USC football fans are in for a treat when seeing where Sporting News has ranked Head Coach Lincoln Riley in Bill Bedner’s ‘Ranking college football coaches 1-131 for 2022 season’ article. Riley is at No. 7 on the list–a very laughable ranking for a top five coach in America. And it’s especially laughable when seeing who’s ahead of him.
The first four, in order, are: Alabama’s Nick Saban (obviously more from Riley), Clemson’s Dabo Swinney (obviously more from Riley), Georgia’s Kirby Smart (has a National Championship and beat Riley head-to-head), and Ryan Day (has been to a National Championship and has looked better when in the CFP).
Those four make sense. The No. 5 coach on the list, however, is a Group of Five coach who has been to the playoff a total of one time: Luke Fickell.
Is Luke Fickell a great coach? Absolutely. He just made the CFP as the first Group of Five team to ever do so. Have you made it to three CFP’s before, though? No, but Riley has. Have you looked competent in the CFP before? No, but Riley has in the 2017-2018 season–taking a top three coach in Smart to double overtime.
In six years of head coaching, and one year at a blueblood (Ohio State), his best bowl win is a tie between the Birmingham Bowl and the Military Bowl. In five years of head coaching, Riley’s best bowl win is a COTTON BOWL.
And while Fickell certainly does do a lot with a little at a G5, and that needs to be brought up–one can’t just decide that means he’d be able to do what Riley has done at a blueblood.
Many coaches have killed it at Group of Five’s and then not been able to replicate that success at powerhouses (see Scott Frost, Tom Herman, Kevin Sumlin, etc.). In fact, see Fickell himself. He’s been at a true blueblood before at Ohio State. In his year with the Buckeyes, he went 6-7…
Lincoln Riley comes to the USC football program after achieving three more top ten finishes than Fickell has despite head coaching for less years. Fickell is a top-tier coach (or at least close to) due to how he’s been able to do a lot with a little at UC. Riley’s dominant run that included four straight Big 12 titles, however, makes him the more proven coach. He’s also a better coach than this list’s No. 6 guy; Brian Kelly…
Kelly, who has never coached in a conference before. Kelly, who therefore hasn’t had to play eight to nine rivalry games every year. Kelly, who has the most freedom in scheduling that he wants at an independent program. Kelly, who doesn’t have to play in a conference title game to prove himself.
Kelly, who hasn’t been at all competitive in any New Year’s Six/College Football Playoff/BCS Bowl games he’s coached in–proving that his cupcake schedules as a result of the previous factors previously produced fool’s gold. The closest he’s ever been within in a NY6/CFP/BCS Bowl game is 13 points–which happened 13 years and two jobs ago, by the way.
He’s never even been close to winning any of the NY6/CFP/BCS Bowl games he’s ever been in. Was it just because he was at a Group of Five? Nope. He went to Notre Dame in 2010 so he could give it a shot with blueblood rosters and the closest he got to a win was in the 2015-2016 season where he lost by a whopping 16 points.
One year, they even decided to put him in the National Championship and he got boat-raced by 28 points…It’s simple: Kelly knows how to coast through easy schedules, but he can’t even come close in the big one.
But wait…isn’t that occasionally thrown around about Riley? Well, at least Riley could take Smart to multiple overtimes in the Playoff before. They belonged. When you have watched a Kelly-coached NY6/CFP/BCS Bowl game and thought; “Wow, this team belongs.” Well, quite literally never.
Riley has coached in a Power 5 conference every year he’s coached and won it four out of five times. His one slip-up of him came in a year where he still finished in the top 10. Kelly has also finished in the top 10 five times, though! Yes, in over SIX times the years of head coaching.
Okay fine–I’ll be nice and not include the years of Division II coaching (Riley never needed to coach D-II by the way–he went straight to head coaching one of the best programs in college football). So that means that in 18(!) years of D-1 coaching, Kelly has finished in the top ten the same amount of times Riley has in five years.
In fact, I’ll be even nicer and only count the Notre Dame years. That means that Kelly has finished in the top ten in 12(!) years of coaching than Riley did in five. Kelly has also NEVER finished in the top three before, which Riley obviously has. He’s also only finished in the top four just eleven–Riley has twice in only five years of coaching.
Famed college football analyst Tom Fornelli of CBS Sports ranked Riley as the No. 4 coach in CFB. That’s more like it. Hopefully it takes like the one Sporting News just dropped will be kept in the drafts moving forward, though.