Chasing the Devil: Who is next in line to unseat Saban?

This is for anyone who thinks the devil is 5-foot-6, wears a headset and excoriates defensive backs that don't heed his instructions in practice.

Nick Saban is not the devil. But he's got one national title at Alabama for every coach that's reportedly used a booster function (Florida offensive line coach Tim Davis) or a Georgia sports banquet (Vanderbilt's James Franklin) or a living-room recruiting pitch (LSU's Les Miles) to brand Saban with the "devil" or "Satan" label (Miles denies such a claim, for the record).

Whatever Saban is, everyone else is trying to emulate it.

In's new "Chasing the Devil" series that will run every week during the regular season, we evaluate the 10 coaches best positioned to unseat Saban, complete with a devil rating from 1 to 10.

The devil label can be viewed as a sign of respect, even if Saban doesn't like it. In a coaching game of one-ups and setting bars high, Saban is doing one-arm pull-ups while luring five-star recruits over the phone with the other hand.

If this ranking were solely about raw coaching ability, Chris Petersen and Bill Snyder would be on this list every week.

This is about coaches with the best angle to knock Alabama off its dynasty perch and claim coaching royalty, either this year or over the next five. The first list is not a national top 10 poll but a nod to coaches with the best championship potential over time.

Coaching ability will be one aspect of an all-encompassing evaluation: recruiting ability, facilities/donors, personnel evaluation, confidence, understanding of the job culture, current roster and future rosters, control of the locker room and off-field issues, viability vs. the SEC's best and ability to avoid letdown games.

Age is also a factor. Though older coaches are eligible, the window is shorter for, say, Snyder or Steve Spurrier to win a title than most coaches.

Hopefully the season is wild enough to change the complexion of this list every week. Coaches can get bounced from the top 10 as easily as they came.

Let's get to it.

Chasing the Devil: Preseason
Rank Coach Devil Rating Comment
Urban Meyer, Ohio State : Say what you want about Meyer's player management or his Florida departure, but the man can coach and recruit. Do those two things in Columbus, and titles can open up. Is he a long-term solution? Fair question after the way he left Gainesville. But his track record suggests the early years at OSU will be electric (five career seasons of 12-plus wins). The Buckeyes weren't ready for a title last year. They might be now.
Mark Helfrich, Oregon: Helfrich was more involved in the Chip Kelly masterplan than you'd think. A roster stocked with talent has UO primed for a title run. Insane facilities and Nike presence lures recruits. Marcus Mariota might be the most polished quarterback in the country. Helfrich has minimal damage control after the NCAA's soft stance on the Willie Lyles case. Helfrich is unproven, but no young coach has a better setup than him.
Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M: Sumlin might not last at A&M if NFL overtures become too enticing. Otherwise, Sumlin has devil-chasing ingredients: Energetic, innovative, recruits well, confident, doesn't overreact. Will his offense be prolific in the SEC post-Manziel? Thinking so, but still hard to tell. Love this answer when I asked Sumlin recently how he combats defenses aiming for A&M this offseason: "We can coach, too." That's a snapshot of why A&M is in good hands.
Brian Kelly, Notre Dame: The Eagles talked with Kelly (and talked lots of money) for a reason -- he's good. Going 12-0 with erratic quarterback play is impressive. Kelly played to Everett Golson's strengths. With Golson out, Kelly's stable program can withstand such losses. Kelly understands the politics of Notre Dame. He can keep recruits in school. He doesn't face the SEC until the postseason. As Alabama showed, Kelly's challenge is upgrading physicality. Can he figure it out?
Jimbo Fisher, Florida State: Fisher has lost inexcusable games and has a heavy hand in an oft-conservative offense, but consider all FSU has going for it. The Seminoles clean up in recruiting. The ACC schedule doesn't scare. All indications are new quarterback Jameis Winston is special. The defense has versatile talent all over the field. More consistency and FSU is in the title hunt, with West Virginians Fisher and Saban greeting on the field before a title game.
Mark Richt, Georgia: Richt will win a title at Georgia. He's been too close for too long. Confidence reverberates through the program after the Georgia Dome showing last year. Richt staved off job security issues two years ago and has the Bulldogs as stable as any time in his tenure. Richt has eight seasons with at least 10 wins, yet is still underrated among league coaches. He's finally figured out Florida. Must avoid curious lapses (Columbia last year).
Will Muschamp, Florida: He might be the closest thing to Saban. Florida is a top-five national job that always attracts players. With a young quarterback and unproven receivers, Muschamp smartly grinded out games with stout defense and the running game. Muschamp doesn't coddle talent and has resources galore at UF. Lack of a proven passing game could keep Muschamp from a title unless receivers emerge. Don't expect the defense to drop off.
Bob Stoops, Oklahoma : His window hasn’t passed, and he doesn’t plan to coast on his rep. The traditional loyalist made several staff changes this offseason. He’s got zero job security issues. The Sooners were humbled in the Cotton Bowl against A&M and seem ready to fight back. Stoops will have an unproven quarterback but has won that way before. Despite flat play in some big games over the years, OU always has a chance with Stoops.
David Shaw, Stanford: Shaw's teams are stout, from the running game to the defensive front seven. Shaw has no problems getting talent into the academic-minded Stanford campus. Shaw is still winning with some of Jim Harbaugh's players -- how good will he be in years 3-5? The answer is pretty good. He has a clear formula for winning. Losing offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton hurts but keeping defensive coordinator Derek Mason is crucial.
Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State: He's honest, doesn't care if his opinions are unpopular and wants to hang 50 on every defense he faces. Basically, he's just crazy enough to win a national title in the next three to five years. OSU has resources to recruit well and an offense that isn't too reliant on one player. Gundy must improve a defense that has cost him over the years, in part because of the strain the no-huddle causes.

Next devils up: Les Miles, LSU; Steve Spurrier, South Carolina; Dabo Swinney, Clemson; Gary Patterson, TCU; Charlie Strong, Louisville.

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