August 18, 2005

Fresh faces in high places

With the first college football kickoff less than two weeks away, fans around the nation are reaching a frenzied pitch. But if you think you're excited for the start of the season, imagine how these guys must feel.

More than a dozen head coaches will be donning headsets and taking on the pressures on a new sideline in 2005. A few of them are inheriting a wealth of talent, but most of these coaches will have to begin rebuilding programs.

Either way, high hopes rest on the new men in charge.

Walt Harris (Stanford from Pittsburgh)
Stanford hasn't had a winning season since Willingham left for Notre Dame after the 2001 season. Having sent 19 players to the NFL in the last four years, the Cardinal have had the talent to succeed. Most college football aficionados blame the 10-23 record of the past three seasons on departed coach Buddy Teevens.

But even with a more disciplined team - which Harris will undoubtedly demand and get from his players - Stanford won't see much improvement in the Pac-10 standings this season. The Cardinal miss Washington, play at Arizona, and are outmatched by everyone else on their schedule. Harris will have a tough first year at Stanford.

Urban Meyer (Florida from Utah)
Anytime a college team draws an NFL-size crowd to a spring game, expectations for the upcoming season aren't going to be low. But after Florida chased Ron Zook out of town, Meyer at least has a buffer to soften expectations from the Spurrier era.

Fans are chomping at the bit to see what kind of havoc Meyer's spread offense will wreak on opponents. The defenses are faster in the SEC than they were in the Mountain West, but Meyer's athletes are faster, too. Tennessee is the team to beat in the SEC East this year, but Florida will be nipping at its heels.

Les Miles (LSU from Oklahoma State)
Miles inherits the most talented team of any first year coach in the LSU Tigers. Though nothing is ever easy in the SEC, the best news for Miles is that Auburn may be considerably less potent this season in the SEC West.

Miles' backfield is arguably the deepest in the nation and is complemented by a veteran offensive line. And though the defense isn't show-stopping, it should hold its ground. Miles should benefit from getting Arizona State, Tennessee, Florida and Auburn at home, although every one of those games will be a battle.

Ed Orgeron (Ole Miss from Southern Cal)
Orgeron comes to Oxford with Ole Miss having suffered its first losing season since 1996. The rebuilding job won't be easy - Orgeron doesn't have the talent the fellow SEC incoming coaches will enjoy, and the Rebels faithful don't take kindly to losing.

Quarterback Michael Spurlock has had a resurgence under Orgeron, though, and should have a solid year under center for Ole Miss. If Orgeron can get out of the first half of the season with a few wins the Rebels will have a shot at breaking even this season.

Greg Robinson (Syracuse from Texas)
Like Orgeron, this will be Robinson's first stint as a college head coach, although he has been involved in coaching for 30 years. He has a history of bowl-game success, having won eight in as many appearances, including four Rose Bowl wins.

In a top heavy Big East conference, Robinson's Orange will have a tough time repeating its first-place finish (tied with Pitt) from a year ago. With Virginia, Florida State, Pitt, Notre Dame and Louisville on the schedule, Syracuse must win the games that it should if Robinson hopes to post a winning record in his first season with the Orange.

Steve Spurrier (South Carolina from year off)

The old ball coach is back in college football and the SEC after taking a shot at the NFL with the Washington Redskins.

Spurrier takes over a young South Carolina team that must replace most of its main offensive weapons from last seaosn. The Gamecocks kick of the entire season on national television against Central Florida on Sept. 1. They travel to Georgia next and Spurrier will face his old team, Florida, in Columbia for one of the season's most anticipated games on Nov. 12.

Charlie Weis (Notre Dame from NFL)
Weis faces a tall task at Notre Dame, as the Fighting Irish have suffered through a decade of relative mediocrity. The defense returns only three starters this season, but an offense led by two-year starter Brady Quinn should be a bright spot for Notre Dame.

It won't help Weis' cause that the Fighting Irish have one of the toughest schedules in college football. Three teams on their slate are ranked in the top five in the Preseason Top 25 Coaches' Poll. Still, if Weis wins the games he should and one or two that he shouldn't, the season will be a success.

Tyrone Willingham (Washington from Notre Dame)
Willingham is stepping in just one year after Washington had the worst season in school history. Though Willingham has a history of turning programs around on a dime (he did it with Stanford in 1995 and with Notre Dame in 2002), Washington didn't finish with a 1-10 record last season just because of bad coaching.

Washington is not a school that is used to losing, and the Huskies' faithful will expect to see improvement this season. If Willingham can squeeze more than three wins out of Washington in 2005, he'll be well on his way.

Ron Zook (Illinois from Florida)
Though Zook took Florida to three consecutive bowl games from 2002-2004, his 23-14 record wasn't enough for the Gators. The expectations and pressure will be moderately lower at Illinois, which hasn't had a winning season since its conference championship in 2001.

Zook could be the coach to turn around the Illini, but it will take time. The Big Ten is too strong this season to hope for a miracle turnaround, and Illinois will be fortunate to notch one more win than last season's 3-8 performance.

Dave Wannstedt (Pittsburgh from NFL)
Wannstedt inherits a Pittsburgh team which is ranked in most preseason top 25 polls. Fresh from a BCS bowl, the Panthers return the meat of their 2004 squad and have a shot at repeating their 8-3 regular-season record from last season. Wannstedt also will have the services of All-Big East quarterback Tyler Palko.

Wannstedt knows that Pittsburgh doesn't want to settle for fairly good, though, and will continue to improve Pitt for years to come. But for this year, Wannstedt will have to settle for being one of the best teams in the Big East.

Other new head coaches:
Terry Hoeppner (Indiana)
Mike Gundy (Oklahoma State)
Hal Mumme (New Mexico State)
Mark Snyder (Marshall)
Skip Holtz (East Carolina)
Kyle Whittingham (Utah)



 

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