This season's coaching carousel simply refused to stop spinning, extending well beyond the usual cutoff, albeit for unusual reasons. In addition to the 21 schools that changed coaches at the end of last season, three more -- Ohio State, West Virginia and North Carolina -- ousted sitting coaches this offseason due to their respective scandals.
But the oddity began well before that. Pittsburgh changed coaches twice. Randy Edsall went from coaching Connecticut in a BCS bowl game one night to being named the new coach at Maryland the next. Two coaches-in-waiting, Texas' Will Muschamp and Maryland's James Franklin, stopped waiting and took the head jobs at Florida and Vanderbilt, respectively.
With the season rapidly approaching and the carousel finally at rest, let's take a look at the new coaches and the situations they inherited.
• Will Muschamp, Florida: The Gators slipped from 13-1 to 8-5 in Urban Meyer's last season due in large part to a wretched offensive line and a quarterback, John Brantley, ill-suited for the spread. Muschamp brought in quarterback guru Charlie Weis to help turn Brantley into a pro-style passer and it could work, though the line and receivers remain questionable. Florida lost a ton of veterans on defense and will lean heavily on several members of Meyer's top-rated 2010 recruiting class, particularly defensive linemen Sharrif Floyd, Dominique Easley and Ronald Powell. Expect some growing pains. Predicted 2011 record: 7-5.
• Brady Hoke, Michigan: Three-year punching bag Rich Rodriguez left his successor the reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, quarterback Denard Robinson. Rodriguez also left Hoke one of the nation's most porous defenses. The good news is the defense is finally healthy and experienced and should improve markedly under acclaimed coordinator Greg Mattison. The bad news is Robinson and much of the personnel Rodriguez recruited may be an awkward fit at first for the pro-style West Cost offense Hoke and coordinator Al Borges have installed. Predicted 2011 record: 7-5.
• Luke Fickell, Ohio State: As if succeeding one of the most successful coaches in school history isn't hard enough, Fickell also has to break in a new quarterback (either senior Joe Bauserman or highly touted true freshman Braxton Miller) following the early exit of Terrelle Pryor and will be without suspended starters Dan Herron, DeVier Posey and Mike Adams for the season's first five games. A senior-depleted defense must reload, too. Even a program as stacked as OSU isn't immune to a down year. Predicted 2011 record: 8-4.
(OSU's predicted record has changed since my Big Ten preview due to the uncertainty at Miami, the Buckeyes' Sept. 17 opponent.)
• David Shaw, Stanford: The Stanford alum and former offensive coordinator got promoted just in time to coach the nation's preseason No. 6 team and Heisman frontrunner Andrew Luck. If that's not enough, he starts out of the gate with San Jose State, Duke, Arizona, UCLA, Colorado and Washington State. The Cardinal lost three veteran offensive linemen and their top two receivers. The No. 6 ranking is a bit unrealistic, but Stanford won't suffer much of a drop-off. Predicted 2011 record: 9-3.
• Al Golden, Miami: The former Temple coach's job got a lot more daunting in light of a serious NCAA investigation that could jeopardize the eligibility of as many as 12 current players. Prior to that, he looked to take advantage of a strong senior class, led by linebacker Sean Spence and defensive tackle Marcus Forston, and the promising tailback tandem of Lamar Miller and Mike James. But it's hard to see the Hurricanes weathering this level of distraction. Predicted 2011 record: 8-4.
• Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia: The Mike Leach protégé produced prolific offenses as a coordinator at Houston and Oklahoma State, and he's expected to do no less in Morgantown, where he's been handed a highly talented quarterback in Geno Smith and playmakers like receiver Tavon Austin. Coordinator Jeff Casteel's defenses routinely shine. The biggest questions will be staff and locker room cohesion after Holgorsen's unexpectedly early ascension to head coach in June following Bill Stewart's unusual dismissal. Predicted record: 9-3.
• Todd Graham, Pittsburgh: Pitt originally hired Miami (Ohio) coach Mike Haywood, but fired him following a domestic violence incident. Graham's first year will hinge primarily on how well quarterback Tino Sunseri and others recruited to fit Dave Wannstedt's pro-style offense can adjust to Graham's up-tempo, wide open Tulsa attack. Running back Ray Graham and receiver Cameron Saddler should shine, but the Panthers' veteran defense, led by defensive end Brandon Lindsey, may have to carry them early. Predicted record: 8-4.
• Randy Edsall, Maryland: Edsall called Maryland his "dream job," and now that he's got it he's found predecessor Ralph Friedgen left a decently stocked cupboard. Sophomore quarterback Danny O'Brien emerged as a budding star last season, and running backs Davin Meggett and D.J. Adams show similar potential. But the Terps may make more strides on defense, where linebacker Kenny Tate leads seven returning starters from an underrated unit. The Terps could be the ACC's surprise team. Predicted record: 9-3.
• Everett Withers, North Carolina: The Tar Heels' defensive coordinator was thrust into the interim job last month following Butch Davis' dismissal. His former unit is stacked with NFL talent, led by defensive end Quinton Coples and tackle Tydreke Powell. Sophomore quarterback Bryn Renner and redshirt freshman running back Gio Benard are earning praise in camp. If Withers can maintain cohesion, UNC can surprise some people. Predicted record: 8-4.
