Posted: Wednesday October 17, 2012 3:00PM ; Updated: Wednesday October 17, 2012 3:00PM
Stewart Mandel

Dan Mullen, Will Muschamp among top coaches in first half; more mail

Story Highlights

Urban Meyer, Charlie Strong, Dan Mullen -- once UF coaches -- are still unbeaten

Texas' Mack Brown has disappointed of late, but there are no obvious alternatives

Plus: Johnny Manziel's Heisman hopes, Steve Spurrier's legacy, ACC's woes, more

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Mississippi State's Dan Mullen
Since taking over at Mississippi State in 2009, Dan Mullen has gone 27-17 and led the Bulldogs to two bowl victories.
Wesley Hitt/Getty Images
The Mandel Initiative Podcast's Andy Staples, Holly Anderson and Ben Glicksman join Stewart and Mallory to recap the season's first half and preview the second half. 'It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia' star and former Mailbag crush Kaitlin Olson joins the show.

More Mandel Initiative | Find on

After seeing the page views from last week's Mailbag, I will now be leading every week's edition with something Ohio State- or Urban Meyer-related. ... Not true, but this happened to be a particularly interesting question.

Hi Stewart, Urban Meyer (at Ohio State), his successor at Florida (Will Muschamp) and his two former coordinators (Louisville's Charlie Strong and Mississippi State's Dan Mullen) all currently have undefeated teams. In your opinion, which of the four men has done the best coaching job thus far with the talent and resources -- or lack thereof -- that he inherited?
-- Jason P, Woodbridge, Va.

First of all ... wow. Between Meyer, Strong, Mullen and the fact that 21 starters or major contributors from Florida's 2008 team currently play in the NFL, it's easy to see how the Gators won the national title that year -- while also completely inexplicable how they lost to Houston Nutt. And former Texas defensive coordinator Muschamp's success so far in Gainesville may help explain why Mack Brown finds himself in his current predicament.

As for comparing the four, Meyer is doing exactly what's expected of Ohio State's coach. We didn't necessarily think the Buckeyes would start 7-0, but you know with the right coach they're never going to be down for too long. I'd say much the same thing about Florida, though Muschamp and his staff have unquestionably had a profound impact on that team. In fewer than two years, they've completely reinvented the program and found a way to start 6-0 despite some obvious offensive limitations. If they keep this up, he's a legitimate Coach of the Year candidate. Strong has also done a tremendous job rebuilding Louisville's program from the depths of the Steve Kragthorpe era, and he has the Cardinals squarely in the hunt for a BCS berth. But that's also not unprecedented; Bobby Petrino did the same thing just six years ago.

My answer is Mullen. While acknowledging that Mississippi State hasn't played the strongest competition to this point (its best win was last week's victory over 3-3 Tennessee) and could well get exposed once it faces Alabama and LSU, the fact that the Bulldogs are 6-0 and no one's surprised is a testament to how dramatically Mullen has changed the culture in Starkville. Two years ago, in Mullen's second season, the Bulldogs won nine games for the first time in 11 years and just the fourth time since World War II. This year, his team seems headed for at least that many victories, particularly with remaining games against Middle Tennessee, Arkansas and Ole Miss.

Mind you, he's doing this at a time when the SEC has rarely been stronger. I loved those late '90s Jackie Sherrill teams, and you may recall the Bulldogs played in the 1998 SEC title game. But things were different then: Alabama was in between probations, LSU was a mess, Auburn had forced out Terry Bowden, etc. This Mississippi State team is not brimming with talent -- it's got a skilled quarterback (Tyler Russell) and a heck of a secondary (Johnthan Banks, Darius Slay) -- but top-to-bottom it's probably the league's eighth- or ninth-most talented team. Yet it could wind up having one of the best seasons in school history. Nice work, Mr. Mullen.

As a Texas fan, I'm almost ready to jump on the "Fire Mack Brown" bandwagon. What keeps me from jumping is uncertainty as to who would take his place. Several professional and college coaches are better than Mack Brown, but none of them will leave their current job for Texas. Plenty of coaches would leave their current team for Texas, but I'm not sold yet on any of them being better than Mack Brown. Am I overlooking somebody?
-- Aaron Evans, Muskegon, Mich.

