2016 Could Be the Year Mark Hudspeth Finally Goes Power Five

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Mark HudspethMark Hudspeth has been one of college football’s best head coaches over the last decade, but you’d be hard-pressed to find many people that can recite his successes outside those who follow North Alabama or Louisiana-at-Lafayette athletics.

That will change very soon.

“There aren’t many coaches who look better in a tight-fitting shirt or can bench press more than their defensive linemen. But Hudspeth, 45, is no sideshow,” wrote Dan Wolken of USA Today last August. “He can coach. But he also has the so-called “it” factor that can charm and energize a fan base. Hudspeth is the total package, and it won’t be a surprise if he wins the Sun Belt again this year and parlays it into a big-time offer.

“Hudspeth already makes more than $1 million a year, so he doesn’t have to jump at just anything, but the Louisville, Miss., native makes way too much sense at a whole lot of SEC programs to not end up there at some point.”

He wasn’t able to win the Sun Belt in 2014 – upstart Georgia Southern took the conference by storm in its first season as a member of the FBS by going 9-3 (8-0) – but he did win nine games for the fourth year in a row, as well as claiming the program’s fourth straight New Orleans Bowl victory after not having one single postseason appearance in school history before his arrival.

It’s no fluke, either. Hudspeth went 25-1 as the head coach at Winston Academy from 1996-97 before eventually going on to compile a 66-21 record with North Alabama from 2002-08, finishing with 10 wins or more in all but two of his seasons in Florence.

Hudspeth is known for being an engaging, hands-on teacher of the game that enjoys having personal control (and responsibility) for every facet and demand that the position requires. He’s a proven recruiter – competing with LSU and other surrounding schools – is an innovator on offense, and is a fan favorite. So why hasn’t he left Louisiana-at-Lafayette yet?

Because he’s in no hurry (he’s the man at ULL and makes a handsome wage for being a Group of Five coach) and is waiting for the perfect opportunity – one that is more than likely to come by the end of the 2015 season.

Based off some of the potential vacancies that I presented in my recent “FBS Coaches on the Hot Seat for 2015” column, here are five possible landing spots for what will continue to be one of America’s hottest coaching prospects:

  • Vanderbilt: If Derek Mason can’t completely erase the memory of what was a disastrous first season in Nashville, I would imagine that athletic director Dave Williams will be quick to pull the trigger on his James Franklin replacement. If the Commodores miss out on the postseason again or struggle like they did in 2014, Hudspeth should (and very well could) be the No. 1 option on speed dial. Besides, you want to be the guy after the guy that replaces the guy, and while what Franklin did to that program was magical, it raised overall short-term expectations.
  • North Carolina: It’s not the SEC, but it’s close enough – and Hudspeth would be silly to turn down the opportunity. UNC was preseason No. 23 and finished 6-7 with an embarrassing output in the Quick Lane Bowl last season, giving Larry Fedora back-to-back six-win regular seasons for that featured two four-game losing streaks. While he has no ties to the area, Hudspeth would provide a new identity to a program that has been under the NCAA’s microscope as of late and hasn’t had more than eight wins in a season since the 1997 season. 
  • Kentucky: “The Wildcats were 5-1 at the midway point last year, then fell apart,” wrote Brian Pedersen of Bleacher Report. “Six straight losses, capped by a late loss to rival Louisville, sapped all of the momentum Stoops’ career had created in his first year-and-a-half, and then the struggles continued as what was looking to be another promising recruiting class started losing players left and right.” Kentucky has a lot invested into Stoops, but if his team continues the downward trend this fall, there’s plenty of reason to believe that he’ll be canned after three years. There’s enough talent on this Kentucky roster for a postseason run, and if that goal isn’t achieved by December, Hudspeth should be a candidate to come in and take over damage control.

  • Virginia: This one speaks for itself. No. 3 on my hot seat rankings, London is approaching the epitome of a make-or-break season; it’s bowl game or bust. He’s actually done an excellent job recruiting, but has yet to convert the talent into consistent on-field success. If the Cavs don’t at least content for the ACC Coastal Division and win seven or eight games in the process, parting ways with London will be imminent – and they should be open to exploring all options, starting with Hudspeth.
  • South Carolina: End the Steve Spurrier hot seat rumors right now. As long as the 69-year-old Hall of Famer wants to coach South Carolina, he will stay with South Carolina. However, following his worst mark since the 2009 season, the ‘Ol Ball Coach went on the record in January to say that he nearly decided to walk away from the game. He’s still a University of South Carolina employee, but if the Gamecocks endure another long, agonizing, and “embarrassing” year, Spurrier might pull the trigger and retire to focus on his golf game. This would then become one of the biggest coaching vacancies of the offseason, and possibly the best fit for both parties when considering Hudspeth’s capabilities and budding potential as a can’t-miss candidate.