Most new coaches are brought in because their predecessors didn’t get the job done in their final seasons (if ever).
Which makes it no surprise that four of the five teams in this installment have new coaches this season. Another has a second-year coach.
Is there a bowl team in the bunch? Probably not. But maybe a year or two down the road there will be.
For now, it’s as much about investment and improvement —- but maybe, just maybe, there’s a surprise in here. After all, this was about the neighborhood Rice landed in before rolling off a 10-3 season a year ago.
The Owls, by the way, had a second-year coach.
Onto a bunch of new-look teams;
No. 110: MIAMI (OHIO)
If you’re a first-year coach of a team coming off a 2-10 season like Mike Haywood is, it would probably be nice to have a near-lock on the nonconference schedule.
Instead, the RedHawks get Kentucky, Boise State, Cincinnati and Northwestern —- all of which could easily turn into lopsided losses.
Difficult though it might be to believe, Miami has won fewer games the last three seasons (10) than it did in Ben Roethlisberger‘s final season (a 13-1 mark in 2003). That magical season is further and further in the past, and Miami has sunk to the bottom of the MAC.
Defense was a serious issue toward the end of last season, but the truth of the matter is the RedHawks have to improve nearly everything. Surpassing last year’s debacle would have to be considered a plus this fall.
No. 109: TOLEDO
Things grew dire in northwestern Ohio last fall —- enough so that a man nicknamed Toledo Tom stepped aside after a third straight losing season.
So Tom Amstutz is gone, replaced by former Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Tim Beckman, who has the benefit of plenty of familiarity with Ohio thanks to stints at Ohio State and Bowling Green but is also responsible for coordinating extremely so-so units with the Pokes.
He does take over a team on an interesting streak. The Rockets have defeated a BCS conference team in three straight seasons:
2006: @Toledo 37, Kansas 31 (2OT)
2007: @Toledo 36, Iowa State 35
2008: Toledo 13, @Michigan 10
Perhaps Purdue (Sept. 5), Colorado (Sept. 11) and Ohio State (Sept. 19) should be a bit wary.
No. 108: UTAH STATE
Perhaps the most debatable of all of last season’s firings was the Aggies’ decision to jettison Brent Guy after four seasons, the last two of which demonstrated some progress from what had been a pit of despair.
But as a rule, coaches with 9-38 records don’t get the benefit of the doubt, and as a result the Aggies poached the defensive coordinator from BCS upstarts Utah (Gary Andersen) to continue the rebuilding project.
Utah State has mastered the art of handling WAC dregs Idaho and New Mexico State, but is a meager 1-19 against everyone else over the last two seasons. Clearly, something has to change.
It very well may this season, especially with much of an offense back that was generally competitive in the second half of last season. Experience isn’t always the best arbiter to determine success, but for now it looks like the Aggies have a chance to create headaches once they get into WAC play.
No. 107: SAN DIEGO STATE
As adventures in hiring go, the Aztecs managed to go a bit out of their league in concocting a rather impressive staff to replace the group brought in by ex-coach Chuck Long.
Brady Hoke, who led Ball State to a perfect regular season a year ago, is now in charge. Former Auburn offensive coordinator Al Borges (he of the perfect season in 2004) will hold the same title in San Diego. Ex-New Mexico coach Rocky Long will coordinate the defense.
Together, they’ll try to solve one of the most inexplicable mysteries among non-BCS teams —- just how do the Aztecs, who have the luxury of enjoying a fertile recruiting base and the most ideal weather of any school keep churning out losing seasons?
San Diego State hasn’t reached a bowl game since 1998, its only postseason appearance since the Marshall Faulk era. Clearly, there’s plenty to fix.
There’s also the matter of securing some upward mobility in the Mountain West, where last year’s five bowl teams don’t look like they’ll turn into bumbling programs any time soon. So for now, it looks like baby steps —- and perhaps beating up on the bottom of the league —- is the upside for 2009.
No. 106: SOUTHERN METHODIST
The Mustangs sure looked like the sort of team that would take a leap from 1-11 in 2007 to something better. After all, they’d lost six games by 10 points or less a year earlier and added a successful coach in June Jones.
Not so much, it turned out.
Playing the Ponies turned out to be a very good thing last season, and Southern Methodist simply tossed up another 1-11 even with the former Hawaii coach now directing the offense.
That unit should be better this season now that Bo Levi Mitchell has endured a long season as a true freshman. His receiving corps pretty much is entirely back, so that should mean the Mustangs can score than a year ago when they failed to crack 20 points on six occasions.
If nothing else, the chance at a good start exists. SMU opens with Stephen F. Austin, UAB and Washington State, so at least some hope of the program’s first bowl berth since 1984 (and its first since the NCAA dealt it the death penalty) exists before things get underway.
There’s a chance the Mustangs will be this year’s Rice. There’s just as good a chance they’ll be this year’s SMU, which hasn’t been a very good thing for two decades and counting.
—- Patrick Stevens