BYU’s Kalani Sitake and Utah State’s Blake Anderson both led their teams to double-digit win seasons and a ranking in the final top 25 polls last year.
That kind of success landed both in The Athletic’s ranking of the nation’s top Group of Five college football coaches, with Sitake coming in at No. 8 and Anderson at No. 10.
For one more season, Sitake will count among the Group of Five ranks, as the Cougars are set to join a Power Five conference, the Big 12, in 2023.
Last year, Sitake was No. 13 in Chris Vannini’s Group of Five rankings for The Athletic. After leading BYU to a 10-3 season and No. 19 finish in The Associated Press poll — the Cougars’ second straight double-digit win season — Sitake jumped five spots in the G5 rankings.
“Sitake proved the 2020 season wasn’t a fluke,” Vannini wrote. “After losing Zach Wilson and several star players, the Cougars went 10-3, including a 5-0 record against Pac-12 teams. He’s now 48-29 in six seasons. After a so-so beginning to his tenure, Sitake has turned a corner as the Cougars prepare for their move to the Big 12.”
Sitake was also ranked among the nation’s top 25 coaches overall by two other Athletic writers earlier this week. The BYU coach came in at No. 21 on Stewart Mandel’s rankings, and No. 25 in Bruce Feldman’s.
Utah’s Kyle Whittingham, after leading the Utes to their first Rose Bowl appearance in school history, was No. 7 on Mandel’s list and No. 8 on Feldman’s.
Anderson, meanwhile, quickly turned around the Utah State program in his first season in Logan. Following a one-win season in 2020, Anderson led the Aggies to their first Mountain West Conference championship and a No. 24 final ranking in the AP poll during an 11-3 campaign.
By doing so, Anderson jumped from not being listed in Vannini’s rankings last year, when he was the head coach at Arkansas State, to being a top 10 coach in the Group of Five ranks.
“Anderson took over a 1-5 Utah State team, and the Aggies went 11-3 and won their first Mountain West championship this past fall, arguably the most impressive turnaround in college football,” Vannini said. “Before that, Anderson won two Sun Belt championships and posted a 51-37 record in six years at Arkansas State. He’s reached a bowl game in seven of his eight years as a head coach.”
Big 12 additions led by strong coaching
Sitake won’t be the only well-regarded coach heading to the Big 12 when the league expands, with Cincinnati, Houston and UCF also joining the conference. The head coaches for all four Big 12 additions appear on Vannini’s list.
Cincinnati’s Luke Fickell is ranked No. 1, a position he held from the year before, after he led the Bearcats to becoming the first Group of Five team to break into the College Football Playoff.
“He continues to turn down overtures from Power 5 programs, and Cincinnati will become a P5 team when it moves to the Big 12 in a few years — a leap happening in part because of Fickell’s success,” Vannini wrote.
UCF’s Gus Malzahn is No. 7, one spot above Sitake, while Houston’s Dana Holgorsen is No. 12.