Did these select coaches perform well this season?
We are nearing the final month before college football season. There have been big moves made on the coaching front during the offseason. For the first time since 1947, both Texas and Oklahoma will have new coaches. Minnesota made a power move in the Big Ten West while LSU went back to their roots to try and usurp Nick Saban. We’ve got small time coaches hitting the big leagues, veterans getting a second (or third) chance, coordinators ready to make the jump, and of course, the notorious “hot seat.” It’s all here!
First Year Coaches
Tom Herman, Texas
Previous Job: Houston Head Coach
Career Record: 22-4
The Big 12 struck down an expansion that would’ve included Houston as a new member. The popular assumption here is that adding Houston does nothing to benefit them on an individual level. Sure, the conference is better and makes more money but it’s the same logic used when scheduling FCS schools. Do we want to play USC and risk our season or do we want to play Delaware and pad the stats at the expense of monetary gains? The answer is usually the latter. Adding Houston, which Herman turned around instantaneously, just adds another threat to the group. Why risk it? So Houston failed to secure an expansion which made Tom Herman leave for Texas. Now Oklahoma is without Bob Stoops for the first time this century and the top school in the greatest football state in the country now has one of the best young coaches in the game.
It’s hard to imagine Herman struggling to get the Longhorns back on their feet. It’s been almost a decade since the Longhorns were a powerhouse football team. There shouldn’t be too much of a wait for this come up. Herman has proven himself to be one of the best offensive minds in the nation and he is an excellent recruiter in the goldmine of recruits. It’s time for the other Texas squads to starting sweating.
Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma
Previous Job: Oklahoma Offensive Coordinator
Career Record: 0-0
Lincoln Riley was one of the hottest coordinators in the country. His revamping of the Oklahoma offense earned him praise and it was all but assumed he would take the reins from Bob Stoops when the time came. Who knew that the time would be now? Bill Snyder and Kirk Ferentz are now the only holdouts remaining from the 90’s. Riley steps into the driver’s seat seamlessly. He has his quarterback, Baker Mayfield, poised for a season of Heisman contention, and the spotlight is relatively low at this time, with the arrival of Tom Herman and Mike Gundy inching towards the hot seat should this season go poorly. His offensive skills are undeniable, but how will he handle the transition to being the top guy?
Oklahoma is one of the biggest names in the sport so Riley should have no issue drawing in recruits. The issue comes down to the Red River Shootout. Who is looking best coming into the game? Who finishes the season the strongest? Does Herman or Riley start their Big 12 career out with a victory against their greatest rival? These answers are difference makers for recruits. There is little doubt in Riley’s ability to field high-flying offenses and win games but can he win the ones that count the most?
Willie Taggart, Oregon
Previous Job: South Florida Head Coach
Career Record: 40-45
Willie Taggart has hit the big time. Taggart first found success by bringing his alma-mater, Western Kentucky, to relevance. From there, he went closer to home and did the same with South Florida, who posted a 10-2 record last year. Now he brings his high-powered offense out west to Eugene. Oregon exploded on to the scene when Chip Kelly came to town, though they’ve since fizzled out with the departures of Kelly, quarterback Marcus Mariota, and assistant coach Scott Frost. In his first season without Mariota and Frost, Helfrich proved to be unable to helm the ship himself. Taggart’s entire career has been built around bringing a program back from the brink and now he’s in a state itching to be back in the conversation. With the success of rival Washington, Oregon is dying to get back up there. It may not be an instant turnaround, but Taggart is crafty and can get what he needs to out of every player.
While he won’t have someone behind center who’s as electrifying as Quinton Flowers, Taggart still inherits a group of skill position players perfectly suited for is offense. He’s brought in Mario Cristobal to serve as Offensive Coordinator and offensive line coach as well. Cristobal spent the last four seasons in Alabama as the offensive line coach. Without Cristobal, it’s hard to imagine Jalen Hurts having the same level of success he had. Taggart has stacked his staff and has a Heisman contender in Royce Freeman at runningback. Chris Peterson and the Huskies should get ready, because the Ducks are on a comeback.
