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NCAA Football

College Football: Top 15 Candidates For 2013 Home Depot Award

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Top 15 Candidates For 2013 Home Depot Award

Matthew Emmons - USA TODAY Sports

Since the name doesn’t give it away, let’s first remind you that the Home Depot Award goes yearly to the best head coach in college football. The award started being given out in 1994, and since then the list of winners includes Bobby Bowden, Phillip Fulmer, Bob Stoops, Pete Carroll, Greg Schiano and Gene Chizik, with the award last season being awarded to Brian Kelly, after he led the Notre Dame Fighting Irish to an undefeated regular season and a spot in the BCS National Championship Game.

Coach-of-the-year awards are always tricky to hand out. A lot of the time they are given to coaches who help their teams rise far above expectations, but that eliminates many of the top coaches in the country who have quality teams year after year and have high expectations that are difficult to top on a yearly basis. However, college football has broken that trend over the past three seasons, giving the award to one of the two coaches who led their team to the national title game.

On the following list are 15 head coaches we believe will be serious contenders for the Home Depot Award in 2013. Most of the names on the list should be familiar ones, including a few that have won the award before. However, we took a few risks on some coaches who are less known nationally but could lead their teams to surprising seasons and gain national notoriety. Of course, the national coach of the year could come out of nowhere, but here’s who we think are the top 15 candidates to win the 2013 Home Depot Award:

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No. 15: James Franklin, Vanderbilt

James Franklin, Vanderbilt
Jeremy Brevard - USA TODAY Sports

James Franklin has done amazing things at Vanderbilt in his first two seasons, and with the way he’s recruited, there’s a chance he could lead the Commodores to new heights once again in 2013. Few coaches could do at Vanderbilt what Franklin has done, and few expected him to accomplish so much so soon. If he can continue to prove everybody wrong and pull off an upset or two in the SEC East, Franklin could raise the status of Vanderbilt even more, and garner attention for coach of the year.

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No. 14: Jim Mora, UCLA

Jim Mora, UCLA
Kirby Lee - USA TODAY Sports

The UCLA Bruins won the Pac-12 South Division last season in Jim Mora’s first year as head coach, and he has a good chance to lead them back to the conference championship game this season. The Pac-12 could be wide open this season, and if Mora can lead the Bruins to the top of the conference and into the top 10 in the polls, he’d make a great candidate for coach of the year.

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No. 13: Les Miles, LSU

Les Miles, LSU
Marvin Gentry - USA TODAY Sports

He won the award in 2011, and Les Miles is just crafty enough to win it twice in a four-year span. A lot of the attention in the SEC this season is focused on the Alabama Crimson Tide and Texas A&M Aggies, as well as the three-team race in the East Division, so Miles and the Tigers are a little under the radar heading into the season. That being said, if LSU surprises some people and finds itself in the thick of the national championship hunt, Miles will be in the mix for coach of the year.

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No. 12: Frank Solich, Ohio

Frank Solich, Ohio
Andrew Weber - USA TODAY Sports

Frank Solich won the Home Depot Award back in 1999, when he was the head coach of the Nebraska Cornhuskers, and he’s a sleeper to win it again this year with Ohio. With Solich at the helm, the Bobcats are a potential BCS buster in 2013, and if Ohio runs the table and gets to a BCS Bowl Game, Solich will be on the short list for national coach of the year.

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No. 11: Urban Meyer, Ohio State

Urban Meyer, Ohio State
Jeff Hanisch - USA TODAY Sports

Despite coaching Ohio State to an undefeated season in 2012, no one noticed the job Urban Meyer did in his first season in Columbus because the Buckeyes were ineligible for the postseason. But if Ohio State blows through the Big 10 unscathed once again and is in the middle of the national championship picture, it’ll be impossible to ignore the job Meyer has done and how quickly he’s dominated his new conference.

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No. 10: Jimbo Fisher, Florida State

Jimbo Fisher, Florida State
Ron Chenoy - USA TODAY Sports

Jimbo Fisher’s predecessor, Bobby Bowden, won the Home Depot Award in 1996, and Fisher could match that feat this season if he can lead the Seminoles to another ACC championship. Florida State was a 12-win team a year ago, which means they could be close to taking the next step and competing for a national championship, which would make Fisher a legitimate contender for the Home Depot Award.

