New coaches who could struggle in their first seasons
After enduring one of the more vigorous coaching carousels in recent memory, college football has plenty of new systems in place at plenty of big-time schools. Earlier this week we broke down the new head coaches who could have success right away; below are five who may hit some bumps in their first seasons.
Chris Ash, Rutgers
It was just last season when Rutgers had seven current and former players dismissed for coordinating robberies, star receiver Leonte Carroo suspended for a domestic violence arrest and head coach Kyle Flood suspended for illegally contacting a tutor. The Scarlet Knights were the most visible mess of any program last season, and the administration responded by firing athletic director Julie Hermann and Flood. This comes just three seasons after moving from the Big East to the Big Ten, where football wins already were bound to be at a premium.
Welcome to Rutgers, Chris Ash!
As Rutgers tries to rehab its sullied public image, the Scarlet Knights face a daunting conference schedule (trips to Michigan State and Ohio State and a home tilt with Michigan) and open the season at Washington, a game which it’s almost sure to lose. The Scarlet Knights do return a competent, if unspectacular starting quarterback in Chris Laviano (former blue-chip QB recruit Hayden Rettig and TCU transfer Zach Allen will also compete for the job), but will be installing a new ‘power spread’ offense under offensive coordinator Drew Mehringer. The running backs, Robert Martin and Josh Hicks, are considered strong options. The offensive line, however, isn’t.
With so much uncertainty entering fall camp and the departure of the team’s best player (Caroo), Ash likely will have a difficult first year in Piscataway.
Dino Babers, Syracuse
Babers, an acolyte of Art Briles, brings his high-powered offense to Syracuse. In time, it should become one of the most feared offenses in the ACC (remember that Babers worked with current Patriots backup Jimmy Garoppolo at Eastern Illinois and Matt Johnson at Bowling Green). The issue is that a hyper-specific attack like Babers’ takes lots of time and even more practice to perfect. Briles finished 4–8 in each of his first two seasons at Baylor, and Sonny Dykes won one game after arriving at Cal from Louisiana Tech with his “Air Raid” offense.
First seasons in an up-tempo offense are usually full of quick three-and-outs that then tire out the team’s defense. It can get ugly, and with College Football Playoff contenders Florida State and Clemson on the schedule (and Notre Dame on Oct. 1), the Orange could suffer some lopsided losses.
Add in the fact that Syracuse is currently operating without a permanent athletic director (Mark Coyle recently left the school to take the same position at Minnesota), and the Orange look bound to struggle in the first year of Babers’ tenure.
Matt Campbell, Iowa State
Not only does Campbell inherit one of the nation’s most difficult jobs, he is doing so after the departures of all three starting linebackers. The biggest hit of the bunch is Jordan Harris, who shined during his one season in Ames, finishing with 70 tackles and five tackles for loss in 12 starts. The other two starters, Levi Peters and Luke Knott, chose not to play their final seasons after struggling with injuries.
Campbell is looking to offset the losses by adding graduate transfers (he’s already added two in Illinois receiver Marchie Murdock and Duke safety Evrett Edwards), but the plug-and-play strategy may not be enough to boost a team that won just three games last season. The first-year coach from Toledo has energized Ames with an ambitious recruiting strategy and a vigorous reach into the graduate transfer market, something that will likely pay off in time. The first-year man should get a bump from Allen Lazzard, who is one of the conference’s best wide receivers and a future NFL draft pick.
The problem is that Iowa State faces three challenging non-conference opponents (Northern Iowa, Iowa, San Jose State) and a typically difficult conference schedule. With his known knack for recruiting, Campbell looks like a great hire for the Cyclones, but it may take one year of growing pains before he sees success.
Scott Frost, UCF
Frost is a crafty offensive mind who will install a similar offensive attack to the one he ran as Oregon’s offensive coordinator. With access to the Florida recruiting territory and one of college football’s most tantalizing playbooks, it looks like a savvy hire for the Knights. The problem in 2016 is that Frost inherits a dismal team that finished the season 0–12. While he has some intriguing pieces (freshman receiver Dredrick Snelson and returning AAC rookie of the year Tre’Quan Smith), Frost has to teach a complex system to a group that’s mostly familiar with a more traditional offense.
Similar to the challenges that Babers faces, Frost’s installation will require time and several hiccups. This year will almost certainly be challenging, but the hopes are high … after 2016.
Will Muschamp, South Carolina
Muschamp helped mold some of the nation’s finest defenses during his four seasons as Florida’s head coach. The problem was that he could never install an effective offense. Now he arrives at South Carolina, which finished with the 84th-ranked passing offense in FBS last season with no clear starting quarterback heading into the fall. The job could go to freshman Brandon McIlwain, an early enrollee who impressed during spring workouts. He joins a logjam for the race that includes senior Perry Orth and sophomore Lorenzo Nunez (who reportedly could move to wide receiver). Compounding the uncertainty is the loss of the Gamecocks’ top three receiving targets—wide receiver Pharoh Cooper, tight end Jerell Adams and running back Brandon Wilds.
Muschamp has proven that he knows how to lead a defense, but any scarred Florida fan knows how dismal the offense became under him and offensive coordinator Kurt Roper. For a team that struggled on offense like the Gamecocks did last year, the new regime hardly promises an improvement.