Ed Orgeron, LSU
Previous Job: LSU Interim Head Coach
Career Record: 22-29
The Les Miles Era is at an end and so begins the Age of Coach O. After looking at both Tom Herman and Jimbo Fisher, LSU decided to promote Ed Orgeron from interim status. There needed to be a culture change on campus. The Tigers had strayed from their roots and lost sight of themselves. Thankfully, there is nothing more Louisiana than Ed Orgeron. Joe Alleva is giving them every opportunity to succeed under Orgeron, bringing in Dave Aranda and Matt Canada as coordinators. Though the clock is already ticking; Aranda is one of, if not the best defensive coordinator in the nation and will be a head coach sooner rather than later. Matt Canada did magnificent work with Pittsburgh and should be everything the Tigers were missing under the lackluster Miles/Cameron regime.
Coach O took over for Miles after a few games and finished the season with a 6-2 record. Sure, the Tigers still lost two games and only scored ten points in the process, but Orgeron’s presence made an astronomical difference. The Tigers finished the season sixth in points allowed per games while holding Alabama to one of their worst performances in the Nick Saban era. The game itself came down to only two plays. Even without Matt Canada, who led his Pittsburgh Panthers to a top ten offense last season, the Tigers managed to look refreshed and dangerous on the offensive side of the ball. Joe Alleva, despite his poor handling of the Les Miles debacle in the 2015 season, has gotten serious and made all the right moves this time around.
Matt Rhule, Baylor
Previous Job: Temple Head coach
Career Record: 28-23
Matt Rhule brought Temple back from the bottom by way of his impressive defensive scheming and ability to get the absolute most out of everyone on his squad. So it came as some surprise that his choice in destination was Baylor; even stranger considering the extreme amount of controversy surrounding the university. Rhule’s hands are clean in these scandals, so he’s choosing to ride out the storm and hope for the best. Though his defensive prowess would give him the edge over say, Gary Patterson or Lincoln Riley, having to face off with Tom Herman for recruits isn’t going to be an easy task. Baylor had a rough season under Art Briles last year and with the drastic change in culture and scheme, it’s going to have to get worse before it gets better.
P.J. Fleck, Minnesota
Previous Job: Western Michigan Head Coach
Career Record: 30-22
This throws a wrench into the Big Ten West. P.J. Fleck steadily improved things in Kalamazoo, eventually leading the Broncos to an undefeated regular season last year. Now, he’s in the Big Ten, and this will be sure to shake things up. This poses big problems for the entire division but Wisconsin stands to lose the most. Iowa is an institution; Ferentz has attracted the same kind of talent throughout his entire career and will continue to do so. Teams have come and gone, divisions have changed, but Iowa is still nailing down their offensive line and front seven. Mike Riley is determined to bring Nebraska back to the glory of the Osborne era (don’t hold your breath) which means his focus in more on Texas and California than the Great Lakes. That leaves Wisconsin to contend with Fleck in their backyard. Fleck is an excellent coach and managed to recruit very well in Western Michigan despite his limited platform.
Jeff Brohm, Purdue
Previous Job: Western Kentucky Head Coach
Career Record: 30-10
Minnesota isn’t the only Big Ten team making big moves. The Boilermakers are not content with occupying the cellar anymore. Jeff Brohm continued the success that Willie Taggart started, helping the Hilltoppers achieve one of the most productive offenses in the league. Purdue has had no identity over the last several years. Their purpose has been an easy win for victors or a humiliating loss on the rare occasion they pulled an upset. Brohm provides a sense of being for the Boilermakers, it’s just going to take more than this season to set the train in motion. Though even if Brohm does improve things, it’s hard to see much room for him in the already crowded Big Ten. If he manages to bring Purdue up to the 5th best team in the Big Ten West, I’d consider that a victory.
