College football is inherently unfair. Schools with money, geographic recruiting advantages, and storied histories of, well, caring about college football reach levels of general prosperity that programs without all or any of the above simply cannot. With these advantages comes perhaps the most important luxury: the ability to lure and keep the best head and assistant coaches to keep the winning (and money) machine rolling. By now, this is all understood and ironclad.
For the purposes of tomfoolery and general what-iffery, let's blow the whole thing up and NFLize the most important opportunity a downtrodden program could ever dream to have, the chance to cherry-pick the coach of its dreams. Note that we're doing this in a world in which, say, Gus Malzahn to Auburn never happened.
We'll go with the bottom 10 BCS conference teams according to the Football Outsiders's 2012 FEI ratings. This is effective immediately, so you're welcome, universities beginning with the letter K.
Let's go to the podium:
1. Colorado Buffaloes (FEI: 122) - Chris Petersen
A shocker No. 1 over Nick Saban, but Dan Hawkins' Boise State ties aside, it was probably the smart move for the Buffs. The former Broncos coach is in a region with strong ties up and down the west coast (Kellen Moore is from Washington, Doug Martin and Ryan Clady are from California, a major Buff pipeline), and please believe Petersen's finding a way to make Boulder's altitude the 12th man in Folsom Field.
Also, philosophically, Petersen's nature makes it reasonable to expect him to hang around for a decade, given the importance he places on quality of life. And if Boulder isn't a quality enough life for you, then, brother, nowhere is.
2. Auburn Tigers (FEI: 116) - Nick Saban
Because duh. Also, this would never happen, unless it does. I'm not fully comfortable ruling anything out. He would win immediately on the Plains, once again, because duh.
3. Kentucky Wildcats (FEI: 111) - Urban Meyer
The prospect of Urbz returning to the SEC, but not to an A-list (or B- or C-list) program is intriguing. His recruiting degree of difficulty becomes much higher, but his ties to high schools in Florida and the eastern seaboard should afford him the ability to populate a roster with immediately competitive players, especially on offense.
His reputation and track record alone should be enough to attract high-level assistants, and the real possibility of having John Calipari and Meyer transforming Lexington into the new capital of the SEC is delightfully insane. The Wildcats are a dangerous SEC East team in two to three years.
4. Illinois Fighting Illini (FEI: 110) - Brian Kelly
Kelly's obviously a draft mover after a big 2012, so the Illini hit the jackpot with him at 4.
His experience currently makes him the quintessential Midwestern coach, and with his (and Illinois's) extensive recruiting ties to Florida, the impact would be immediate. The Chicago proximity is probably slightly overstated, but Illinois should quickly lock down all in-state talent, especially with new respective Michigan and Ohio State head coaches Charlie Weis and Bob Davie struggling to make inroads in the Land of Lincoln.
Still, though, it'd take two or three years for Kelly to turn this ship around.
5. Wake Forest Demon Deacons (FEI: 102) - Steve Spurrier
Under Jim Grobe, Wake has relied on developing undervalued talent until he (hopefully) has a team of really good 22-year-olds.
With Spurrier, this all changes. He's recruited the southeast and has done a stellar job of recruiting to South Carolina, so what's a few hours north? Spurrier will always attract QBs, should get by on reputation with other positions on both sides of the ball, can sell academics more than his last couple stops (No. 27 in US News & World Report, ahead of UNC), has in-state experience at Duke, and perhaps most importantly, is less than two hours away from half days and weekends at Pinehurst, a U.S. Open golf course.
You know you want to see a shirtless Spurrier with a possibly shirtless Demon Deacon on the practice field sipping lemonade and talking life; don't fight it.
6. Washington State Cougars (FEI: 97) - Bill Snyder
I really wanted Wazzu to take Mike Leach here, just because, but Bill Snyder is the pretty easy selection. At this point, Snyder's a short-term solution, but a good fit in Pullman.
Under the longtime Kansas State coach, the Cougars will be fundamentally sound, disciplined, and should win more close games than not. Even though he's done a great job identifying and developing players in Manhattan, the proximity to the sheer numbers of decent high school and JC players it'd take to improve the talent level on the Palouse could present itself to be a challenge. His coordinator and assistant hires would certainly need to have west coast connections, but Snyder would turn the Cougars into a dangerous Pac-12 North team (perennial 8-4 threat, above UW) by 2014.
7. Kansas Jayhawks (FEI: 93) - Bob Stoops
A slam dunk pick for Kansas (because basketball), as Stoops is relatively local for recruiting purposes and arrives as a Big 12 mainstay. Developing and coaching defense in Lawrence will still be next to impossible, but mix in some Texas, Oklahoma, and a limited amount of local Kansas prospects (Blake Bell, Bryce and Arthur Brown, Joseph Randle all in-state), and suddenly, if the schedule breaks right, Kansas starts resembling the 2007 team.
Throw in new respective Oklahoma and Texas coaches Kirk Ferentz and Tim Beckman driving OU and UT into an unprecedented black hole, and the possibilities are endless...ly a perennial 9-3 or 8-4 ceiling. The added bonus of Stoops discovering that Bill Self is probably a distant cousin is a treat we've all missed this whole time.
8. Purdue Boilermakers (FEI: 89) - Kevin Sumlin
Perhaps a reach at No. 8, but the Sumlin fit feels right. Beyond him having a pretty lengthy Big Ten and Purdue résumé (1993-97 Minnesota assistant, 1998-2000 Purdue assistant), Purdue's best shot at getting back to being on or near the Big Ten's top tier will probably be through creating offensive advantages with second-tier talent, which they will almost always have.
There have been decent to excellent offensive players in West Lafayette since Sumlin left, and the ability to sell a line like "Look what I helped craft Drew Brees's Pudue offenses into" still has weight, even if the line does end with a preposition. A Sumlin-Purdue pairing, particularly with some of the defensive line success the school has seen recently, makes good sense.
9. Duke Blue Devils (FEI: 87) - James Franklin
There are strong cases to be made here for both David Shaw and Pat Fitzgerald after what they've done at schools with either, depending on how you look at it, academic advantages or challenges, but Franklin has ACC experience and success at Maryland as an offensive assistant (twice), can still pull players from the southeast and beyond, and has proven himself to be as good as anyone not named Jim Harbaugh in recent memory at turning a traditionally woeful program into a competitive one pretty quickly.
All of a sudden, Duke is no longer a team rarely sneaking its way into a bowl and now a team consistently hitting eight wins.
Keep in mind that this can all go terribly wrong if Franklin and Coach K become best friends and the basketball coach starts wearing a cell phone clip on his underwear.
10. Boston College Eagles (FEI: 86) - David Shaw
Went back and forth between Shaw and Gary Patterson here - both are worthy of a top-10 pick, but ultimately Shaw has experience running a system that takes advantage of a program with the Eagles' recent first round NFL Draft history of offensive linemen and players along the defensive front. Stanford also has a history of recruiting the northeast, a none-too-simple proposition. Add in Shaw's NFL experience with the Ravens, a detail probably more relevant in a region more focused on the NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE, and you have yourself a winner, BC.