But not all debut seasons are created equal. Just ask Houston Nutt (who went 9-4 with a Cotton Bowl victory his first year at Ole Miss) and Paul Wulff (who went 2-10 at Washington State). Sometimes players take to a new offensive system immediately (as Georgia Tech's did under Paul Johnson), other times they bumble their way to the worst season in school history (as Michigan's did under Rich Rodriguez).
Let's take a look at the 2009 prospects for 21 programs that underwent offseason coaching changes.
2008 record: 5-7 (3-5 SEC)
New coach:Lane Kiffin, formerly Oakland Raiders head coach.
What he inherits: Tennessee is always loaded with defensive talent. Even last year, the Vols boasted the nation's third-ranked defense, and the presence of stars like safety Eric Berry and linebacker Rico McCoy should give renowned defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin (Lane's father) plenty to work with. Lane Kiffin's challenge will be reviving one of the nation's worst offenses of a year ago (115th out of 119). In order to do so, he'll need to boost the confidence of battered quarterback Jonathan Crompton.
'09 prospects: While the 34-year-old Kiffin elicits no shortage of skepticism, there's too much talent at his disposal not to expect immediate improvement. In particular, several members of last winter's recruiting class -- most notably running backs Bryce Brown and David Oku -- could have a huge impact. The Vols aren't likely to challenge Florida in the SEC (not after Kiffin's infamous cheating comments), but they should get back to a decent bowl.
2008 record: 10-3 (7-2 Pac-10)
New coach:Chip Kelly, formerly Oregon's offensive coordinator.
What he inherits: Kelly's scary spread offense produced the nation's No. 2 rushing offense last season and returns both dangerous quarterback Jeremiah Masoli (2,462 total yards) and powerful running back LeGarrette Blount (1,002 yards, 17 TDs). The offensive line and receiving corps will be inexperienced, but Kelly seems to have a knack for plugging in new pieces. However, the defense, which loses stars defensive end Nick Reed and safety Patrick Chung, is filled with holes.
'09 prospects: Many expect Oregon to replicate last year's top 10 season, but that may be a slightly optimistic prediction for a team replacing a 14-year head coach (Mike Bellotti, now the athletic director) and facing both Boise State and Utah (who went a combined 25-1 last season) within the first three weeks. The good news: USC, Cal and Oregon State all come to Eugene, giving the Ducks the most favorable in-conference schedule in the Pac-10.
2008 record: 5-7 (2-6 SEC)
New coach: Gene Chizik, formerly Iowa State's head coach.
What he inherits: Much like Kiffin at Tennessee, Chizik inherits a traditionally stout defense and an offense that flat-out stunk last season (104th last year). Both of last year's quarterbacks, Kodi Burns and Chris Todd, return, as does top rusher Ben Tate (664 yards, three TDs). Senior defensive end Antonio Coleman (six sacks) is a bona fide star on a unit that struggled uncharacteristically against the run last season (No. 54).
'09 prospects: Chizik, whose hire after going 5-19 in two seasons at Iowa State drew heavy criticism, landed two highly respected coordinators, Tulsa's Gus Malzahn on offense and Minnesota's Ted Roof for defense. Malzahn should be able to find a competent quarterback (junior Neil Caudle is also in the mix) and make the offense more respectable, but the Tigers face a tough task catching up to SEC West heavyweights Alabama, LSU and Ole Miss.
2008 record: 0-12 (0-9 Pac-10)
New coach:Steve Sarkisian, formerly USC's offensive coordinator.
What he inherits: As evidenced by its record last year, Sarkisian takes over a program that's sitting at rock-bottom. The one beacon of hope, however, is quarterback Jake Locker, the 2007 Pac-10 Freshman of the Year. Washington probably would have won a few games last year had Locker not broken his thumb in the season's fourth game. (The Huskies nearly took top 25 foe BYU to overtime in Week 2.) Unfortunately, Locker has very little supporting cast to speak of, and the defense needs a heavy infusion of talent.
'09 prospects: The good news: Washington almost certainly won't go winless again. The bad news: The Huskies are still probably a far cry from reaching .500. Non-conference games against LSU and Notre Dame won't help. If Locker shines as expected, and if running back Chris Polk can continue the promise he showed early last season before suffering his own season-ending injury, Washington should at least be able to run up points against the Pac-10's lower half.
2008 record: 9-5 (5-3 ACC)
New coach: Frank Spaziani, formerly BC's defensive coordinator.
What he inherits: The Eagles have won at least nine games each of the past five seasons, so you know there's talent. However, Spaziani has caught a couple of bad breaks already. Dominique Davis, BC's lone experienced quarterback, transferred following academic issues. Worse, ACC Defensive Player of the Year Mark Herzlich is battling cancer. BC does have proven players back at the skill positions, but the defensive line and secondary took big hits.
'09 prospects: The Eagles have been a model of consistency over the past decade, but if ever the program was in for a down year, it's now. The school abruptly parted with Jeff Jagodzinski following his NFL flirtations (offensive coordinator Steve Logan left, too), thrusting Spaziani, 63, into an awkward role -- and that was before losing two key players. BC is unlikely to contend for a third straight divisional title; the key will be earning an 11th straight bowl berth.
2008 record: 5-7 (2-6 Big 12)
New coach:Bill Snyder, formerly ... K-State's head coach (1989-2005).
What he inherits: The cupboard is pretty bare due to a recruiting lull that began toward the end of Snyder's original tenure, though deposed coach Ron Prince may have exacerbated the problem by recruiting jucos so heavily. Quarterback Josh Freeman is gone, leaving behind untested junior Carson Coffman and juco transfer Daniel Thomas, but receiver/return man Brandon Banks is a dangerous weapon. The defense, meanwhile, ranked 117th out of 119 last year.
