SportsPulse: USA TODAY Sports’ Dan Wolken discusses a pair of teams that are under-performing but one stands out as most disappointing.
Each week during the season, the USA TODAY Sports college staff (Jace Evans, Paul Myerberg, George Schroeder, Erick Smith and Eddie Timanus) will provide their answers to on an intriguing question from college football.
With the college football season set to reach the halfway mark this weekend, there have been several outstanding coaching performances of note. Who has been the best coach of the first half?
It’s hard not to pick Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre here. The Buffaloes are 5-0 for the first time in 20 years, currently first in the Pac-12 South and the last remaining unbeaten team in the entire league. And while the schedule certainly gets harder from here – two of the three Power Five teams Colorado has played have yet to record a win – the Buffs should still celebrate a strong start that has already equaled 2017’s win total.
MacIntyre and staff should get particular credit for the emergence of wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. He is their most dangerous offensive player, and the Buffaloes have made sure he gets the ball as much as possible; in the most recent contest against Arizona State, Shenault scored all four touchdowns – two receiving and two rushing.
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The only right answer here is Nick Saban. The excuse of “Alabama is better than everyone, so they should be unbeaten” doesn’t hold water. Who recruited these players to Alabama? Who developed them? Who pulls the strings? Saban should get credit for engineering college football’s best team through a ridiculously impressive first half of the season. He never does, of course. But the best coach in the country has been the best coach through six games. Saban it is.
Let’s go with Utah State’s Matt Wells, who has the Aggies surging again after a couple of difficult seasons.
When Utah State nearly upset Michigan State on Aug. 31, most of college football probably chalked it up to the goofiness of opening weekend and moved on. But it’s time to check back in with the Aggies, and to understand: They’re for real. Last Saturday, the Aggies rolled into Provo, rolled BYU 45-20, and then rolled the Old Wagon Wheel – really, it’s an old wagon wheel – right back home with them.
Coming off three losing seasons (6-7 in 2015, 3-9 in 2016 and 6-7 in 2017), Utah State is 4-1, and could easily be undefeated, and looks like a legitimate contender for the Mountain West championship. And while we’re at it, after a couple of years off the radar, Wells will probably pop up on candidate lists when jobs begin to open.
Coaches get paid millions of dollars to make hard decisions. When they pay off, they’re deserving of recognition.
Brian Kelly spent the offseason preparing Brandon Wimbush to be the starting quarterback for Notre Dame. Those efforts paid off when the Irish beat Michigan in the season opener. However, the offense sputtered in close games against Ball State and Vanderbilt. That led Kelly to make the difficult choice of benching Wimbush and inserting Ian Book in as the starter with his team unbeaten.
The decision has been a smashing success. In defeats of Wake Forest, Stanford and Virginia Tech, the Irish have scored 139 points and are now in the top five of the Amway Coaches Poll. An easier second half awaits which makes the possibility of Notre Dame running the table and making the College Football Playoff more likely with each victory.
If the Irish should complete the journey, Kelly would be coach of the year.
Entering his third season helming his alma mater, Hawaii coach Nick Rolovich had a lot of work to do. The Rainbow Warriors were 3-9 last season, there would be huge roster turnover, and the defensive coordinator had to be replaced.
So Rolovich went back to his roots, and the results speak for themselves. The Warriors are 6-1, already doubling their win total from a year ago and a sure bet to go bowling. The offense is spreading the field and Cole McDonald is slinging it around like, well, like Rolovich himself used to when he played for June Jones. It helps that standout receive John Ursua was able to recover from ACL surgery and already has 801 yards and 12 TD catches. McDonald has amassed 2,100 passing yards with 24 touchdowns and only two picks.
In short, Hawaii is Hawaii again, and Rolovich deserves a ton of credit for restoring the program’s identity.