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No. 9: Mark Helfrich, Oregon

Mark Helfrich, Oregon
Jamie Valdez - USA TODAY Sports

He’s got some big shoes to fill, taking over for Chip Kelly, which will be a tough task, especially considering Mark Helfrich has no prior experience as a head coach. But it’s also a great opportunity for him; he’s been the offensive coordinator for the Ducks for the past four seasons, and he can continue to build on what Kelly has done at Oregon. If Helfrich can accomplish what Kelly didn’t, which is win a national championship, he’ll be a leading candidate for coach of the year, and considering the talent on Oregon’s roster, that’s not out of the question.

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No. 8: Brian Kelly, Notre Dame

Brian Kelly, Notre Dame
Matt Cashore - USA TODAY Sports

Brian Kelly has won this award twice in the last four years, so it’d be foolish to count him out of the running for the award again this year. After losing their starting quarterback, it’ll be tough for Notre Dame to repeat the success that they had last season, but if they do, it’ll make Kelly’s coaching job most impressive, and once again make him a leading candidate for the Home Depot Award.

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No. 7: Bill O'Brien, Penn State

Bill O'Brien, Penn State
Matthew O'Haren - USA TODAY Sports

Bill O’Brien should have won the Home Depot Award last season after what he did for a Penn State Program that was in shambles. But things for the Nittany Lions are going to get harder before they get easier, as the scholarship limits will begin to take their toll. If O’Brien can keep Penn State towards the top of the Big 10, he’ll be deserving of a lot of recognition for a brilliant coaching job.

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No. 6: Charlie Strong, Louisville

Charlie Strong, Louisville
Chuck Cook - USA TODAY Sports

Charlie Strong has done an incredible job since coming to Louisville, turning the program around in a hurry. Coming off an impressive win over the Florida Gators in the Sugar Bowl, the Cardinals are poised for a big season and could find themselves in the national title hunt. Unfortunately, Louisville is playing in a mid-major conference, so they’ll have to run the table in order to be in the national spotlight, but if that’s the case, Strong will deserve consideration for coach of the year.

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No. 5: Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M

Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M
Tim Heitman - USA TODAY Sports

Kevin Sumlin is one of the top young coaches in college football, and his Aggies are a trendy pick to win the SEC this season. If he can keep reigning Heisman winner Johnny Manziel focused on football, Texas A&M will have a real chance to compete for an SEC championship and a national championship, which would bring Sumlin to the forefront of coaches nationally.

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No. 4: Dabo Swinney, Clemson

Dabo Swinney, Clemson
Joshua S. Kelly - USA TODAY Sports

Dabo Swinney has Clemson poised for a big season after their bowl win over LSU to close out last season. They have their work cut out for them with a schedule that includes Georgia, South Carolina and Florida State, but if the Tigers can survive that, they could be in line for a spot in the BCS title game, which would make Swinney an obvious choice for coach of the year.

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No. 3: Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss

Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss
Marvin Gentry - USA TODAY Sports

No program made more forward movement from 2011 to 2012 than the Ole Miss Rebels, and it’s all because of Hugh Freeze. In his first season, Freeze made the Rebels competitive in the SEC West, and with a more experienced roster, supplemented by a great recruiting class, Freeze has Ole Miss in a position to be even better in 2013. The Rebels played Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M tough last season, and if they can pull off an upset or two this season, Freeze would be a great pick for coach of the year.

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No. 2: Steve Spurrier, South Carolina

Steve Spurrier, South Carolina
Marvin Gentry - USA TODAY Sports

Coaches like Steve Spurrier rarely win awards because they’ve been so good for so long. But if the Gamecocks can get back to the SEC Championship Game, which is a distinct possibility, Spurrier will get some well-deserved consideration for the Home Depot Award. He’s not done coaching just yet, but it’d be great to see him win an award like this before he retires, especially for all that he’s done for South Carolina’s football program.

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No. 1: Nick Saban, Alabama

Nick Saban, Alabama
Marvin Gentry - USA TODAY Sports

Nick Saban won the award in 2008, but how is it possible that he didn’t win it in any of the four years in which he won a national championship? If Saban leads Alabama to a third consecutive national championship, and there are plenty of reasons to think that’s likely to happen, he has to walk away with the Home Depot Award for 2013; at this point, there should be little doubt that he’s the best coach in college football.