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Comparing each Pac-12 coach's best team

3/24/2015

Just over a year ago, I took a look at each Pac-12 head coach's career and ordered their best individual seasons as decided by each team's final spot in the AP poll. At the time, it seemed like a pretty impressive list.

This year's updated version takes it to another level after four Pac-12 coaches -- Steve Sarkisian, Todd Graham, Jim Mora and Mark Helfrich -- fielded the best teams of their head-coaching careers in 2014. That's not including Gary Andersen, whose most recent Wisconsin team was his best ever, and finished ranked higher than any Oregon State team during Mike Riley's 14-year, two-stint tenure.

In reverse order, here is the updated list. Remember, for consistency and simplicity's sake, each coach's best season is defined by its final ranking in the AP poll.

No. 12 Sonny Dykes, Louisiana Tech, 2012

Dykes' record: 9-3 (4-2, third in WAC)

Final AP rank: unranked

Highest AP rank: 19

Bowl result: no bowl

The team:
The Bulldogs finished the season as the country's highest scoring team (51.50 ppg) and top-ranked offense (577.9 ypg). They rose to No. 19 in the AP poll before losing their final two games of the season, including one against Mike MacIntyre-coached San Jose State in the season finale. Louisiana Tech was offered a spot in the Independence Bowl, but it was given away while the school unsuccessfully sought other bowl options. Dykes left for Cal after the season.

No. 11 Mike MacIntyre, San Jose State, 2012

MacIntyre's record: 10-2, (5-1, second in WAC)

Final AP rank: 21

Highest AP rank: 21

Bowl result: Beat Bowling Green in Military Bowl (MacIntyre did not coach)

2014 Pac-12 rank: 10

The team:
Two years after coaching San Jose State to a 1-11 record in his first season as head coach, MacIntyre's team became the first in program history to finish in the final AP poll -- although, the Spartans were unranked when MacIntyre accepted the job at Colorado. SJSU didn't beat any ranked teams, but lost just 20-17 to Stanford, which went on to win Pac-12 and Rose Bowl championships. The other loss came to Utah State, which finished No. 16.

No. 10 Steve Sarkisian, USC, 2014

Sarkisian's record: 9-4 (6-3, tied for second in Pac-12 South)

Final AP rank: 20

Highest AP rank: 9

Bowl result: Beat Nebraska 45-42 in the National University Holiday Bowl.

The team: Sarkisian was at No. 11 last year with his 2013 Washington team that finished No. 25, but moves up a spot after his debut season in Los Angeles. It was an underwhelming season by USC's standards, but quarterback Cody Kessler's emergence and an impressive collection of young talent gave the impression the program is trending in the right direction. High point: beating No. 13 Stanford in Week 2 to end the Cardinal's FBS-best 17-game home winning streak. Low point: A 38-20 loss to UCLA to fall out of the Pac-12 South race.

No. 9 Gary Andersen, Wisconsin, 2014

Andersen's record: 10-3 (7-1, first in Big Ten West)

Final AP rank: 13

Highest AP rank: 11

Bowl result: Lost to eventual national champion Ohio State 59-0 in conference championship; beat Auburn 34-31 in Outback Bowl (Andersen did not coach)

The team: In Andersen's second year in Madison after leaving Utah State, the Badgers began the year ranked No. 14 in the AP poll. They dropped their opener in painful fashion against LSU, but a seven-game winning streak to close the regular season had Wisconsin in the College Football Playoff picture. High point: Melvin Gordon set the FBS single-game record with 408 yards rushing against Nebraska (only to see it broken the next week). Low point: The Badgers were no-shows against Ohio State and five days later Andersen was announced as Mike Riley's replacement at Oregon State.

No. 7 (tied) Todd Graham, Arizona State, 2014

Graham's record: 10-3 (6-3, tied for second in Pac-12 South)

Final AP rank: 12

Highest AP rank: 7

Bowl result: Beat Duke 36-31 in the Hyundai Sun Bowl

The team: After an 8-1 start, Arizona State had a clear path the College Football Playoff, but a surprising loss to Oregon State ended any fantasies the Sun Devils were harboring concerning a national title. They remained in position to win the Pac-12 South, but a loss to Arizona in the Territorial Cup prevented an opportunity to play Oregon for the conference title. High point: ASU rose to No. 7 after its blowout-turned-collapse-turned-rout of Notre Dame. Low point: See, Territorial Cup.

No. 7 (tied) Mike Leach, Texas Tech, 2008

Leach's record: 11-2 (7-1, tied for first in Big 12 South)

Final AP rank: 12

Highest AP rank: 2

Bowl result: Lost to Ole Miss in Cotton Bowl

The team:
The Red Raiders started the year at No. 12 and moved up to No. 6 after an 8-0 start. They rose to No. 2 after Michael Crabtree's memorable touchdown catch secured a win vs. No. 1 Texas. After two weeks at No. 2, the Red Raiders lost to No. 5 Oklahoma in a game that propelled Sooners quarterback Sam Bradford to the Heisman Trophy. Leach arrived at WSU in 2012.

