May 25, 2024

Dabo Swinney, Lincoln Riley, Ryan Day among top-25 college football coaches facing pressure in 2024 season


CBS Sports capped its 2024 Power Four coach rankings with the release of Wednesday’s top 25, highlighting the upper echelon of coaches at the highest level of college football. This year’s list features several new names after Nick Saban’s retirement and Jim Harbaugh’s departure for the NFL left some huge vacancies near the top. 

Georgia’s Kirby Smart was a natural successor for the No. 1 slot, and the rest of the top 10 is a combination of veterans who already boast multiple College Football Playoff appearances and relative newcomers who seem poised to take the sport by storm. However, just because a coach lands in the top 25 does not mean they’re immune to pressure. 

Added expectations come with such a lofty billing. With seven at-large bids up for grabs, making the cut for an expanded 12-team College Football Playoff is now the bar for a top-10 coach. For some, even that won’t cut it, and only a run toward the national title will soothe fanbases clamoring for more. 

Not that any top coaches are on the hot seat entering 2024, but this season certainly feels like a turning point for some prolific figures in CBS Sports’ top 25. 

2024 Power Four coach rankings: 68-26 | 25-1

Ryan Day, Ohio State

CBS Sports rank: 2 | 2023 record:11-2 

Most programs would kill for the level of success — both on the field and in the recruiting sphere — Ohio State has enjoyed in recent years. But for all the 11-win seasons and New Year’s Six bowl appearances, it’s hard to shake the feeling Day has fallen well short of expectations since a 2020 run to the College Football Playoff National Championship Game. The 2023 season marked a third straight loss to top rival Michigan, a third consecutive year without a Big Ten Championship Game berth and the second time in the last three years that Ohio State has missed out on the playoff. 

Day has to capitalize on a down Big Ten in 2024. Michigan — which went 15-0 and won its first national title since the BCS era last season — lost head coach Jim Harbaugh and a litany of stars to the NFL. Newcomer Oregon represents a big test with its talent level and nascent success under coach Dan Lanning, but Day can’t let a first-year Big Ten program push him around. The Buckeyes went all in this offseason, poaching sitting UCLA coach Chip Kelly to serve as their offensive coordinator and putting together a really strong transfer haul. Anything short of a Big Ten title might put Day in hot water. 

Dabo Swinney, Clemson 

CBS Sports rank: 3 | 2023 record: 9-4

Clemson’s recent slide has been something to behold. The Tigers went from six straight ACC titles to just one in the past three years and the former playoff mainstay hasn’t sniffed a CFP spot in three seasons. In 2023 Clemson hit a new low when it lost four games for the first time since 2011 and posted its worst ACC finish since 2010, falling behind the likes of Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and NC State in the final standings. 

Whether it’s Swinney’s steadfast anti-transfer portal stance (though that seems to be softening a bit) or something else, Clemson hasn’t adapted well to the modern era amid college football’s myriad of recent changes. That being said, the ACC is wide open this year, and the expanded playoff offers the Tigers an open path back to the sport’s highest level. On paper, Clemson’s a competitor. It’s up to Swinney to stop the bleeding. 

Brian Kelly, LSU 

CBS Sports rank: 4 | 2023 record: 10-3 

Kelly’s first two years at LSU certainly haven’t been terrible. Anybody with a 20-7 record, including 12-4 in conference play, and an SEC Championship game appearance deserves their flowers. But there’s a sense that Kelly’s LSU teams have underperformed. The Tigers haven’t met the lofty expectations Kelly openly welcomed when he left a cushy position at Notre Dame

He’s batting 0-for-2 so far and hasn’t come close to the CFP. That is even more disappointing considering the season LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels put together in 2023. The No. 2 pick in the NFL Draft won the Heisman Trophy and produced one of the greatest seasons we’ve ever seen from a quarterback, nearing the same echelon as former Tigers star Joe Burrow. Unfortunately for Daniels, LSU’s defense let opponents walk all over it and surrendered an average of 47.3 points in three losses. Kelly hired up-and-coming coordinator Blake Baker to fix that issue. but there are still some major question marks on that side of the ball — especially along the line — that the Tigers failed to address during either transfer window. 

Lincoln Riley, USC 

CBS Sports rank: 10 | 2023 record: 8-5 

USC’s 2023 efforts were shocking. The Trojans were picked to win the Pac-12 in preseason media poll and several projections had them firmly in the College Football Playoff field. Even with Heisman winner Caleb Williams back at quarterback, USC limped to a 7-5 regular season. It was by far the worst showing in Riley’s career as a head coach and the first time he failed to reach double-digit wins in a full 12-game season. 

Beyond that, Riley’s stock has been trending down in recent years. His 2021 campaign with Oklahoma is viewed as a disappointment and his first season with USC was marred by two losses to Utah and a defeat at the hands of Tulane in the Cotton Bowl despite entering the game at relatively full strength. Former coordinator Alex Grinch’s defense shouldered much of the blame for Riley’s recent struggles. Riley finally replaced Grinch and knocked his replacement hire out of the park, poaching former UCLA DC D’Anton Lynn to fix the glaring problem. Now Riley has to make an immediate splash in a highly competitive new-look Big Ten to prove that the last few years were a minor dip and not a trend. 

James Franklin, Penn State

CBS Sports rank: 11 | 2023 record: 10-3

Penn State seems perfectly content with what James Franklin has accomplished thus far and it would probably take an abject disaster to change that. With back-to-back 10-win seasons and three New Year’s Six bowl appearances in the past five years, there’s plenty of reason for the decision-makers in State College, Pennsylvania to be happy. An expanded College Football Playoff adds more pressure for Franklin, though. There’s no excuse to miss out on it given the standard he’s established, especially now that the Nittany Lions no longer play both Michigan and Ohio State in the same year. With quarterback Drew Allar back and a loaded backfield paced by Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen, now’s the time for Penn State to make some noise. Otherwise, that goodwill might start to fade a bit. 





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