Category: College football

ATHLETE SPOTLIGHT: Mitch Wishnowsky

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When Mitch Wishnowsky was growing up, he had never seen or held an American football. Born and raised in Gosnells, a southeastern suburb of Perth, Australia, Wishnowsky was no different than any other kid in his neighborhood: he wanted to play Australian rules football.

In Australia, there are four different codes of football – soccer, rugby league, rugby union, and Australian rules football – and the most popular one in Perth is Aussie rules, or “footy.” Wishnowsky played a lot of footy as a kid, and showed promise, but never really saw himself playing at the professional level.

At the age of 17, Wishnowsky left high school a year early in order to start work; he had been offered an apprenticeship as a glass installation specialist. Several of his friends began showing him NFL games and explaining how American football was played. On the weekend, Wishnowsky and his friends would occasionally play pickup games of American football at their local park, but their style of play was very rudimentary. They only ran a few plays and just wanted to have a good time.

Wishnowsky still played Aussie rules, too, ending up on the reserves list at the Perth Demons, a local semi-pro team in the West Australian Football League. Still, he was never quite able to draw enough attention from AFL scouts.

After a couple of years, Wishnowsky eventually grew tired of his job and began to consider exploring other professional and educational opportunities. Eventually, he caught wind about ProKick Australia, a training academy for aspiring punters run by former Aussie rules footballer/NFL punter Nathan Chapman.

Chapman’s program is well-regarded around Australia; they select numerous Aussie kids – mostly from footy backgrounds – and help them to transition into American-style punters. To date, Chapman estimates that over 60 ProKick alums have been placed at various colleges in the US. Wishnowsky contacted Chapman and was instantly sold on the idea. He committed to the program and started the long, grueling process of becoming a college football punter.

As good of a track record as ProKick had, Wishnowsky was still worried that he wouldn’t get picked up by an NCAA school right away. Still, he worked hard and soon enough, scouts began inquiring about the 6’4″, 220-pound Aussie.

Wishnowsky eventually made his way from sunny Perth to equally sunny Santa Barbara, California. He got a scholarship punting for the Santa Barbara City College Vaqueros in the fall of 2014, averaging a solid 39.8 yards per punt that year.

Eventually, Wishnowsky got the attention of coach Kyle Whittingham of the University of Utah. The Utes offered Wishnowsky a scholarship and he enrolled in January 2016 with big shoes to fill: he had to replace two-time All-American and two-time Ray Guy Award winner Tom Hackett, a fellow ProKick alum.

However, Wishnowsky brought a different set of skills to the table than Hackett did – both on and off the field.

Hackett stands only 5’10”, 180 pounds and was highly-regarded for his quick release and kicking accuracy. However, he will admit that Wishnowsky has the superior leg and athleticism:

Mitch has an uncanny ability to hit the ball much harder than most punters. His strengths do not lie with his accuracy; instead, he chooses the most direct route, high and long. I concede defeat when asked who is the stronger and more powerful punter….we have very similar, and yet very different, punting styles.

Off the field, Hackett became a media darling with his dry Aussie one-liners and tongue-in-cheek demeanor. Wishnowsky, comparatively, is a man of few words.

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Upon accepting the 2016 Ray Guy Award for his efforts, Wishnowsky was asked about the amazing track record that Aussies have as college football punters. He simply replied,  “You can roll out, and you can hold onto it for longer. It is changing the game of college football.”

Indeed it is. Utah made history with Wishnowsky, becoming the first school ever to have multiple Ray Guy winners. That makes it four in a row for ProKick too — Hackett won the award twice and Memphis’s Tom Hornsey won it in 2013. And as if that wasn’t enough, Wishnowsky beat out two other ProKick alums to win it all in 2016 – Cameron Johnston of Ohio State and Michael Dickson from Texas. Wishnowsky expressed congrats to his fellow countrymen and runners-up in the 2016 Ray Guy competition.

“No hard feelings. We’re all good mates,” he said with a grin.

Wishnowsky finished the season ranked second in the nation in punting, averaging 48 yards per kick, and won national punter of the week honors three times this past season. He was also named a unanimous first-team All-American.

The scary part? Wishnowsky has two years of eligibility left.

“I suppose I’ll just try to better myself next year,” Wishnowsky says. “I feel like I can get strong, maybe just show a bit more versatility. I wouldn’t mind getting a fake punt on the way at some stage.”

Hey, why not?

2016-17 coaching carousel

There were remarkably few head coaching vacancies in the college football offseason (which has still barely started). Only 21 changes were made nationwide, and as of the end of bowl season, all of them have been filled. So without further ado, here are my opinions of all the hires:

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#21 – Brent Brennan, San Jose State

  • Age: 43
  • Hometown: Redwood City, California
  • Alma Mater: UCLA
  • Previous Job: Outside Wide Receivers Coach, Oregon State

Pros: Brennan was the lone Oregon State assistant who stayed in town after Mike Riley bolted for Nebraska in 2014. While in Corvallis, he mentored several NFL-bound athletes. In addition to his six-year stint at Oregon State, Brennan also was an assistant at SJSU from 2005-2010 under Dick Tomey and has experience in the California high school ranks.

Cons: He has never been a head coach at any level, and SJSU is arguably the toughest job in the Mountain West. The Spartans have delivered only two winning seasons since 1993, and former coach Ron Caragher could never convert significant recruiting success into on-field results.

Bottom Line: Brennan has a strong desire to win, and he’s got an uphill climb to do it in a rapidly-improving Mountain West. If he’s up to the task, Brennan can make the Spartans contenders, but it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

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#20 – Shawn Elliott, Georgia State

  • Age: 42
  • Hometown: Camden, South Carolina
  • Alma Mater: Appalachian State
  • Previous Job: Offensive Line Coach, South Carolina

Pros: Elliott is a blue-collar, no-frills coach who believes in discipline and accountability. He cut his teeth under legendary coaches like Jerry Moore and Steve Spurrier and has excellent experience recruiting the greater Atlanta area. As far as Georgia State goes, the school is investing more in football, as the program will have its own stadium in only a few years.

Cons: Elliott has three years as a co-offensive coordinator under his belt, but other than that, he has very little experience as a program administrator. The Panthers are capable of having on-field success if they recruit right, but Elliott will also have to deal with an apathetic fanbase and mediocre facilities.

Bottom Line: Georgia State athletic director Charlie Cobb worked with Elliott at App State, so there’s plenty of familiarity there. But the Panthers are a program working with numerous challenges, and Elliott will need to get his players to buy in completely in order to get this thing turned around.

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#19 – Geoff Collins, Temple

  • Age: 45
  • Hometown: Conyers, Georgia
  • Alma Mater: Western Carolina 
  • Previous Job: Defensive Coordinator, Florida

Pros: Collins was frequently mentioned as a head coaching candidate following his excellent work as DC at Mississippi State (2011-14) and Florida (2015-16). He’s got the energy and football IQ to keep Temple competitive in the American Athletic Conference, and he’s a great recruiter, too. Before his years in the SEC, he worked at mid-major schools like Florida International and UCF.

Cons: A Georgia native, Collins has very little experience coaching or recruiting in Pennsylvania. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but the reason Matt Rhule was so successful at Temple was because of his ability to go toe-to-toe with big-name programs on the recruiting trail in talent-rich Pennsylvania, Maryland, and New Jersey. Can Collins recapture that magic with his own staff?

Bottom Line: The Owls are on a hot streak in the past several years, and it’s rare to be able to sustain consistent success at a place like Temple. But it can be done and has been done, and the hope in Philly is that Collins can keep the magic going while under high expectations.

