A second-year coach could win the SEC and play for the national title. Two second-year coaches could win the ACC and play in a BCS bowl game. A second-year coach could win the Big East and play in the BCS. A second-year coach could at least tie for the Big Ten title and possibly play in the BCS. Another second-year coach could oversee a turnaround from 1-11 to 9-3 or 8-4.
A first-year coach still has an outside shot at the ACC title and the resultant BCS berth. The same goes for a first-year coach in the Big East.
A third-year coach should win the WAC and could earn a second BCS berth in three seasons.
You want to know why schools are more and more willing to pull the trigger and dismiss coaches, even during the season? There are nine reasons listed above.
A new coach better be prepared for expectations that have him turning around a program in a season or two. A four- or five-year plan? Get real – and we don't mean get realistic.
Nick Saban is in his second season at Alabama. The Tide are 10-0 and ranked No. 1 in the BCS. Butch Davis and Randy Shannon are in their second seasons at North Carolina and Miami, respectively, and each has a shot at the ACC Coastal Division title. Brian Kelly (more on him in a minute) has Cincinnati in control of its fate in the Big East in his second season. Michigan State's Mark Dantonio – whom Kelly replaced at Cincinnati – has the Spartans in the hunt for the Big Ten title. And Minnesota's Tim Brewster still has a chance to see his team finish 9-3 a season after it went 1-11.
That means along with big salaries at schools such as Clemson, Tennessee and Washington will come expectations that those schools will contend for titles in the next two or three seasons. School officials and fans can point to Davis and Saban as examples of coaches who took over mediocre or worse programs and turned them into championship contenders almost immediately.
Obviously, there has been some good fortune surrounding Davis and Saban. The ACC, for example, lacks an elite team, which has helped the Tar Heels climb back to respectability quickly. And the SEC this season isn't as deep as usual, which means the Crimson Tide haven't had to run through the usual grinding conference schedule.
Unfortunately for the new coaches, real-life issues won't matter. The new bosses and the fans will expect results fast. Look at Ron Prince: He got 34 games at Kansas State – less than three full seasons – before his bosses pulled the plug last week.
And not to belittle the K-State program, but the new coaches at Clemson, Tennessee and Washington will be taking over at schools with far greater football histories than K-State's. Fans at those schools are used to winning – a lot of winning, in Tennessee's case.
What happens at those schools if the new guy is struggling in Year Three? Does the plug get pulled and the process start all over? Well, if those schools follow the lead at, for instance, Florida, the answer is probably yes.
After all, Florida gave Ron Zook less than three full seasons before officials gave him his walking papers. Then, two seasons later, the Gators were celebrating a national title. This decade alone, four coaches have won national titles in either their first or second season on the job.
Good luck, new coaches.
The best coach in the Big East is …
Our question of the week: Why doesn't Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly get more mention when coaching vacancies crop up?
He's the best coach in the Big East and his resume is a good one: He won two Division II national titles at Grand Valley State (Mich.), he helped get Central Michigan started on its turnaround and he has Cincinnati in control of its destiny in the Big East race this season in his second year at the school.
Plus, consider what he has had to deal with at quarterback alone this season. Returning starter Ben Mauk, who led the Bearcats to a 10-3 record last season, was denied a sixth season of eligibility by the NCAA in August. Then, new starter Dustin Grutza broke his right leg in Game 2. Then, replacement Tony Pike broke his left arm in Game 4. Then, redshirt freshmen Chazz Anderson and Zach Collaros were thrown into the fray. Pike is back now and led the Bearcats to a win Saturday at West Virginia.
The Bearcats (6-2) have four games left, starting Friday at Louisville. The toughest, though, is a home game against Pittsburgh on Nov. 22. Assuming the Bearcats beat Louisville on Friday, a victory over Pitt would all but lock up the Big East regular-season crown and a resultant BCS bid.
Cincinnati in the BCS? Maybe that would get Kelly the attention he deserves.
Illini need to show some fight
One year after a miraculous season culminated in a Rose Bowl berth, Illinois (5-5) is in danger of not going bowling at all after a 23-17 loss to Western Michigan on Saturday.
Nothing against Western Michigan, which improved to 8-2 and greatly enhanced its bowl hopes, but Illinois should be able to beat the Broncos. The Illini, though, have lacked consistency this season.
