Ranking college football's top 25 coaches during the 2022 season – 247Sports

College football’s top 25 coaches this season all finished the 2022 campaign in impressive fashion and some have an opportunity during what’s left of bowl season to truly end with a bang heading into the new year. With the College Football Playoff set to begin Saturday and other New Year’s Six game dotting the incoming schedule, many of the season’s defining moments are upon us in the coaching ranks.
For Tennessee’s Josh Heupel and TCU’s Sonny Dykes, a strong finish puts both the Volunteers and Horned Frogs inside the final top five of the national rankings, quite a feat considering both programs were ranked out of the preseason top 25 in August.
First-year LSU coach Brian Kelly has a chance in the Tigers’ Citrus Bowl appearance against Purdue to garner top-15 love with the Tigers after winning the SEC West as a team few projected to do so this fall.
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Based on 2022 season performance only, here are the nation’s top 25 coaches this season entering the final bowl games ahead of the playoff.
25. Marcus Freeman, Notre Dame — Freeman and the Fighting Irish rebounded from an 0-2 start to win eight of their next nine games before falling to USC in the regular-season finale. They’ll try and finish in the top 20 this week with a win over South Carolina.
24. Mike Leach, Mississippi State — The innovative offensive mind’s final game was a victory over Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl on Thanksgiving before his tragic death. The Bulldogs finished 8-4, with their only loss in November coming to top-ranked Georgia.
23. Steve Sarkisian, Texas — After a 5-7 hiccup in 2022, the Longhorns showed signs of competitive spirit with an 8-4 season behind a notable campaign from Doak Walker winner Bijan Robinson.
22. Chip Kelly, UCLA — The Bruins pick themselves off the canvas with an impressive turnaround as one of the Pac-12’s top finishers.
21. Dan Lanning, Oregon — Lanning was heading toward straight As on his report card this semester before bombing his final. He would’ve been higher on this list had Oregon not elected to try a fourth-and-1 at its own 35-yard line in the final moments of a loss to Washington, a setback that ended one of the nation’s longest home winning streaks and took the Ducks out of the playoff. Then, it happened again at Oregon State after Oregon squandered a 21-point lead in the second half.
20. James Franklin, Penn State — The Nittany Lions’ only two losses this season came to Ohio State and Michigan, which resulted in a top-15 finish for Penn State and berth in the Rose Bowl. With back to back head-turning signing classes and a young core on offense that is near the top of the Big Ten in terms of talent, the Nittany Lions should be one of the league’s frontrunners in 2023.
19. Jonathan Smith, Oregon State — The Beavers won four straight to end the season, finishing 10-3 overall. Two of those losses came by a combined six points to USC and Washington. This was one of the nation’s most consistent quality teams this fall, yet was rarely mentioned among the nation’s best. It’s time for Smith to get his due as a top-20 coach in 2022.
18. Shane Beamer, South Carolina — Beamer is set to cash in on his second season with the Gamecocks after ending the campaign with back to back wins over top 10 competition for the first time in program history. South Carolina snapped Clemson’s 40-game home winning streak in the final and scored 63 points during a victory over Tennessee, the most ever by an unranked team against a top-five opponent.
17. Mike Norvell, Florida State — The ACC’s hottest team entering the postseason, the Seminoles are on a five-game winning streak entering this week’s tilt in the Cheez-It Bowl against Oklahoma. Norvell’s third season at Florida State established positive momentum heading into 2023 and was highlighted by a win over LSU in the opener. FSU’s only losses this fall came to nationally-ranked competition.
16. Ryan Day, Ohio State — This was the most difficult coach to place this season considering how everything ended for Day’s Buckeyes. All faults could be forgotten if the Buckeyes are able to take out top-ranked Georgia in the playoff, however, the loss to Michigan is a black eye that’s difficult to overlook. Ohio State was supposed to get through the Big Ten without a loss given its talent level.
15. Kalen DeBoer, Washington — With the head-to-head win over Dan Lanning and six-straight victories to end the season, DeBoer was a breath of fresh air for a Washington program needing stability. Michael Penix Jr. was an underrated transfer from Indiana who DeBoer unlocked in his spread offensive scheme and might be the Heisman frontrunner for 2023 alongside USC’s Caleb Williams. Both of Washington’s losses this season came in consecutive weeks on the road by a single possession, so this team was only a few plays away from being in national title contention.
14. Nick Saban, Alabama — The Crimson Tide’s first two-loss regular season in 12 years kept Saban’s squad out of the playoff this season, but had no effect on this program’s ability to acquire talent. Signing the top-ranked recruiting class for 2023 means the cupboard is restocked with elite players and means another title is coming before the end of Saban’s tenure.
13. Jeff Traylor, UTSA — Another Conference USA title for the Road Runners under Traylor means this program has won 23 games the last two years and has solidified itself as one of the top programs in a football-rich state. UTSA had won 10 straight at one point before ending the season with the loss to Troy in Orlando.
