- Travis Haney, ESPN Staff Writer
As the college football season begins, here are some head coaches to watch with future job considerations in mind. Come November and December -- when the coaching carousel again begins to whirl -- these are the names bound to be linked to Power 5 job openings.
1. Rich Rodriguez, Arizona
He’s always been a funny guy, but Rich Rod has turned into the Will Ferrell of college football in recent months. Beyond the comedy -- at least presuming Lorne Michaels doesn’t call first -- Rodriguez’s coaching chops are putting him in position for a bigger job.
It’s clear he’s happy and comfortable at Arizona, where there are enough resources and support to win. But let’s be honest: Tucson just isn’t a destination in college football.
What if one of those elite jobs -- say, LSU -- became open in the near future? That would be an intriguing fit.
“I could see Rich Rod at LSU,” a head coach in the South told ESPN.com this week. “I could see Rich Rod anywhere. The guy’s a good coach. He would have been a good coach at Michigan if they’d just left him alone.”
It’s anyone’s guess how the Pac-12 South will shake out, but Arizona, which won the division last season, is moving in the right direction. The Michigan stain, regardless of whether it should’ve been there in the first place, is no longer sticking to Rodriguez.
2. Tom Herman, Houston
Even more than offensive philosophies, Herman learned nuanced concepts from Urban Meyer about running a program. Concepts, he has said, such as putting together a staff and developing a unified, across-the-board message. And Herman is going well beyond Meyer in leveraging social media in his first head-coaching gig. The #HTownTakeover recruiting movement is something most everyone in college football is already familiar with.
If the Coogs are competitive in the American in his first season -- and they should be so long as the offensive line holds up -- Herman will be a hot name in the job circuit, this time at the Power 5 level.
3. Justin Fuente, Memphis
Fuente became a hot name after he took the Tigers from seven total wins in his first two seasons to 10 in 2014. And remember he inherited a program that went 3-21 under previous coach Larry Porter.
The miracle-working in Memphis has not been lost on athletic directors. Sustaining success, which would keep Fuente near the top of ADs’ lists, is now the task for the program. The defense helped elevate the Tigers, but it loses defensive coordinator Barry Odom to Missouri, and eight starters. So it’s quarterback Paxton Lynch and the offense’s turn to carry the banner and keep Memphis trending upward.
The 39-year-old Fuente learned much of his program organization skills from TCU’s Gary Patterson, perhaps the most methodical coach in major college ball. That’s a great recommendation to have. Fuente will soon get a big job.
They were youngest-coach-in-America novelties when they started at their respective MAC posts. Look at them now.
Campbell, 35, completed his second nine-win season in three years, and Toledo is again expected to be a contender in the conference’s Western Division. Meanwhile, the 34-year-old Fleck, a disciple of Jim Tressel and Jerry Kill, took WMU from a single win in his first season in 2013 to eight victories and a bowl game in Year No. 2.
At young ages, they’ve proven enough to earn looks from Power 5 ADs. Expect both coaches to get in the mix for openings in the Big Ten, perhaps even the already vacant spot at Illinois. If you’re a school looking for a jolt of energy, these are your guys.
6. Matt Rhule, Temple
The 40-year-old former Penn State linebacker is earning a growing amount of attention from other coaches and agents. Rhule is known as likable but tough. He’s found success as a head coach at Temple, where the Owls went from two wins in Rhule's first year to six in his second.
They may not be ready to win home showcase games against Rhule’s alma mater or Notre Dame, but they should be competitive in those games and again factor into the AAC East race. Rhule is in line for a jump to the Power 5.
7. Jeff Brohm, Western Kentucky
Prepare to be entertained throughout the fall by Brohm’s veteran-laden WKU offense, led by grad student Brandon Doughty -- who threw 49 touchdowns (against 10 interceptions) last season. A win Thursday night at Vanderbilt would put Brohm, a former Louisville QB, and his team on more radars.
Brohm, 44, did spend two seasons as Illinois’ quarterbacks coach, in the event that program wanted someone who understood the lay of the land. Plus, he would assuredly bring an exciting offensive system to Champaign.
If he’s going to make a move elsewhere, this would be a good year to do so. As mentioned before, there will be a lot of turnover on offense in ’16.
8. Bryan Harsin, Boise State
Going 12-2 with a Fiesta Bowl win? That’s Chris Petersen heyday-type stuff for Boise State, and yet Harsin achieved that in Year 1 with a number of new starters. It would take a special job to pull him away from his alma mater, but at this rate, he’s on the road to special offers.
With 18 returning starters, the Broncos are a decent bet to go undefeated in 2015 -- if they can get past former coach Petersen, now at Washington, in the opener. Beating Arizona in the Fiesta Bowl was one thing, but a head-to-head win against Petersen would be a real statement for Harsin as he enters his second season.
9. Lance Leipold, Buffalo
The 51-year-old Leipold has one of the best résumés of any coach in the country: a 109-6 record and six national titles. At Wisconsin-Whitewater, his alma mater, Leipold was essentially the John Wooden of Division III football. Buffalo showed creativity in its hire, and UB will likely be rewarded. If it goes well at all in the next one to three seasons, you can bet Power 5 programs will be clamoring for someone with his track record.
And, hey, great news for Leipold: He missed Baylor on the schedule!
10. Bob Stitt, Montana
Like Leipold, Stitt is making a major jump in competition, going from Division II to the FCS level. And he has already made a splash.
Stitt demonstrated he’s more than the purported label of “Internet sensation” with his team’s upset of four-time defending FCS champion North Dakota State on Saturday. Coaches are already familiar with Stitt; that win likely put him on some Power 5 athletic directors’ radars as well.
Other names that could be in job conversations in November: Matt Wells, Utah State; Pete Lembo, Ball State; Rod Carey, Northern Illinois; Sonny Dykes, Cal; Ken Niumataolo, Navy; Willie Fritz, Georgia Southern; Doc Holliday, Marshall; Dino Babers, Bowling Green; Brian Polian, Nevada; Tim DeRuyter, Fresno State; Mark Hudspeth, Louisiana-Lafayette