They've won back-to-back games just once – over Eastern Illinois and Louisiana-Lafayette – and have lost to Minnesota and Wisconsin as well as Western Michigan. The run defense has been spotty all season, and Saturday the Illini were torched for 301 yards and two TDs by Western Michigan quarterback Tim Hiller. On the season, Illinois has allowed 15 TD passes and has just five interceptions; last season, they had 17 picks.
"We can fold our tent and put it away if that's what they want to do," coach Ron Zook told reporters afterward.
He also said players "need to step up and play the way they're capable of playing. That's what we're going to find out."
A cynic could say this is what to expect from a Zook-coached team – good talent, some good wins, but also some bad losses, a lack of consistency and discipline problems. It came out last week that freshman running back Mikel LeShoure suffered a broken jaw at the hands of teammate Jeff Cumberland, a wide receiver. Cumberland played Saturday.
This week, Illinois plays host to Ohio State – a team it beat on the road last season. The regular-season finale is at Northwestern. A 7-5 Illinois team definitely would go bowling. A 6-6 Illinois team would have to sweat it out.
Tennessee's offensive ineptness continued in a 13-7 homecoming loss to Wyoming. So much for Vols players saying they were going to take out their frustrations about the firing of Phillip Fulmer on Wyoming. It was the Vols' seventh loss of the season – which ties a dubious school record – and the third game in a row they scored in single digits; that's the first time that has happened since 1964. The Vols are eighth in the nation in total defense but 117th in total offense, and they have made just 80 first downs in their past seven games (that's 11.4 per game).
At first glance, these games don't jump out at you. But upon further review, they look a whole lot more interesting.
Cincinnati at Louisville, Friday, 8 p.m.: Cincinnati controls its destiny in the Big East race after Saturday's upset of West Virginia. Louisville, meanwhile, collapsed in the fourth quarter and lost to Pitt, and the Cardinals are in danger of missing a bowl for the second consecutive season. There's a trophy at stake: The Keg of Nails.
BYU at Air Force, 3:30 p.m.: Air Force quietly has put together an 8-2 record, but closes the regular season with games against BYU and TCU. BYU, meanwhile, still has long-shot hopes of making it into the BCS, but must beat the Falcons and archrival Utah – and hope Boise State loses. Air Force's ground game will cause problems for the Cougars. In addition, Air Force's pass defense has been stout.
Minnesota at Wisconsin, 3:30 p.m.: The Golden Gophers had been one of the nation's best feel-good stories, but they have lost two in a row and easily could end the regular season on a four-game losing streak (they play Iowa in the regular-season finale). This game is big in terms of Big Ten bowl positioning.
Lost in all the talk about how USC might be the most-talented team in the nation yet not get a chance to play for the national title is that Oregon State is in position to snag the Pac-10's automatic berth in the BCS. But the Beavers – who, of course, beat USC in September – finish the regular season with a home game against California, a road game against Arizona, then a home game against Oregon.
Washington State gave up 59 points in a loss to Arizona; it was the fourth consecutive game – and the sixth time this season – the Cougars had surrendered at least 58 points. Not surprisingly, they are last in the nation in scoring defense, allowing 50.2 points per game. The NCAA record is 50.3, by Louisiana-Lafayette (then known as Southwestern Louisiana) in 1997. Coincidentally, the highest number of points scored against the Ragin' Cajuns that season was 77 – by Washington State.
Some numbers from Saturday: Death Valley? Pshaw. Alabama improved to 25-8-2 all-time in Baton Rouge with its OT victory over LSU. … With its victory over Minnesota, Michigan now has won 19 of the past 20 over the Golden Gophers and finish 12-0 at the Metrodome; Minnesota opens its on-campus stadium next fall. … BYU has won 31 in a row at home over WAC opponents after its rout of Utah State. … BYU WR Austin Collie had his eighth consecutive 100-yard receiving day in a victory over San Diego State. He leads the nation in receiving yards per game and has 12 TD catches in those eight games. … Give it up for Middle Tennessee and its offensive consistency. In their past four games, the Blue Raiders have scored 21, 23, 22 and 24 points. … Oklahoma scored 60 points for the second consecutive week in hammering Texas A&M 66-28. It was the sixth time this season the Sooners had scored at least 52, and they've scored at least 35 in each game this season. … Houston's Case Keenum threw for 384 yards in the Cougars' rout of Tulane. It was his 10th consecutive 300-yard game dating to last season's Texas Bowl appearance against TCU. Keenum is third in the nation with 3,392 passing yards. … Boston College has won six in a row against Notre Dame. … Florida has won 18 in a row over Vanderbilt and has outscored its past five foes by a combined 243-57.