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Which first-year college football coach will make the biggest splash in 2015?
1:20 | College Football
Which first-year college football coach will make the biggest splash in 2015?
Monday August 10th, 2015

The coaching carousel was relatively stable during the 2015 off-season. Only 15 FBS programs changed head coaches, but a number of new hires could still impact the coming season. Jim Harbaugh’s high-profile arrival at Michigan has revitalized the Wolverines’ fan base. Florida could be ready to return to SEC supremacy under Jim McElwain. And Wisconsin’s Paul Chryst and Nebraska’s Mike Riley are doing their best to shake up the Big Ten West.

What can we expect from this year’s new coaches? SI.com offers up first-year predictions for each FBS coaching hire.

Jim Harbaugh, Michigan
Predicted 2015 record: 6–6

The Wolverines swung for the fences in their coaching search and seemingly hit a home run. Harbaugh was far and away the hire of the off-season after his up-and-down tenure with the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers came to an end. Everyone knows Harbaugh can coach, as Michigan’s new leader rebuilt programs at San Diego and Stanford before taking the 49ers to the Super Bowl. Now Harbaugh is back at his alma mater and has spent the off-season poking at other coaches on social media. Soon, however, he’ll have to field a competitive team, and 2015 could be a year of growing pains. The Wolverines return just 11 starters, including five on an offense that finished eighth or worse in the Big Ten in every major category last fall.

Jim McElwain, Florida
Predicted 2015 record: 7–5

College Football
With expectations high, Florida coach Jim McElwain enters the SEC cauldron

When looking to replace the fired Will Muschamp, Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley knew he needed a head coach with an offensive background. That’s why he hired McElwain away from Colorado State. The coach won two national championships as Alabama’s offensive coordinator before overseeing a Rams offense that averaged 33.9 points per game in 2014. Now McElwain takes over a Gators team that ranked 12th in the SEC in total offense last year. The coach has his work cut out for him, as Florida’s thin offensive line and quarterback battle between Will Grier and Treon Harris could mean a steep learning curve in year one. But the Gators’ defense should still keep them competitive in the SEC East.

Paul Chryst, Wisconsin
Predicted 2015 record: 10–3

Badgers fans didn’t expect the surprising departure of coach Gary Andersen, but Chryst’s homecoming served as a silver lining. He spent seven seasons as an assistant at Wisconsin before his three-year stint at Pittsburgh, so fans in Madison know what to expect from Chryst’s offense. The defense won’t be unfamiliar, either, as Chryst retained coordinator Dave Aranda after he led the Badgers to a top-five finish nationally in total defense. Expect Chryst to pound the rock with running back Corey Clement (949 yards, nine touchdowns in ’14) and make quarterback Joel Stave more comfortable. Even with a new coach, Wisconsin should be the favorite in the Big Ten West.

Mike Riley, Nebraska
Predicted 2015 record: 8–4

College Football
The Riley Factor: Mike Riley and the new-look state of Nebraska football

Riley’s arrival in Lincoln might’ve been the most shocking move of the off-season. Nebraska’s new head man spent the past 14 seasons at Oregon State, where he compiled a 98–80 record and won at least eight games on only six occasions. Corvallis might be the toughest place to win and recruit in the Pac-12, but Riley faces higher expectations with the Cornhuskers. Previous coach Bo Pelini won at least nine games in each of his seven seasons in town, and that wasn’t enough to keep his job. Can Riley improve on that success? He returns 12 starters, including quarterback Tommy Armstrong and defensive tackle Maliek Collins. But Nebraska’s schedule is no cupcake, with nonconference games against BYU and Miami and a cross-divisional meeting with Michigan State.

Gary Andersen, Oregon State
Predicted 2015 record: 4–8

Oregon State’s new head coach comes to town after just two seasons at Wisconsin, where he compiled a 19–7 record and maintained the Badgers’ success in the Big Ten. Andersen later admitted Wisconsin’s high academic standards in recruiting frustrated him into a surprise departure. But the Badgers’ loss is the Beavers’ gain, as they landed a coach who turned Utah State into an 11-win team before his tenure in Madison. Andersen’s road will be tougher at Oregon State, though. The Beavers return seven starters on offense but ranked last in the league in scoring (25.7 points per game) in 2014. Plus, in-state power Oregon looms large as it dominates the Pac-12.

Pat Narduzzi, Pittsburgh
Predicted 2015 record: 8–4

Narduzzi has been one of the hotter names in the coaching carousel for a couple of seasons despite not moving until this year. After eight years heading up Michigan State’s stingy defense, he arrives at Pitt when the program needs stability. Narduzzi is the fifth head coach since 2010 for a school with nine national championships under its belt. Folks in Pittsburgh can expect a stout defense under Narduzzi, whose Spartans units finished in the top 10 nationally in each of the last four seasons. Fifteen total starters return across Narduzzi’s new roster, including running back and reigning ACC Player of the Year James Conner and first-team all-conference receiver Tyler Boyd.

