Karl Dorrell: No. 54 out of 65? Respect Still Hard To Come By

CBS Sports recently posted its rankings of the 65 Power Five coaches, with a panel of college football writers from CBS Sports and 247Sports submitting ballots. To be fair, writer Tom Fornelli acknowledged that the rankings were subjective:

OK, so they aren’t irrefutable, that’s impossible. Every single voter has their own criteria for ranking coaches. Some value accomplishments on the field above all else, while others may give greater weight to recruiting prowess or the possibility of future success. There is no right or wrong way to do the rankings, and that’s largely what makes the final results so fun.

Before we take a look at the ranking for CU”s Karl Dorrell, here are some of the “highlights” from the rankings …

No. 57 … Mel Tucker, Michigan State: I was very surprised to see Tucker drop a couple of spots, but it’s probably because I have him ranked too high. Tucker checks in at No. 39 on my rankings, but that’s largely because he exceeded my expectations for 2020. When you consider the timing of Tucker’s hire at Michigan State and how it narrowly preceded the pandemic changing everything, the 2020 season was promising! Obviously, my fellow voters are not as enthusiastic as myself. 2020 rank: 55 (-2)

Hmmm … Tucker “exceeded” expectations? Michigan State lost to Rutgers in the opener, the Scarlet Knights’ first win over Michigan State since joining the Big Ten, and their first win over any Big Ten team since 2017. Michigan State also to Iowa 49-7, Indiana 24-0, and to Ohio State, 52-12, on its way to a 2-5 season and a last place finish in the Big Ten East. If that’s “exceeding” expectations … I’d hate to see what the Spartans would have to do to be a disappointment.

No. 47 … Scott Frost, Nebraska: Only two coaches fell further in this year’s rankings than Frost, and the 13 spots he drops this season are tacked onto the nine he fell last year. That’s 22 spots in two years for a coach widely viewed as a “no-doubt, home-run hire” at Nebraska. Well, he’s 12-20 in three seasons with the Cornhuskers, and that 13-0 season at UCF just seems further away with every loss. 2020 rank: 34 (-13)

No. 39 … Chip Kelly, UCLA: I think it’s safe to say the shine has come off Kelly at the college level in the minds of our voters. While nobody can deny the success he had at Oregon and how he helped change the offensive landscape, he’s only gone 10-21 at UCLA and is 10-15 in the conference. 2020 rank: 36 (-3)

Two examples of how the experts are prejudiced, either by loyalty to the name of the coach or the name of the school. If blindly given the three year records of these coaches – 12-20 for Frost; 10-21 for Kelly – neither would rank so highly (and, it many places, they would be looking for another job).

Overall, four coaches from the Pac-12 made the Top 25 nationally in the CBS rankings – No. 24 David Shaw (Stanford); No. 21 Herm Edwards (Arizona State); No. 16 Mario Cristobal (Oregon); and No. 14 Kyle Whittingham (Utah). However, in the 2021 rankings, only four of the conference’s 11 coaches moved up in the rankings from last year, while seven moved down (Arizona’s Jedd Fisch is the only new coach in the conference this year).

CU’s Karl Dorrell was one of the four who did move up in the eyes of the experts … all the way to No. 54 …

No. 54 … Karl Dorrell, Colorado: It feels like the voters wanted to reward Dorrell for an excellent first season in Boulder, but they didn’t want to get carried away. As a result, Dorrell climbs 10 spots after shocking the world with a 4-2 year, but he’s still solidly in the mid-50s. Dorrell’s career seems to be one of coaching teams with a high floor but limited ceiling. Should he continue that at Colorado, he’ll likely have a similar performance in these rankings. 2020 rank: 64 (+10)

Yup … Dorrell was ranked No. 54 – after being ranked No. 64 out of 65 last year (Arizona’s Jedd Fisch earned the dubious honor of being ranked second-to-last this season).

So … Dorrell “shocked the world” with a 4-2 record, but is still no better than the 9th-best coach in the Pac-12?

What did Dorrell accomplish in Year One in Boulder?

  • Dorrell was named the Pac-12 Coach-of-the-Year … just the sixth CU coach in history to earn conference Coach-of-the-Year honors;
  • Dorrell was named the Football Writers Association of America’s First-Year Coach-of-the-Year, honoring him as the top new coach in 2020 (there were 12 new Power Five head coaches in 2020. Dorrell, despite being honored as the best of the bunch, was ranked below eight of those 12 coaches in the CBS rankings);
  • Of the 23 new coaches last season, Dorrell was the last to be undefeated (through December 12th), and finished with the fourth-best winning percentage;
  • Became just the third coach in CU history, joining Rick Neuheisel (1995) and Gary Barnett (1999) to lead the Buffs to a bowl game in their first season; and
  • Became the first coach in CU history to go from unranked to ranked in season No. 1 (coming in at No. 21 in the AP poll; No. 22 in the USA Today/Coaches poll; No. 22 in the College Football Playoff Rankings on December 6th). Rick Neuheisel (1995) and Gary Barnett (1999) opened their first seasons with ranked teams … but both had better situations than what Dorrell had to work with in his first season.

Not bad for a coach who had a team which had an over/under win total projection (when CU had a seven-game schedule planned) of 1.5.

And yet, there is the underlying skepticism, both about Dorrell and CU, that success can be sustained.

Fornelli’s comment, Dorrell’s career seems to be one of coaching teams with a high floor but limited ceiling, resonates.