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#18 – Jay Norvell, Nevada

  • Age: 53
  • Hometown: Madison, Wisconsin
  • Alma Mater: Iowa
  • Previous Job: Wide Receivers Coach/Pass Game Coordinator, Arizona State

Pros: In addition to ASU, Norvell has experience working at some of the nation’s elite programs, including stints as offensive coordinator at UCLA, Oklahoma, and Nebraska. From 1998-2003, he worked in the NFL as an assistant with both the Oakland Raiders and the Indianapolis Colts.

Cons: After a record-breaking run under the iconic Chris Ault, Nevada has been spinning its wheels in recent years, which led to Brian Polian’s dismissal. The Mountain West continues to improve around the Wolf Pack, and it’s a telling sign that Polian was fired even after winning his last two games (including a double-digit win over rival UNLV). Polian frequently lamented the inadequate facilities and even suggested that they were lucky to be overachieving given the lack of program resources. Will things be different under Norvell?

Bottom Line: Nevada fans are increasingly nostalgic for the Ault era, in which the run-based pistol offense mowed down opponents with ease and the defense was just good enough to carry the day. Norvell has an exciting offensive pedigree and a sterling reputation as a recruiter. It will be interesting to see how he does in his first head coaching gig.

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#17 – Tim Lester, Western Michigan

  • Age: 39
  • Hometown: Wheaton, Illinois
  • Alma Mater: Western Michigan
  • Previous Job: Quarterbacks Coach, Purdue

Pros: Lester is a WMU alum and former assistant, so he’s understandably excited to come back to his alma mater and continue the work that began under the exciting P.J. Fleck, who departed for Minnesota in early January. Like Fleck, Lester is an offensive guy with enthusiasm and a solid recruiting record. He has also coached at St. Joseph’s and Elmhurst, Division II and Division III programs, respectively, compiling a career record of 40-23.

Cons: Lester has little FBS experience compared to the average coach. He was QB coach at WMU (2005-06) and at Purdue (2016) as well as a four-year stint at Syracuse. However, in a 16-year career, Lester has been at college football’s highest level for only seven of those years.

Bottom Line: Athletic director Kathy Beauregard struck gold in 2013 when she hired then-unknown Fleck, and the hope is that she made the right call here, too. At the very least, Lester is an alum who inherits a fantastic situation in terms of fan support, facilities, and returning talent. The Broncos should stay in the MAC mix.

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#16 – Ed Orgeron, LSU

  • Age: 55
  • Hometown: Larose, Louisiana
  • Alma Mater: Northwestern State
  • Previous Job: Defensive Line Coach, LSU

Pros: Orgeron has a well-deserved reputation as one of the nation’s best recruiters, both at LSU and in his previous assistant coaching stints at USC, where he spent a combined 11 years. He knows SEC country as well as anybody, as well as the expectations at LSU.

Cons: Orgeron’s only previous head coaching experience was at Ole Miss from 2005-07, where he went 10-25. The LSU administration was rumored to have been very close to hiring Houston’s Tom Herman (a much bigger name), but Texas came in and swooped him up at the last minute.

Bottom Line: After years of complaints from restless fans, LSU athletic director Joe Alleva finally listened and got rid of the charismatic-but-stubborn Les Miles. In promoting Orgeron, they’re showing a lot of faith. Players love him, and he’s long been considered one of the most elite recruiters around, but his previous work at Ole Miss wasn’t exactly inspiring. He’s got work to do in order to return the Tigers to a truly relevant level.

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#15 – Tom Allen, Indiana

  • Age: 46
  • Hometown: New Castle, Indiana
  • Alma Mater: Maranatha Baptist
  • Previous Job: Defensive Coordinator, Indiana

Pros: Allen has familiarity with the Hoosiers as an alum and a former high school coach in Indianapolis. He’s well-liked by his players, and he did an excellent job as the Hoosiers’ DC in 2016. Before he came to Bloomington, he did another instant turnaround job at USF in 2015 and also coached linebackers at Ole Miss for three years.

Cons: There’s no question that Indiana is one of the toughest jobs in the Big Ten. The fanbase is still shocked that former coach Kevin Wilson was canned after back-to-back bowl games and four rivalry wins over Purdue. It will be interesting to see if the Hoosiers can keep the positive vibes going under Allen.

Bottom Line: This one was bizarre. Wilson was a winner and a great program builder, but didn’t see eye-to-eye with AD Fred Glass and got fired shortly before the Foster Farms Bowl. Glass promoted Allen immediately and didn’t even hire a search firm, so the expectations are crystal-clear: Bloomington wants a consistent winner, and not just in basketball.

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#14 – Major Applewhite, Houston

  • Age: 38
  • Hometown: Baton Rouge, Louisiana
  • Alma Mater: Texas
  • Previous Job: Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach, Houston

Pros: Applewhite has the goods as far as Texas high school connections go. He worked under Mack Brown in Austin from 2008-2013 before jumping to Houston and creating a Group of Five juggernaut. He’s charismatic, smart, and a known developer of talent.

Cons: Tom Herman was a once-in-a-generation find for the Cougars. He wasn’t the first coach to jump from UH to a bigger job, and he won’t be the last. Given those parameters, how long can the Cougs be truly elite under Applewhite? And will the players he inherited – some of whom are playing for their third coach – buy in?

Bottom Line: This was a safe hire, and fans won’t be pissed off about it. As good as Houston has been lately, and as much success as they’ve had, this is still a stepping stone job. It’s difficult for players to stay focused on competing and winning when there’s no guarantee about their coach moving on or not.

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#13 – Mike Sanford Jr., Western Kentucky

  • Age: 34
  • Hometown: Lexington, Virginia
  • Alma Mater: Boise State
  • Previous Job: Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach, Notre Dame

Pros: Sanford has the on-paper qualities that you look for: a great offensive mind, a proven track record as a recruiter and developer of talent, and a coach’s son who has a passion for the game. He engineered a string of excellent offenses at both Notre Dame and Boise State (his alma mater), and was also a position coach and recruiting coordinator at Stanford for several seasons.

Cons: Sanford is still very young and only has three years as a play-caller under his belt. WKU is a program used to explosive offenses; they’ve averaged over 40 points per game the past three seasons under departed coach Jeff Brohm (now at Purdue). Can Sanford keep the ball rolling?

Bottom Line: After a rough initial transition into the FBS ranks half a decade ago, WKU has emerged as one of the more consistent Group of Five programs, winning the past two Conference USA championships. Sanford hitched his wagon to a great team and an administration that is committed to winning. All in all, a great hire.

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#12 – Butch Davis, Florida International

  • Age: 65
  • Hometown: Tahlequah, Oklahoma
  • Alma Mater: Arkansas
  • Previous Job: ESPN analyst

Pros: It is rare for a small school like FIU to land a coach of Davis’s stature. This guy has serious NFL chops and also boasts a 63-43 career record as a college coach, first at Miami (1995-2000) and then at North Carolina (2007-10), where he was eventually dismissed as part of the ongoing NCAA scandal at UNC. Davis was bound to come back at some point.

Cons: Davis will continue to be forced to answer questions about the NCAA sanctions at UNC that happened under his watch. For what it’s worth, he was never named in the official report, but UNC used him as a scapegoat and gave him the axe. There’s no doubt that Davis is a good coach who has learned from his mistakes, but past demons could get in his way.

Bottom Line: The Panthers have the potential to become a factor in Conference USA after underachieving repeatedly under Ron Turner. Davis should be able to recruit South Florida very well and is already bringing quality assistants onboard.