Tom Allen, Indiana
Previous Job: Indiana Defensive coordinator
Career Record: 0-1
Tom Allen has been a busy man. He’s worked six positions at five different schools in the last ten years, eventually finding his first head coaching job with Indiana. But who can blame him? After Hugh Freeze discovered Allen at Arkansas State, he’s turned around three different defenses. Ole Miss became a force to be reckoned with when Allen took over linebacker and special teams duties. His lone season in Tampa with Willie Taggart was exceptional, turning the Bulls around from a bottom tier defense to the best in their conference. Finally, he took over the Hoosier defense that was ranked 120th in the FBS. The 57th best scoring defense in the country ordinarily isn’t much to write home about, but it’s very impressive to take one of the worst defenses in college football and turn them into an average one, especially in the Big Ten. Indiana is in the same boat as Purdue. At best, Allen is looking at being the final straw that breaks Mark Dantonio’s back; the Bane of his existence, if you will.
Charlie Strong, South Florida
Previous Job: Texas Head Coach
Career Record: 53-38
This may have been a big deal a few years ago. The hype behind the South Florida Bulls entering this season is driven by the roster Willie Taggart left behind. Strong found a second chance in Tampa, taking over for a team with a dark horse Heisman contender in Quinton Flowers. There’s also the added bonus of their rival, Central Florida, developing into a good team under Scott Frost. After seeing how quickly Strong lost control in Austin, forever tarnishing the potential of branding the team as “The Stronghorns,” there isn’t a lot of reason to be all-in on this team. But still, Strong is a good recruiter, a good coach, and is right in the middle of one of the best football states in the country. You know, something about that sentence sounds familiar.
Justin Wilcox, California
Previous Job: Wisconsin Defensive coordinator
Career Record: 0-0
This is Wilcox’s first shot at a head coaching position, and his second stint with the Bears. In his first official coaching position, he spent three years as the linebackers coach in California before heading to Boise State. It was in Boise that he teamed with Chris Peterson and helped craft a stout defense during the height of Boise State’s success. His track record since hasn’t been the most inspiring. His days at USC left a lot to be desired, considering the massive amount of talent on his side of the ball. It’s tough to judge his lone season with the Badgers, considering no starter on the defensive side was free from the influence of Dave Aranda. He’s got a long way to go to get the Bears to a competitive level, especially with the resurgence of Washington and USC as powerhouse teams in the conference. He does have an advantage that the other Pac-12 teams don’t have: Wilcox has served under Peterson and Clay Helton. Finally coming into his own, it will be interesting to see how Wilcox transforms California.
Major Applewhite, Houston
Previous Job: Houston offensive coordinator
Career Record: 0-1
Coach of the NCAA All-Name Team, Applewhite was named the successor to Tom Herman earlier this year. It’s hard to imagine coming out on top of this break-up though; one gets Ted Cruz and irreversibly flawed infrastructure while the other gets the love and support of Matthew McConaughey. Applewhite has some tough competition in his conference, with Scott Frost, Charlie Strong, and Geoff Collins looking to shake things up. But Applewhite still has guys like receiver Linell Bonner, safety Garrett Davis, and defensive lineman Ed Oliver, who is one of the best players in the country. Herman gave rise to Houston’s major success, now it’s up to Applewhite to maintain that level of quality.
Geoff Collins, Temple
Previous Job: Florida Defensive Coordinator
Career Record: 0-0
Under Matt’s Rhule, Temple rose back into prominence by way of a stout and disciplined defense. Geoff Collins was at times the sole bright spot in Gainesville and is the perfect successor at Temple. The Owls finished eighth in points allowed last season while Gators weren’t far behind at tenth. Temple was regarded as one of the worst programs in football for a few years but they are now coming off two straight ten win seasons, something that they’ve never done before. Philadelphia loves their football and can absolutely get behind this team being good. The culture is there and Collins is a proven recruiter. Don’t count Temple out just yet.
