Last month, CBS Sports released our annual Power Five coach rankings and while the ACC has star at the top challenging for No. 1, the conference's representation on the list matches the distance between the league's reigning champion and its peers.
Dabo Swinney checks in at No. 2 this year, then you go all the way down to Mack Brown at No. 20 to find the next ACC coach. But then, the ACC dominates spots 20 through 40. All of these coaches in that range are strong, but the dominance of the Clemson era has limited the championship contention for anyone else in the league. Points -- for lack of a better term with rankings that are incredibly subjective -- are awarded for program-building, but the distance between the Tigers and the rest of the league has changed the perception of everyone else. More than half of the league's coaches are considered among the better coaches in the country, but there's no one joining Swinney in the top 10.
Since the start of 2015, the Tigers are 38-2 in ACC play and that absence of success against Clemson is rare in college football today. Even Urban Meyer lost one Big Ten game every year from 2015 to 2018 and Nick Saban has lost a couple Iron Bowls and dropped a pair of games to Hugh Freeze and Ole Miss. On a school-by-school basis, most of the ACC feels good about its current coaching situation and trajectory. But when it comes to these subjective national coach rankings, Clemson's dominance is going to leave the rest of the league jumbled up in the middle of the pack.
Some of it ties to the rankings mindset, and the ACC has lacked for another top-10 team to challenge the Tigers. When our voters are stacking coaches up against each other, there is either implicit or explicit bias that has been built in by ranking teams on a weekly basis for the CBS Sports 130. Why do some coaches quickly get moved into the top-15 or top-20 when it feels like others need a more detailed argument? It's because their teams are ranked in the top-15 or top-20 more frequently during the season.
So we've pulled the coaches out from the national rankings, left them in order and stacked them up against each other. Here's how our voters see the ACC coaches.
Complete Power Five coach rankings:|
|Dabo Swinney (2 overall): Easy decision to make at the top. Not only does Swinney lead one of the two most successful programs of the College Football Playoff era with five straight appearances and two national championships, he gets credit the program-building that occurred throughout the 2010s. Watching Clemson chase down Florida State and then take its place atop the ACC was a preview of the Tigers pursuit and challenge of Alabama as the best program in the entire country. Last year: 1 in ACC|
|Mack Brown (20 overall): Our voters had doubts about Brown's return to Chapel Hill, slating a national championship-winning coach in the middle of the conference. But after watching the Tar Heels exceed expectations in 2019 and noticing the work Brown has done on the recruiting trail, his ranking received a major adjustment. Last year: 7|
|Bronco Mendenhall (23 overall): The starting point for Bronco's high ranking had to be the consistency of his BYU teams, but now he adds to that argument an ACC Coastal Division championship with Virginia. To take the Wahoos from 2-10 in 2016 to playing in the ACC Championship Game in 2019 required a total rebuild in Charlottesville, improving in overall and conference wins every single season before last year's breakthrough. Last year: 3|
|David Cutcliffe (26 overall): Long considered one of the top coaches in the country by our voters, Cutcliffe took a slight step back in the rankings this year after a 5-7 finish in 2019. While the big picture of leading Duke to six bowl games and an ACC Championship Game appearance in eight years anchors his argument as a top-30 coach, the slight dip in the rankings can be attributed to a sub-.500 record in ACC play ever year since 2016. Last year: 2|
|Mike Norvell (29 overall): Our ballots for the coach rankings were turned in long ago, and I'm honestly curious how the events of the last two weeks might have changed (for better or worse) Norvell's ranking. As it stands, the success at Memphis made Norvell one of the top Group of Five coaches in the country and his arrival in the Power Five coach rankings reflects optimism for what's to come in Tallahassee. Last year: N/A|
|Scott Satterfield (31 overall): Louisville had one of the top single-season turnarounds in the country under Satterfield after he invigorated a locker room that had lost its way in the final year of Bobby Petrino's second stint with the Cardinals. The ACC media picked Louisville to finish last in the Atlantic Division before the season and they finished in solo second place behind Clemson, then topped the year off with a bowl win against Mississippi State. Last year: 9|
|Dave Clawson (32 overall): Every additional season at Wake Forest is actually new ground for Clawson, who prior to his current tenure had never spent more than five seasons as a head coach at any of his previous stops. He got the reputation as a program-builder for his work at Fordham, Richmond and Bowling Green, and now Clawson gets to show what long-term success looks like as he enters Year 7 with the Deacs. Wake Forest has won at least 7 games each year since 2016 and that success has helped generate investment in new facilities to allow the program to keep pace in the ultra-competitive Atlantic Division. Last year: 5|
|Justin Fuente (37 overall): You won't see his name on any hot seat lists (nor should you) but you could argue that few coaches in the ACC have more on the line in 2020 than Fuente. The stats tell one story: 33 wins in four years with an ACC Coastal crown in 2016 and two solo runner-up division finishes. But for a program that was a power not just in the division, but the entire ACC for the first six years after it joined the conference, there is a longing to close the gap with the teams at the top. The Hokies were one win away from a return to Charlotte for the title game a year ago, and it would greatly benefit Fuente -- who tested the loyalties of those fans with his Baylor flirtations in the offseason -- to be in the mix for the conference championship in 2020. Last year: 8|
|Pat Narduzzi (40 overall): The Panthers have logged three 8-win seasons in Narduzzi's five-year run, and that doesn't even include the late-season surge that powered the ACC Coastal Division title in 2018. You can always count on Narduzzi's teams to be up to the task of competing with the best in the country, but the Panthers have also lost at least five games each season of Narduzzi's tenure. Last year: 11|
|Dino Babers (48 overall): Our voters gave Babers a ton of credit for the 10-win season in 2018, but his shot up the rankings was matched by a drop after the Orange went 5-7 last season. For a coach that has a sub-.500 record at his current post, there is still some confidence in his status, but a bounce back would greatly change his stance among his peers in the ACC. Last year: 4|
|Dave Doeren (49 overall): When we talk about pressure to meet expectations in 2020, Doeren is going to be right up there with Fuente at Virginia Tech as one of the most intriguing coaching spots in the league. The goal posts are different, and what is expected of the Pack has yet to be determined, but the positives -- player development, new facilities and a generally healthy program -- need to be matched with more success on the field than what we saw in 2019. Last year: 6|
|Geoff Colins (57 overall): Mark his spot here because I think the trajectory points to Collins as one of the bigger movers when we recast ballots in 2021. The Yellow Jackets went 3-9 in his first year as a Power Five coach, but Collins had that team competitive in ACC play with wins against Miami (FL) and NC State and a narrow one-score loss at ACC Coastal champion Virginia. Combine that competitiveness with strong work on the recruiting trail and the forecast for Georgia Tech is looking brighter. Last year: 13|
|Manny Diaz (58 overall): Last impressions are lasting, and the way Miami finished the season was not going to set up well for Diaz's stock in our offseason coach rankings. After highs that included wins against Virginia, Pitt, Florida State and Louisville, Miami cratered after the bye week with losses to FIU, Duke and Louisiana Tech. The woeful offensive performance in those losses led to a change at offensive coordinator, and the arrival of D'Eriq King adds to the hope that things are turning around for "The New Miami." Last year: 14|
|Jeff Hafley (63 overall): While he brings a strong pedigree and has impressed at the podium, it's hard to put a first-year head coach high on the rankings based on his performance as a coordinator. I think Boston College made a great hire and Hafley has specific goals to return the Eagles to the top 25, but like most first-timers in the history of this list, he's going to start near the bottom. Last year: N/A|