Like quarterbacks, fans tend to either love or hate their team’s head coach, and, as it is with quarterbacks, their opinions can swing wildly from week to week.
The Big 12 is home to a lot of coaches fairly new to the Power 5 as well as a pair of coaches who have stamped their teams’ identities with their own over numerous seasons. It’s a fun mix of wily experience and rising wit that makes the Big 12 arguably the most competitive league in the nation.
Here’s a power ranking of how the Big 12’s coaches have done so far this season. Let me know if you agree or disagree and what you’d change on the Heartland College Sports Member’s Forum.
1. DAVE ARANDA, BAYLOR
After winning just two games last season, Aranda has his Bears sitting at 5-1, 1-1, and looking very much like a contender for a spot in the Big 12 Championship. What appeared to be the Bears’ biggest question mark entering the season, the offensive line, has turned out to be a team strength, and after losing starting quarterback Charlie Brewer to the transfer portal in the offseason, Gerry Bohanon has become the Big 12’s second-most efficient passer behind Texas’ Casey Thompson.
While Aranda, a defensive mind, can’t be given all the credit for the success of the offense, he deserves a ton of credit for hiring offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes away from BYU.
The Bears are a win away from bowl eligibility, which is more than most thought they could accomplish this season, and the table is set for them to accomplish much more.
2. LINCOLN RILEY, OKLAHOMA
Once again, Riley has proven he has the guts to make the tough calls. In last week’s Red River Showdown, Riley once again gave his star quarterback, Spenser Rattler, the hook. And this time, he stayed with the hot hand as Caleb Williams led the Sooners to a monster comeback victory.
Oklahoma has not looked like the world-beater many expected them to be this season but give Riley credit for guiding his team through some choppy waters and getting them past both K-State and Texas unblemished.
Now, the Sooners are starting to look like a team capable of making the playoffs, and don’t forget that Riley’s teams tend to improve significantly as the season goes on. While I wouldn’t have ranked Riley nearly this high before Red River, I feel he deserves this spot now.
3. MIKE GUNDY, OKLAHOMA STATE
Like Riley, Gundy guided his team through a rough patch to start the season, but when the lights came on to start Big 12 play, the Cowboys suddenly looked like a different team.
Coming into the season, many thought Oklahoma State would be down this season due to massive turnover at wide receiver and running back. Now, at 5-0, 2-0, Oklahoma State has the look of a team that could play for a Big 12 title and possibly more.
At this point in the season, only two things separate Riley from Gundy in my mind: 1. Gundy has not won a rivalry game or gotten a monkey off his back as Riley has in beating Texas and K-State. 2. Gundy hasn’t had to make the kind of decision that Riley was faced with when he pulled Rattler from the Red River Showdown.
4. STEVE SARKISIAN, TEXAS
Despite losing to Oklahoma in the Red River Showdown, Sarkisian has done a solid job this season. Making the move at quarterback from Hudson Card to Casey Thompson has turned out to be 100% the right thing to do, and he has the Longhorns offense humming along, racking up yards and points like no other team in the Big 12.
The knock on Sark so far is how poorly the Texas defense has been. As shown by the numbers, the Longhorns are struggling to put the clamps on opposing offenses.
Texas is allowing opponents 441 yards of total offense per game, which is significantly worse than every team in the Big 12 except Kansas. The Longhorns are particularly struggling against the run, allowing 228.2 yards per game, but have also been hit hard by the pass in a couple of games.
5. MATT WELLS, TEXAS TECH
Yes, the Red Raiders have had a couple of bad losses, but give Wells credit for taking his team into Morgantown and winning with a backup quarterback at the helm. The come-from-behind win at Houston to open the season continues to look better as the Cougars have put up five straight wins since falling to Tech.
At 4-2, 1-2, with a game at Kansas coming up this weekend, Texas Tech is on the cusp of bowl eligibility. While a sixth win is far from a guarantee, Wells has his team deep in the hunt for its first bowl appearance since 2017. And considering how bleak things looked after falling to Texas 70-35, Wells pulled a little magic to get his team where it is now.