Mike Bobo, Colorado State
Predicted 2015 record: 8–4

Colorado State tabbed Bobo, the longtime Georgia offensive coordinator, to step in for the departed McElwain in hopes of continuing the Rams' rebirth in the Mountain West. Bobo’s arrival shocked many, as he played for Georgia and spent the last 14 seasons as an assistant under Mark Richt. Now on his own, Bobo inherits a roster that lost a record-setting quarterback in Garrett Grayson and its leading rusher in Dee Hart. Even though 14 other starters return, including Rashard Higgins, the nation’s leading receiver (1,750 yards) in 2014, Bobo’s first year might turn into a drop-off.

• Opposing coaches break down teams in SI's top 25

Nick Krug/The Lawrence Journal-World via AP

David Beaty, Kansas
Predicted 2015 record: 2–10

The Jayhawks won the Orange Bowl in 2008 under then-coach Mark Mangino, but the program is 24–52 since then. Beaty, the former Texas A&M wide receivers coach, hopes to change Kansas’ direction. The coach knows the program, having spent three seasons as an assistant in Lawrence. He also knows how to recruit, especially in Texas. Beaty held head-coaching positions at four Dallas-area high schools before turning to the college game. Expect an Air-Raid style attack from Beaty and offensive coordinator Rob Likens. But the turnaround won’t be easy with only six returning starters on the roster facing a challenging Big 12 schedule.

Chad Morris, SMU
Predicted 2015 record: 3–9

Few programs struggled to the level of SMU in 2014. The Mustangs lost the first 11 games of the season and finished 10th or worse in the American in every major offensive and defensive category. This year Morris hopes to bring a spark back to Dallas with his up-tempo offense, which he perfected as Dabo Swinney’s coordinator during the last four seasons at Clemson. In that span, the Tigers won 41 games with one of the ACC’s best attacks. Morris knows Texas and the expectations the SMU program used to have; now the coach must rebuild from the ground up. The Mustangs could take a small step forward in ’15 behind quarterback Matt Davis.

Tom Herman, Houston
Predicted 2015 record: 8–5

College Football
Finding familiarity: Tom Herman at ease during first spring at Houston

The Cougars snagged their new head coach at the right time. Twenty-seven days after the program announced the hiring of Tom Herman, he won a national championship as Urban Meyer’s offensive coordinator at Ohio State. Last season the Buckeyes’ offense ranked fifth nationally in scoring (44.8 points per game) and sixth in total offense (6.98 yards per play) despite having to reinvent itself twice due to quarterback injuries. Herman must work his magic on Houston’s offense in his first year. The Cougars have an inexperienced offensive line and an undecided quarterback battle between Greg Ward Jr. and Adam Schulz. But Herman should have enough talent to contend in the AAC West.

Tony Sanchez, UNLV
Predicted 2015 record: 2–10

The Rebels’ new coach didn’t have to venture far when he changed jobs this off-season. Sanchez won six consecutive state titles as the head coach at Bishop Gorman High in Las Vegas, located just down the road from UNLV. Now the energetic Sanchez will see if his approach works with the inexperienced Rebels, who might need a year to take on the personality of their new coach.

Philip Montgomery, Tulsa
Predicted 2015 record: 3–9

Tulsa fans can expect a revamped offense under Montgomery. The Golden Hurricane’s new coach spent the last seven seasons as Baylor’s offensive coordinator, and last year the Bears led the country with 48.2 points per game. Expect Tulsa’s offense, which returns eight starters, to improve under Montgomery in Year One. It could take longer to find a fix on defense.

Lance Leipold, Buffalo
Predicted 2015 record: 5–7

Leipold comes to Buffalo after a remarkably successful tenure at D-II Wisconsin-Whitewater, where he reeled off a 109–6 record and six national championships in eight seasons. He takes over a senior-laden offense but faces a challenge with a defense that returns just three starters after struggling last season.

Neal Brown, Troy
Predicted 2015 record: 3–9

Brown spent time as an assistant at Troy (2006-09) before his recent stints at Texas Tech and Kentucky, so it won’t be difficult for the Trojans’ new coach to acclimate to his surroundings. But Brown’s program has fallen on hard times, winning just three games in ’14. Eight starters are back on offense, but they must face NC State, Wisconsin and Mississippi State on the road in nonconference play.

John Bonamego, Central Michigan
Predicted 2015 record: 4–8

Bonamego, a Central Michigan alum, comes to Mount Pleasant fresh off 15 years as an NFL assistant with five different franchises. The new coach described the Chippewas as his “dream job.” Bonamego inherits a good foundation, too. Talented quarterback Cooper Rush and a number of veterans from the MAC’s top defense are back, but that still might not be enough to keep the Chippewas from slipping to the bottom of the MAC West in Bonamego's first year.

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