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Want to see a wild ranking of the top 20 coaches in college football? And where is Franklin on list?

Photo by Penn State Athletics

Some rankings lists are good. Some are bad. And some are, well, garbage. Regardless, the purpose of rankings is usually all about generating discussions — seeing if people agree or disagree with the list.

Well, Pro Football Focus came out with a ranking this week of the 20 best college football coaches right now, and it is, ummm, interesting, to say the least.

The top two spots, to no one’s surprise, are held by Alabama’s Nick Saban and Clemson’s Dabo Swinney. Things get pretty wacky rounding out the top 10 and heading into the top 20, which we’ll get to in a bit.

For Penn State fans, you certainly want to know where James Franklin is on the list. According to Seth Galina, who compiled the rankings, Franklin came in at No. 18. He would have been higher if not for last year’s disappointing 4-5 record.

This is what Galina wrote about Franklin:

We must start with Franklin’s time at Vanderbilt, where his 18-8 record in 2012 and 2013 is the best two-year mark since the 1920s. It is unheard of to have back-to-back nine-win seasons at Vanderbilt, and the program quickly fell off when Franklin left for Penn State.

Franklin has performed just as well with the Nittany Lions. And Penn State’s 4-5 season in 2020 is the only reason why he’s as low on this rankings list, as he went an astounding 42-11 from 2016 to 2019. Assuming 2020 was just a blip and not the beginning of a downward trend, Franklin has proven himself to be one of the top coaches in college football.

There are two Big Ten coaches ranked ahead of Franklin, but they aren’t exactly the ones many people would expect. Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald is at No. 6, and Indiana’s Tom Allen at No. 16.

The only other Big Ten coach on the list is Minnesota’s P.J. Fleck, at No. 20.

That’s right … Ohio State’s Ryan Day is NOT listed among the nation’s top 20 coaches. Here’s why, which makes sense given the criteria, although one may have to question the criteria in the first place if it means Day isn’t on the list:

Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh also is missing from the top 20 ranking. That may be a surprise to some, although it really shouldn’t be. I personally believer Harbaugh is the most overrated coach in all of college football, given how his Michigan teams have underachieved drastically during his tenure.

Here’s the entire top 20, and you’ll notice a couple of names that will jump out:

1: Nick Saban, Alabama

2: Dabo Swinney, Clemson

3: Kirby Smart, Georgia

4: Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma

5: Dan Mullen, Florida

6: Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern

7: Matt Campbell, Iowa State

8: Kyle Whittingham, Utah

9: Lance Leipold, Kansas — This is one that will make a lot of people shake their heads, given some of the coaches who are below him on the list. Leipold won six Division III national titles and compiled a 109-6 record at Wisconsin-Whitewater before going to Buffalo, where he was 37-33 in six seasons. So, the question becomes: Is someone who did a nice job at Buffalo and won a bunch of DIII titles a better coach than a Big Ten championship coach who won a Cotton Bowl and Fiesta Bowl? According to Pro Football Focus, Leipold gets the nod over Franklin — and numerous other high-profile coaches on this list.

10: Mack Brown, North Carolina

11: Jamey Chadwell, Coastal Carolina — Another very surprising ranking. He led Coastal Carolina to an 11-1 record last season, so he’s certainly a hot name in the profession. But having him above Franklin and others on the list is just bizarre, especially when Ryan Day isn’t even ranked.

12: Brian Kelly, Notre Dame

13: Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M

14: Mark Stoops, Kentucky

15: Luke Fickell, Cincinnati

16: Tom Allen, Indiana

17: Jeff Monken, Army

18: James Franklin, Penn State

19: Billy Napier, Louisiana

20: P.J. Fleck, Minnesota

So, what do you think of these rankings? Let us know in the comments below.

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Written By

Cory Giger is a 15-year veteran of the Penn State beat and a journalist with 28 years of experience. He has won more than 100 state and national journalism awards during his career, plus he's a voter for the Heisman Trophy in football and Wooden Award in basketball.

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