- Mark Schlabach, ESPN Senior Writer
- 0 Shares
The best coaching jobs in college football come equipped with big stadiums, multimillion-dollar salaries, fertile recruiting grounds, and rabid and supportive fan bases.
But the most underrated jobs in the country come with everything above and a lot less pressure.
Some of the most underrated jobs in the nation are launching pads to more high-profile positions, or they're programs that haven't traditionally won big but have everything at their disposal to do it.
Here's a list of the most underrated jobs in college football:
Houston: Located in the heart of talent-rich Texas, the Cougars have little reason not to become a major factor in the Big East starting in 2013. Former Houston coach Kevin Sumlin, who guided the Cougars to a 12-0 record in the 2011 regular season before leaving for Texas A&M, laid the groundwork for success. New Houston coach Tony Levine inherits a program with a lot of momentum and improving facilities. Houston is spending $105 million to replace Robertson Stadium. Construction begins after the 2012 season, and the new stadium will seat about 40,000 with future plans to expand to 60,000.
Louisville: The Cardinals found success under former coach Bobby Petrino, and they seem close to finding it again under third-year coach Charlie Strong, who went 14-12 during his first two seasons. With West Virginia leaving for the Big 12, and Pittsburgh and Syracuse about to bolt for the ACC, there's no reason the Cardinals shouldn't become a dominant program in the Big East. Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich is committed to winning, and the school's fan base seems to care about football a little bit more than Kentucky fans.
Michigan State: No matter how hard the Spartans try, they're always going to be considered the second-best team in Michigan. But coach Mark Dantonio won 44 games in his first five seasons, and his teams defeated the Wolverines in each of the past four meetings. While Michigan might be the state's heavyweight, it's pretty clear there's enough room for two really good programs.
North Carolina: UNC is always going to be a basketball school, but there's no reason its football program shouldn't thrive in the ACC. North Carolina is one of the top academic schools in the country, and recruiting players to picturesque Chapel Hill shouldn't be difficult. There's a lot of room for growth in the ACC, and teams can move up the pecking order quickly with a couple of good seasons. New Tar Heels coach Larry Fedora will have to overcome NCAA sanctions in the beginning, however.
Oklahoma State: Long overshadowed by Oklahoma, the Cowboys finally broke through during the past two seasons, going 23-3 under coach Mike Gundy. Last season, the Pokes went 12-1 and won the Big 12 title, their first outright conference championship since 1948. And it never hurts having wealthy booster T. Boone Pickens' checkbook at your disposal. In 2005, Pickens donated $165 million to Oklahoma State to help improve the Pokes' football facilities.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks have always had one of the country's most loyal fan bases, and now coach Steve Spurrier is giving them something to cheer about. After taking over a program that didn't win a bowl game until 1995, Spurrier guided the Gamecocks to their first SEC East title in 2010 and first 11-win season in 2011. The Gamecocks' facilities are on par with anyone else in the SEC, and the school's proximity to Atlanta helps in recruiting.
Stanford: Stanford is the perfect model for mixing athletics and academics. Despite facing tougher admission standards than a lot of other schools, the Cardinal have won 23 games the past two seasons. Former Cardinal coach Jim Harbaugh, now coaching the NFL's San Francisco 49ers, instilled a blue-collar work ethic, and David Shaw, his former assistant and replacement, picked up right where he left off. Shaw's best sales pitch? Offering recruits an education that's worth about $58,00 annually.
Texas A&M: The Aggies were in rival Texas' imposing shadow in the Big 12, but now they're on their own in the SEC. There's no reason they shouldn't find success in their new league, not with the recruiting ground and financial resources at their disposal. Sumlin has a proven track record of recruiting in Texas, and with Texas A&M being the only SEC team in the Lone Star State, he should find even more recruiting success.
TCU: The Horned Frogs were the model of consistency in the Mountain West, winning 11 games or more in six of the past seven seasons. During the past three seasons, TCU played in the 2010 Fiesta Bowl and won the Rose Bowl presented by VIZIO in 2011. Now TCU can sell recruits on playing in the Big 12, which should help it attract bigger and faster talent. It doesn't hurt that 34 individual donors helped TCU complete a $105 million renovation of the west side and north end zone of Amon G. Carter Stadium last year.
Washington: The Huskies won a national championship under coach Don James in 1991, so there's no reason they shouldn't be more competitive in the Pac-12. Coach Steve Sarkisian, a former USC assistant, has expanded UW's recruiting base into California. Husky Stadium is finally getting a face-lift, so the Huskies will play this season at the Seattle Seahawks' CenturyLink Field. The $250 million project will remove the lower bowl of Husky Stadium and add a 40,000-square-foot football operations center, including a weight room and meeting rooms.
22hBrian Bennett and Mitch Sherman
2dESPN Stats & Information