That's the rub, isn't it? It's easy to sit there and look at Brown's 5-9 record against Oklahoma, his 7-13 Big 12 record since 2010 and his nine straight losses to ranked teams and say, "We can do better than this." It may well be time for a change (though I'd like to see the rest of the season play out before making that conclusion), but even with all of Texas' considerable resource and clout, there's no guarantee the next coach will become the next Nick Saban or Bob Stoops. He could well be Texas' next John Mackovic. Lest we forget, 10-win seasons and top-five recruiting classes have not always been a Longhorn birthright. In fact, the program had only five double-digit win seasons in the 22 years between Darrell Royal's retirement and Brown's arrival.

Texas AD DeLoss Dodds knows this, which is why it would take an all-out implosion for him to fire Brown this year. He also knows that this year's likely market of candidates lacks a can't-miss big-namer like Meyer last year or a hot commodity like Brian Kelly in 2009 or Kevin Sumlin last year. It's interesting, because whether Texas jumps aboard the carousel or not, a whole bunch of other notable schools (Auburn, Arkansas, Tennessee, possibly Cal) will likely be seeking just that type of coach. Someone's going to hire Bobby Petrino, but not an image conscious school like Texas. Someone's going to make a run at Chris Petersen, but to this point that's proved futile. Multiple people will make a run at Charlie Strong, but don't be surprised if he stays loyal to Louisville. However, I could see a major program like Texas or Tennessee hiring Iowa State's Paul Rhoads and being very happy with that decision a couple years down the road.

So what do you think are the odds that Tennessee will hire Sonny Dykes next season to clean up Derek Dooley's mess the same way that Dykes has cleaned up the mess that Dooley left at Louisiana Tech?
-- Keary Floyd, Lawrenceville, Ga.

So who wins the Sonny Dykes derby: Cal or Arkansas?
-- K. Preston, Castle Rock, Wash.

I stand corrected. There's at least one hot mid-major candidate out there.

Stewart, I know the ACC is a joke, but WOW! Clemson and Florida State both have BCS computer averages of 0.000. That is comedy. Is this downturn a natural ebb and flow of college football or is the ACC in trouble for the long run? Adding Syracuse and Pitt seems to shift the recruiting away from the South. In South Carolina, we see most top-notch (especially defensive) recruits going to the Gamecocks over Clemson. This whole thing just looks like the ACC is falling apart to me. Any thoughts?
-- John, Liberty, S.C.

Full confession: When I first started seeing e-mails like this, I assumed there was some sort of glitch on's BCS standings page. Then I went back and opened the official release and, welp, sure enough, .000. That's a product of both teams finishing outside of the Top 25 in average computer rating (they tied for 28th), in which case they're credited with zero points out of a possible 100. (Alabama, by comparison, which was credited with four No. 2 rankings after removing its outliers, earned 96 out of 100, or .960). Florida State and Clemson suffered not only from their mediocre ACC competitors but also from their nonconference schedules. The 'Noles have played two FCS foes (because West Virginia dropped out) and 2-4 South Florida, while the Tigers have played 1-5 Auburn, 4-3 Ball State and FCS Furman.

This does seem like a particularly bad year for the ACC with Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech down, Miami rebuilding, North Carolina on probation and former contender Boston College just truly dreadful. But to suggest the league is having a downturn would suggest it was ever "up" to begin with. The ACC is in much the same place it's been for most of the BCS era, fighting with the Big East to avoid the No. 6 label (in Jeff Sagarin's ratings it's actually seventh, behind the Big East and independents) and perpetually waiting for the return to prominence of FSU and Miami. (By the way -- did you know those two play this week?) Of course, it's hard to compete with the SEC for recruits, but Florida State, Miami and Clemson all had top-15 classes last year. Attracting talent hasn't generally been the problem for the ACC as much as coaching and university commitment have. Perhaps that will change with all that new ESPN money coming in.

Good for you, Stewart. You are actually saying some good things about Notre Dame. I used to think you held a grudge against the Irish. No longer.
-- Joe Reardon, Columbus, N.J.

It's interesting that my apparent grudge disappeared at the exact same time the Irish started winning every week.

How can Notre Dame fans not notice the credit you give to Notre Dame??
-- Collin Mapp, Valencia, Calif.

Well, at least one did. Progress.
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