Former head coach Paul Wulff got the ball rolling with a fun offense but despite scoring an average of over 29 points a game, the Cougars only won four games last year, two of which were non-conference games against Idaho State and UNLV. Mike Leach is now the head coach and while the defense may not make a noticeable improvement, it may not matter -- Leach's Air Raid pass attack will throw up 40 points a game and dare other teams to top that score.
The hiring of Leach was brilliant. Leach has extensive BCS head coaching experience and a proven track record. Wulff had eight years experience as the head coach at an FCS school (Eastern Washington) but posted four sub-.500 conference records during his tenure. Leach, on the other hand, posted one sub-.500 conference record in his 10 years as head coach at Texas Tech. The Cougars' stock will go way up.
The resignation of head coach Jim Tressel wasn't a surprise -- neither was Urban Meyer's name at the top of Buckeye fans' head-coaching wish lists. And they got him. Meyer's tenure at Florida included one alarming stat -- 30 players were arrested on various charges over the course of five years -- as well as two BCS Championship titles.
Ohio State's perceived lack of "team speed" in big games may have cost them some BCS titles as well as some respect from SEC fans. With Meyer installing his spread offense, there will be some growing pains but the team's speed will drastically increase while punting situations on third-and-1 will decrease. Meyer will have one year without any bowl consequences (due to the NCAA's post-season ban) to try out some new schemes in the Big Ten and play spoiler to a potential BCS Championship contender. After that, the Buckeyes will return back to prominence.
Rick Neuheisel is a nice guy and all but eventually the superlatives describing his effusive personality gave way to his four-year 21-29 overall record and he was dismissed. After a much-criticized coaching search, the Bruins hired Jim L. Mora, a coach with exactly one year's experience in college football as a graduate assistant and four years' experience as an NFL coach. Mora quickly assembled an incredible assistant coaching staff including Steve Broussard, Adrian Klemm and Demetrice Martin.
One of UCLA's biggest problems has been casual, undisciplined practices on a yearly basis with Mora's predecessors even allowing players to ditch a practice if they can jump over a practice field wall -- that ritual was ended by the no-nonsense Mora. Their practices have been fast-paced, crisp and much more physical. The environment is full of competition and there is more attention to detail. The Bruins will improve this year thanks to the upgrade in coaching.
Dennis Erickson was dismissed from the Sun Devils after five years and a 31-31 record. Former Pitt head coach Todd Graham was ushered in but his coaching history -- one year at Rice, four years at Tulsa and one year at Pittsburgh -- ruffled a few feathers, mostly from the great city of Pittsburgh after his hasty exit. Graham is a defensive-minded coach who preaches discipline with team unity and family values.
Arizona State has always had talent but that talent seemingly either never met expectations or was sidelined as punishment or with injury. Middle linebacker Vontaze Burfict was an exceptional physical talent, but his lack of discipline cost the team -- in one game in 2010, his 15-yard personal foul gave Stanford a first down that resulted in the game-winning touchdown. Arizona State was the most penalized team in FBS last year, averaging almost 80 yards per game. Graham has the iron hand to fix the discipline problems in Tempe. Count on it.
It was in the cards. Hawaii's native son has come home. Norm Chow, seemingly every team's assistant coach and the perennial headliner of, "Why isn't he a head coach?" is finally a head coach. You can bet he won't be looking to move up after a few years of success -- this is a destination job for Chow, and Hawaii fans can relax knowing that he is a lifer. The offense will be all Chow genius and the relationships he forges with his players and the surrounding community will only cement his future legacy. If that isn't a hiring upgrade, what is?
While Charlie Weis has managed to make headlines by taking the Kansas job, some questions remain. How is he going to recruit at a school that relies heavily on kids from Texas? In his five years coaching at Notre Dame, Weis landed three commits from the state of Texas. How will he make inroads in a talent-rich state that is more familiar with the likes of Mack Brown, Bob Stoops or Mike Gundy, three coaches who regularly recruit in Texas?
Kansas athletic director Sheahon Zenger called Weis "one of the brightest Xs and Os minds in the country." In his one year as Florida's offensive coordinator, he produced an offense nationally ranked at No. 105 despite the glut of talent. Weis' track record of working with a stocked South Bend cupboard was mediocre at best, but Florida was a disaster. Will he stay at Kansas? According to Kansas.com, on Nov. 23, 2011, Weis told the AP he wasn't leaving Gainesville, Florida.
"I'll be here for a while unless you're trying to get rid of me," he said.
Two weeks later, he agreed to be Kansas' new head coach. This stock has plenty of red flags.
When an entire school's image revolves around one man, it's difficult to start over when that man is no longer there. Joe Paterno was in his 46th year as head coach at Penn State before he was dismissed over his controversial role in the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Paterno was the face of Penn State and his legacy on the field will be difficult to carry on for any coach, but Bill O'Brien has the unenviable task of moving the football team forward.
O'Brien has no head-coaching experience and no reported ties to Penn State. Former assistant head coach and defensive coordinator Tom Bradley played for Penn State and had been on the coaching staff for over 30 years but resigned in January after not being named head coach. Penn State's cleaning house signaled the school's desire for a clean slate, but in a crisis, familiarity can be a calming influence on young men dealing with Paterno's death, the ongoing Sandusky trial proceedings and public scrutiny. The Nittany Lions lost seven high-profile recruits, including five-star defensive end Noah Spence, after O'Brien's hire. Would the class of 2012 have been more intact if Bradley had been head coach? Probably.
Houston Nutt was dismissed as Ole Miss' head coach after last year's 2-10 season. Nutt set a school record of losing 12 consecutive SEC conference games. Hugh Freeze was named the new coach in December. Freeze was a head coach at Lambuth University for one year before becoming offensive coordinator at Arkansas State in 2010 and then head coach at the same school the following year.
The SEC is a tough conference, as current Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley is finding out. Dooley was head coach at the WAC's Louisiana Tech before jumping to the SEC, and he has struggled the last two years. Freeze has one year experience as an FBS head coach in the Sun Belt and now he's being asked to turn around a team in the brutal SEC West? This hire is puzzling -- you don't become a head coach in the SEC to get more coaching experience.
We won't rehash the whole Bobby Petrino scandal, but suffice to say his dismissal came at the most inopportune time. The Razorbacks have steadily improved under Petrino and this year they were a legit SEC West champion contender. Petrino's brilliant mind won't be coaching from the sidelines and instead, John L. Smith will be coaching this season. His contract is for the 2012 season only.
The hire is interesting because Smith was an assistant coach at Arkansas for three years before agreeing to coach at Weber State, a job he never fulfilled. Smith has extensive head coaching experience at Idaho, Utah State, Louisville and Michigan State, but after Michigan State, Smith took lower-profile positions at Arkansas and Weber State. Two concerns are that it appears Smith has passed his peak and recruiting with a one-year contract in hand may prove to be extremely difficult.
Was former Houston head coach Kevin Sumlin's success largely due to quarterback Case Keenum's cannon arm and a top-ranked passing offense? Maybe. That formula may work in Conference USA, but the Aggies are now playing in the SEC West, where a solid running game and defense wins championships.
Only a few have made a successful jump from a non-BCS head coaching job to a BCS job. Utah's Urban Meyer (to Florida and Ohio State), Youngstown State's Jim Tressel (to Ohio State), San Diego State's Brady Hoke (to Michigan), Tulane's Mack Brown (to North Carolina and Texas), Toledo's Gary Pinkel (to Missouri), and Murray State's Frank Beamer (to Virginia Tech) are a few of the success stories. It'd be nice to add Sumlin's name to the list but coaching in the SEC West makes the odds stacked against him.