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New college football coaches poised to win right away

Which new college football coaches are poised to win right away? ranked eight new head coaches with the best shot at succeeding in 2016.

New head coaches often walk into different situations. Some replace coaches who have jumped to better jobs, leaving stable—or downright successful—programs behind. Others take over because of lackluster tenures by previous staffs.

Either way, not every new head coach is tasked with a total rebuild at his new school. Which new coaches are poised to win right away? ranked eight new head coaches with the best shot at succeeding in 2016.

1. Jay Hopson, Southern Miss

Southern Miss won nine games last fall and reached the Conference USA title game after losing 33 of 36 games in the previous three seasons. But after head coach Todd Monken left to become offensive coordinator for the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the school tabbed Jay Hopson to take over. Hopson, fresh off leading Alcorn State to two straight Southwestern Athletic Conference championships, grabs the reins of one of the most talented rosters in C-USA. Record-setting quarterback Nick Mullins and 1,000-yard rusher Ito Smith return, as does the Golden Eagles’ leading tackler, defensive end Dylan Bradley. In all, six starters are back on both sides of the ball, giving Hopson a shot at the conference crown in year one.

Projected 2016 record: 9-4

2. Jason Candle, Toledo

Candle is hardly a new face at Toledo, having been with the program since 2009. Last season Candle served as the Rockets’ offensive coordinator while they averaged 35.0 points per game en route to a 10-win season. Now Candle is Toledo’s head coach following Matt Campbell’s departure for the same job at Iowa State, but don’t expect a major drop-off from the Rockets. All-MAC running backs Kareem Hunt and Terry Swanson return behind a veteran line and a quarterback, Logan Woodside, who served as a backup last season but went 8-2 as a starter in 2014. Candle must find new leadership on a stingy defense that brings back just four starters, but the Rockets should still be a force in the MAC West.

Projected 2016 record: 9-3


3. Kirby Smart, Georgia

Georgia has a new coach prowling its sidelines for the first time in 15 years after the firing of Mark Richt. But Kirby Smart, a longtime defensive coordinator under Nick Saban at Alabama, walks into a favorable situation. The Bulldogs won 10 games last season and bring back the bulk of their offense, including (potentially) healthy running back Nick Chubb and fellow rusher Sony Michel. Quarterback Greyson Lambert, who started all but one game last year, is battling for the starting job with highly touted freshman Jacob Eason. Smart’s biggest priority is filling holes in his front seven, but he still inherits enough talent to contend for the SEC title.

Projected 2016 record: 9-3

4. Mike Norvell, Memphis

Memphis football was a tire fire before Justin Fuente’s arrival, but the program went 19-7 in his final two seasons. Now Fuente is gone and former Arizona State offensive coordinator Mike Norvell takes over. The good news is the Tigers return 14 starters, including six from an offense that ranked 11th nationally in scoring (40.2 points per game) in 2015. The bad news is Norvell won’t have quarterback Paxton Lynch, a first-round draft pick this spring who passed for a school-record 3,776 yards last fall. But Arizona State never scored fewer than 35 points per game in any of Norvell’s four seasons in Tempe. With a solid foundation, Memphis shouldn’t miss a beat in the AAC West under its new coach.

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Projected 2016 record: 9-3


5. Mark Richt, Miami

An inability to get over the hump spelled Richt’s doom at Georgia, but Miami likely found a diamond in the rough by hiring the former Hurricanes quarterback (1979-82). Richt averaged 9.6 wins per year for 15 season at Athens, and the ‘Canes went 17-18 in ACC play under former coach Al Golden. Expect a step forward in year one under Richt, who inherits one of the best quarterbacks in the country (Brad Kaaya) as well as 14 other starters. Plus, Miami faces a very winnable nonconference slate and avoids playing Clemson, which ended Golden’s tenure in a 58-0 thrashing last season.

Projected 2016 record: 9-3

6. Justin Fuente, Virginia Tech

It’s a new era in Blacksburg, where Fuente arrives from Memphis to replace legendary coach Frank Beamer. Fuente brings with him a little bit of old and new. He and offensive coordinator Brad Cornelsen will install a spread offense, but Fuente opted to retain longtime coordinator Bud Foster on defense. That recipe should combine well with 14 returning starters if the Hokies can navigate a schedule that includes a nonconference meeting with Tennessee and road trips to North Carolina and Notre Dame. But an eight- or nine-win season isn’t out of the question for Fuente, who knows how to rebuild a program.

Projected 2016 record: 8-4

7. Clay Helton, USC

The 2016 season won’t technically be Helton’s first at USC, as he went 5-4 as the Trojans’ interim coach last fall. But Helton is now the program’s full-time head coach and can build the brand he wants in Los Angeles. This fall Helton must pick a quarterback between Max Browne and Sam Darnold, but nine other starters return on offense, including stellar receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster. If defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast can mold an inexperienced defensive line, the Trojans should contend in the Pac-12 South. The wild card? A daunting schedule that features nonconference games against Alabama, Utah State and Notre Dame and road trips to Pac-12 foes Washington, UCLA and Utah. 

Projected 2016 record: 8-4

8. Jim Grobe, Baylor (interim)

Based on its roster alone, Baylor has the look of a Big 12 contender. But interim head coach Jim Grobe faces a situation few have inherited before him. No one knows how many of former coach Art Briles’s assistants will be employed by the 2016 season. It’s also unclear how decimated the Bears’ 2016 recruiting class will ultimately be. Can an offense that returns quarterback Seth Russell, running back Shock Linwood and receiver KD Cannon ignore the cloud lingering over Baylor and win football games? If the school avoids immediate staff turnover, Grobe could have the pieces to keep up with a top-heavy Big 12—and make a case for the full-time job along the way.

Projected 2016 record: 9-3