldogs didn't completely collapse — even if 5-7 isn't exactly good — raised my opinion of him. It appears I was not alone, as he climbs 10 spots.
20
Kirk Ferentz (19): The very face of boring, monotonous success. Sure, Iowa may not be the most exciting team, and it may not be a great team, but it's never a bad team under Ferentz. I think we take that for granted sometimes.
19
Gus Malzahn (13): Personally, I'm a bit surprised to see Malzahn ranked this high. He won an SEC title in his first season, and hasn't won more than eight games in a season during any of the following three. He's also gone only 11-13 in SEC play the last three years.
18
James Franklin (41): If not for Mike MacIntyre's meteoric rise in this year's rankings, Franklin would have made the largest leap. And it's not difficult to see why. After a couple of very mediocre seasons at Penn State, the Nittany Lions went 11-3 under Franklin last year, went to the Rose Bowl, and had a legitimate case for a playoff berth.
17
David Cutcliffe (15): If you judge Cutcliffe solely on his record at Duke (he's 52-61 in nine seasons), you'd really be missing the bigger picture. In the eight years before he showed up, Duke's football team won 10 games total. He also took Duke to four straight bowl games after the program had only played in eight in its entire history.
16
Pat Fitzgerald (34): Fitzgerald is similar to Cutcliffe in that we sometimes overlook what they've accomplished a little too easily. Northwestern wasn't exactly a Big Ten powerhouse before he showed up, and while there seems to be a ceiling to how far the Wildcats can realistically go, there's no question Fitzgerald helped raise that ceiling quite a bit.
15
Mark Richt (18): It'll be interesting to see how our perception of Richt changes during his tenure at Miami. He's clearly respected as one of the best coaches in the country, but if he goes a few more seasons without an ACC title I'd expect him to slide down rather quickly.
14
Kyle Whittingham (23): It's hard not to be impressed by what Whittingham has accomplished at Utah. He won a bunch of games in the Mountain West, struggled after first joining the Pac-12, and is now winning a bunch of games again. And he's doing so at a school that isn't exactly located in the middle of a fertile recruiting ground.
13
Bobby Petrino (25): If you give Petrino an average quarterback, he'll make him into a good quarterback. If you give him a good quarterback, he'll give you something amazing. Lamar Jackson is the latest proof, and while he's yet to win 10 games in his second stint at Louisville, it's hard to deny that he's already made the Cardinals one of the top three teams in the ACC.
12
Mike Gundy (20): He's more than just an amazing, luscious, mullet, ladies and gentlemen. He's also a fantastic football coach. Since the start of the 2008 season, Gundy's Cowboys have won an average of 9.6 games per season. The only thing that's keeping him out of the top 10 is a lack of conference titles, as the Cowboys have won only one during his tenure.
11
Mark Dantonio (5): You knew Dantonio would suffer in these rankings after a down season in East Lansing. Still, overlook Dantonio and the Spartans heading into 2017 at your own peril. Dantonio's teams have won at least 11 games in five of the last seven seasons.
10
Gary Patterson (3): Patterson is in a similar situation as Dantonio. We all believe he's a great coach, but he's coming off a sub-par season. That recency bias has an effect on where he stands in these rankings, but his history suggests that he's capable of another huge season with the Horned Frogs.
9
Bill Snyder (17): I don't think I'm saying something crazy that we aren't going to see many more coaches like Snyder in the future of college football. There aren't many coaches who would build something out of nothing and not leave for greener pastures when the offer comes along. Snyder not only built the Kansas State program, he is the Kansas State program.
8
David Shaw (9): I don't think Shaw gets enough credit for what he's done at Stanford. Jim Harbaugh laid the foundation for success in Palo Alto, but Shaw's built one hell of a house on top of it. He's won three Pac-12 titles and at least 10 games five times in his six seasons at Stanford. He's been so good that when his team goes 6-3 in Pac-12 play last season you start thinking there's something wrong.
7
Chris Petersen (14): When Petersen left Boise State for Washington, I figured it would only be a matter of time before Washington had success. What I didn't figure was that Washington would be winning the Pac-12 and playing in the College Football Playoff by his third year. That says more about me than it does Petersen, though, because his history suggests we should have seen it coming.
6
Bob Stoops (4): Bob Stoops won his 10th Big 12 title last season and had his 14th 10-win season in 18 years at Oklahoma. And he falls two spots in the rankings. It's basically a microcosm of how Stoops is viewed now. He's had so much success that unless he wins the national title we feel like he's done something wrong. Meanwhile, we ignore the fact that he's had an absolutely amazing run at Oklahoma.
5
Jim Harbaugh (10): I'm just going to be honest here. I think Harbaugh is a great coach. I would be thrilled if Harbaugh was coaching my favorite team. I still think he's ranked too high. While I feel like it's only a matter of time until it happens, he's yet to win a conference title on the FBS level. In fact, he hasn't even won a division title yet. He may end up being a top five coach sooner rather than later, but I just don't think he has the overall resume to be considered one now. My fellow voters disagree, obviously.
4
Jimbo Fisher (6): Jimbo has been at Florida State for seven seasons now, and so far his worst season was when he went 9-4 in 2011. Since that season, the Noles have gone 59-9 with a national title and three ACC titles. He's lost key players and just kept on keeping on, and once again Florida State will enter the season as a CFP contender. Fisher has restored Florida State as an elite program, and it's because he's an elite coach.
3
Dabo Swinney (8): When we were putting our rankings together, we all knew who the top two would be. The question was who would claim No. 3, and nobody is surprised to see Dabo climb up and take this spot. He's fresh off his first national title, and he's now won at least 10 games in each of the last six seasons. Clemson is a powerhouse thanks to Swinney, and he absolutely deserves this spot.
2
Urban Meyer (2): The fact Meyer has won three national titles between Florida and Ohio State is more than enough to get him to No. 2 on this list. Still, I think the craziest thing about Meyer is that during his coaching career he has a record of 99-20 in conference play. That's including his stops at Bowling Green, Utah, Florida and Ohio State. Hell, at Ohio State he's gone 39-2 against Big Ten opponents during the regular season. Not only has he dominated the Big Ten, but his presence has helped pull the entire conference out of a rut as other schools followed Ohio State's lead.
1
Nick Saban (1): Well, duh. Who else was going to be here? We're talking about a coach that has annihilated the conference most consider to be the best in the country for years now. Five national titles, a sixth title game appearance, eight SEC titles. He's the best coach in the country, and even with all that Meyer has accomplished, it's still not all that close. He's not just the best coach in college right now, but he might be the greatest of all time.
CBS Sports Writer

Tom Fornelli has been a college football writer at CBS Sports since 2010. During his time at CBS, Tom has proven time and again that he hates your favorite team and thinks your rival is a paragon of football... Full Bio

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