College Football Insider

Chasin' the Devil: Perfect foils for Saban? Start with Helfrich, Meyer

Mark Helfrich, not Urban Meyer, is the No. 1 Saban chaser at the midway point. (USATSI)
Mark Helfrich, not Urban Meyer, is the No. 1 Saban chaser at the midway point. (USATSI)

Les Miles will be back. David Shaw will be back. Mark Richt probably won't be.

These top-10 staples on the weekly 'Chasin' the Devil' list -- tracking the coaches best positioned to unseat Nick Saban -- are noticeably absent this week.

This edition highlights the undefeated club, which is free admission for true sideline ballers.

At the midseason mark, the top of the polls looks similar to last season with five undefeated teams slotted 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5.

But this year's group includes 13 undefeated teams in the top 25, compared to 10 last year at this time. And we're not even counting unranked, 5-0 Houston (Sorry, Tony Levine).

Newbies Art Briles, Jim Mora, Charlie Strong, Tim DeRuyter and Kliff Kingsbury, welcome to this week's Devil Chase.

The 10 coaches below are undefeated and looking to knock Saban off his title perch in the second half of the season.

Obviously, No. 9 on our list, Fresno's Tim DeRuyter, would have a difficult time cracking a title game. The same could go for No. 8, Louisville's Charlie Strong. But this can't be strictly a power-conference list, right? We run a spread-wealth offense.

You might notice Missouri's Gary Pinkel and NIU's Rod Carey are not in the top 10. Pinkel deserves top-10 status, but that James Franklin shoulder injury hurts his chances. Even going by Pinkel's timetable of three-to-five weeks for Franklin, who's been stellar this year, asking backup Maty Mauk to beat Florida and South Carolina in back-to-back weeks is a tough sell. The Tigers still have Ole Miss and Texas A&M on the back end of the schedule. Could be wrong here.

Carey is also a close call and might have a better team pound-for-pound than Fresno State, but DeRuyter has a more explosive offense at this point. Both teams have relatively easy schedules, though NIU still has to get past the Mighty Lembos at Ball State.

Chasing the Devil
RankCoachDevil RatingComment
1



9.5
Mark Helfrich, Oregon -- How about Oregon averaging a ho-hum 2.12 points ... per MINUTE of offense. When Washington applied pressure last week, Marcus Mariota took over. Mariota would make any coach look smart. But Helfrich deserves a ton of credit for keeping the Ducks rolling. Turns out that Chip Kelly chemical lab has room for two.
2



9.0
Urban Meyer, Ohio State -- The bye week came at an ideal time for Meyer, whose Buckeyes survived Braxton Miller's injured knee and scraped by a tough Wisconsin/Northwestern stretch. The rest of Meyer's schedule is manageable, especially with Michigan's sagging offense. Ohio State's offensive line is stout, so expect Meyer to pump the running game with Miller and Carlos Hyde.
3



8.5
Jimbo Fisher, Florida State -- The Seminoles feed the proverbial 'haven't played anybody' narrative. That changes Saturday at Clemson. But since Jameis Winston has responded to every challenge he's faced through five games, why would that change now? The way Fisher's stockpiled talent after losing 11 NFL draftees is impressive. FSU's defense ranks tied for 11th in the ACC with 10 sacks. The Seminoles could use a boost on the defensive line against the Tigers.
4


8.0
Art Briles, Baylor -- This was overdue. The Devil board held off from placing Briles in the top 10 because the non-conference schedule was weak, but defeating Kansas State on the road -- after going 1-8 in the last nine Big 12 road games -- shows this team has learned from its past. Baylor recently posted back-to-back-to-back 70s for the first time since 1930. Briles is a quarterback whisperer. Is that Texas president Bill Powers on Line 1?
5


7.5
Dabo Swinney, Clemson -- The Tigers messed around with Boston College last week but they survived and advanced. Tajh and Co. will be ready for the Noles. That defensive front is much improved. Can the secondary hold up? Biggest question of the year for Dabo. Expect Chad Morris' offense to go fast on the first possession, maybe 15 to 18 seconds per snap to apply pressure from the jump.
6


7.0
Al Golden, Miami -- Al Golden getting Miami in the national top 10 by year three is impressive, but the next month will define how far this team has come -- at UNC, Wake Forest, at Florida State, Virginia Tech. The Canes hope the bye week gave quarterback Stephen Morris enough time to heal his ankle injury. The defense is much improved from a year ago.
7


6.5
Jim Mora, UCLA -- The new boss of L.A. football is cooking up a winner. The offense is built for success with a sizable offensive line (average of nearly 310 pounds per starter) that can go power-run or no-huddle, depending on the mood. Brett Hundley's accuracy can wane, but his playmaking often offsets that problem. The defense has stellar lateral speed. Per @BFeldmanCBS, UCLA is the only team that hasn't allowed third-quarter points. A lot to like here.
8


6.5
Charlie Strong, Louisville -- Not Charlie's fault the schedule is Charmin. Whether it gets a title shot or not, Louisville might still be set up better than anyone to go undefeated. Keep winning and hope teams in front of you drop games. Teddy Bridgewater garners the attention, but consider Strong's defense, which allows 10.5 points per game in its last eight contests dating back to last year.
9

6.0
Tim DeRuyter, Fresno State -- Fresno, perhaps the BCS' best chance for one last buster (Northern Illinois would disagree), has top-shelf quarterback play and a ton of receiver options. If you don't know about DaVante Adams, you should. DeRuyter is off to a 14-4 start at Fresno and could work his way into the coaching carousel's high-stakes table at season's end.
10

5.0
Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech -- Talk about exceeding expectations on the first year on the job. Kingsbury's Oakley-shaded cool is good college football fodder, but his approach to head coaching (resulting in a 6-0 start) is a weightier conversation. "He connects with players like nothing I've ever seen," Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt told me a few weeks ago. In back-to-back wins over Kansas and Iowa State, Tech's offense pumped out a combined 201 plays, per @davidubben.

Top one-loss devils: LSU's Les Miles, Stanford's David Shaw, Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin, Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer, South Carolina's Steve Spurrier, Ball State's Pete Lembo, Oklahoma's Bob Stoops

 
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