• Jon Embree, Colorado: There's no sugarcoating it: Embree has rebuilding to do. But the Buffs have just enough capable veterans to surprise a couple of teams in their first Pac-12 season. Senior running back Rodney Stewart is the focal point on offense, while quarterback Tyler Hansen has steadily improved. Defensive end Josh Hartigan leads an inexperienced front that notched 34 sacks last year. But deficiencies in the secondary and at receiver will likely doom CU to its sixth straight losing season. Predicted record: 4-9.
• Kevin Wilson, Indiana: Wilson made waves by landing a commitment from next year's No. 1 quarterback, Gunner Kiel. In the meantime, the former Oklahoma offensive coordinator will make do with Gunner's older brother Dusty or Ed Wright-Baker, both sophomores. Whoever wins the job will likely throw for a lot of yards, and do so thanks to one of the Big Ten's best receiving corps, led by Demarlo Belcher. The Hoosiers will need all the production they can get to offset last year's 102nd-ranked scoring defense. Predicted record: 5-7.
• Jerry Kill, Minnesota: The longtime Midwestern small-college coach (most recently at Northern Illinois) may prove the perfect fit in Minneapolis, but in the short-term he's working with a roster decimated by the flameouts that permeated Tim Brewster's tenure. One of Brewster's most highly regarded recruits, athletic quarterback MarQueis Gray, finally gets his chance to run the offense, and Duane Bennett is a promising running back. But overall, the playmakers are few and far between on both sides of the ball. Predicted record: 4-8.
• Paul Pasqualoni, Connecticut: The former Syracuse coach returns to the Big East and takes over the reigning league champion. Unfortunately, the stars of that BCS squad -- running back Jordan Todman and linebackers Lawrence Wilson and Scott Lutrus -- are gone, while the quarterback race is unsettled. There's far more experience on the defensive line and in the secondary, but it might not matter if UConn can't move the ball. Predicted record: 5-7.
• James Franklin, Vanderbilt: The former Maryland assistant has brought renewed energy to Vandy, but it will be an uphill climb following consecutive 2-10 seasons. The offense ranked 110th nationally last season, but it does return all 11 starters. Senior quarterback Larry Smith needs to improve significantly. Linebacker Chris Marve, the SEC's career tackles leader (306), is a bright spot on defense. Look for the Commodores to show progress. Predicted record: 4-8.
• Rocky Long, San Diego State: Long went 65-69 in 10 seasons at New Mexico, but Brady Hoke left him with a ready-made winner. Standout quarterback Ryan Lindley, running back and Mountain West freshman of the year Ronnie Hillman and four offensive line starters return from last year's breakthrough 9-4 team. Look for the Aztecs to knock off TCU (Oct. 8) or Boise State (Nov. 19) when those teams visit San Diego. Predicted record: 10-2.
Hugh Freeze, Arkansas State: 6-6. Michael Oher's former high school coach instilled life in the Red Wolves' offense as coordinator last season.
Pete Lembo, Ball State: 3-9. The Cardinals, who steadily declined the past two seasons, are starting over under the former Elon coach.
Darrell Hazell, Kent State: 5-7. Dominant defensive tackle Roosevelt Nix is the bright spot on a team that will rely heavily on its defense.
Mark Hudspeth, Louisiana-Lafayette: 2-10. The Sun Belt's projected last-place team opens with Oklahoma State and ends at Arizona.
Don Treadwell, Miami (Ohio): 8-4. The Mark Dantonio protégé takes over the reigning MAC champions. Don't expect much drop-off.
Dave Doeren, Northern Illinois: 9-3. Doeren inherits an 11-win team with a standout quarterback (Chandler Harnish). Another division title is possible.
Dan McCarney, North Texas: 5-7. The former Iowa State coach brings instant credibility but faces a murderous early-season schedule.
Steve Addazio, Temple: 8-4. Golden laid the groundworkl; now Addazio is expected to build on it. He'll first need to develop a consistent quarterback.
Bill Blankenship, Tulsa: 8-4. Expect more of the same from the Hurricane: a high-powered offense led by C-USA Player of the Year G.J. Kinnie.
1. Rick Neuheisel, UCLA: The eternally upbeat coach hasn't done much to back up his enthusiasm, posting two 4-8 records in three seasons. After parting ways with vaunted offensive coordinator Norm Chow, he desperately needs a consistent quarterback to emerge this fall.
2. Mark Richt, Georgia: A sterling 96-34 record and two SEC titles won't be enough to save the 11th-year coach if the Dawgs don't reverse their four-year slide from 11-2 in 2007 to 6-7 last season. An injection of talented freshmen and a favorable schedule should help.
3. Paul Wulff, Washington State: Tasked with an overwhelming rebuilding job, Wulff has elevated the Cougars' talent but has just a 5-32 record to show for it. Wazzu fans have been patient, but with talented quarterback Jeff Tuel, another one-win Pac-12 season won't be acceptable.
4. Dennis Erickson, Arizona State: The Sun Devils haven't been to a bowl game since Erickson's first season in 2007. With the bulk of his lineup returning from a 6-6 team that had several near-misses last year, many feel ASU can win the Pac-12 South. Another mediocre year would be a dagger.
5. Ron Zook, Illinois: Zook has gone just 28-45 in Champaign but keeps finding ways to survive, producing a much-needed bowl berth and victory last season to finish 7-6. With a new athletic director in town (Cincinnati's Mike Thomas), Zook won't have as long a leash if the Illini regress again.