Luke Fickell, Cincinnati
Previous Job: Ohio State Defensive Coordinator
Career Record: 96-104
Born in Columbus, Luke Fickell has played or coached college football in Ohio since 1993, excluding a brief two year period at the end of the 90’s. There may not be a more “Ohio” coach than Luke Fickell. He coached at Ohio State at various positions since 2002, playing a huge part in the development of players like Joey Bosa and Ryan Shazier. Fickell’s Buckeye defensive finished like season third in points allowed. While he shared defensive coordinator duties with Greg Schiano, it’s probably not important to note that in the one game this season without Fickell, the Buckeyes were shut out 31-0. Fickell now takes the reins of his own Ohio school, taking up residence on the southern border in Cincinnati. Fickell’s presence adds great talent and competition to a suddenly stacked Eastern Division in the American Conference. Eastern Carolina is the only school in the division who didn’t upgrade their coach this off-season, a fact that will come back to haunt them. Cincinnati is a popular jumping off point for coaches, though this time around they may have found someone interested in staying.
Jeff Tedford, Fresno State
Previous Job: Washington Offensive Assistant
Career Record: 82-57
For a veteran coach with years of experience with major Power 5 teams as well as NFL interest, you would think the low point of their career would be having no choice but to take over for a dismal Fresno State squad. But that’s not even the worst part. The worst part is no one actually seems to want him there. Fan reaction to his hiring was lukewarm at best and it’s hard to blame them. His last four years at California were disappointing and his lone year in the CFL wasn’t exactly groundbreaking either.
Randy Edsall, UConn
Previous Job: Detroit Lions Director of Football Research
Career Record: 96-104
Fresno State isn’t the only school going down the “guess who’s back” route. Randy Edsall returns to Connecticut as the school’s winningest coach. Critics instantly were confused by the move and it certainly didn’t help that Edsall’s first move when back in town was to revoke a scholarship with just two weeks left in the recruiting process. Here’s the thing though: it’s UConn. We aren’t talking about Notre Dame or Miami or even TCU. They aren’t known for their plethora of local talent. No one expects this team to be a title contender even within their own conference. But Edsall knows how to make UConn good and has a longstanding track record to back that up. He will bring winning football seasons back to Storrs.
Lane Kiffin, Florida Atlantic
Previous Job: Alabama Offensive Coordinator
Career Record: 35-21
Why so low on the list? It’s Lane Kiffin and it’s Florida Atlantic. He’s been around for years, he’s coached at Tennessee and USC, and his last name is Kiffin. If he is still in Boca by the end of the decade I would be shocked. He had to prove himself under Father Saban and the Owls are giving him another shot at leading on his own. If he makes Florida Atlantic look good, he’s out of there as soon as possible. For further arguments, peruse the list of coaches on the hot seat. There’s a lot better than Florida Atlantic that is likely to come available in the next few seasons.
Butch Davis, Florida International
Previous Job: ESPN Analyst
Career Record: 63-43
Butch Davis is back in Miami! I mean sure, it’s Florida International, not the U, but that almost makes it more interesting. Florida International is probably the worst football school in Florida at the FBS level. But Davis knows how to recruit in that state, especially around the city of Miami. To the kids he’s recruiting, he is the only person who has taken the Browns to the playoffs in their lifetime. It’s been a while since the Butch Davis brand has meant a lot, especially given the way he left UNC. But if he’s serious about this career revival, his resume from the 80s and onward speaks for itself
The Hot Seat
That’s what we’ve got coming in this year but what about those on their way out? Not everyone in the hot seat ends up leaving, but it’s still a stressful place to be. This year, we’ve got some big names nearing the danger zone.