6. CHRIS KLIEMAN, KANSAS STATE
K-State has played a brutal schedule, particularly to begin the Big 12 season, but don’t undervalue the games against Stanford and Nevada – both were very losable. The murderer’s row to start the Big 12 isn’t over yet, either, as K-State plays host to a dangerous Iowa State team full of veterans.
Credit Klieman for the 3-0 start and for improving the overall athleticism of his team. While starting the Big 12 slate at 0-2 isn’t exactly a gold star on his resume, how many people outside of Manhattan thought the Cats would do any better in games at Oklahoma State and versus an Oklahoma team that had dropped two straight to the Cats?
The challenge for Kleiman is to get his team bowl eligible, and if the Cats can whether the storm, the schedule lightens up soon and the sun will rise again.
7. MATT CAMPBELL, IOWA STATE
Campbell’s team came in with extremely high expectations – expectations that many, in hindsight, might say were too high. However, Iowa State has the deepest, most experienced, most talented roster it has ever fielded, so I think the expectations were fair.
Now, at 3-2, 1-1, Iowa State’s dreams of a playoff berth are all but shredded, but the hope for a second consecutive Big 12 Championship appearance is still alive.
The main stain on Campbell’s resume this season is that the Cyclones have yet to beat a team with a pulse. Their wins against UNI, UNLV, and Kansas are not going to impress anyone. Meanwhile, they got hammered at home by their in-state rival (which is, of course, an extremely good team) and they couldn’t dig out of an early hole at Baylor.
8. GARY PATTERSON, TCU
Patterson’s Horned Frog entered the season with a bit of hype as a potential dark horse in the Big 12 race. While there’s no shame in dropping two games to two good teams, there’s also no moral victory in getting beat by two of your biggest rivals.
At 3-2, 1-1, TCU’s best win is at Texas Tech. The other two wins are a blowout over FCS Duquesne and squeaker against the worst team in the Pac-12 North, Cal.
The biggest problem with Horned Frogs thus far is that the defense has been so porous. It’s difficult to say that a defensive mind of Patterson’s caliber is doing a good coaching job when the defense is struggling so mightily.
9. NEAL BROWN, WEST VIRGINIA
If it weren’t for the win against rival Virginia Tech in Week 2, I would have Brown below Leipold. There just isn’t anything else positive to say about WVU’s season except that the Mountaineers played Oklahoma tough in a loss.
And while there is no shame at all in losing to the Sooners by 3 in Norman, there is absolutely shame in the way WVU has looked since that loss.
Getting rocked in the first half at home by a reeling Texas Tech was pretty bad. At least WVU fought back and made it close in the second half, but that was a game the Mountaineers should have won.
Worse was the way West Virginia played at Baylor with its season on the verge of unraveling. WVU lacked energy and seemed to have very little fight against a Bears team that was coming off its first loss of the season.
Quarterback play has been a problem. Jarret Doege leads the Big 12 in passing yards, but he’s also taken 11 sacks this season. His lack of mobility has been widely criticized, but perhaps the bigger problem is WVU’s offensive line as the Mountaineers are dead last in the league in rushing offense and first in the league in sacks surrendered.
10. LANCE LEIPOLD, KANSAS
To be fair, it is extremely difficult to judge the job Leipold is doing because he inherited a team that has been so bad for so long. However, every time I think Kansas is improving, the Jayhawks turn around the next week and look just as bad as ever.
To date, Kansas’ best performance was probably in the first half at Duke but squeaking out a win over FCS South Dakota shouldn’t be scoffed at, not for a Kansas team.
Overall, Kansas does seem to be better than it was last season simply because the coaching has been competent. But more than competence will be needed to move the needle in Lawrence because the needle is buried so very deeply in the negative that small movements don’t register.