No. 6 Jim Mora, UCLA, 2014

Mora's record: 10-3 (6-3, tied for second in Pac-12 South)

Final AP rank: 10

Highest AP rank: 7

Bowl result: Beat Kansas State 40-35 in Valero Alamo Bowl

The team:
Brett Hundley returned to UCLA for his third year as the starter despite being projected to be one of the earliest quarterbacks off the board in the NFL draft. A trendy national-title pick, UCLA's season lost steam after a 4-2 start, but it remained in the thick of the Pac-12 South race until losing to Stanford in the regular-season finale. Again using the final AP poll as a gauge, it was UCLA's third consecutive season of improvement under Mora.

No. 5 David Shaw, Stanford, 2011

Shaw's record: 11-2 (8-1, second in Pac-12 North)

Final AP rank: 7

Highest AP rank: 3

Bowl result: Lost to No. 3 Oklahoma State, 41-38 OT, in Fiesta Bowl

The team: Andrew Luck's final team did not win the Pac-12 or the Rose Bowl, but it should still go down as a better team than its 2013 counterpart, which won both and also finished ranked No. 7. With the understanding that winning the 2012 Pac-12 title doesn't necessarily mean the same team would have done it in 2011, look at the two teams. Kevin Hogan was great that year, but in a hypothetical game between those Stanford teams, is anyone picking against the version with Luck? Shaw's first team made the program's second of four-straight trips to a BCS bowl where it came this close to beating a very good Oklahoma State team in the Fiesta Bowl.

No. 4 Rich Rodriguez, West Virginia, 2005

Rodriguez's record: 11-1, (7-0 Big East champions)

Final AP rank: 5

Highest AP rank: 5

Bowl result: Beat No. 8 Georgia in Sugar Bowl

The team: Freshmen QB Pat White and RB Steve Slaton were the names of note for the current Arizona coach. West Virginia started the year unranked and its lone loss came to then-No. 3 Virginia Tech. It was the first of three consecutive double-digit win seasons for the Mountaineers, who were undefeated in Big East play and capped the season with a win over No. 8 Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. A strong case can be made that West Virginia had a better team in 2007, when Rodriguez left following the regular-season finale to become head coach at Michigan. The Mountaineers were ranked No. 2 (No. 1 in the coaches poll) going into Rodriguez's final game, but lost to a 4-7 Pittsburgh team in the 100th Backyard Brawl, which cost them a chance to play for the national title. They finished No. 6.

No. 3 Chris Petersen, Boise State, 2009

Petersen's record: 14-0 (8-0, WAC champions)

Final AP rank: 4

Highest AP rank: 4

Bowl result: Beat No. 4 TCU in the Fiesta Bowl

The team: Washington's second-year coach has one of the best resumes in college football. Many consider Boise State's undefeated 2006 team that beat Oklahoma in that's year memorable Fiesta Bowl as the school's best, but three years later the Broncos finished 14-0 and finished a spot higher in the final AP poll. They opened the season at No. 14 and started with a win against No. 16 Oregon in Chip Kelly's first game as head coach. Boise capped the season with a win against undefeated TCU in the Fiesta Bowl. The team's offensive coordinator, Bryan Harsin, is now its head coach and its defensive coordinator, Justin Wilcox, serves in the same capacity at USC.

No. 1 (tied) Mark Helfrich, Oregon, 2014

Helfrich's record: 13-2 (8-1, Pac-12 champions)

Final AP rank: 2

Highest AP rank: 2

Bowl result: Beat Florida State, ranked No. 1 by the AP poll and No. 3 by playoff selection committee, in first College Football Playoff semifinal at the Rose Bowl; lost to Ohio State 42-20 in the championship

The team: Marcus Mariota won the Heisman Trophy, the Ducks won the most competitive Pac-12 in years (ever?) and ended Jameis Winston's career with a loss that would have humbled many others. All that stood between the Ducks and their first national title was Ohio State, which left no doubt in the championship to leave Oregon on the doorstep of history. Among Pac-12 coaches, only Utah assistant head coach Dennis Erickson also knows what it's like to be the head coach of a Heisman winner (Shaw gets an asterisk for 2011).

No. 1 (tied) Kyle Whittingham, Utah, 2008

Whittingham's record: 13-0 (8-0, Mountain West champions)

Final AP rank: 2

Highest AP rank: 2

Bowl result: Beat No. 4 Alabama in Sugar Bowl

The team: In Whittingham's fourth season as head coach, the Utes finished as the nation's lone undefeated team after starting unranked. Utah opened with a win at Michigan -- Rodriguez's first game as the Wolverines' coach -- and went on to beat four teams that finished in the final AP poll, including Alabama (6), TCU (7), Oregon State (18) and BYU (25). Quarterback Brian Johnson threw for 336 yards in a convincing 31-17 win against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.