Big Picture: 51 most intriguing names in this season’s coaching carousel

(L-R) Texas' Charlie Strong, LSU's Les Miles and Houston's Tom Herman are three coaches to watch this winter — but they're far from the only ones.

With Thanksgiving coming up, the silly season of the coaching carousel is about to kick into high gear. With the firing of Iowa State’s Paul Rhoads Sunday morning, there are now 12 head-coaching vacancies with many more to come. Here are 51 coaches to keep an eye this winter as things heat up.

1. Les Miles, LSU: Less than one month after his team was No. 1, there has been a flurry of reports that his job is in serious jeopardy due in large part to a stagnant offense. His buyout is huge at $15 million, but the Times Picayune says the Tigers Athletic Foundation can handle that. Can his team show enough spark against A&M to turn the tide? It sounds like it may be a long shot at this time. Then again, if LSU is going to can Miles and eat that buyout and an additional $3 million or $4 million for his staff PLUS chase a guy like Jimbo Fisher who has a $5 million buyout and then set him up, you could be talking about money in the $50 million-$60 million range, which is a fortune to make this move.

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2. Tom Herman, Houston: His Cougars stumbled against UConn and fell from the unbeaten ranks to 10-1 as Herman finally lost when forced to play a backup QB. Still, he’s the hottest name in college coaching, and is in play at South Carolina and possibly even bigger jobs even after UH stepped up to boost his salary to $3 million per last week.

3. Gary Patterson, TCU: He has done the heavy lifting building TCU into a powerhouse and has a good AD and now very good facilities. But he could be a guy that USC — and potentially LSU and Texas — target.

4. Justin Fuente, Memphis: The Tigers lost again this weekend (to Temple) and dropped to 8-3. However, that doesn’t take away from the fantastic job he’s done with what had been a dismal program. Va. Tech looks like a good option, but we’ll see what other big dominoes fall.

5. Larry Fedora, UNC: One of the better offensive minds in football, Fedora’s team won the ACC Coastal and with a win over Clemson in the ACC title game might be able to sneak into the playoff. Fedora has been operating under a dark NCAA cloud of Chapel Hill in the wake of an academic scandal that he had nothing to do with it. (Word is women’s basketball is expected to take the big hit from the NCAA.) Yet, Fedora told FOX Sports that about 95 percent of the time when talking to recruits, he and his staff get asked about it. He’d probably be a good fit at Va. Tech, but also could potentially be a factor if LSU or FSU open up.

6. Charlie Strong, Texas: As we reported weeks back, someone close to Strong let folks at Miami know he’d have some interest in that job. UT interim AD Mike Perrin has since come out publicly in support of him. Would that change if the ’Horns — 4-6 with games against Texas Tech and Baylor remaining — went 4-8? Beyond that, would Miami or any other Power 5 school have much interest in him?

7. Jimbo Fisher, FSU: This is a down year in Tallahassee and the ’Noles are 9-2. That’s how good of a job he’s done there. But Fisher, a former LSU assistant, has always intrigued the LSU brass. If the Tigers dumped Miles and came after Fisher, would he be able to turn that down? 

8. Dan Mullen, Mississippi State: The Urban Meyer protégé has done a very nice job in Starkville with the toughest job in a stacked division. After this season, Mullen loses star QB Dak Prescott. Is this the time he tries to jump? What if Georgia opens up? Or LSU? Could he get in on the USC vacancy? Many Trojans fans prefer more pro-style, traditional offense, but Mullen has proven he can be very multiple in his approach.

9. Kyle Whittingham, Utah: Even though the Utes have skidded a bit down the stretch, Utah has still had a strong year and that’s only boosted Whittingham’s stock. It’s also no secret that he and his AD had a lot of friction last winter. He would make some sense for USC, which would probably benefit from his hard-nosed mentality. Whittingham has spent his whole coaching career in the state of Utah, but keep in mind he grew up in Southern California till he was in high school.

10. Bill Snyder, Kansas State: Is this the year The Wizard walks away for good? We’re hearing there’s a good chance of that. His team is just 1-6 in the Big 12. We’re told he’d love for his son Sean, a K-State assistant, to get the job, but his AD probably won’t go for that. Dana Dimel, the ’Cats OC who did a good job as the Wyoming head coach a decade ago, also is in play. Then again, last time Snyder walked away, he didn’t have much of a say in picking his successor and Ron Prince was a disaster there.

