This order could change as soon as Thursday night, if Utah acts like a genuine Pac-12 football team against Utah State. And if salary, office dimensions and conference affiliation were the only measurements, Utah’s Kyle Whittingham would win the title every year.
Just for the sake of discussion, though, my rankings ignore money and prestige and consider only the pressure of the position and chances of success in 2013, while addressing this question: Which college football coach in the state would I want to be, right now?
• No. 1: Matt Wells, Utah State
He’s following the phenomenally successful Gary Andersen, moving into a much tougher conference and making his head coaching debut against an angry Utah team.
But two more seasons of quarterback Chuckie Keeton’s services came with Wells’ contract, which is nice. He also caught a break with the Mountain West’s scheduling rotation, as USU skips Fresno State, San Diego State and Nevada. Expectations are shockingly high in Logan, but there’s room for error below last season’s 11-2 record. Just getting into another bowl game will be adequate for Wells.
• No. 2: Bronco Mendenhall, BYU
My envy index drops off quickly from the top position. Mendenhall tackles one of the most ambitious schedules in school history and really needs a signature victory to overcome some of his mismanagement of staffing and personnel in recent seasons.
He’s backed by a contract extension through 2016, however, having pleased his bosses enough to merit a salary that stretched BYU’s standards, even if it’s not market value. There are some soft spots in that schedule, and Mendenhall also got a big boost when linebacker Kyle Van Noy and receiver Cody Hoffman returned for their senior seasons. The big question is whether Robert Anae’s fast-paced offense will actually work, justifying Mendenhall’s staff overhaul.
• No. 3: Ed Lamb, Southern Utah
Entering his sixth season at SUU, Lamb surprisingly has not moved to a Football Bowl Subdivision program, but Cedar City is a nice place to be stuck. His 26-29 record is much better than it appears, considering he took over an 0-11 team, and the school will keep him as long as he wants to stay.
Lamb’s challenge becomes competing in the Big Sky Conference without a big-time quarterback, after Brad Sorensen was drafted by the San Diego Chargers. Yet the Thunderbirds matched up well overall against the league’s best teams in their first season.
• No. 4: Kyle Whittingham, Utah
Every year that goes by takes Whittingham further from the Utes’ perfect season of 2008, even if Alabama’s subsequent success makes the Sugar Bowl upset more remarkable.
Since the day in November 2010 when TCU and ESPN’s “GameDay” crew came to town, Whittingham is 15-15. And now Utah’s Pac-12 schedule shifts, adding top-four teams Stanford and Oregon. Dennis Erickson’s arrival as co-offensive coordinator may turn out to be Whittingham’s best move, but the Utes have work to do just to crack the top 100 in total offense.
• No. 5: Jody Sears, Weber State
Everybody else’s job looks easy, compared to this guy’s. Sears was awarded the position permanently, after a 2-9 season as interim coach, but now the Wildcats are facing an NCAA investigation into academic issues in the program, while their offensive coordinator is suspended for the season opener because of sanctions from his previous job at Montana.
If that’s not enough, Weber State will meet Utah and Utah State in consecutive weeks in September, and one or both of those teams may be in a bad mood — especially if Utah loses to USU. In that case, though, Sears no longer would rank No. 5.