'09 prospects: Snyder has his work cut out for him; however, his familiarity with the program and his penchant for squeezing the most out of unheralded players could lead to some improvement, particularly on defense. The Wildcats need to pile up some wins early, or things could get ugly; they close with Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska.
2008 record: 4-8 (2-6 Big Ten)
New coach:Danny Hope, formerly Purdue's assistant head coach/offensive line.
What he inherits: The Boilers bottomed out during Joe Tiller's final season, and Hope -- who was named Tiller's successor a year earlier -- takes over an extremely depleted offense. Fifth-year senior Joey Elliott finally gets his shot at quarterback, and tailback Jaycen Taylor (560 yards in '07) returns after missing last season with an ACL tear. The defense, which had its moments last year (holding Ohio State to 16 points), returns six starters.
'09 prospects: Hope began changing Purdue's recruiting strategy (placing more emphasis on speed) to fit his preferred style of play, but it's too soon to reap the benefits. The Boilers could be in for another long year, particularly on offense, unless Taylor turns into a big-time threat.
2008 record: 3-9, (1-6 Big East)
New coach: Doug Marrone, formerly New Orleans Saints' offensive coordinator.
What he inherits:Greg Robinson had little recruiting success during his four years at Syracuse, leaving the Orange with a serious talent gap. The most intriguing player on this year's squad: Quarterback Greg Paulus, the former Duke point guard, who enrolled in graduate school with designs on the starting job. Running back Deleone Carter and wide receiver Mike Williams are weapons. Star defensive tackle Arthur Jones is back and healthy, but the rest of the defense is littered with questions.
'09 prospects: Offensive coordinator Rob Spence, formerly of Clemson, is switching the Orange from a pro-style offense to a no-huddle spread. If Paulus or redshirt freshman Ryan Nassib proves adept as quarterback, perhaps Syracuse can escape the Big East cellar.
Army (3-9): The service academies typically thrive when they're running the triple-option well, and Rich Ellerson's teams did just that at I-AA Cal Poly. Ellerson has returning quarterback Chip Bowden at his disposal, but defense will likely be the Black Knights' forte. Look for Army to pull off a couple of surprises this fall.
Ball State (12-2): Former offensive coordinator Stan Parrish has the misfortune of taking over the year after star quarterback Nate Davis, tight end Darius Hill and four offensive line starters departed. But Parrish still has 1,736-yard rusher MiQuale Lewis, top receiver Briggs Orsbon and a veteran defense.
Bowling Green (6-6): Dave Clawson, a successful I-AA head coach prior to last year's disastrous stint as Tennessee's offensive coordinator, inherits a team that's gone .500 or better seven of the past eight years. If quarterback Tyler Sheehan can adapt to Clawson's West Coast attack, the Falcons will contend in the MAC.
Eastern Michigan (3-9): Former Michigan and Louisville defensive coordinator Ron English has his work cut out for him. The Eagles haven't won more than four games since 1995 and have been horrendous defensively for years. The one positive: Eastern Michigan scored 50-plus points in its last two games of '08.
Iowa State (2-10): Longtime Pitt defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads has to hope Chizik left behind some young talent. The Cyclones were competitive at times last year thanks to dynamic QB Austen Arnuad, but the defense needs major repairs to keep up with the Big 12's high-flying offenses.
Miami, Ohio (2-10): If Miami truly is the Cradle of Coaches, then former Notre Dame offensive coordinator Mike Haywood may be a future star. Haywood is going against the grain in the MAC by switching to a physical, two-back offense. He'll need a big year from running back Quincy Landingham, a Wisconsin transfer.
Mississippi State (4-8): New coach Dan Mullen was at Urban Meyer's side for turnarounds at Bowling Green, Utah and Florida, but at each stop it took a year for his spread offense to really get cranking. Mullen will likely groom touted freshman quarterback Tyler Russell for a possible 2010 breakthrough.
New Mexico (4-8):Mike Locksley has the resources at his disposal to eventually lift the Lobos into the Mountain West's upper echelon. This year could be an adventure, however, as Locksley changes the Lobos' schemes both on offense (from I-formation to spread-option) and defense (from the 3-3-5 to a 4-3).
New Mexico State (3-9): The Aggies replaced offensive guru Hal Mumme with defensive whiz DeWayne Walker. He'll need some time to upgrade the talent at a program that's gone 4-28 in its four years in the WAC. Unfortunately, the Aggies' two most winnable games come in the first two weeks (Idaho and Prairie View A&M).
San Diego State (2-10): The Aztecs have put together an impressive new staff with former Ball State coach Brady Hoke as head coach, longtime New Mexico coach Rocky Long as defensive coordinator and renowned offensive coordinator Al Borges. Behind quarterback Ryan Lindley, a standout freshman last year, SDSU could be a surprise team.
Toledo (3-9): This once-proud program fell on hard times the past few years, but a turnaround is inevitable. Defensive mind Tim Beckman has some talent to work with, most notably star S Barry Church. The Rockets will get beat up early (at Purdue, Colorado and vs. Ohio State) but could fare decently in the MAC.
Utah State (3-9): Former Utah defensive coordinator Gary Anderson takes over a team that was better than its record in '08. Junior quarterback Diondre Borel is a budding dual-threat star. If the offensive line can protect Borel, the Aggies will score points. Add a more aggressive defense to the mix and a bowl berth isn't unrealistic.
Wyoming (4-8): The Cowboys were horrendous offensively last season, scoring less than 20 points in all but three games. New coach Dave Christensen engineered one of the nation's most powerful offenses at Missouri, but he'll need to find a quarterback who can master his fast-paced spread attack.