Jim Mora, UCLA
Career Record: 41-24
There’s no way around it, UCLA was terrible last year. Despite their lack of success, they still produced their usual haul of intriguing NFL prospects, including Takkarist McKinley and Fabian Moreau. Jim Mora has always been able to churn out pro-ready talent, even if he hasn’t always gotten results at the collegiate level. He has declined steadily since 2014 when the Bruins finished in the top ten. Mora had a very promising start but has gone 12-13 in the last two seasons. With the highly touted Josh Rosen back under center and yet another great linebacker prospect in Kenny Young, Mora has got to win now. He’s a good coach by all means, but UCLA needs a great one.
Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech
Career Record: 24-26
Kliff Kingsbury was born in San Antonio, played at Texas Tech, began his coaching career with Houston, served one year at Texas A&M, and took over as head coach at Texas Tech in 2013. Kingsbury is Texas football in all but one way; he doesn’t win. His career record is 24-26, he’s never finished the season ranked, and has one season with eight wins or more, which was in 2013, where he started 7-0 only to lose the next five games. There is no doubt that he knows offense; his offenses have been some of the most dangerous in college football since taking Case Keenum to the national stage in 2011. As nice as it would be to see this work out, Kingsbury is edging closer and closer to the end of his time in Lubbock. He’s got to turn things around and that starts on the defensive side. He’s got to find a better assistant coach and step up recruiting to do that.
Mark Dantonio, Michigan State
Career Record: 90-42
Two years after a 12 win season and a conference title and in the hot seat? The deflating 38-0 loss to Alabama in the playoffs seemed to suck the life out of the Spartans. Michigan State finished 3-9 last season, scraping by only one conference win just one year after winning it all. Last season was bad by every standard. But so bad that Dantonio is let go? Dantonio once famously said “we aren’t selling hope, we are selling results.” That’s exactly right. They aren’t selling hope because there isn’t any hope to sell. Dantonio is in a division run by Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh with a revival underway at Penn State. Indiana is under new leadership and finished with twice as many wins as the Spartans did last season. That’s not even going into the Western Division. The Spartans need to turn around this year or else they will be assigned to the cellar, right above Maryland and Rutgers. It would be at this point we see Dantonio bolt. He wants to win and while he has done so in East Lansing, the time for Spartans may have come and gone.
Brian Kelly, Notre Dame
Career Record: 59-31
Similar to Dantonio, one has to question whether or not this is a legitimate concern. Sure, last season was terrible but the season before that was a 10-win season! Right? Eh. People have short memories and want immediate and consistent results. Notre Dame has had one great year under Kelly, a fluky undefeated season in 2012 which ended in destruction thanks to Nick Saban. We may be nearing a “mutual parting of ways” with Kelly capable enough to lead enough team, just not anywhere that Notre Dame wants to be.
Butch Jones, Tennessee
Career Record: 30-21
Butch Jones has followed Brian Kelly his entire career. When Kelly left Central Michigan, Jones was brought in. When Kelly left Cincinnati, Jones was again brought in. Including Dantonio, these three coaches all found success with the Bearcats only to leave for better horizons and now find themselves struggling. Every year since 2014 has been “the year” for Tennessee. While the Volunteers have finished second in the SEC East over the last two seasons, they’ve done so with a more balanced and talented roster than the division champion, Florida. 2016 was supposed to be the year of the Volunteer but their hopes were dashed after a brutal loss to Alabama. Losing to South Carolina was bad but a blowout loss to Vanderbilt to close the year was particularly rough. Tennessee has had elite recruiting classes for years and nothing to show but a victory in a Nashville bowl game against a team that started something called Ryker Fyfe. Their offense took a big hit by losing Alvin Kamara, Josh Malone, and Joshua Dobbs, and their defense is left scrambling to replace Derek Barnett and Cameron Sutton. The clock is ticking for Butch Jones.
Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M
Career Record: 44-21
Sumlin isn’t a bad coach by any means; he’s a strong recruiter and a great offensive mind. The Aggies have a long reputation for finding electrifying athletes and producing NFL talent, they just can’t put it all together on the field. Sumlin is currently 0-5 against rival LSU and 1-4 against Alabama. Outside of his first season, helped greatly by the unpredictable Johnny Manziel, his best conference record is 4-4. The pressure mounted on Sumlin isn’t exactly unfair; the Aggies have had a lot of talent come and go in College Station despite failing to see anything resembling success. This year is simply bringing the heat. There won’t be any “do or die” moments for Sumlin this year, but if he can’t bring home a winning conference record, there won’t be too many chances in the following years.
