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College football’s coach of the year candidates, plus breaking down the Playoff field

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If Jim Harbaugh were to give out a coach of the year award, P.J. Fleck probably jumped to the top of his list with his candid praise of the Wolverines last week. But that’s not how we’re evaluating our list of candidates. Also today, I’m joined by Stewart Mandel as he breaks down what the College Football Playoff field could look like.

Here’s what’s happening in college football Until Saturday …

Coach Of The Year Candidates

Jeff Brohm, Brent Venables early favorites


  • Jeff Brohm (Louisville): In Year 1 as the coach at his alma mater, Brohm has Louisville undefeated through six games for the first time in a decade. The Cardinals, who were eighth in the ACC preseason poll, flexed their muscle last week by beating Notre Dame. The back half of Louisville’s schedule is loaded (Duke, at Miami, Kentucky), but Brohm is already a top candidate given what he has pulled off so far.
  • Brent Venables (Oklahoma): Venables didn’t let the Sooners’ 6-7 campaign last season — their worst since 1998 — slow his build. The 52-year-old views this season through the lens of redemption, not for himself but for the program. He refueled his roster through recruiting and the transfer portal. The Sooners (6-0) are tough and serious College Football Playoff contenders.
  • Mike Elko (Duke): Elko is 13-5 through a season and a half with the Blue Devils and 4-1 this year. He was last season’s ACC coach of the year and is following that up with an impressive encore. Duke is allowing an ACC-low 11.2 points per game, beat Clemson in Week 1 and played Notre Dame down to the wire. QB Riley Leonard’s ankle injury stings, but if the Blue Devils persevere until his return (he is day-to-day at this point), Elko’s COY resume looks that much stronger.
  • Craig Bohl (Wyoming): In his 10th season with the Cowboys, Bohl is the longest-tenured coach in program history. This season looks like one of Bohl’s strongest as the Cowboys (5-1) beat Texas Tech in Week 1 and last week knocked off an undefeated Fresno State team.

Have a case

  • Eli Drinkwitz (Missouri): Missouri cracked the AP Top 25 for the first time since 2019 this season, and the Tigers’ No. 21 ranking in Week 6 was their highest since 2015. Drinkwitz backed his team through early criticism and earned the biggest win of his tenure against Kansas State last month. The Tigers (5-1) rank fifth in the SEC in total offense, and WR Luther Burden, part of Drinkwitz’s program-best 2022 recruiting class, leads the nation in receiving yards.
  • Lance Leipold (Kansas): Leipold broke the Jayhawks’ 13-year AP poll drought last season and now he has them back in at No. 23. Kansas (5-1) went 2-10 in Leipold’s first season but looks well on its way to a second consecutive bowl bid after the program missed out for more than a decade. Even with Big 12 preseason player of the year Jalon Daniels out with back issues, the Jayhawks are second in the conference in points per game (36.3) and rushing yards per game (232.3).
  • Deion Sanders (Colorado): Yes, Sanders is a serious contender. Colorado (1-11 last year) is 4-2 and has surpassed its Las Vegas preseason win total (3.5). The Buffs’ roll has slowed since Week 1, but they answered a tough outing against Oregon by overcoming a 20-point deficit to nearly beat USC. QB Shedeur Sanders leads the nation in passing yards, and two-way player Travis Hunter, who was one of the most athletic players in college football before an injury, has a “tremendous chance” of returning this week.

Could get there

  • Kalen DeBoer (Washington): The Huskies (5-0) have one of the most prolific offenses in the country. If No. 7 Washington beats No. 8 Oregon this weekend, DeBoer’s name could climb up this list.
  • Mike Locksley (Maryland): The Terps (5-1) gave Ohio State an early scare last week, and it shouldn’t have come as a surprise. Taulia Tagovailoa is one of the most experienced QBs in the nation. Maryland gets Penn State and Michigan at home, and a win in either game gives Locksley a solid case.
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Jeff Brohm returned to his alma mater this year and has Louisville at 6-0 after its win over Notre Dame on Saturday. (Jamie Rhodes / USA Today)

Mandel’s Mailbag

Playoff field breakdown

During the past nine years, all 36 Playoff teams have had zero losses or one loss. Entering this weekend, there are 29 Power 5 teams that meet that threshold. How many zero or one-loss P5 teams do you think we will have by Selection Sunday? — David T., Hoover, Ala.

The stat that people go unnecessarily crazy about is undefeated teams. Almost everybody’s going to lose at some point because 18- to 23-year-olds have bad weeks, and upsets happen. If you set the over/under for undefeated Power 5 teams at the end of the regular season at 2.5, I definitely would take the under. And if you dropped it to 1.5 … I still might take the under. In eight seasons of the Playoff (throwing out the COVID-19 2020 season), the average number has been 1.3.

The one-loss group is trickier. The average to this point has been 3.4, but with as many as five (three times) and as few as one (once). At this point, I believe the number will trend high. Every P5 conference will produce at least one, and I easily could see the top-heavy Big Ten and Big 12 producing more than one each.

Here’s my prediction, which I’m absolutely sure will not elicit any “this aged well” screenshots eight weeks from now: one undefeated (either but not both Georgia and Michigan), one-loss champs in the Big Ten or SEC, the ACC, Big 12 and Pac-12 and an extra one-loss squad from the Big Ten. So, six teams for four spots, which hasn’t happened since … the first year in 2014. — Mandel

Read the full mailbag here.

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