FIVE ON THE HOT SEAT
Greg Robinson, Syracuse
The Orange have been laughably bad the last three years, compiling a 7-28 record under coach Greg Robinson. He somehow received a reprieve after last year's 2-10 debacle but is a prime candidate to find himself unemployed in December.
Mike Sanford, UNLV
Sanford was Urban Meyer's offensive coordinator at Utah, so it seemed like a good idea for the Rebels to hire him. But UNLV remains ensconced in the bottom third of the Mountain West. Sanford has won six games his first three years; he might need to match that total to stick around after 2008.
Randy Shannon, Miami
Yes, Shannon is only in his second season at The U. But an abysmal 5-7 season last year coupled with the arrival of a new athletic director makes this a sleeper possibility for a job change after this season. Shannon has mined the Hurricanes' traditional Florida recruiting grounds the last two years, but with another losing season, Shannon might not see a lot of those guys make it onto the field.
Mike Stoops, Arizona
A funny thing about rebuilding projects: Whenever there's an obvious setback, the architect is seriously questioned. So it was last season with Stoops, whose Wildcats went 5-7. This will be Stoops' fifth year, and his chances are slim of earning a sixth if Arizona can't snap a bowl drought dating back to 1998.
Tyrone Willingham, Washington
Sometimes, life just isn't fair. Willingham was run out of Notre Dame after the 2004 season, and successor Charlie Weis hasn't performed markedly better. Willingham landed in Seattle, where the Huskies were an utter mess but have gradually improved. Fans still want a lot more, and chances are Willingham needs to find his way into a bowl game to hang on and finish his five-year contract.
Five teams that could surprise
A year ago, the Bearcats won 10 games for the first time since 1951. This was not a fluke, and the program's sudden spike can be attributed largely to second-year coach Brian Kelly. Cincinnati should not be overlooked despite quarterback Ben Mauk's ongoing battle with the NCAA for another year of eligibility. The defense should be stingy, and this is a team that could be playing on New Year's Day.
The Buffaloes showed a marked improvement in 2007, but as coach Dan Hawkins might say, this isn't intramurals. Sure, there's more depth than a year ago, and Cody Hawkins (the coach's son) is established as the quarterback. One small problem is an early stretch featuring games against West Virginia, Florida State and Texas in succession. Poaching just one could lead to an eight-win season.
Proven coach? Check. Superlative facilities? Check. Appealing campus? Picturesque stadium? Divisional opponents on the downswing? Check, check and check. There's no reason the Tar Heels shouldn't be good, and Butch Davis' rebuilding plans could speed up if Carolina can avoid any injuries. Keep an eye on Hakeem Nicks and Brandon Tate, the ACC's best wide receiver tandem.
Is there a more overlooked, steady power conference team than the Beavers? Granted, their pedigree until the last decade was low grade, but they have won 19 games over the last two years. Mike Riley's team could run into some early problems, but they should be one of the Pac-10's three best teams by November.
Thine eyes do not deceive! The Owls, while certainly no threat to crack the national rankings, do have a chance at their first winning season since 1990 and their first bowl invitation since a trip to the Garden State Bowl in 1979. Coach Al Golden returns 21 starters, and a viable running game is the only thing keeping Temple from securing postseason eligibility.
Five teams that could disappoint
As a result of the Crimson Tide's Independence Bowl victory, $4 million-a-year coach Nick Saban's price tag per victory for his first season in Tuscaloosa fell from $666,666 to $571,428. What a bargain. Of course, many of his players were busy in the offseason getting arrested and booted from the team.
On pure talent, Tommy Bowden's Tigers ought to have no trouble winning the ACC. They have the conference's best quarterback, best tailback tandem and bring back oodles of experience. But here's a danger sign: Four offensive line starters are gone.
The Huskies did win nine games and bring back 17 starters, but they were a team that seemed to catch opponents at the right time a year ago. Pittsburgh, Rutgers and South Florida were all coming off losses when Connecticut knocked them off. This still should be a bowl team, but it probably isn't a Big East contender.
The saga of Rich Rodriguez dominated the Wolverines' offseason, with player transfers and lawsuits and other turbulence coming to define a program known for its unerring (if often boring) stability under Lloyd Carr. If things go south, the Wolverines could flirt with missing a bowl for the first time since 1974.
Think of how much fun it would be to see Mike Leach's pass-happy offense contending for a national title. Now here's the reality check: The Red Raiders' defense is suspect until it proves otherwise. Think a nine-win season, with one inexplicable loss included.