Dorrell was the head coach at UCLA for five seasons. Five times, his team qualified for bowl games. His 2005 team went 10-2, but his other four teams went 6-7, 6-6, 7-6 and 6-6. Even the best team, the 10-2 team, was no better than third in the Pac-10 standings, and played in the shadow of Pete Carroll’s national championship contending teams across town at USC.

Is that Dorrell’s destiny at Colorado?

Colorado fans spent much of the past decade hoping for runs in late November, with bowl bids seemingly always just out of reach. After the 10-4 Pac-12 South title run in 2016, the Buffs went 5-7, 5-7, and 5-7.

Granted, 6-6, 7-6, and 6-6 are better than 5-7, 5-7, and 5-7. After qualifying for only two bowl games in the past 13 seasons, going to bowl games annually – even if they are only Las Vegas Bowls or Sun Bowls – sounds pretty good.

A “higher floor” would definitely be welcome. Getting bowl bids annually – not to mention the extra 15 practices in December, together with the added boost to recruiting – would bring Colorado back into the national conversation as something other than a bottom-feeder, something other than an after thought.


Sounds delicious.

But will that be as good as it gets under Karl Dorrell?

Take a look at pretty much any preseason prognostication for the Pac-12 South.

There are those who believe that Clay Helton finally has it figured out at USC. Others see this as the year Herm Edwards will lead Arizona State to the top. Still others feel the consistency of Utah under Kyle Whittingham will carry the day in a wide open division. And then there are those that believe Chip Kelly and his senior quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, will get their act together and challenge.

What you won’t read is anyone who picks CU to be a part of that mix (or Arizona, the consensus No. 6 team in the division). The Buffs, pretty much in every preseason pick, is slated to finish 5th in the division.

Perhaps a bowl team; perhaps not.

Right around a 5-7/6-6 team.

Sound familiar? “High floor, but limited ceiling“.

It will be up to Karl Dorrell, his coaching staff, and his players, to prove that narrative wrong.

And improve Dorrell’s ranking in next year’s CBS Coaches’ rankings.


8 Replies to “Karl Dorrell: Respect Still Hard to Come By”

  1. Let’s worry about next year’s ranking….he upgraded the roster via the portal, so it’s now on the coaches. If we exceed expectations again, he should be Top 25.

  2. I gotta say I don’t think Dorrell gets nearly enough respect for last year. If UCLA or Stanford had beaten us everyone would have given Dorrell a pass and said with everything he faced it was expected….. and then he exceeds expectations by winning the first 4 games and all of a sudden all we focus on is the 2 losses. He has a brand new team ready to outplay Chip Kelly’s and David Shaws teams. During an unprecedented year…. I am very hopeful we are going to see a pretty big jump this year. The one thing that could hold us back is injuries…. as we saw when Landman went down and Noyer got hurt and basically 1/2 the starting defense was out for the bowl game we are just not very deep and the fall off from our starters to the next guy is usually very big. It looks like Dorrell has realized that though and brought in some transfer talent so the second string won’t be such a drastic fall off.

  3. Quick arithmetic regarding current PAC-12 Football Coaching Records (eighth best coach does not seem like a fair placement):

    Washington – 75%

    Stanford – 71.4%

    Utah – 67.0%

    USC – 66.7%

    Colorado – 57.4%

    UCLA – 57.1% (includes professional teams)

    ASU – 56.7% (does not include professional)

    California – 50%

    WSU – 49.2%

    Oregon – 49%

    OSU – 27%

    Arizona – TBD

  4. Six seasons as a head coach and his teams have gone to six bowl games. Respected for his integrity, work ethic and character. How many of the 53 ranked ahead of him have those established credentials? He learned much at UCLA and has been waiting for a second opportunity. CU is fortunate to have him on board. I have a feeling that CU will be moving to the top of the South decision soon, and remain there during his extended tenure. The players seem to genuinely like playing for him. Both the CU football and basketball coaches have built a true family atmosphere that draws players of character. This will succeed over the long haul.

  5. Yo,

    Great Golf
    Great Softball College softball world series ..first round

    Now about them Buff football projections.

    In the last 15 years.
    2016 was a fluke. (thanks to the DC)
    All the rest of them are “Buff years”

    So high Floor and low ceiling?
    I want the floor. The high floor.
    Next 4 years.
    Bowl game each year ( A better one each year)
    1 more win each year
    Upset of the supposed big boy pac 12 teams. (1 or 2 or 3 a year)

    Go Buffs.


  6. respect from CBS sports???…..pfffft
    Does anyone really think that KD gives a rat’s furry sphincter what Clowns Broadcasting Sports thinks???
    They sure think a lot of themselves.
    “It will be up to Karl Dorrell, his coaching staff, and his players, to prove that narrative wrong.
    And improve Dorrell’s ranking in next year’s CBS Coaches’ rankings.”
    Their problem is they were wrong right out of the box. What does Frosty have to do to lose their favor? Go 0 and 10 three more years in a row?
    The only time these erstwhile janitors and never been athletes ever stick their neck out is to cherry pick the shrimp on the buffet line.

    1. Man, ep you should write a book on “The Art of Sarcasm” ………”all the words one can use to conjure up a perfect picture of any issue,” and to think it isn’t even XXX rated. I would like to see what you could do with a Sport’s version of, say something like Hustler Magazine. I guess the inspiration comes from living in the most remote area of CO. I think I’ll move there.

      1. if thats the case there must be some Shakespeares hiding out in Moffat County (very NW corner) you wander more than a mile off Highway 40 and the only thing human you might find are the bones of some long lost Basque sheep herder.

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