Mario Cristobal leads a talented cast of head coaches.
Photo: (Christian Petersen / Getty Images)
1. Mario Cristobal - Oregon
Oregon had won just 11 games in the 2 seasons before Mario Cristobal was named Head Coach following the 2017 season. Since being promoted, Cristobal has made an instant impact on the field and on the recruiting trail. In Cristobal's first 2 seasons, he has totaled 21 wins, a Pac-12 Championship and a win in the 2020 Rose Bowl over Wisconsin. Cristobal's dominance has extended to recruiting where the Ducks have ranked 1st in the Pac-12 in both 2019 and 2020. The Ducks enter the 2020 season as the Pac-12 favorites and will look to repeat as Pac-12 champions.
2. Kyle Whittingham - Utah
Kyle Whittingham continues to get the most out of his talent every week and has now won 2 straight Pac-12 South Titles. The Utes have won 9+ games in 5 of the past 6 seasons and consistently develop 3 star recruits into NFL Draft picks. 2020 may be a slight rebuild for the Utes after an 11 win season but many projections still have Utah in the Top 25 for next season.
3. David Shaw - Stanford
Shaw would have been higher on this list a couple of years ago but the Cardinal have experienced a drop off recently. In Shaw's first 6 seasons, the Cardinal won 10+ games 5 times and won the Pac-12 3 times. Over the past 3 seasons, Stanford has gone 22-17 and shockingly won just 4 games last season. Stanford should bounce back to win 6-8 games in 2020 but they are no longer are the dominant program in the Pac-12.
4. Justin Wilcox - California
Justin Wilcox has steadily rebuilt the California football program after taking over for Sonny Dykes who went just 19-30 during his time in Berkeley. Cal managed to go 8-5 in 2019 despite missing their starting quarterback for a large chunk of the season. 2020 should be another step in the right direction as Cal will likely win 8-10 games and should compete for the Pac-12 Title.
5. Herm Edwards - Arizona State
Herm Edwards has quickly positioned Arizona State on an upward trajectory since being hired after the 2018 season. We have Edwards slightly behind Justin Wilcox as Arizona State was left in decent shape by Todd Graham who went 6-3 in conference games in 2017. Edwards has impressed on the recruiting trail after landing 8 4 star recruits in 2020. The Sun Devils have a talented quarterback in Jayden Daniels and should compete for Pac-12 Titles over the next 3 seasons.
6. Clay Helton - USC
Helton often gets criticized for being inept during his tenure in Los Angeles but he has proven he can win with a talented quarterback. The Trojans have reached 2 NY6 bowls during the Helton era and have gone 31-12 in Pac-12 conference games. USC featured young teams in 2018 and 2019 and went through some struggles while winning just 13 games the past 2 years but have positioned themselves well for 2020. The USC offense is absolutely loaded this season and the Trojans should win 9-11 games in the regular season.
7. Chip Kelly - UCLA
To be honest, this ranking is probably too high based on what Kelly has shown during his time at UCLA but we will give him the benefit of the doubt for one more year. Kelly was an innovative genius during his time in Eugene where he won 46 games over 4 years before leaving for the NFL. At UCLA, his offense has sputtered at times and the defense has struggled often as well. Overall, Kelly has gone 7-17 at UCLA and will likely need at least 6 wins this season to keep his job.
8. Jonathan Smith - Oregon State
You can easily make the case that Smith should be 6th on this list after leading Oregon State to a 2nd place finish in the Pac-12 North in 2019. Smith has brought the Oregon State program back to life and would have reached a bowl game last season if not for 3 losses by 3 points or less. If Smith can keep the Oregon State program trending up in 2020 then he will rise quickly in these rankings.
9. Nick Rolovich - Washington State
Rolovich inherited a Hawaii program that had won just 8 games total in the 3 years before his arrival and was able to win 7 games his first season. By his 4th season, Hawaii won 10 games and played in the Mountain West Championship. Rolovich could quickly move up this list but is less proven than the coaches ahead of him at the P5 level up to this point.
10. Kevin Sumlin - Arizona
The Kevin Sumlin era has been a failure thus far compared to initial expectations when he was hired. The Wildcats went 7-6 in Rich Rod's final season and had a 2018 Heisman candidate in Khalil Tate at quarterback but Tate was unable to live up to the hype and didn't seem to be a mesh for the offense run by Sumlin and Mazzone. Sumlin has won just 9 games during his 2 seasons in Tucson and the Wildcats finished 12th in the Pac-12 in recruiting in 2020.
11. Karl Dorrell - Colorado
Dorrell was a surprise hire by the Buffs after he hadn't been a head coach since he was fired from UCLA in 2007. Dorrell has been a Wide Receiver coach in the NFL the past 5 years and the upside of the hire is that he could be the next Herm Edwards and will bring an NFL mentality to how he leads his program.
TBD: Jimmy Lake - Washington
Jimmy Lake will be a first time head coach in 2020, but has proven he is an excellent defensive mind and recruiter. Without enough data on Lake as a head coach and how he will run a program, we will hold off on ranking him for another year.