National Columnist Mike Farrell is here with the 3-Point Stance ranking the Pac-12 head coaches, ranks the SEC running back rooms and gives you five true freshmen offensive linemen to watch.
— Ranking coaches is always fun right? Not for them. Here’s the Pac-12 pecking order.
1. Kyle Whittingham, Utah
Whittingham has been – outside of Nick Saban – the most consistent coach in college football. He’s 144-70 in 17 seasons and has been bowl eligible in 15 of them. The fact that he has been so consistently successful despite recruiting and funding disadvantages in comparison to their Pac-12 rivals makes what he has done even more impressive.
2. Lincoln Riley, USC
55-10 in five seasons with four conference titles is about as good a start to a career as any coach has ever had. Lincoln Riley is an offensive genius and clearly knows how to maximize his talent on that side of the ball. His move to USC and the subsequent transfers of multiple key players from last year’s Oklahoma roster were some of the most controversial of the offseason. But none of that changes the fact that he can flat-out coach.
3. David Shaw, Stanford
Shaw is 93-45 in 11 seasons on the Farm and, in many ways, has done more at Stanford than his predecessor Jim Harbaugh did. Yes, the last couple of seasons have been particularly rough, but you can’t just wash away 8 straight winning seasons to start his head coaching career, including five seasons with double-digit wins and three Pac 12 titles.
4. Chip Kelly, UCLA
It’s taken a minute to get the ball rolling at UCLA, but let’s not forget how bad things were in Westwood before he took over. Kelly’s four years at Oregon are as good as anyone has been not named Nick Saban this century, and now he’s got the Bruins on the upswing.
5. Kalen DeBoer, Washington
DeBoer was fantastic at Fresno State, proving that he has the offensive chops to keep up with anyone. But you also can’t discount just how dominant he was at the NAIA level either – in five seasons at Sioux Falls, he was an astonishing 67-3 with three national championships and another runner-up. He can flat-out coach.
6. Jonathan Smith, Oregon State
Oregon State is such a tough place to win at, and while Smith hasn’t shown transcendent playcalling or scheming to overcome those obstacles yet, any season with 7 wins for the Beavers is good, and he was undefeated at home last year.
7. Justin Wilcox, Cal
Wilcox has always been a defensive mastermind – the units he led at Washington, USC, and Wisconsin were all somewhere between very good and great, and he’s taken that mentality to Berkeley. While the Golden Bears haven’t had as much success as they would like (he is 26-28), it’s important to remember what a dumpster fire that program was when he took over and how tough it is to recruit at Cal.
8. Jake Dickert, Washington State
The job that Dickert did last season after taking over for Nick Rolovich and the gigantic mess he created last season was impressive. With a staff that was missing nearly half of its coaches, he managed to get the Cougars to 2nd in the North division despite more roadblocks than any program in the country.
9. Dan Lanning, Oregon
For the Big 12 edition of this, I said that I’m going to keep first-time head coaches pretty low on the list simply because we haven’t seen what they are capable of. Lanning has a huge upside as a defensive mastermind in the mold of Dave Aranda, but we don’t know what that will look like until the Ducks take the field this fall. When we do this list a year from now, he could be in the top 3, but for now, he’s down here.
10. Herm Edwards, Arizona State
Edwards has fallen from grace as fast as anyone in the past few seasons. There have been numerous issues off the field that have gone on to affect the product on the field, and a lot of that falls on the shoulders of Edwards, who lauds himself as the CEO of the program. I would honestly be shocked if he’s still the head coach next season for the Sun Devils.
11. Karl Dorrell, Colorado
The hiring of Dorrell was definitely unexpected after Mel Tucker left for Michigan State. He’s not a guy who was really on anyone’s radar. He was better than most people remember at UCLA in the mid-2000s, finishing with a record of 35-27 in five seasons in Westwood. Colorado is in a tough spot, and it’s going to take a lot to get them back to being competitive.
12. Jedd Fisch, Arizona
It is as long a road back to relevance for Arizona as it is for any program, so Fisch is going to get a long leash. The results weren’t there on the field in his first season, but no one could reasonably expect them to be. He’s already changed the culture in Tucson for the better, and things are definitely moving in the right direction.
— The SEC is a passing conference with LSU in 2019 and Alabama’s offensive arsenal, right? Not so fast. Running the ball is still key, and here’s how the running back rooms shake out.
Tier 1: The Elites – Alabama, Georgia, Auburn, Kentucky
There’s some seriously good running back play in the SEC every season, and 2022 will be no different. The Crimson Tide reload with Georgia Tech transfer Jahmyr Gibbs, who was the best player available in the portal at the running back position this cycle. Former five-star Trey Sanders will have a shot to finally live up to his high school potential backing him up as well.
Georgia continues to have a stable of supremely talented backs, led by Kenny McIntosh and Kendall Milton, both of whom are very versatile. True freshman Branson Robinson looks like he’s ready to play now as well physically.