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#11 – Randy Edsall, Connecticut

  • Age: 58
  • Hometown: Glen Rock, Pennsylvania
  • Alma Mater: Syracuse
  • Previous Job: Director of Football Research, Detroit Lions (NFL)

Pros: It’s a sweet homecoming for Edsall, who led the Huskies to the FBS ranks in 2000 and coached there for 12 seasons (1999-2010). He’s a talented recruiter who brings a disciplined and methodical approach to a program he’s intimately familiar with.

Cons: Edsall’s star has fallen slightly after his rocky tenure at Maryland (2011-15). He inherited a roster filled with holes and did the best he could, but the program fell on hard times when the Terps moved from the ACC to the Big Ten. In the end, Edsall stumbled to a 22-34 record and never won a bowl game.

Bottom Line: UConn is a program with limited resources, but Edsall knows the terrain as well as anybody. The AAC continues to improve, but it might have as much parity as any Group of Five conference – so there’s reason to think that the Huskies can rebuild quickly.

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#10 – Justin Wilcox, Cal

  • Age: 40
  • Hometown: Junction City, Oregon
  • Alma Mater: Oregon
  • Previous Job: Defensive Coordinator, Wisconsin

Pros: He may not be a household name, but Wilcox has been flying up the college football ladder as one of the best defensive minds in the game, moving from Boise State to Tennessee to Washington to USC, and finally to Wisconsin. As a West Coast native, Wilcox knows the recruiting terrain as well as anybody, and he’ll certainly bring toughness and discipline to a Cal program that has been treading water in recent years – the Bears were a middling 19-30 under former coach Sonny Dykes and haven’t won a bowl game since 2008.

Cons: The Bears’ defense has been horrendous the past four years under Dykes, and Wilcox will have to set out to change that immediately. But that’s not the problem. The modern-day Pac-12 is far from defense-oriented, so Cal will still have to score points in bunches to have any hope of contending.

Bottom Line: Look, Cal didn’t really have much choice in this hire. Fans and administration were growing tired of Dykes, so they needed to hire a defensive specialist. Wilcox is a former Cal assistant (2003-05) and he’s familiar with the culture and the expectations. Dykes never seemed to be a good fit in Berkeley, and in terms of style, Wilcox might not be either, but this was a pretty solid hire nonetheless.

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#9 – Charlie Strong, USF

  • Age: 56
  • Hometown: Batesville, Arkansas
  • Alma Mater: Central Arkansas
  • Previous Job: Head Coach, Texas

Pros: Strong’s disciplined approach will be welcomed by the players he inherits, a high-achieving group that made their mark in the AAC this past year and increased their win total every year under former coach Willie Taggart. Strong has experience and a record of success at smaller programs without the insanely high standards he faced on a daily basis in Austin.

Cons: Strong’s tenure at Texas was marked by upheaval on both sides of the ball, and that’s difficult to ignore. He needs to be more patient at USF, especially with coordinator changes.

Bottom Line: Strong is still a great coach, and USF is a good place for him to go. At the very least, his recruiting connections in Florida should pay immediate dividends. The Bulls should stay relevant.

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#8 – Lane Kiffin, Florida Atlantic

  • Age: 41
  • Hometown: Lincoln, Nebraska
  • Alma Mater: Fresno State
  • Previous Job: Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach, Alabama

Pros: He’s Lane Kiffin. He’s coordinated three spectacular offenses the past three seasons at Alabama under Nick Saban, and can recruit with the best of them. He’ll also have the added bonus of coaching at a program without massive expectations, giving him more time to orchestrate a dramatic turnaround.

Cons: He’s Lane Kiffin. And by that token, he’s been accused of being aloof, brash, and immature following his embarrassing year as the head man at Tennessee in 2009, as well as his controversial tenure at USC. As good of an assistant as Kiffin is, he still has yet to prove that he has the ability to successfully lead an FBS program.

Bottom Line: FAU has a new football operations building under construction, a stadium that’s less than five years old, and they’re surrounded by the South Florida recruiting goldmine. This is a program with plenty of potential, and Kiffin was almost guaranteed to try to get back under the coach’s headset again. Some might take a wait-and-see approach, but it’s safe to say that Kiffin can make the Owls relevant.

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#7 – Luke Fickell, Cincinnati

  • Age: 43
  • Hometown: Columbus, Ohio
  • Alma Mater: Ohio State
  • Previous Job: Co-Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers Coach, Ohio State

Pros: Fickell is an Ohio native through-and-through. He has spent his entire 17-year coaching career in the state (15 of those at OSU). In addition to an interim head coaching stint in 2011 after Jim Tressel was dismissed, Fickell stuck around under Urban Meyer and helped develop some tenacious defenses.

Cons: Cincinnati is the very definition of a stepping stone program. Their past four coaches have all moved on after four years at the school. Recruiting suffered under the most recent coach, Tommy Tuberville, and the Bearcats have underachieved ever since the AAC expanded. They haven’t won a bowl game since 2012.

Bottom Line: If there’s anyone who knows Ohio talent when he sees it, it’s Fickell – it’s safe to say that recruiting local kids won’t be an issue for the Bearcats heading forward. Cincinnati has solid facilities and a recently renovated stadium, so it should be a quick fix if Fickell is up to it.

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#6 – Jeff Tedford, Fresno State

  • Age: 55
  • Hometown: Lynwood, California
  • Alma Mater: Fresno State
  • Previous Job: Offensive Analyst, Washington

Pros: Tedford went 82-59 in a strong decade of work at Cal (2002-2012) and had frequently been named as a coaching candidate in the past few years. He’s a Fresno alum who also coached at his alma mater from 1992-97.

Cons: The Mountain West has improved rapidly, with the Bulldogs going from division champions to bottom-feeders in barely two years. Former coach Tim DeRuyter got the axe due to his lack of recruiting prowess and questionable coordinator hires. Fresno State is a historically good program, but when negativity sets in, things can get ugly fast.

Bottom Line: Tedford is a wonderful coach, and he jumped at the chance to lead his alma mater’s program. The Bulldogs have lacked consistency and toughness in recent seasons, something that Tedford will change immediately. The fact that he wants to be there will strike a chord with a fanbase that never seemed to fully embrace DeRuyter.

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#5 – Jeff Brohm, Purdue

  • Age: 45
  • Hometown: Louisville, Kentucky
  • Alma Mater: Louisville
  • Previous Job: Head Coach, Western Kentucky

Pros: Brohm went 30-10 in three years at WKU, where his offenses were explosive, averaging over 40 points per game every year. He’s also a former NFL quarterback who has served as a offensive coordinator and/or QB coach at schools like UAB, Florida Atlantic, Illinois, and his alma mater Louisville.

Cons: Purdue is one of the most difficult jobs in the Big Ten, and it’s unclear how Brohm’s flashy spread offense will fit in the hard-nosed, smash-mouth conference. Brohm will need to be able to handle pressure at a program that hasn’t been truly elite since Drew Brees was in town.

Bottom Line: The Boilermakers really got a steal with Brohm, who kicked it up a notch at Western Kentucky and possesses great offensive chops. He will certainly be able to put more fans in the stands and showcase a much more entertaining offense. It’s also worth noting that Purdue administration has demonstrated a bigger commitment to football, as evidenced by the construction of a new football operations building that will open next August.