11. Kirby Smart, Alabama DC: This might be the Tide’s nastiest defense yet. Smart has more than paid his dues. We’ve heard that along with Herman, Smart is the other front-runner for the South Carolina job. Then again, he might also be a factor at his alma mater if Mark Richt steps down at UGA.

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12. Mark Richt, UGA: Despite lots of off-field drama and some really, really ugly losses, the Dawgs could still go 9-3, but without any wins over ranked teams would that be enough to satisfy the Georgia brass? Even if Richt stays on, will some staff chemistry issues and the dreadful showing in big games prompt a shakeup of his staff? I know Richt’s name has been mentioned with a few Power 5 vacancies, but my hunch has been that if he leaves the UGA job, it’s not for anything else in football; it’d for some type of mission work and something bigger than football.

13. Brent Venables, Clemson DC: The former OU assistant has done a superb job rebuilding the Tigers defense after it lost a bunch of key guys to the NFL. Venables is a high-energy guy and also a terrific recruiter. He’d be a strong candidate at his alma mater, K-State, if Snyder retires. He also might be a decent option at Mizzou.

14. Clay Helton, USC interim: With the Trojans losing again, getting blasted at Oregon, it’s a stretch to see Helton getting the USC job going forward — even if they can beat archrival UCLA. People inside USC do like him and respect his approach but they’ll probably be inclined to chase a bigger name. Helton could have a shot at Memphis if Fuente leaves although I’m told Barry Odom, the old Tigers DC, would be the front-runner.

15. Barry Odom, Missouri DC: Was a former standout linebacker for the Tigers and proved his worth as a very good DC at Memphis before coming home. Expect him to get a look to replace Gary Pinkel, but the hunch here is that he ends up taking over at Memphis.

16. Geoff Collins, Florida DC: One of the better DCs in college football, Collins has turned a very good D (330 total yards per game last year) into an even better one (282). His ability to relate to players is also a big plus in recruiting. Before becoming a DC, he was director of player personnel at both Georgia Tech and Alabama and three years after he had those titles, those programs won championships — the Tide won the 2013 BCS title, Ga. Tech won the 2009 ACC title — and after his time as the Knights recruiting coordinator, UCF won the 2013 Conference USA title and the Fiesta Bowl. He’s a strong candidate for the UCF vacancy.

17. Kendal Briles, Baylor OC: It’s his dad’s offense, but young Briles knows the secret sauce. Even playing their third-string QB, the Bears are potent, ringing up 700 yards of offense at Oklahoma State on Saturday. It also helps his cause that other Art Briles disciples, Dino Babers and Philip Montgomery have gotten off to impressive starts to their own head-coaching careers. Kendal Briles could probably get North Texas but he may get a look from some bigger programs this winter.

18. Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma OC: A Mike Leach protégé, Riley’s still very young at 31, but he’s very sharp and very mature. His offenses put up huge numbers at ECU before taking over the Sooners attack and sparking a return to the status of national title contender. What’s more impressive is that OU is doing this with one of the most inexperienced O-lines in college football. Riley won’t just take any FBS head-coaching job, but if Mizzou came after him, that’d probably be too much to turn down. (Remember new Mizzou AD Mack Rhoades tabbed up-and-comer Herman when he was the Houston AD.) Or if Herman leaves UH, Riley would probably be a strong option there.

19. Matt Rhule, Temple: The Owls have made excellent strides under Rhule. They’re 9-2 and impress rival coaches with how hard they play, how physical the team is and just how well-coached they are. With Maryland, possibly Virginia and Mizzou open, Rhule will likely have some solid options.

20. Troy Calhoun, Air Force: A former NFL OC, the 49-year-old Calhoun is far from the traditional service academy coach. His teams are 16-6 the past two years and have beaten Boise State twice and No. 21 Colorado State (last season). It’d be very interesting to see what Calhoun could do without all of the restrictions of coaching at Air Force. Mizzou, Illinois and UVA (if it comes open) all may be very interested in Calhoun.

21. Matt Campbell, Toledo: Only 35, even though he’s been the Rockets head coach since the end of the 2011 season. He’s 35-14 and, from what we’ve heard, in no real hurry to leave the MAC. A former Mount Union D-lineman from Massillon, Ohio, he’s got strong roots in the state, but with all that said, he’s a pretty hot commodity.

