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The Top-Five Head Coaches Iowa Football Faces in 2017

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Kirk Ferentz will engage in chess matches with some of the game’s best this season.

NCAA Football: Penn State at Ohio State James Lang-USA TODAY Sports

Now that we’ve covered all of the position groups in our weekly series of the best players Iowa will face in 2017, it’s time to take a look at the best coaches who will be staring across the field at Kirk Ferentz every Saturday this fall.

5. Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern

You know the deal with Patty Fitz. He could go somewhere else, but why? There’s not a better fit between program and coach in the country, and not all of it is because Northwestern is his alma mater. He’s a blue-collar underdog who overachieved as a player, and he has successfully carved that exact chip into the shoulder of every player that suits up for the Wildcats. The end result is a Northwestern program that has opponents tossing scouting reports and recruiting rankings out the window as soon as the ball is kicked off. The Wildcats are perennially one of the most underrated tough outs in the country, and their head coach is why. He has a 77-62 record at the school — a winning percentage of just over 55 percent. Pre-Fitzgerald, the Northwestern football program had a winning percentage of just over 41 percent in its history.

4. Craig Bohl, Wyoming

Since losing his job as Nebraska’s defensive coordinator in 2002 via the “fire Frank Solich and hire Bill Callahan to fix Husker football” fiasco, all Bohl has done is take over programs and win. He is the architect of the current North Dakota State juggernaut that serves as the measuring bar of success for all other FCS programs. While in Fargo from 2003 through 2013, he had a record of 104-32 (.764 winning percentage) with three national titles and only one losing season. It looks as if his Midas Touch is beginning to work at his current job as well. After suffering through back-to-back losing seasons in his first two years in Laramie, Bohl led Wyoming to eight wins and a spot in the Mountain West Championship game in 2016. Not only did he defeat Boise State en route to the title game, many pundits (myself included) feel like Wyoming may be knocking on the door of supplanting the Broncos as the premier team in their conference.

3. Mark Dantonio, Michigan State

Sure, the Spartans had a down year a season ago. Sure, things aren’t looking like they’ll pan out much better this year. That said, it is impossible to ignore the success Dantonio has had in East Lansing. Since arriving in 2007, he has amassed a record of 108-59 (.647 winning percentage), qualified for a bowl in every year but 2016, punched a ticket to the College Football Playoff and won three Big Ten titles. Yes, the landscape has changed in Michigan with the arrival of Jim Harbaugh, but I’m willing to give him another couple of seasons to adjust before knocking him down, or off, this list. Opposing coaches still need to bring their A-games when preparing to play the Spartans

2. James Franklin, Penn State

What you saw last season in Happy Valley was not an anomaly — it was a sign of things to come. Franklin has been a head coach at the FBS level for six seasons: three at Vanderbilt and three at Penn State. He won an eye-popping 24 games in three seasons at Vanderbilt and has yet to have a losing season at Penn State. He has proven to be both an outstanding recruiter as well as a terrific X’s and O’s guy with the ability to maximize the potential of his players. Combine that with the momentum he’s building and the resources backing him at Penn State, and Franklin looks like he could become one of the elite coaches in the game very soon, and stay there for years to come.

1. Urban Meyer, Ohio State

Hate him as you might for any number of foolish reasons, Urban Meyer is just about as good as it gets as a collegiate coach. He’s taken one offensive system and moved it from Bowling Green to Utah to Florida and then to Ohio State, having championship-level success at every stop with different variations of the same scheme. He recruits as well as anyone in the country and surrounds himself with top level assistants to help develop those already elite recruits into sure-fire early-round NFL draft picks. In terms of numbers, Meyer’s are, again, as good as it gets: 165-29 (.850 winning percentage), five conference championships, two College Football Playoff appearances and three national titles.