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#4 – P.J. Fleck, Minnesota

  • Age: 36
  • Hometown: Sugar Grove, Illinois
  • Alma Mater: Northern Illinois
  • Previous Job: Head Coach, Western Michigan

Pros: Fleck might have been a biggest name in the nation, turning #RowTheBoat into a national catchphrase. He had one of the largest turnarounds in recent memory, building Western Michigan into a national contender. After going 1-11 in 2013, his first season, Fleck went 29-11 the rest of the way. This past year, the Broncos earned the school’s first conference title since 1988.

Cons: Fleck walks into an train wreck off the field in Minneapolis. The Gophers went 9-4 this past year under the recently fired Tracy Claeys, but his brief tenure was marked by a player boycott right before their Holiday Bowl matchup against Washington State. Ten Gopher players were suspended indefinitely for an alleged sexual assault that occurred in September, and the non-suspended players were outraged over a perceived lack of due process towards their accused teammates. Claeys went on record publicly that he supported the players and was proud of their boycott. After the boycott was lifted, athletic director Mark Coyle promised that the players were be given another chance, but ended up firing Claeys less than a week after the bowl game (which the Gophers won). There’s smoldering anger in the Minnesota locker room, with many players predicting en masse transfers. Fleck will have to work quickly to win over the players he inherits.

Bottom Line: Don’t count out Fleck. Against all odds, he built something spectacular at WMU. Minnesota is a very difficult place to win as well, but Fleck – only 36 years old – is up for the challenge and should be able to keep the on-field success going. The Gophers are in the middle of a successful run, so if Fleck can mend fences off the field, he could keep them contenders in the Big Ten West.

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#3 – Matt Rhule, Baylor

  • Age: 41
  • Hometown: Manhattan, New York
  • Alma Mater: Penn State
  • Previous Job: Head Coach, Temple

Pros: Rhule engineered a very nice turnaround in his four years at Temple, giving them the first consecutive 10-win seasons in school history, as well as a conference title. He’s known as an ace recruiter, and his defenses at Temple were some of the nation’s best. 

Cons: He lacks the obvious Texas high school ties, having never lived or coached in the state before. Rhule’s offenses produced very good numbers, but not Big 12 level numbers. Fans in Waco expect high-scoring games – can Rhule’s teams deliver?

Bottom Line: Given the tumultuous past year at Baylor, they needed to make a slam-dunk hire, and they did. Rhule brings stability, energy, and a strong desire to win to a program that was in disarray this past year under interim coach Jim Grobe. Rhule immediately faces a daunting schedule and a young team that lacks substantial depth. But he’s not one to back down from a challenge.

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#2 – Willie Taggart, Oregon

  • Age: 40
  • Hometown: Bradenton, Florida
  • Alma Mater: Western Kentucky
  • Previous Job: Head Coach, USF

Pros: Taggart has experience building programs as a head coach, turning around his alma mater’s program (WKU) and then heading to USF, where he increased his win total every year he was there – including a 10-2 mark this past season. He also spent three years as running backs coach at Stanford under Jim Harbaugh.

Cons: Taggart brings a flashy offense to Eugene that fans will certainly love, but he needs to fix a leaky defense, which has been the main problem at the U of O ever since Chip Kelly left town. Recruiting suffered under Helfrich, and the quarterback position has been a revolving door in the post-Marcus Mariota era.

Bottom Line: With his Florida recruiting connections and sterling offensive resumé, Taggart was a perfectly logical choice to help bring Oregon back to the nation’s elite. He’ll fit in well in the Pac-12.

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#1 – Tom Herman, Texas

  • Age: 41
  • Hometown: Cincinnati, Ohio
  • Alma Mater: California Lutheran
  • Previous Job: Head Coach, Houston

Pros: Herman was the hottest coach in the nation for a reason. He built an already solid program at Houston into a national contender, with the Cougars showcasing a fast-paced offense and a turnover-hungry defense, en route to a 22-4 record during the Herman era. Herman also began his FBS coaching career as a graduate assistant under Mack Brown in 1999.

Cons: At the risk of stating the obvious, the expectations at Texas are unlike any in the country. No program has higher hopes for football, and Herman needs to prove very early on that he’s not in over his head.

Bottom Line: Herman is a superstar from the Urban Meyer coaching tree, and there’s a definite sense that he knows what he’s getting into at UT. But the first thing he needs to do is to start dominating the in-state recruiting trail and score a win or two over a rival.

Sizing up the Sun Belt, one month in

Hard to believe it’s October – which means we’re five weeks into the college football season. Like many mid-major conferences, the Sun Belt Conference has been topsy-turvy. Some teams have been pleasant surprises, and others have been bitter disappointments. At this point, you can basically shake these teams up in a bottle and see where they land.

So where does everyone stand? Well, let’s find out. I’m recapping the first month of the season for all of these teams, as well as giving them a grade.

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Appalachian State Mountaineers (3-2, 1-0 in Sun Belt)

  • Last week: Beat Georgia State, 17-3
  • Up next: Bye week

The Mountaineers have looked equally impressive on both sides of the ball. They raised eyebrows nationally by giving Tennessee a scare in the season opener. Then App State sandwiched that by convincingly defeating Old Dominion, falling to nationally-ranked Miami, and winning a shootout over Akron on the road. App State has one of the most experienced lineups in the Sun Belt, and it shows.

Grade: A-

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Arkansas State Red Wolves (1-4, 1-0 in Sun Belt)

  • Last week: Beat Georgia Southern, 27-26
  • Up next: vs. South Alabama (Oct. 15)

The Red Wolves upset the apple cart in the Sun Belt last night with a last second win over the Georgia Southern Eagles. Up until then, Arkansas State’s offense had been a train wreck during an ugly 0-4 start. Even in the first half against Georgia Southern, they were shaky, losing two fumbles. It took sophomore QB Justice Hansen a huge effort to rally the troops and escape with a victory.

Hansen has been the unquestioned starter for a couple weeks now after Chad Voytik (a graduate transfer from Pittsburgh) was benched. With Hansen as a steady hand, new offensive coordinator Buster Faulkner needs to get his unit to play faster and with more discipline.

Grade: D+

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Georgia Southern Eagles (3-2, 2-1 in Sun Belt)

  • Last week: Lost to Arkansas State, 27-26
  • Up next: @ Georgia Tech (Oct. 15)

Who are the Eagles? Are they an triple-option offense that passes, or a more balanced offense that is run-first? The Eagles have certainly been able to score points in bunches, but their star is falling after last night’s loss to Arkansas State and the previous week’s road drubbing at Western Michigan. The defense has been impressive, though, and it helps that first-year head coach Tyson Summers specializes on that side of the ball. This team is capable of rebounding, but they need to guard against complacency.

Grade: B-

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Georgia State Panthers (0-4, 0-1 in Sun Belt)

  • Last week: Lost to Appalachian State, 17-3
  • Up next: vs. Texas State (Oct. 8)

The ball really bounced the Panthers’ way last year, when they won their last four games and qualified for their first bowl in school history. It’s safe to say that they aren’t recapturing that magic this year after an 0-4 start. Granted, they’ve had a tenacious schedule—Ball State, Air Force, Wisconsin, Appalachian State—but Georgia State is averaging a dreadful 13.8 points per game. The defense has been lackluster, too, which is mystifying considering that it’s mostly a veteran group. Adding injury to insult: star wide receiver Penny Hart is done for the year with a broken foot. 