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22. Doug Meacham, TCU OC: His career has taken off in the past two years since revitalizing the Horned Frogs offense after getting his shot to be an FBS OC at Houston. Meacham turns 51 next month and probably will be eager to make his big move this winter. Would he take North Texas? Or would he hold out hope to get Houston if Herman leaves?

23. Rich Rodriguez, Arizona: There was a lot of speculation about Rodriguez reuniting with his old buddy Whit Babcock (now the Va. Tech AD) but I’m hearing that may not happen. He might get in the mix at Miami, or if LSU comes open, he also could get a look there.

24. Sonny Dykes, Cal: Did a good job at La. Tech and in Year Three at Cal, he’s got the Bears bowl-bound, but the support around him at the school is shaky. If Rodriguez left Arizona, Dykes might be a nice option to return to Tucson. Also, he probably will get some consideration for the Mizzou job.

25. Willie Taggart, South Florida: Six weeks ago, his seat was scorching, but since then his young team has gone on a rampage going from 1-3 to 7-4 and thumping Temple and Cincy in consecutive weeks. Taggart, a Jim Harbaugh protégé so much that you’d think he was the third Harbaugh brother, had 2-10 seasons in both his first year at WKU and USF before getting it going. He grew up near USF, and that’s a plus for the Bulls, but suddenly his name is getting hot again — not his seat. 

26. Gene Chizik, North Carolina DC: Not a lot of guys have won an FBS national title as a head coach. Chizik has. He’s still only 53 and has done an excellent job fixing the UNC defense this season. If Fedora leaves Chapel Hill, Chizik deserves a look to be his replacement. If not, he’ll likely get strong consideration at UCF, where he once was the DC.

27. Dino Babers, Bowling Green: From the Art Briles’ tree, Babers did well at Eastern Illinois before spicing up the Bowling Green offense. The 54-year-old is 16-9 in two seasons in the MAC and beat two Big Ten opponents on the road this year. He figures to be a good candidate for Maryland, Mizzou and Illinois, among others.

28. Brian Kelly, Notre Dame: Given the avalanche of injuries that have hit the Irish this season and that his team is 9-1, Kelly’s making a strong argument for Coach of the Year honors. He’s obviously got a terrific job, but he’s now been at ND for six years; that is a very, very long time to manage a lot of the restrictions and challenges that face the Irish football coach. Would he be tempted if USC calls him? What if Texas comes open? Or the NFL?

29. Bob Shoop, Penn State DC: A big key to James Franklin’s success as a head coach has been the 49-year-old former Yale wideout. Shoop is as good as there is running a defense and making in-game adjustments. If Rhule leaves Temple, Shoop probably would be a good option to replace him. He also could do well taking over one of these potential MAC vacancies. 

30. Mario Cristobal, Alabama O-line coach: The national recruiter of the year has coached a Tide O-line that may be paving the way for this year’s Heisman winner. Cristobal, a Miami native, is one of the front-runners for the Hurricanes job. If he doesn’t get it, he could get in the mix for UCF and Rutgers if that comes open.

31. Greg Schiano, former Rutgers head coach: A former Miami DC, Schiano has a decent shot at UM. If Virginia comes open, he’d also make some sense there as well as Illinois. His strong academic track record at Rutgers definitely helps his cause.

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32. Butch Davis, former UNC head coach: The guy who rebuilt Miami into a powerhouse despite devastating NCAA sanctions. As we reported last week, he has some support among some big money people at UM, but there are some concerns about him from the mess at UNC. Davis wants the Miami job badly. If he doesn’t get it, the 64-year-old might be able to get in the mix in some other places.

33. Mike Sanford, Notre Dame OC: The former Stanford assistant’s stock has risen considerably in the past year after doing a very good job as Boise State’s OC. This year, the Irish lost their starting QB, among other key players, to injury and they haven’t missed a beat. Sanford deserves a lot of credit for that. He would be a strong candidate at Syracuse if that job comes open because he and the new ’Cuse AD were together in Boise. Word is he really, really loves coaching at ND and it’s not going to be easy to lure him away.

34. Jim Leavitt, Colorado DC: He had a lot of success at USF where he built the program before being fired for allegedly mistreatment of players. The 58-year-old resurfaced as an NFL assistant before coming to CU as a DC. He might have a shot at K-State, where he worked for five years under Snyder. He also has some support at UCF to get him a shot there.