Rich Rodriguez, Arizona
Career Record: 36-29
Man, remember Rich Rodriguez? Dude went 32-5 with West Virginia over a three year period. That’s still kind of weird. Even weirder to remember how much hype he had when going to Michigan and how Arizona was supposed to be revitalizing for him. He has now fallen into obscurity and found the hot seat all the same. After a decent start and a great third season, Rodriguez and his Wildcats have plummeted. They occupy the cellar of the Pac-12 with no real prospects on the horizon. Their Fiesta Bowl bid seems like a far off dream now and it may be the last stand for Rich Rodriguez and his career as a Power 5 head coach.
Todd Graham, Arizona State
Career Record: 39-26
This situation is actually fairly similar to Rodriguez; Graham came in, started out good, won the division within his first few years, and then fell off. The school is putting the pressure on Graham after opting out of a contract clause regarding annual extensions. It’s hard to say what the university has planned, but unless Graham is already on the way out the door, he should be able to buy himself some time. Receiver N’Keal Harry, defensive lineman JoJo Wicker, and center A.J. McCollum lead a versatile and well-aged squad. The quarterback battle between Alabama transfer Blake Barnett and junior Manny Wilkins will be interesting to watch, and his decision on the victor will likely determine his future. Overall though, he’s got the recruiting ability and roster to keep things going so long as the administration doesn’t get any funny ideas about knocking off USC.
Rod Carey, Northern Illinois
Career Record: 36-19
Carey’s ascension to the top spot on the Northern Illinois staff may have been a bit hasty. After all, he had only spent one year as a coordinator in the FBS. On the one hand, he’s won the division three out of four years, winning the MAC title in 2014. On the other, he’s 0-4 in the postseason and is disliked by fans and players alike. This year is a big one for Carey, who will have to bounce back from their first losing season in ten years. Though the coach he replaced isn’t fairing much better.
Dave Doeren, NC State
Career Record: 25-26
Since taking over the Wolfpack in 2013, the wrong North Carolina team has improved. Larry Fedora has turned around the Tar Heels while NC State looks more or less the same. While the seat is starting to get warm for Doeren, he received a lucky break when his front seven all decided to stay for their senior season. This move is huge for Doeren and the Wolfpack. Instead of rebuilding the trenches, they now field one of the best defensive lines in the ACC and give their underclassmen a chance to develop. Defensive end Bradley Chubb may have singlehandedly saved Doeren’s career in Raleigh by choosing to return to school. Doeren is nearing the hot seat if he has another below average year, but there’s also reason to believe things could be looking up soon.
Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss
Career Record: 39-25
Shit, Freeze may already be gone. To quote Harvey Keitel in the American cinema masterpiece, National Treasure, “Someone has to go to prison.” While no one is going to prison (probably), Ole Miss is in the midst of a scandal that could have major ramifications for the school’s athletic department. Freeze has been effective in Oxford, winning the Sugar Bowl in 2015 and upsetting Alabama two years in a row. Without this scandal, the road taken ends with Freeze safe nine times out of ten. But if he starts to have another season like last year on top of this scandal and how poorly he’s handled it? 10th Avenue, Freeze Out.
The Next Step
Those are the current coaches though, what about the impending promotions? What about the guys next in line for the throne? Lincoln Riley was one of those guys. Luke Fickell and Geoff Collins were as well. So who’s next? Who is ready and waiting to make the jump?