Grade: D-

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Idaho Vandals (2-3, 0-1 in Sun Belt)

  • Last week: Lost to Troy, 34-13
  • Up next: @ Louisiana-Monroe (Oct. 8)

The Vandals still haven’t had an impressive win—they’ve beaten UNLV (in overtime) and Montana State by a combined six points, and QB Matt Linehan continues to have turnover issues. The running game has been stagnant, and the secondary has been suspect, despite plenty of veterans back there. But at the end of the day, head coach Paul Petrino will take wins wherever he can get them—and his squad has a chance again this weekend on the road at lowly Louisiana-Monroe.

Grade: C-

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Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns (2-3, 1-1 in Sun Belt)

  • Last week: Lost to New Mexico State, 37-31 (2 OT)
  • Up next: Bye week

The Cajuns have a chance to rest up this weekend during their bye, but their confidence has to be shaken after falling in double overtime to NMSU and in four overtimes to Tulane the previous week. The Cajuns’ new-look defense has improved, especially in the pass rush, and the receiving corps has been solid, but there are questions about the health of running back Elijah McGuire heading forward. This looks like a middle-of-the-pack team until they prove otherwise.

Grade: C+

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Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks (1-3, 0-1 in Sun Belt)

  • Last week: Lost to Auburn, 58-7
  • Up next: vs. Idaho (Oct. 8)

New coach Matt Viator knows what he’s getting into, and he’s had significant success at smaller programs. The Warhawks have had an unforgiving schedule—taking their lumps against Oklahoma and Auburn, among others—and are currently on a four game losing streak. Like Georgia State, they’ve had some serious problems scoring. Unlike Georgia State, Louisiana-Monroe can use youth as an excuse (they only have 14 seniors).

Grade: D

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New Mexico State Aggies (2-3, 1-1 in Sun Belt)

  • Last week: Beat Louisiana-Lafayette, 37-31 (2 OT)
  • Up next: Bye week

In 2016, NMSU has their most experienced team in the Doug Martin era. They were largely competitive in a high-scoring loss to Kentucky, and they’ve clawed out narrow (but significant) victories against Louisiana-Lafayette and in-state rival New Mexico.

All-American running back Larry Rose III is back to 100% after missing a few weeks after  sports hernia surgery. NMSU still has a long way to go on defense, but they’re blitzing more and showing more aggressiveness this season. The Aggies are also fortunate to be heading into their bye week in relatively good health.

Grade: C+

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South Alabama Jaguars (3-2, 0-2 in Sun Belt)

  • Last week: Beat San Diego State, 42-24
  • Up next: Bye week

Like Georgia Southern, South Alabama seems to be suffering an identity crisis. They’ve shocked both Mississippi State and a nationally-ranked San Diego State team, but they barely beat FCS Nicholls State in between and also lost to both Georgia Southern and Louisiana-Lafayette.

Quarterback Cole Garvin, a transfer from Marshall, has helped add much-needed consistency to the Jaguars’ offense, and the defense looks solid, particularly in the secondary. Nonetheless, it’s a good time for a bye week. 

Grade: B-

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Texas State Bobcats (2-2, 0-0 in Sun Belt)

  • Last week: Beat Incarnate Word, 48-17
  • Up next: @ Georgia State (Oct. 8)

The Bobcats have been surprisingly competitive in what was widely predicted to be a rebuilding year under new coach Everett Withers. They upset Ohio in a season-opening overtime thriller, but then took their lumps in beatdowns at the hands of Houston and Arkansas. There’s very little depth, and the defense is inexperienced, but if Texas State can stay healthy, they should have a chance at a couple more wins the rest of the season.

Grade: C-

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Troy Trojans (4-1, 2-0 in Sun Belt)

  • Last week: Beat Idaho, 34-13
  • Up next: Bye week

Troy was a trendy preseason pick as the Sun Belt’s dark-horse, and they’ve certainly lived up to that reputation. After pushing nationally-ranked Clemson to the brink in Week Two, the Trojans then added a comeback win over Southern Miss to their resumé, before beating NMSU and Idaho to earn their first two conference wins. The Trojans are entering their bye week with a ton of momentum.

Grade: A-

Coaches on the rise

Now that I’ve recapped who’s on the hot seat in college football, let’s take a look at the coaches who are rising stars:

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Tom Herman, Houston

Herman, an Urban Meyer disciple, has made Houston a national contender in only a season and a half of work there. The Cougars rolled to a 13-1 record and a major bowl victory over a heavily-favored Florida State team in 2015 and are off to an equally impressive start this season behind Heisman-contending quarterback Greg Ward Jr. Herman is still relatively young (41) and is an ace recruiter. There’s no doubt that big-time programs will be on the phone soon.

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Willie Taggart, USF

You may not know his name, but Taggart has been a high-riser in recent years. He coached running backs under Jim Harbaugh at Stanford, before turning around a fledgling FBS program at Western Kentucky from 2010-2012. The 40-year-old Taggart is from nearby Bradenton, Florida, so he’s been able to tap into some rich recruiting grounds at USF and go head-to-head with other programs for some of the Sunshine State’s biggest prospects.

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P.J. Fleck, Western Michigan

The energetic, charismatic Fleck took over the Broncos in 2013 after the dismissal of veteran coach Bill Cubit. The Broncos went 1-11 in Fleck’s first year, but then he engineered the nation’s biggest turnaround in 2014 – going 8-5 and earning a berth in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. After another 8-5 campaign last season, Fleck’s star is rising quickly in Kalamazoo. He’s an outstanding recruiter and has coached under many successful names, including former Rutgers head man Greg Schiano. And get this – Fleck is only 35 years old.

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Scott Satterfield, Appalachian State

The 43-year-old Satterfield is an App State guy through and through – a former player and assistant – so it’s unlikely that he will jump ship at the earliest possible opportunity. Still, you can’t ignore how terrific the Mountaineers have been under Satterfield since joining the FBS in 2014. In two full seasons at college football’s highest level, Satterfield has gone 18-7.

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Jeff Brohm, Western Kentucky

Brohm, a former journeyman quarterback in the NFL, has brought new life and energy to Western Kentucky, a program that’s enjoyed frequent success since moving up to the FBS in 2009. The Hilltoppers won the Conference USA Championship last season and are off to a solid start this year too with a high-flying offense. In addition to his head coaching chops and NFL resumé, Brohm has also served as an offensive coordinator and QB coach at programs like Illinois, Florida Atlantic, UAB, and his alma mater Louisville. It’s unlikely that Brohm will move up to a bigger job just yet, but his 23-9 record in two and a half seasons is nothing to sneeze at.

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Philip Montgomery, Tulsa

Montgomery is an offensive wizard who helped gear the major turnaround at Baylor, serving under Art Briles from 2008-2014. Then, Montgomery took over a Golden Hurricane program that had gone 2-10 in their first season in the American Athletic Conference after moving up from Conference USA.

It’s safe to say that the transition has greatly improved with Montgomery at the helm. Not only did he take Tulsa to a bowl game in his debut season, he’s also attracting recruits and developing Dane Evans into a fine quarterback in the up-tempo spread offense. He’ll probably take a couple more years to mold the Hurricane into a true contender, but Montgomery is certainly a guy to watch heading forward.

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Bryan Harsin, Boise State

Harsin bleeds Bronco blue – he’s a Boise native, a former player, and a former assistant. Harsin left former coach Chris Petersen’s staff in 2010 after five stellar years calling the plays on offense. He worked under Mack Brown at Texas and also spent a year at Arkansas State before returning to the Treasure Valley. Since then, Harsin has a record of 26-6 at his alma mater, and Boise State is off to an undefeated start this season. It’s safe to say that any fears of a major free fall in the post-Petersen years have been quieted.

