Unofficially, the 2010 season began the day after the Jan. 7 Alabama-Texas BCS championship game. In reality, it had already begun back in late November, when two prestigious programs, Notre Dame and Florida State, changed coaches. When the dust from 23 such moves settled, a national championship coach (USC's Pete Carroll) had left the college ranks, a controversial young coach (Tennessee's Lane Kiffin) had evoked a mini-riot, and three established BCS-conference coaches (Texas Tech's Mike Leach, Kansas' Mark Mangino and USF's Jim Leavitt) were ousted over allegations of misconduct.
It was a particularly dizzying carousel.
Some new coaches walk into rebuilding situations. Others inherit ready-made winners. Here's a look at the first-year prospects for the 23 men who took on new coaching jobs this offseason:
• Lane Kiffin, USC: The former Carroll protégé will oversee another Trojans starting lineup filled with former all-everything recruits, most notably quarterback Matt Barkley, receiver Ronald Johnson and defensive tackle Jurrell Casey. Assistant Ed Orgeron returns in time to field another elite defensive line. Several touted true freshman will contribute immediately. But thin numbers at receiver and linebacker as well as a below-standard secondary will keep the Trojans -- 9-4 last year -- from returning to truly elite form. Predicted 2010 record: 10-3.
• Brian Kelly, Notre Dame: Kelly won big at Cincinnati, and quickly. In South Bend he inherits a far more talented team than the 6-6 record in Charlie Weis' last season would indicate. Quarterback Dayne Crist, receiver Michael Floyd and tight end Kyle Rudolph give Kelly the playmakers he needs for his hurry-up spread offense, and the defense, while lacking across-the-board athleticism, boasts difference-makers like linebacker Manti Te'o and safety Harrison Smith. The schedule is deceivingly tough, though, with several rising opponents. Predicted record: 9-3.
• Jimbo Fisher, Florida State: The Seminoles' offensive coordinator since 2007, Fisher has all the pieces for a prolific offense, starting with strong-armed QB Christian Ponder and a highly experienced offensive line (five third- or fourth-year starters). But while FSU was fortifying its offense, the talent level on defense slipped considerably, bottoming out with a unit that ranked 108th nationally during last year's 7-6 season. New coordinator Mark Stoops (from Arizona) will provide a spark, but the 'Noles will be outmanned physically at times. Predicted record: 8-4.
• Tommy Tuberville, Texas Tech: The highly successful former Auburn coach has pledged to retain the wide-open style of offense for which the Red Raiders became synonymous under Leach, and he has a tested quarterback (Taylor Potts) and a slew of receivers who will allow him to do so. He also hopes to amp up Tech's running game, starting with senior tailback Baron Batch. The question is whether Tuberville, a defensive guru, can ramp up the Raiders' long-inconsistent defense despite little proven experience up front. Predicted record: 8-4.
• Derek Dooley, Tennessee: It could be a rough couple of years for the son of legendary Georgia coach Vince Dooley. The Vols' recruiting dipped during former coach Phillip Fulmer's latter years, and several members of Kiffin's touted 2009 class that played as true freshmen last season have already been dismissed or transferred. Running backs Tauren Poole and David Oku are potential stars, but juco quarterback Matt Simms will be playing behind nearly an all-new offensive line, while the D-line and secondary are severely depleted. Predicted record: 4-8.
• Butch Jones, Cincinnati: Just as he did at Central Michigan, Jones takes over for the departed Kelly. And much like with Dan LeFevour at CMU, Jones inherits a talented dual-threat quarterback, Zach Collaros, who completed 75 percent of his passes while making four starts last season. He should put up big numbers in Jones' spread offense, as should speedy tailback Isaiah Pead. But the Bearcats will miss electrifying receiver Mardy Gilyard, and a tough nonconference schedule includes games at Fresno State and vs. Oklahoma. Predicted record: 8-4.
• Skip Holtz, USF: For years under Leavitt, the Bulls started strong only to crumble down the stretch. Coming off consecutive C-USA titles at East Carolina, Holtz should instill a championship mindset in Tampa. He'll get the most out of multi-dimensional sophomore QB B.J. Daniels. USF lost several key defensive players, most notably ends George Selvie and Jason Pierre-Paul, but isn't lacking for athleticism. This team has a chance to make a mark in the Big East, but faces brutal nonconference dates at Florida and Miami. Predicted record: 8-4.
• Joker Phillips, Kentucky: As Rich Brooks' offensive coordinator for five years and designated successor since 2008, Phillips has played an integral role in turning UK into a competitive SEC program, one that's been to four straight bowls. The Wildcats have an elite playmaker in "WildCobb" centerpiece Randall Cobb and a solid tailback, Derrick Locke. If senior QB Mike Hartline can finally put together a complete season, Kentucky should be able to pull off some more upsets, but the defense will take a step back. Predicted record: 7-5.
