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Five Mid-Major Coaches Who Can Make the Leap in 2019

The 2019 college football season is upon us. Thus, it’s time to start thinking about 2020.

Now, of course, we have hundreds of fantastic games to look forward to watching. The famous Group of Five, mid-majors, whatever you want to call them, is no exception. There are plenty of coaches on that level looking for a big promotion. It certainly worked for countless football bosses like Urban Meyer (Bowling Green), Nick Saban (Toledo), and Mark Dantonio (Cincinnati).

So the first of many questions we’ll likely ask this season…who’s next?

Jason Candle, Toledo

Among active FBS head coaches with at least three years at their current schools, Candle’s .683 win percentage (28-13) ranks ninth in the nation. Embedded in the Rockets’ program since 2010, Candle made his debut in the 2015 Boca Raton Bowl after Matt Campbell left for Iowa State. Toledo won the game, 32-17, to start off an active four-game bowl streak, the longest in program history. The Rockets have also gone 18-6 in MAC play during that stretch.

Prior to his FBS journey, Candle got his start at Division III Mount Union, where he won a pair of national titles as a wide receiver.

Bill Clark, UAB

You think your program has had some problems to deal with? Clark might laugh in your face.

Clark’s first year as an FBS head coach was almost his last. In the midst of a respectable 6-6 campaign in 2014 (the Blazers’ first non-losing season in a decade), it was announced that the program would shut down entirely. A revival awaited in 2017, and Clark hasn’t missed a step. UAB has gone 19-6 (13-3 in Conference USA play) since returning to the gridiron. Last season saw them win a program-best 11 games, including both the Conference USA title game and their first bowl victory (over Northern Illinois in the Boca Raton Bowl).

Tyson Helton, Western Kentucky

Let’s get wild with a first-timer wild card. This is college football, after all. In recent years, Bowling Green, Kentucky, has been a hotbed for risers to the Power Five group. The past decade has seen Willie Taggart, Bobby Petrino, and Jeff Brohm each parlay success with the Hilltoppers into a job with an elite program. Helton could well be the next guy to do so.

Helton has experiences with developing quarterbacks on the FBS level. He’s the brother of USC head coach Clay Helton. The pair developed future NFL first-rounder Sam Darnold in Los Angeles. Previous exploits include a stop in none other than Bowling Green (2014-15), where he guided Brandon Doughty to 4,830 yards and 49 touchdowns as an offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. The Hilltoppers also set several offensive records en route to a pair of tropical victories in the Bahamas and Miami Beach Bowls.

Lance Leipold, Buffalo

Be prepared for some New York representation on this list. Leipold took over the Empire State’s central region, guiding the University of Buffalo to its first 10-win season in program history. The Bulls also earned their first division title since 2008, though they fell in the conference title game to Northern Illinois. Next on Leipold’s Erie County bucket list is tackling the bowl drought; the Bulls are 0-3 in their history, and have never made back-to-back showings. They fell to Troy in the Dollar General Bowl last season.

The former Nebraska assistant has already established himself as a coaching legend on the Division III level. At the helm of Wisconsin-Whitewater, Leipold reached 100 wins faster than any coach in NCAA history and won six national titles.

Jeff Monken, Army

In a football world that generates an increasing number of followers into the cult of the forward pass, Monken has gotten by with the dated, yet effective, triple-option offense.

He is, after all, the man who led Georgia Southern to a victory over Florida without completing a single pass in Gainesville in 2013. Monken has since gone one to reboot West Point’s football program. No longer are entire seasons centered around the result of the Navy game in Philadelphia. Rather, Army has earned back-to-back 10-win seasons for the first time in their century-plus history. Some even consider the Black Knights dark horse contenders for the Group of Five’s precious New Year’s Six spot.