Every so often in college football, a weekend comes along that beats the holy crap out of the existing narrative.
There’s no way of knowing if this is that weekend, but perhaps Utah’s unexpected blowout of Oregon last Saturday was a harbinger of what’s to come. If nothing else, the opportunity exists for several coaches to at least begin to reverse the perceptions about them – and their programs’ inability to win key games. This is the most intriguing Saturday of the college football season so far, and here are five of the coaches who could do the most good for themselves.
Mark Richt, Georgia (versus Alabama)
It has been explored in this space previously that Richt is essentially college football’s Charlie Brown, a decent and competent man who is trailed by a perpetual rain cloud of failure in key games. On Saturday, Richt’s Bulldogs face Nick Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide for the first time since the heartbreaking end to the 2012 SEC Championship game, when Richt’s team ran out of time during a last-second comeback attempt. In theory, Alabama is struggling with itself and undefeated Georgia, playing at home, would appear to have the momentum, but who knows what that might mean in practice when Richt is involved?
Dabo Swinney, Clemson (versus Notre Dame)
Like Richt, Swinney is a devout Christian who also happens to be the coach of the program that’s long cornered the market on losing games that it has no business losing. On Saturday night, the Tigers host a very good Notre Dame team; a loss would not necessarily be a signature example of Clemsoning, but a victory may prove a major step for the Tigers in proving A) That they can finally beat Florida State and win the Atlantic Coast Conference, and B) That they are not the same old blunderers we’ve come to know.
Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia (at Oklahoma)
Before he even got the job at WVU, Holgorsen was escorted out of a casino at 3 a.m. for inappropriate behavior. He’s always been that kind of dude: Wild-haired, loaded up with Red Bull, an offensive savant whose teams never seem to gave much of a shit about the defensive side of the ball, often to his own detriment. But so far this year, the Mountaineers have one of the strongest defenses in the Big 12; that’ll be severely tested when they play at Oklahoma on Saturday.
Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech (versus Baylor)
Kingsbury is the Gosling-looking fellow and former Tech quarterback who was hired to rebuild a program that had largely become irrelevant since his mentor Mike Leach was fired. In his first season, the Red Raiders went 8-5, but last year they slumped to 4-8, which led some people to believe that Kingsbury was college coaching’s version of Don Draper without the inherent talent. But Tech nearly upended TCU last week in a wild-as-hell 55-52 game, and this week, the Red Raiders will get another shot at proving they belong in the upper echelons of the Big 12 when they face a ridiculously prolific Baylor offense at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. A win, and perhaps Kingbury is no longer viewed as just a pretty face.
Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M (versus Mississippi State)
Back when Kingsbury was coaching on Sumlin’s staff, the Aggies looked like the SEC’s ascendant program, largely because of a quarterback named Manziel. But after a blistering start to last season (and perhaps the most short-lived Heisman push in recent memory), Texas A&M faded hard, losing five its final seven regular-season games, including a 59-0 shellacking at the hands of Alabama. So here are the Aggies, at 4-0 for the second consecutive year after solid wins over Arizona State and, uh, Arkansas, heading into a crucial three-game stretch that begins with a contest against Mississippi State (and continues against Alabama and then Ole Miss). If Sumlin can get through this stretch unscathed, he may prove what we all presumed about him in the first place.
Michael Weinreb is the author of Season of Saturdays: A History of College Football in 14 Games, now out in paperback. You can find him on Twitter @michaelweinreb