Auburn’s Tank Bigsby might be the single most talented back in the conference, and his primary backup, Jarquez Hunter, was one of the best true freshman backs in the country last season. They’re as good a one-two punch as you’re going to find.
Chris Rodriguez continues to be one of the most underrated running backs in the country. He’s going to put up big numbers again, but also watch out for redshirt freshman La’Vell Wright – he’s a kid the staff is really high on and could be the next big thing for the Wildcats.
Good but Not Great: Texas A&M, Ole Miss, Tennessee
The Aggies’ Devon Achane is as versatile a back as there is in the nation, and if Texas A&M is going to compete for the West he’s going to need to have a huge year. I think he has the ability to break out, but the 1-2 punch of him and Isaiah Spiller from last season is going to be very tough to replace. They don’t have a lot of proven talent behind him, but there’s a ton of upside between LJ Johnson Jr., Amari Daniels, and incoming true freshman Le’Veon Moss.
Zach Evans was a huge get for the Rebels in the transfer portal. The former five-star from TCU will be able to showcase his talents in Lane Kiffin’s up-tempo offense and could lead the conference in total yards if things fall right. Fellow transfer Ulysses Bentley IV from SMU joins Evans in the Rebels backfield. The talent is elite, but they haven’t shown it in the SEC, yet, so they are tier two.
Tennessee’s Jabari Small is another guy who is rarely discussed among the top backs in the country but really should be. He is a perfect fit in their offense. The only thing keeping the Vols from being in the top tier is anything proven behind him at the moment. Justin Williams-Thompson is a true freshman to watch out for, though.
That’ll Do: South Carolina, Florida, Arkansas, LSU
South Carolina has an interesting duo in MarShawn Lloyd and Wake Forest transfer Christian Beal-Smith that could make some noise, but doesn’t possess the upper-echelon talent that the teams above them in the rankings do. However, an improved passing game should open up more running lanes for them in 2022.
Florida might be the most interesting team on this list, as you could make a case for them in as many as three of these tiers. Louisiana transfer Montrell Johnson followed his coach from Lafayette to Gainesville and is the presumed starter as he already is very familiar with the offense and has shown he can put up big numbers in it. Former five-star Clemson transfer DeMarkcus Bowman is the wildcard for the Gators – if he can put it together, he could put up massive numbers, but he hasn’t really had the opportunity yet.
Despite losing Trelon Smith, Arkansas still has some solid backs in their stable, most notably Raheim Sanders, who should be their lead back this year. Both he and Dominique Johnson rushed for over 500 yards last year while backing up Smith, and they should be able to improve on those numbers this year. They’ve also got the best running QB in the conference as well in KJ Jefferson.
Another team that is tough to evaluate is LSU, as they have brought in former Penn State leading rusher Noah Cain to complement John Emery. I wouldn’t be surprised if Cain is the leading back sooner rather than later though – he’s got a much higher upside as a big-play back. Sophomore Armoni Goodwin is another guy to keep an eye out for in Baton Rouge as well.
Cross your Fingers and pray: Vanderbilt, Missouri, Mississippi State
Missouri lost one of the best backs in the country in Tyler Badie from last season, and are trying to replace him with Stanford transfer Nathaniel Peat. They’ve brought in another transfer from Truman State in Cody Schrader to serve as his primary backup, but they are super thin at the position.
The Commodores might not have a single position group that is even average in the conference, so it’s no surprise they’re down at the bottom at the running back position. They were devastated by injuries there last year so it’s a tough group to evaluate. Re’Mahn Davis showed flashes last year, but he’s not at the same level as most of the starting backs in the SEC. Rocko Griffin is an okay backup but hasn’t shown any sort of breakaway speed.
Mississippi State had the worst rushing attack in the country last year, and there’s no reason to think that will change in 2022, especially after losing their all-American left tackle Charles Cross to the draft. Jo’Quavious Marks is the only guy who really moves the needle, but it’s hard to truly evaluate the talent at that position for the Bulldogs as they simply don’t make a point to run the ball at all.
— And finally true freshmen offensive linemen are impossible to predict when it comes to early playing time. But I like these five to keep an eye on this season.
Devon Campbell, Texas
Campbell is a huge piece of the puzzle for the 2022 recruiting class for Texas and they need OL help. He will play.
Zach Rice, North Carolina
Five-star offensive linemen don’t often land at UNC and Rice is physically ready to compete for playing time.
Julian Armella, Florida State
The ‘Noles need help everywhere and the big and nasty OL could start his career inside and then kick out if needed.
Kiyaunta Goodwin, Kentucky
Kentucky runs the ball and likes to play physically. Goodwin is still raw but he’s a big body and didn’t choose the Wildcats to sit.
Josh Conerly Jr., Oregon
I’m not sure if he’s ready for the speed of the game but with Kingsley Suamataia gone there is a need for depth at tackle.