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1 Area Each Top 10 College Football Coach Must Improve in 2014

Brian LeighFeatured ColumnistJuly 21, 2014

1 Area Each Top 10 College Football Coach Must Improve in 2014

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    Everyone—even the best head coaches in America—could stand to improve. Especially as the game of college football evolves, the figures involved with it must adapt.

    The 10 best coaches in America is obviously a subjective list to build. A handful of great options had to be left off—including the last two national runners-up. The only reason this was done was for longevity purposes. Winning national championships or enjoying sustainable success were given precedence over most things.

    Apologies to all who were omitted.

    Sound off below, and let me know where you disagree.

Art Briles, Baylor

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    Defensive Fundamentals

    As long as Art Briles and Philip Montgomery are in town, Baylor will have one of the best offenses in college football. They are that innovative. The Bears will always score enough points to compete.

    But will they prevent enough?

    Granted, Phil Bennett is the one running the defense—not Briles. Still, the head coach has to step in and make a difference at some point.

    Baylor has steadily gotten better on that side of the ball, but basic things such as sound tackling and elementary coverage still stand between it and national title contention. Last year's defense was pretty bad but still one of the best in recent school history.

    In the words of Shehan Jeyarajah of The Dallas Morning News:

    Perhaps the primary reason Baylor was finally able to break through and win the Big 12 in 2013 was the rise of its defense. Halfway through the season in 2013, the Bears were giving up over 540 yards per game and were on pace to be the worst defense of all time. Despite a resurgence late, Baylor finished bottom five in total defense and gave up over 500 yards a game.

    That a defense averaging 500 yards allowed per game is viewed as a "breakthrough" says everything you need to know.

    Briles needs to help inspire a full-season fix.

Mark Dantonio, Michigan State

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    Starting the Season Strong

    Michigan State has been a team that eases itself into the season. It finds its groove around the time of conference play.

    Mark Dantonio can't allow that to be the case in 2014. With Oregon looming in Week 2—and even with a plucky FCS team in Jacksonville State looming in Week 1—the Spartans will be tested early.

    If they play the way they played against Western Michigan and South Florida last season, this team could be utterly exposed. If they play the way they played against Ohio State and Stanford, however, this team could be showcased as one of the best in the country.

    Dantonio must pull all the pieces together.

Jimbo Fisher, Florida State

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    Battling Complacency

    This doesn't exactly fit the headline.

    Jimbo Fisher has never struggled with complacency issues, so it's not, in reality, a place he must "improve."

    But what else would you have me list?

    The sample has been small, but Fisher has never shown much of a head-coaching weakness. He's been sublime. I'd rather highlight a theoretical challenge than fabricate something he struggles with.

    Fisher and his team will have to combat complacency this season. That part is a certifiable fact. And even though he's dealt well with that in the past—he and Nick Saban coached LSU to back-to-back national titles in 2003 and 2004—Fisher should find the task difficult.

    After a season as dominant as Florida State's, anybody would.

Urban Meyer, Ohio State

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    Helping With the Secondary

    Like Art Briles at Baylor, Urban Meyer is an offensive coach. He always has been and he always will be. It is what he does the best.

    In that regard, he is allowed to outsource the pass defense to co-defensive coordinators Luke Fickell and Chris Ash. He is allowed to make hires (such as Ash's) to bring in better defensive minds.

    At the same time, though, a great coach cannot allow one of his units to be so bad for multiple seasons. And Ohio State—while always promising on paper—is losing three starters from a secondary that disbanded down the stretch last year. All things told, it finished No. 112 in the country with 268 passing yards allowed per game.

    Meyer must be part of the solution.

Les Miles, LSU

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    Quarterback Development

    Les Miles has not been bad, per se, at developing quarterbacks. Zach Mettenberger was a successful rehabilitation project, and JaMarcus Russell—for all his NFL ignominy—was a fantastic college player.

    Still, the task at hand this season might be tougher than any in Miles' career. And the memories of Jordan Jefferson and Ryan Perrilloux are not far enough in the past to be forgotten. How he and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron handle Brandon Harris and Anthony Jennings will ultimately define this season in Baton Rouge.

    Wisconsin should present a stiff test in Week 1.

Chris Petersen, Washington

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    Recruiting

    This one is not 2014-specific. But the biggest question surrounding Chris Petersen as he transitions from Boise State to Washington is whether he can recruit at a Pac-12 level.

    He did well with a strong close to the 2013 cycle, but Petersen needs to prove he can handle the big-school responsibilities over a full calendar year. The fact that 5-star 2016 quarterback Jacob Eason just committed to Georgia is not incriminating—but it's not encouraging, either. Petersen needs to keep the best Washington players in-state.

    And he needs to start doing so consistently.

Nick Saban, Alabama

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    In-Game Decisions

    Nobody runs a program like Nick Saban. It is hard to find an area of improvement for a team that's so consistently dominant.

    If forced to nitpick, though, it would be tough not to acknowledge the way Saban bungled the end of the Auburn game. The secondary breakdown on Sammie Coates' touchdown was forgivable (or at least not Saban's fault), but subbing in the backup kicker for the ill-advised field goal that became the "Kick Six" was not.

    It was stupid.

    "It just looked like we did not have anybody down on the right side," Saban said after the loss, according to the local Fox website. "The game should not have ended that way."

    No team (except Florida State) has the athletes to beat Alabama next season. Given the way it recruits, that should remain the case for the foreseeable future. This team will not ever lose on paper.

    But it can still lose on the field.

Bill Snyder, Kansas State

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    NOTHING!

    How dare you suggest Bill Snyder needs to improve!? 

    (On a serious note, though, Snyder and Kansas State could obviously improve on the recruiting trail. Granted, it is hard to attract talent to Manhattan, Kansas, but recruiting is the only thing keeping this consistently good program from being consistently great.

    It barely finished in the top 50 on the 247Sports team rankings.)

Steve Spurrier, South Carolina

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    Not Having a Letdown

    It's a masochistic source of pride in Columbia that the Gamecocks have beaten the last three SEC East champions despite never winning the division. But why?

    The fact of the matter is that this program has failed to realize its potential. It has fielded some quality, SEC Championship-worthy teams the past three seasons but never had a shot at winning the conference.

    The reason for that has been letdowns. Last year, it was a road game at Tennessee. The year before, it was losing by 33 points against Florida. The year before that, it was a close home loss against Auburn.

    Steve Spurrier is a fantastic coach who has turned a once dormant program into one of America's best. He has also dominated the in-state series against Clemson. But that makes it all the more ironic that his biggest problem is "Clemsoning" one time each season.

    He needs to wake his team up each week.

Bob Stoops, Oklahoma

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    Offensive Consistency

    Bob Stoops is one of the best offensive minds in college football. He is the reason someone like Jason White could win the Heisman trophy. He has a history of setting quarterbacks up for success.

    Which made it extra painful to watch this team last season. The potential was clearly there, and when everything was clicking, as it was against Alabama, things looked great.

    But things did not click nearly often enough. The Sugar Bowl was a nice bow to the season, which helped some folks forget about what happened before it, but that doesn't strike the UL-Monroe game or the West Virginia game from the record. Those still happened.

    Stoops needs to get this offense up and running on a week-to-week basis. It has the schedule and the roster of a College Football Playoff contender, but it doesn't have the 2013 performance of one. The end of the season does not nullify the beginning.

    This team cannot be so Jekyll and Hyde.

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