 

Honorable Mentions

(These are coaches who are still early into their tenures at their respective schools, but who seem like good fits for their programs, are doing the right things in recruiting, and could be looking to move up in a few years.)

  • Craig Bohl (3rd year, Wyoming)
  • Neal Brown (2nd year, Troy)
  • Chris Creighton (3rd year, Eastern Michigan)
  • Willie Fritz (1st year, Tulane)
  • Seth Littrell (1st year, North Texas)
  • Jeff Monken (3rd year, Army)
  • Nick Rolovich (1st year, Hawaii)
  • Tony Sanchez (2nd year, UNLV)
  • Frank Wilson (1st year, UTSA)
  • Everett Withers (1st year, Texas State)

Fight On?

I’ve lived here in Los Angeles for a little less than two months. That has certainly given me a gauge on this sports-crazy city. For the most part, I’m surrounded by USC fans, even though I currently live in closer proximity to UCLA’s campus.

As a fan of college football, I’ve certainly noticed that USC has fallen on hard times. Granted, the 2016 season is still young, but the Trojan football team is off to a 1-3 start (their worst opening month since 2001) and does not look to be among the national favorites.

Sure, the Trojans are capable of rebounding under head coach Clay Helton, who is entering his first full season at the helm. But with all the off-field drama in the last decade at USC, is a return to glory on the horizon?

Now let me make myself clear: I have no stones to throw here. I’m not from California, I didn’t go to college in LA, and ordinarily, I have no grudge against either USC or UCLA (although I’m certainly aware of their fierce city rivalry in all sports, not just football). But this is my objective opinion. So you can take it or leave it.

On paper, USC is perhaps the most talented team in the nation. They stockpile the roster every year with four and five-star recruits. They have exceptional facilities. They currently have one of the nation’s most electrifying playmakers in Adoree Jackson – who plays wide receiver, cornerback, and returns punts and kicks. And in terms of school history, USC might be second to none – they boast 38 conference titles and a staggering 17 Heisman Trophy winners.

But so far this season, USC has been embarrassed. In a nationally televised season opener against reigning national champion Alabama, the Trojans were walloped 52-6 in Arlington, Texas. The Trojans then took out their frustration the following week in their home opener at the LA Coliseum, defeating the Utah State Aggies by a score of 45-7.

In Week Three, the Trojans visited #7 Stanford, a team known for a bruising running game and a tenacious defense. Again, USC looked lifeless, losing 27-10 and failing to stop Stanford’s Heisman contender, running back Christian McCaffrey.

And this past Friday night, a bad season got worse. USC was on the road again, this time against a 3-0 Utah Utes team, and the Trojans were in control for the majority of the night. They were up by double digits twice, and were looking to improve to 1-1 in the Pac-12. In the week leading up to the game, Coach Helton had benched junior quarterback Max Browne and given highly-touted redshirt freshman Sam Darnold his first collegiate start.

With under a minute left to play, Utah was trailing 27-24. The Utes were driving down the field and faced a 4th-and-1 at the Trojans’ 23-yard line. Rather than play it safe and tie the game with a field goal, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham decided to go for it. After a successful quarterback sneak, the Utes got the first down. Then quarterback Troy Williams went to the air on the very next play and found a wide-open Tim Patrick in the end zone with 16 seconds remaining. The Utes won, 31-27, and sent the Trojans packing.

USC fans do not have the reputation for being patient. And they shouldn’t be. With such a rich history, combined with an extremely fertile recruiting ground, there’s no excuse for the Trojans not to be national contenders every season. But to understand where this team is now, you have to understand where they’ve been, especially in the past decade.

As most sports fans know, the Trojans enjoyed massive success under former coach Pete Carroll from 2001-2009, including national titles in 2003 and 2004, a long streak of NFL draft picks, and an impressive legacy.

However, after Carroll jumped to the NFL, where he now coaches the Seattle Seahawks, controversy erupted. It was eventually revealed that numerous USC student-athletes – including Heisman-winning running back Reggie Bush – had accepted improper benefits from donors and committed numerous violations of both school and NCAA policy. Although this was not unique to the football program, USC was deemed to have been complicit in ongoing violations involving several different sports and student-athletes. Carroll has fiercely denied any deliberate wrongdoing, but Bush was forced to vacate his Heisman Trophy.

In response, the NCAA hit USC with severe sanctions, resulting in the loss of a number of scholarships and a significant amount of bad publicity. After Carroll left, one of his former assistants, Lane Kiffin, took over.

To put it politely, Kiffin (who is now the offensive coordinator at Alabama) was a horrible fit, and his tenure at USC is now regarded as a failure by the public and a bad dream by the Trojan faithful. Kiffin didn’t win enough, he didn’t call the right plays, and he didn’t hire the right staff. Perhaps most importantly, the mercurial Kiffin did not have the maturity nor the temperament to be a head coach.

After the Kiffin era ended unceremoniously, the Trojans brought in another former Carroll assistant, Steve Sarkisian, in the winter of 2013. At the time, Sarkisian was considered a name to watch after turning around a woeful program at the University of Washington.

In addition to his ties to Carroll, Sarkisian was generally thought of as a great fit for the program – an LA native, an ace recruiter, and a proven offensive mind. With the NCAA sanctions finally being lifted, USC seemed poised for a return to gridiron dominance.

Sarkisian led the “Boys from Troy” to a 9-4 record and a bowl victory in 2014, but it was seen as a disappointment from the fanbase. Last fall, the Trojans looked ready to be contenders once again, but then another public relations nightmare occurred.

It started in August 2015, shortly before the season kicked off. Sarkisian showed up drunk to a booster event held on campus, his speech marked by slurred words and numerous profanities. The embarrassing incident was alarming to many, but USC athletic director Pat Haden apologized on behalf of Sarkisian and things began to go relatively smoothly – for awhile.

On October 11th, the Trojans had a record of 3-2 and were coming off of a bye week when Haden announced that Sarkisian was taking an indefinite leave of absence, effective immediately. (A few days prior, Sarkisian had been noticeably intoxicated while in a meeting with assistant coaches before practice, and he was ordered to go home.) On October 12th, Sarkisian was fired.

It was eventually revealed that Sarkisian had a couple of alcohol-related incidents while coaching at Washington, and that he was going through a divorce before and during the 2015 season, which may have prompted the alcohol abuse. Haden (who by then had announced his retirement) later admitted in an interview that he was unaware of Sarkisian’s alcohol troubles at Washington, and that he had not run a public records check on Sarkisian prior to hiring him. In the subsequent weeks, Sarkisian checked into a rehab facility out-of-state and Helton, who was then USC’s offensive coordinator, was promoted to full-time head coach.

While Trojan players were very enthusiastic about Helton being promoted from within, some fans and boosters started grumbling, saying that they were hoping for a bigger name. Many media experts, including ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit, believed that keeping continuity amidst controversy was more important than hiring the flashiest name possible. After all, in an effort to recapture the magic of the Carroll era, USC administration had tried to find similar success with Kiffin and Sarkisian, and came up empty-handed both times.

Which brings us to today.

In an effort to bring normalcy back, the USC athletic marketing team created a hashtag: #AllAboutBall. Helton, although he wasn’t the big name that many fans craved, has tried to build more discipline and accountability, both among his players and his assistants. In the offseason, Helton was quoted as saying that he wanted a bigger sense of physicality after the Trojans got outmuscled in several late-season games last year.

But here’s the painful truth: USC football doesn’t have a reputation for being physical. The offense is chock full of glamorous players at the skill positions, but there’s been a shocking lack of toughness up front. Both Alabama and Stanford have exposed the Trojans at the line of scrimmage so far this season, and it’s not pretty. As much as Helton wants to emphasize playing a physical brand of football, his team does not currently have the bulldozing mentality that they need.