35. Ken Niumatalolo, Navy: One of the most underrated coaches in FBS, his team is having its best season in years at 9-1. The style of offense he runs is potent, but it can be a tough sell for many Power 5 programs although Iowa State might be tempted. 

36. Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia: One of the brightest, most innovative minds in all of football. He won an Orange Bowl in his first season at WVU and has the Mountaineers heading for an 8-4 season, which isn’t bad when you consider the brutal slate they had in October. WVU is a good job, but it’s a much tougher job now than a decade ago. Realistically, it’s probably only better than three jobs in the conference — Iowa State and the two Kansas schools. Holgorsen could get a look from Miami. He also could be a factor when the dominoes start falling with some other Power 5 programs.

37. D.J. Durkin, Michigan DC: Another Jim Harbaugh protégé, his team is No. 2 in the nation in total defense. The 37-year-old former Bowling Green player is going to get a FBS head-coaching job soon, but will it be this year? Would he want to return to his alma mater at BGSU to replace Babers if and when he leaves? Or does he wait and hope to get a Power 5 job?

38. Joe Moglia, Coastal Carolina: The former CEO of TD Ameritrade, he’s worth a fortune. At 66, Moglia, a Dartmouth DC in the early ’80s, has kick-started his coaching career again and had lots of success in the Big South of FCS, going 41-12. His background is fascinating especially given his success on the field. He would be a very interesting fit at Rutgers if that job opens given the dysfunction around that program these days.

39. PJ Fleck, Western Michigan: He’ll turn 35 in a week. Fleck’s style has gotten a lot of attention. He’s turned WMU around although it’s only 6-5 this fall. He’s on the radar at a lot of programs in the Midwest. Would he be ready to take over at Illinois or Maryland or return to Rutgers, where he spent two seasons under Schiano? Or wait another season, where his young talent might lead to a bigger year and maybe other opportunities?

40. Rod Carey, Northern Illinois: A 44-year-old ex-Indiana O-lineman, Carey is 31-9 at NIU. He was in the mix last winter for the Colorado State job and he should get a look at Illinois and a few other Midwest jobs.

41. Lance Leipold, Buffalo: He had a huge run at D3 Wisconsin-Whitewater where he won six national titles and went 100-9. He took over the Bulls this year and has gone 5-6. Don’t be shocked if Iowa State shows interest in him. ISU AD Jamie Pollard is a Wisconsin guy, who got his start as a champion long distance runner at a small Wisconsin program.

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42. Matt Wells, Utah State: He’s elevated the Aggies program in his three seasons, going 25-14. He won 10 games last year despite having to start four different QBs. USU is 3-3 vs. ranked teams under him and was 2-50 before he took over. I think this guy would fit in for just about any job in college football.

43. Eddie Gran, Cincinnati OC: One of the country’s top recruiters, Gran has done a nice job with the Bearcats offense, which is No. 4 in the nation despite having had to rely on its backup QB for a big chunk of time. Gran’s recruiting prowess in Florida is why he’s regarded as a viable option for UCF.

44. Jay Norvell, Texas play-caller: The Longhorns offense has sputtered although it has perked up in the past few games averaging 519 yards. Norvell is on the radar for the North Texas vacancy and could get a look at Iowa State, where he once was an assistant.

45. Chris Ash, Ohio State DC: The Iowa native has really helped improve the Buckeyes defense the past two seasons and has shown up on many AD’s radar. He’s 41 and has spent seven seasons at Iowa State on staff, so he figures to be a strong candidate at ISU.

46. John Baxter, Michigan STC: The former USC assistant who was in the mix for the Colorado State vacancy could get a look at a few different places. His best bet might be Iowa State, where he GA’ed and got his Masters.

47. Dave Aranda, Wisconsin DC: His Badgers are among the top five in defense. The soft-spoken Aranda could have a chance at the Hawaii job and may get in on some of the other Midwestern vacancies.

48. Jedd Fisch, Michigan passing game coordinator: The Wolverines are having a good first year under Jim Harbaugh and the Harbaugh coaching tree will be fruitful. Fisch has an interesting pedigree having also worked under Pete Carroll, Mike Shanahan and Steve Spurrier. He is a former Miami OC although he’s probably a long shot at that job, but the New Jersey native might get some consideration if Rutgers comes open. Or maybe in the MAC if he wants to make that move.