• Charlie Strong, Louisville: The renowned former Florida defensive coordinator figures to rev up the Cardinals' defense and recruiting prowess -- but for now he's been dealt a tough hand. Seven starters return from the nation's 111th-ranked scoring offense, including QB Adam Froman. Strong's best hope is to get a group of undersized veteran defenders to overachieve as juniors and seniors. Predicted record: 5-7.
• Turner Gill, Kansas: The Jayhawks mysteriously imploded during Mangino's last season, losing seven straight after starting 5-0. And that was before KU lost star quarterback Todd Reesing and receivers Dez Briscoe and Kerry Meier. KU will be starting over offensively in Gill's first season, which likely means growing pains for sophomore QB Kale Pick. Predicted record: 4-8.
• Mike London, Virginia: The former Al Groh assistant and Richmond head coach makes no bones about the rebuilding project ahead, as the Cavs look to crawl out from the hole of 5-7 and 3-9 seasons the past two years. Virginia boasts one legit star in CB Ras-I Dowling but is otherwise lacking in playmakers on either side of the ball. Predicted record: 4-8.
• Robbie Caldwell, Vanderbilt: Thrust into the job last month following Bobby Johnson's abrupt retirement, Caldwell faces all the usual challenges of a Vandy coach -- one whose team went 0-8 in the SEC last season. The Commodores' defense should keep them in most games, but the offense remains very much a work in progress. Predicted record: 2-10.
Rob Ianello, Akron: 4-8. The former Notre Dame assistant brought in a well-respected staff, but they'll need at least a year to implement new schemes.
Jeff Quinn, Buffalo: 3-9. A rough schedule (just five home games) and mass turnover in the skill positions will make for rough sledding in Quinn's debut.
Dan Enos, Central Michigan: 7-5. Enos has the misfortune of coming in a year after LeFevour, but there's still some good talent on hand.
Ruffin McNeill, East Carolina: 6-6. A new quarterback and a defense with just two returning starters won't help McNeill contend with Virginia Tech, North Carolina, NC State and Navy.
Todd Berry, Louisiana-Monroe: 4-8. The Warhawks have been right on the brink the past few years, finishing 6-6 (5-3 Sun Belt) last year, but Berry must replace a bunch of veterans.
Sonny Dykes, Louisiana Tech: 6-6. Former Auburn transfer and one-time tight end Steve Ensminger takes over at quarterback ready to air it out in Dykes' pass-happy offense.
Doc Holliday, Marshall: 8-4. Expect the former West Virginia assistant to make his mark thanks to a proven senior quarterback, Brian Anderson, and a solid front seven.
Larry Porter, Memphis: 4-8. The former Tigers running back and LSU assistant seems like a great fit, but he has a serious rebuilding job on his hands after Memphis bottomed out at 2-10.
Mike MacIntyre, San Jose State: 4-9. MacIntyre's first game as a head coach will be at defending BCS champion Alabama -- followed a week later by a trip to No. 12 Wisconsin.
Bobby Hauck, UNLV: 5-8. The Rebels have been teetering on the brink of .500 for several years, but can't get over the hump. Nonconference games with Wisconsin and West Virginia don't help.
Willie Taggart, Western Kentucky: 1-11. There's nowhere to go but up for a program that went 0-12 in its first full year in Division I-A. Give the former Hilltoppers star a couple years to recruit.
1. Rich Rodriguez, Michigan: After two nightmarish transition seasons in which the Wolverines won three combined Big Ten games, not to mention pending NCAA sanctions, this is the year RichRod needs to show serious improvement. It could take at least eight or nine wins to earn a return trip for Year Four.
2. Dan Hawkins, Colorado: AD Mike Bohn has offered little public assurance for the fifth-year coach, who has yet to produce a winning season and whose team badly regressed last year. The school's pending move to the Pac-10 puts even more pressure on Hawkins to show some serious progress.
3. Ron Zook, Illinois: Following last year's 3-9 debacle, Illinois took the unusual step of retaining its six-year head coach but mandating massive staff changes. Now three years removed from his lone bright spot, a 9-4 Rose Bowl season, Zook needs to get the Illini back to a bowl, fast.
4. Ralph Friedgen, Maryland: Once revered for leading the Terps to three straight 10-win seasons, Friedgen bottomed out with a 2-10 mark last season. Only his expensive buyout saved him. The 10th-year coach has engineered turnarounds before, but even a three-game improvement might not be enough this time.
5. Les Miles, LSU: It seems preposterous that a coach three years removed from a BCS tile could be fighting for his job, but AD Joe Alleva insinuated just that with a letter to fans calling last year's 9-4 campaign "nice," but, "... being 'nice' is not our annual goal." Beating Alabama would get Miles back in good graces.