Some of that can be chalked up to some early injuries along the offensive line, as well as an inexperienced defensive line. But so far, the verdict has not been good, and the coaches are acutely aware of that. They say that football games are either won or lost in the trenches, and that’s certainly been true of the Trojans this season. Even their running game, which was predicted to be a strength, has been anemic at best – USC is currently 111th in the nation, averaging just under 120 rushing yards per game.

In the most recent loss to Utah, quarterback Sam Darnold did offer a glimpse of why he was such a blue-chip high school recruit. He wasn’t afraid of diving for extra yardage, and he didn’t throw an interception. He has a confidence in the pocket that is admirable, and he still has two of the nation’s best receivers in Adoree Jackson and JuJu Smith-Schuster. So all is not lost for USC’s offense heading forward.

But the Pac-12 is not an easy conference to navigate. The South Division has been unpredictable in recent years, with USC, Utah, and UCLA all looking like probable winners this preseason. Although they’re coming off down years, Arizona and Arizona State look to be in the mix, too. Even a long-dormant Colorado team has shown some life in 2016.

It’s far too early to speculate on Helton’s job security. At a normal school, it’d be ludicrous to ask if a coach’s job is on the line after going 1-3 in the first month. But USC is no normal job, and it’s crystal clear that this team needs to make incremental gains heading forward.

Coaches on the hot seat

We’re only a month into the 2016 college football season, which means that many teams are on a hot streak. But by the same token, many are not, prompting speculation about job security for many coaches nationwide. Let’s take a look at who is on the hot seat in 2016:

 

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Mark Stoops, Kentucky

The youngest Stoops was one of the nation’s most respected defensive minds under Jimbo Fisher at Florida State from 2010-2012. Then he jumped to Kentucky, one of the toughest jobs in the juggernaut that is the SEC. Stoops immediately started boosting enthusiasm for the program, began landing blue-chip recruits, and started a much-needed overhaul to the football facilities.

Still, on-field results have been lackluster, with Stoops currently holding a 13-26 record in his fourth season. Last year, the Wildcats had a very friendly home schedule, but had a habit of blowing late leads and eventually lost six out of their last seven games to end the season. Kentucky hasn’t been to a bowl game since 2010.

 

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Darrell Hazell, Purdue

At the end of 2012, then-Purdue athletic director Morgan Burke made the surprising decision to fire coach Danny Hope after reaching back-to-back bowl games. Instead, Burke brought in Hazell, who had a terrific two-year run at Kent State, leading them to their first bowl game in decades.

To put it politely, the Hazell experiment has been a disaster. In three full seasons, the Boilermakers are 6-30 and have been almost completely non-competitive in Big Ten conference play. In the face of lagging ticket sales and little recruiting clout, Hazell might occupy the hottest seat in the country right now.

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Steve Addazio, Boston College

Addazio was brought to Boston College in 2013 after working under Urban Meyer at Florida and then turning around a previously mediocre Temple program. The Connecticut native seemed up to the task at first, leading the Eagles to consecutive bowl berths in 2013 and 2014, before dramatically falling to 3-9 last season.

The fiery Addazio has attempted to mold a blue-collar, take-no-prisoners defense and has had great success there, but the offense has been a completely different story – BC averaged a paltry 17.2 points per game in 2015 and went winless in the ACC.

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Paul Haynes, Kent State

Let’s start with the obvious: Kent State is one of the most challenging jobs in the nation. But, Haynes is an alum and a former assistant who also spent time at big name schools like Ohio State, Michigan State, and Arkansas.

The result have been lacking, to say the least. The Flashes have consistently lacked a go-to playmaker or a steady hand at quarterback, and Haynes has cycled through coordinators on both sides of the ball. His overall record is 10-28 in a mediocre Mid-American Conference.

Tim DeRuyter

Tim DeRuyter, Fresno State

DeRuyter, a former Texas A&M assistant, was hired in 2012 and took over a fairly well-stocked program. He had immediate success, winning nine games in 2012 and 11 in 2013 behind the strong arm of future NFL starter Derek Carr. However, the Bulldogs began slumping, falling to 6-8 in 2014 and then 3-9 last year. DeRuyter’s problem has been a revolving door at quarterback since Carr’s departure, and the fact that Fresno’s defense has been a liability more often than a strength.

The veteran coach is hoping to resurrect things with two new coordinators (Eric Keisau on offense, Lorenzo Ward on defense), as well as relying on a group of young players who were thrown into the fire early last year and took their lumps in a losing campaign.

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Chuck Martin, Miami (Ohio)

You have to hand it to Martin. The former Notre Dame offensive coordinator walked into an absolute disaster when he took over a winless Miami program in 2014. The no-frills Martin has not been taking shortcuts, starting numerous young players and paying the price, winning only five games in his first two seasons. In fact, the current roster features a scant 10 seniors.

The RedHawks are hoping that they’ll have the maturity and experience to go head-to-head with their Mid-American Conference foes this season, but they’re off to a rough start (0-3), including a home loss to FCS opponent Eastern Illinois during a game in which the offense fell flat. Martin’s long-haul approach needs to pay dividends right……about…..now.

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Charlie Partridge, Florida Atlantic

It’s not easy being a football team in South Florida not named the Hurricanes. True enough, the Florida Atlantic Owls have struggled in recent years after the retirement of legendary coach Howard Schnellenberger. After he left town, FAU administration brought in Charlie Partridge, a tough-as-nails defensive specialist who was seen as the guy who could help turn around the Owls’ fortunes in Conference USA.

In Year Three, Partridge is 1-4, having recently lost a rivalry game to previously winless Florida International on October 1st. Partridge’s overall record is 7-22, and he could be looking for work elsewhere unless the Owls make a marked turnaround in the latter half of the season.

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Trent Miles, Georgia State

It sucks to put him back on the list. Miles is a genuinely likable guy who turned around his alma mater’s woeful program (Indiana State) in record time and used that success to take over a similarly stagnant Georgia State program. The ball bounced the Panthers’ way in 2015, when they won their final four games and got to a bowl for the first time in school history. Miles was named Sun Belt Conference Coach of the Year for his work, despite holding an overall record of just 7-30.

In 2016, the Panthers are off to an 0-4 start against a brutal early schedule, including Appalachian State, Air Force, and Wisconsin. But there seems to be little chance of the Panthers rebounding anytime soon, as they’ve dug themselves a hole quickly. It could mean that Miles’s tenure in Atlanta is coming to a close.

 

Getting Warmer

  • David Bailiff, Rice
  • James Franklin, Penn State
  • Mark Hudspeth, Louisiana-Lafayette
  • Brian Kelly, Notre Dame
  • Sean Kugler, UTEP
  • Derek Mason, Vanderbilt
  • Tommy Tuberville, Cincinnati

Punters from Down Under – the next big thing in college football

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If you’re a fan of college football, you may have noticed a growing trend in the NCAA – punters using a roll-out style kicking method and enjoying a serious string of success by using said method.

These are no ordinary punters. In fact, most of them come from a completely different continent 10,000 miles away.

In the past five years or so, there have been over 30 Australian punters making the transition to American football. Most of them have come to the States by way of a unique training academy called ProKick Australia.

In Australia, the majority of children grow up playing Australian rules football, or as they call it, “footy.” It’s a rough, fast-paced, high-scoring game that requires a unique style of kicking. Many young Aussie boys dream of one day playing footy professionally in the Australian Football League (AFL).