12. Jon Sumrall, Troy — Speaking of the Trojans, it’s only a matter of time before a Power 5 program comes in and swoops up Sumrall. He went 12-2 in his first season as coach, won a conference championship and ended the campaign with a bowl victory. Kudos.
11. Dabo Swinney, Clemson — Despite up and down quarterback play this fall and experiencing his first campaign without long-time coordinators Brent Venables and Tony Elliott, Swinney is back on top of the ACC after a conference championship. It wasn’t enough to make the playoff, but the Tigers are in the New Year’s Six with 11 wins.
Well-deserved as the ACC’s Coach of the Year this season, Mike Elko was a shining star outside of the national polls at a program that replaced its savior in David Cutcliffe. When you can win at Duke and exceed expectations in Year 1, you deserve all the postseason kudos coming your way. Elko was in the zone with the Blue Devils, whose four losses came by a combined 16 points. Duke’s win over in-state rival Wake Forest on Senior Day was a signature victory to cap off a notable campaign.
We’re not going to dock Brian Kelly too much for LSU’s late-season fade with losses to Texas A&M and Georgia, because over the course of the season, his Tigers impressed. SEC West champions in Year 1? This is exactly why LSU wrote a blank check to Kelly to take over a program whose last national championship came in 2019. Kelly shook off a season-opening loss to Florida State, after which many national media members buried his potential, to win eight of his next nine prior to the Texas A&M setback. He even toppled Saban this fall.
After losing to Florida and UCLA prior to mid-October, Kyle Whittingham and the Utes went on a hot streak with five wins over their final six games to reach another Pac-12 title game. Utah beat then fourth-ranked USC to clinch another conference championship and punched a return ticket to the Rose Bowl. Utah’s three-point losses to Florida and Oregon this fall were tough to stomach, but once again, Whittingham proved to have one of the nation’s most resilient groups.
Tenacity and grit. That’s exactly what Kansas State showed this season under Chris Klieman, whose Wildcats beat three nationally-ranked teams including unbeaten TCU in the Big 12 Championship Game. A major program opportunity in the spotlight awaits this weekend against fifth-ranked Alabama in the Sugar Bowl which could mark 11 wins for Kansas State to close out a notable campaign. This team battled through an injury at the quarterback position to end on a high note and the Wildcats never wavered throughout when faced with adversity.
With a win over Clemson in the Orange Bowl, Tennessee could potentially finish inside of the AP’s top 5 this season for the first time since 2001. That’s an incredible accomplishment for second-year coach Josh Heupel, whose Volunteers debuted at No. 1 in the first playoff rankings in November before losses at Georgia and South Carolina pushed Tennessee out of the final four picture. It was an unforgettable season nonetheless for the Volunteers, who ended lengthy losing skids to rivals Florida, Alabama and had the nation’s most exciting offense.
Lincoln Riley’s first season at USC passed the Pac-12 eye test with flying colors as one of nation’s most talented, transfer-heavy rosters. It was Alex Grinch’s defense that cost the Trojans a shot at a College Football Playoff berth in the Pac-12 Championship Game, not the other side of the football. Riley’s offense clicked on all cylinders this season and produced another Heisman winner at the quarterback position. Riley’s scheme works and he has brought USC back to national prominence in short order.
Willie Fritz was up for national coach of the year honors for good reason — his Green Wave won the Group of Five’s most competitive league with their backs against the wall following a mid-November loss to UCF. Tulane responded with wins over SMU and Cincinnati to get another crack at UCF and this time, came through with a victory to earn top-20 billing and a New Year’s berth. Tulane can tie a longstanding program record with its 12th win in the Cotton Bowl against USC.
Kirby Smart is beginning to get the Nick Saban treatment now given what he’s building at Georgia, an annual monster in the national championship hunt. With one of the nation’s most talented runs, the Bulldogs ran roughshod through SEC play this fall and are the overwhelming favorite to win their second consecutive title. Smart has done this each of the past two years with a former walk-on at quarterback and this year’s team hasn’t missed a beat after replacing 15 NFL Draft picks from the juggernaut 2022 team. Incredible display of coaching from one of the nation’s best.
Another win over Ohio State, the Big Ten Championship Game and a playoff berth for Jim Harbaugh’s Wolverines — remember the buzz surrounding Harbaugh’s future at Michigan prior to spring practice when he flirted with NFL interests? He was able to dodge those murmurs with a new deal, handle quarterback controversy to open the season and run through the Big Ten’s gauntlet unscathed as the league’s top coach. He’ll top this list with two more wins this season.
For a team that was unranked in the preseason and is now two wins away from the program’s first national championship, Sonny Dykes was well-deserving of national coach of the year honors for the job he’s done with the Horned Frogs. Week after week, TCU bucked national narratives as one of college football’s most efficient teams at every level and looked well-coached every time the Horned Frogs stepped on the field. TCU is a first-time playoff participant and its quarterback, Max Duggan, represented the brand in New York this month as a Heisman finalist. For a first-year coach at his new program, Dykes’ campaign was incredible.
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