How many coordinators have clearly emerged as the best of the best in the 2016 college football season? Given that roughly 250 positions exist (128 FBS teams, two coordinators for most but not all of them), earning Broyles Award recognition is no small feat. A head coach of the year is one of 128, but getting to the Broyles Award finalist’s table requires even more heavy lifting, given the pool of potential winners.
Four weeks (plus Army-Navy) remain in the 2016 season. To me, however, a number of coordinators have distanced themselves from the rest. Keep in mind that any attempt to honor finalists for an award should not be perceived as a knock against contenders who didn’t make the list. This is an exercise based on identifying the best of the best, not on weeding out deficient candidates. This is a celebration of people doing a job exceedingly well, not on others failing to perform at a high standard.
Ivin Jasper, offensive coordinator, Navy: Very simply, Jasper is flourishing a year AFTER Keenan Reynolds played his fourth and final season in Annapolis. Jasper expected to work with Tago Smith, but after a Week-1 injury agianst Fordham, Will Worth was thrown into the fire. He experienced some growing pains in September, but after a clunker at Air Force, Worth has fundamentally learned how to run the triple option. Jasper doesn’t give Worth too many passes to throw, but when Navy does throw, it still makes big plays. A number of them came against Notre Dame this past weekend.
Navy’s 46-40 win over high-powered Houston — with Worth playing his first A-plus game at quarterback — might be Jasper’s magnum opus… no, not from this season, but from his entire Navy career.
Tony Gibson, defensive coordinator, West Virginia: My colleague, the great Wendell Barnhouse, offered an examination of Gibson’s defensive scheme here. The Mountaineers haven’t been the defensive sieve so many other Big 12 teams currently are. Gibson deserves a substantial share of credit for West Virginia’s turnaround season.
Jim Leavitt, defensive coordinator, Colorado: My colleague, veteran Tampa-based sportswriter Joey Johnston, covered Leavitt up close when the coach guided the South Florida Bulls. Johnston filed this piece on Leavitt here.
Smothering Christian McCaffrey and Stanford — winning a road game on a day when Colorado scored just 10 points — rates as a special feat, even with the Cardinal’s lack of a passing game. Handcuffing UCLA on Thursday, when CU’s offense coughed up multiple turnovers, once again magnified Leavitt’s importance to the Buffaloes’ revival in Boulder.
Justin Wilcox, defensive coordinator, Wisconsin: The general feeling in the college football community in the offseason was that Wisconsin suffered a downgrade at defensive coordinator. Dave Aranda remains excellent. He’s done extremely well at LSU, where the Tigers have done everything they could on defense to develop an elite team. Unfortunately for Aranda, though, his head coach and offensive staff have no clue. That’s not Aranda’s fault, but because Wisconsin topped LSU in the season opener — and because the Badgers remain razor-sharp on defense, having stood tall against Ohio State and (especially) Michigan — Wilcox has clearly turned in the better season. Aranda almost makes the short list; Wilcox, who frankly underwhelmed in his stays at Washington, USC and Tennessee, might have found the job he was made for in Madison.
Jonathan Smith, offensive coordinator, Washington: Lamar Jackson’s development at Louisville is the product of head coach Bobby Petrino. The ahead-of-schedule development of Jake Browning at Washington is certainly a partial product of head coach Chris Petersen, but the former Boise State coach had Bryan Harsin to develop both Jared Zabransky and Kellen Moore. He needed a new coordinator to bring along Browning. Smith has passed that test with flying colors. In much the same way that Lincoln Riley unlocked Baker Mayfield’s potential last season at Oklahoma, Smith has enabled Browning to flourish. He therefore deserves to make this list and become a Broyles Award finalist.