49. Todd Monken, Southern Miss: Don’t get caught up in the 12-23 career mark. He took over a USM program that had fallen off the map and after winning just four games in his first two seasons, he’s got the Golden Eagles 8-3 and has won five in a row. Monken, who has spent some time in the NFL as a WR coach, probably will get a look from some lower Power 5 jobs such as Illinois and Iowa State this winter.

50. Jeff Brohm, Western Kentucky:  The 44-year-old former Louisville QB who spent two seasons as the Illinois quarterbacks coach is having a strong year with a 9-2 record. His style and background should help him get a look at Illinois, Mizzou, Maryland and maybe Iowa State.

51. Doc Holliday, Marshall: Another great recruiter with big Florida ties, Holliday is 9-2 this year. I don’t think he has a great shot at Miami, but maybe at UCF.

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● Ohio State’s loss and the postgame comments of star RB Ezekiel Elliott were the biggest talk of the weekend in college football. I spoke to an NFL scout for his take on Elliott and whether him being critical of the Buckeyes coaches would hurt his NFL stock.

● Northwestern beat Wisconsin on the road 13-7 to make the Wildcats 7-0 this season in games decided by 10 points or less. They were 3-9 in such games in the past two seasons.

● As we reported Saturday, All-American linebacker Scooby Wright, who has missed almost all of the 2015 season for Arizona, told me that he started running again about a week ago and that he expects to play in the Wildcats’ bowl game. Wright also had some interesting comments about gaining some real perspective this fall after frustration had set in about being sidelined by injuries.

● Hats off to Pitt senior DE Ejuan Price who had five sacks, six TFLs and 10 tackles Saturday against Louisville. He’s had eight sacks in the Panthers’ past three games. The Panthers only had 19 sacks in 13 games last season — 13th in the ACC. Under new coach Pat Narduzzi, they have 36 sacks — No. 1 in the ACC and No. 5 in the nation.

● Who is Larry Rose III? In the "Year of the Running Back," the 5-foot-11, 185-pound Texan is averaging 7.5 yards per carry and 148 rushing yards per game. For all the talk about Leonard Fournette, Derrick Henry, Dalvin Cook and Co., the sophomore from New Mexico State is surging to get the FBS running title. He trails Fournette now only by 10 yards per game. The Aggies have gone on a three-game win streak after opening the season 0-7. In those three games, he averaged 203 rushing yards per game and ran for six TDs.

New Mexico State was Rose’s only FBS offer coming out of a small high school in Texas. “He was only about 168 pounds and was pretty slightly built,” NM State coach Doug Martin told FOX Sports Sunday. “But we thought he could be something special.”

Martin was right. Rose has added about 15 pounds since then. “Some backs are really good at making guys miss in space. He’s got a great ability to make you miss in the hold,” Martin said. “And he’s also a great all-around back who is a really good route runner.

“I recruited and coached (Patriots star) Julian Edelman at Kent and Larry reminds me a lot of him. They both have so much competitiveness and play with a chip on their shoulder. Julian only had one (FBS) scholarship offer too, and he also wanted to prove everybody wrong. They also each have tremendous acceleration and quickness and are great practice players."

● Stat of the Day: Vernon Adams’ QB rating in the month of November: 238.19. Next best is Western Kentucky’s Brandon Doughty who is at 206.87 for the stretch. In three games, the Oregon quarterback is averaging a gaudy 13.8 yards per attempt while completing 71 percent to go with a 12-3 TD-INT ratio.

● Stat of the Day, Take II: Last Tuesday night, I was on FS1 to talk about the latest College Football Playoff rankings. My final takeaway point was keep an eye on Michigan State. I made the case that if the Spartans went to Columbus and knocked off the defending champs and won out — which would include a win over an undefeated Iowa in the Big Ten title game — they were going to make the Final Four. Truthfully, I thought that was a huge IF though. But there were three factors that made it seem plausible. MSU is very good on both lines; MSU had an experienced QB in Connor Cook (who obviously didn’t even play Saturday) and three, Mark Dantonio is a proven big-game coach. Well, after beating Ohio State in Columbus, Dantonio is now an amazing 5-1 in the Spartans last six games against top-5 opponents.

Bruce Feldman is a senior college football reporter and columnist for FOXSports.com and FS1. He is also a New York Times best-selling author. His new book, “The QB: The Making of Modern Quarterbacks,” came out in October 2014. Follow him on Twitter @BruceFeldmanCFB and Facebook.