One of those young kids was Nathan Chapman. Originally from the small town of Kangaroo Flat, Victoria (90 miles north of Melbourne), Chapman was drafted into the AFL in 1992 with the now-defunct Brisbane Bears. After four years with the Bears and their successor, the Brisbane Lions, Chapman struggled with injuries and was traded to the Hawthorn Hawks.

After further injuries sidelined him, Chapman, then age 29, decided to go to America and give the NFL a shot. He played in a few preseason games with the Green Bay Packers, but didn’t make the cut, so he went back to Australia and started ProKick a couple years later.

Chapman believed that American colleges afforded more opportunities for young Aussie rules players to make the leap into American football.

“When I went over, there was not much happening with Australians and the college system, and because the NFL can sign you today and cut you tomorrow, I thought the better focus was to put kids into college,” Chapman said.

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Helped by another ex-NFL punter, John Smith, Chapman began tutoring numerous punting candidates at ProKick. Several years later, they’ve enjoyed a remarkable track record of placing Aussie punters at Division I colleges, including Brad Wing (LSU), Michael Dickson (Texas), and Tom Hornsey (Memphis). Several have already reached the NFL, including Wing (who plays for the New York Giants), and Jordan Berry, who played collegiately at Eastern Kentucky and is now with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

In fact, the No. 1 punter currently on NFL Draft boards is Tom Hackett of the University of Utah. Hackett, who won the last two Ray Guy Awards (given to the top punter in college football), hails from Melbourne and is another ProKick alum.

“I grew up playing Australian rules and had never really even watched much American football….It still hasn’t really hit me yet to think I’m going to go and try and play in the NFL,” Hackett said.

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So what’s the secret to their success? While Hackett is quick to give credit to Chapman and his other coaches at ProKick, he believes the real success of Australians in college football stems from their Aussie rules training, which starts at a young age.

“American kids grow up trying to be the pitcher on the baseball team or the starting quarterback on their football team,” Hackett explains. “A lot of the punters that end up being punters in college that are American picked it up when they were around 12 when they realize that their career wasn’t in the quarterback position or whatever other position they wanted to play in. In Australia, we grow up kicking the ball as soon as we can walk. The muscles that it takes to kick have been developed for longer and generally there’s benefits in punting that way.”

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Another recent ProKick success story is Nick Porebski, currently a junior at Oregon State University. Originally from McKinnon, Victoria, Porebski looked to have a promising footy career before a series of shoulder injuries derailed him.

“I got a letter from Nathan when I was about 15 or 16 asking if I’d like to try punting. I didn’t really know what it was at the time, so I just continued playing Aussie rules,” he said. “Once I had those injuries, I had another look at the letter and decided I might pursue it and see what happened.”

Porebski enrolled at ProKick and got the attention of Snow College, a small two-year school in Ephraim, Utah. After a successful year there, Porebski was offered a full-ride scholarship to Oregon State. Now, he has a year as the starting punter under his belt, averaging 41.1 yards per boot in 2015 and earning all-conference honors.

Perhaps most impressive is the way that Hackett, Porebski, and other ProKick alums are able to get their one-way ticket to America punched. With little access to professional-looking highlight reels and no American football competitions in Australia, ProKick punters’ de-facto highlight reels are just little bits of film shot on Chapman’s iPhone.

At first, many NCAA coaches thought of the Aussie experiment as purely a fad or a gimmick. But their success has proved itself, with Hornsey and Hackett together collecting the past three Ray Guy Awards. Still, Chapman admits that some coaches go for it, and some coaches don’t. It took awhile to build relationships with coaches in the States, but Chapman takes a pragmatic approach.

“If we’ve sent the right guys over, our reputation then holds. Some coaches still can’t take that jump, but there are others who are more than happy.”

Here’s a list of notable ProKick alums, where they’ve ended up, and where they’re originally from in Australia:

  • Jordan Berry (Eastern Kentucky) — Essendon, Victoria
  • Oscar Bradburn (Virginia Tech) — Sydney, New South Wales
  • Geordie Bunn (Weber State) — Brisbane, Queensland
  • Kirk Christodoulou (Pittsburgh) — Melbourne, Victoria
  • Steven Coutts (Louisiana-Lafayette) — Brisbane, Queensland
  • Michael Dickson (Texas) — Kirrawee, New South Wales
  • Joel Dixon (UAB) — Melbourne, Victoria
  • Alex Dunnachie (Hawaii) — Heidelberg, Victoria
  • Thomas Duyndam (Portland State) — Melbourne, Victoria
  • Davan Dyer (Louisiana Tech) — Gilston, Queensland
  • Christian Eldred (Minnesota) — Mentone, Victoria
  • Pete Fardon (Buffalo) — Brisbane, Queensland
  • Bailey Flint (Toledo) — Melbourne, Victoria
  • Tim Gleeson (Wyoming/Rutgers) — Viewbank, Victoria
  • Will Gleeson (Ole Miss) — Viewbank, Victoria
  • Josh Growden (LSU) — Sydney, New South Wales
  • Tom Hackett (Utah)* — Melbourne, Victoria
  • Scott Harding (Hawaii) — Brisbane, Queensland
  • Ollie Holdenson (Georgia State) — Melbourne, Victoria
  • Leon Holderhead (Tennessee State) — Leongatha, Victoria
  • Owen Hoolihan (Prairie View A&M) — Oberon, New South Wales
  • Tom Hornsey (Memphis)* — Geelong, Victoria
  • Sam Irwin-Hill (Arkansas) — Bendigo, Victoria
  • Nick Jacobs (Memphis) — Melbourne, Victoria
  • Cameron Johnston (Ohio State) — Geelong, Victoria
  • Jamie Keehn (LSU) — Rockhampton, Queensland
  • Alex Kinal (Wake Forest) — Adelaide, South Australia
  • Marcus Kinsella (Indiana/Portland State) — Ringwood, Victoria
  • Wade Lees (Maryland) — Melbourne, Victoria
  • Sean O’Kane (Middle Tennessee) — Blackburn, Victoria
  • Harry O’Kelly (James Madison) — Wynnum, Queensland
  • Blake O’Neill (Weber State/Michigan) — Melbourne, Victoria
  • Dominic Panazzolo (Texas Tech) — Adelaide, South Australia
  • Matt Panton (Columbia/Kentucky) — Shoreham, Victoria
  • Daniel Pasquariello (Penn State) — Melbourne, Victoria
  • Nick Porebski (Oregon State) — McKinnon, Victoria
  • Dane Roy (Houston) — Bunyip, Victoria
  • Jamie Sackville (SMU) — Melbourne, Victoria
  • Jack Sheldon (Central Michigan) — Echuca, Victoria
  • Tom Sheldon (North Carolina) — Echuca, Victoria
  • James Smith (Cincinnati) — Wangaratta, Victoria
  • Michael Sleep-Dalton (Arizona State) — Geelong, Victoria
  • Xavier Subotsch (Appalachian State ) — Perth, Western Australia
  • Chris Tilbey (USC) — Sandringham, Victoria
  • Haydon Whitehead (Indiana) — Melbourne, Victoria
  • Joel Whitford (Washington) — Warragul, Victoria
  • Brad Wing (LSU) — Melbourne, Victoria
  • Mitch Wishnowsky (Utah)* — Gosnells, Western Australia
  • Stephen Witkowski (New Mexico State) — Diamond Creek, Victoria
  • Keith Wrzsusczak (Eastern Kentucky) — Geelong, Victoria

*Ray Guy Award winner