Dave Aranda, DC, LSU
Aranda may not be the next one to move up, but he is probably the best choice. Since 2013, he has fielded some of the best defenses in college football. If Wisconsin or LSU had even the slightest hint of an average quarterback on their roster, Aranda would have a ring, and likely a head coaching position. Maybe that’s not what he wants right now, maybe he doesn’t feel that he’s ready, but the numbers speak for themselves. Dave Aranda took over defensive duties at Utah State in 2012 and cut their points allowed nearly in half, taking them from a below average defense, to the top ten. He carried on the Wisconsin Badgers proclivity for fearsome defense and revived an LSU defense that was absolutely pitiful the year before his arrival. Everywhere Aranda has gone he has brought success with him. It’s only a matter of time before he gets a big offer. He’s actually got his notebook all prepared with notes for when the offer comes; it only says one thing: Q-U-A-R-T-E-R-B-A-C-K.
Brent Venables, DC, Clemson
Venables is the reason I said, “probably the best choice.” Clemson continually fields one of the most dangerous defenses in the country. They are aggressive, athletic, and incredibly fun to watch. He was a major reason why Oklahoma was so dangerous in the mid-2000s. Sure, Bob Stoops is Bob Stoops, but the hole left from Venables’ absence still remains, just as it will when he steps away from the Tigers. His track record is long and consistent, and yet he’s still younger than Dabo. He is, at his worst, the second best defensive coordinator in the nation. Regardless of which side you’re on, you can’t go wrong with the defensive coordinator of the Tigers from Death Valley.
Joe Moorhead, OC, Penn State
Things finally clicked for Penn State. Last season was incredible, though not without drama concerning the playoffs. While the argument against Penn State was clear, they should be back with a vengeance this season. Moorhead retained most of his offense from last season. He has one of the best running backs in the nation in Saquon Barkley, plus an underrated quarterback in Trace McSorley. His offensive line is anchored by two seniors and his receiving corps is deep and experienced. If people thought Penn State was a fluke last year, they should know that they’re just getting started.
Tee Martin, OC, USC
Martin isn’t ready just yet, but you better believe people are watching him closely now that he’s taking over offensive coordinator duties in Pasadena. Sam Darnold enters his second season with high expectations. Many expect him to go as high as first overall this year. That puts a lot of pressure on Martin behind the scenes as well since all eyes are on Darnold to make a jump this season. Martin has had an interesting career; he’s backed up Peyton Manning and was one of the quarterbacks drafted before Tom Brady, but this is just the beginning for him. He’s on a major stage at USC, a team that always has an abundance of great athletes, and should get the recognition he deserves soon.
Jim Leavitt, DC, Oregon
Colorado was one of the big surprises from last season. Jim Leavitt’s first season in Boulder was massively successful. His Buffalo scoring defense ranked top 20 in the FBS after ranking 71st the previous season. Colorado was back on the national radar after years of obscurity and failing to find a foothold in the Pac-12. This had a lot to do with Leavitt’s defense — in particular, his stout pass defense that produced two NFL corners in the first three rounds. He’s taking his talents to Eugene, paired with Willie Taggart from South Florida. This will be an interesting road for Leavitt, who will have the Pac-12, Oregon’s reputation, and Taggart’s own preferences to help aid him in recruiting high-flying athletes. If Oregon returns to the Chip Kelly days, Leavitt will be heading his own program soon after.
Bob Diaco, DC, Nebraska
I know, bold pick to make considering he has yet to coach at Nebraska and is just coming off being let go by UConn. In the first year without Diaco’s recruits, Notre Dame has their worst season in ten years despite praise directed towards Deshone Kizer and the offensive line. In the first year without Diaco running the defense, the Fighting Irish dropped from 27th in points allowed to 85th. Notre Dame had a top 25 defense every season Diaco was in town. The year before he started, they weren’t top 50 and they immediately fell off following his departure. Diaco heads to Lincoln, where they are foaming at the mouth for the taste of victory. Diaco is the perfect candidate to overhaul a defense that was always better suited for a 3-4. It won’t be this season, but Diaco is a prime candidate to have his own gig by the time the decade is out.