College football: What to watch for with first-year coaches

College football: What to watch for with first-year coaches

College football: What to watch for with first-year coaches
By DAVID PAYNE

It’s hard to know what to expect from teams under the direction of a new coach. But bettors can benefit from taking a closer look at the coach’s background and how his style meshes with the talent at his new program.

How did his team fair in his first year at his previous school? Did it take him long to get his offense up to speed? Did he try to make a discipline statement by handing out hefty suspensions? Does he need some early blowouts to announce his arrival?

Check out these three first-year coaches and tell us whether you think their new programs have more upside than downside. Feel free to comment on other first-year coaches like Michigan’s Rich Rodriguez and Nebraska’s Bo Pellini.


MISSISSIPPI REBELS - Houston Nutt

Upside: Out of the first-year coaches mentioned below, Nutt is expected to have the most immediate success.

The former Arkansas coach is the only one that didn’t leave his previous job on his own terms. Consequently, he has the most to prove.

He has some experienced talent to work with at Ole Miss, thanks to his predecessor Ed Orgeron. Orgeron was Pete Carroll’s recruiting director at USC. While he struggled as a head coach on the field, Orgeron’s ability to identify and recruit talent has rarely been questioned.

In his first year at Arkansas (1998), Nutt led a Razorbacks squad, picked last in the SEC West, to a 9-3 mark and a Florida Citrus Bowl berth.

Downside: Former Texas back-up Jevan Snead takes over the quarterback position. While talented, he’s unproven and the fact that he failed to beat out Colt McCoy at Texas is a little suspicious.


GEORGIA TECH YELLOW JACKETS – Paul Johnson

Upside: There’s not a lot to work with, and new coach Paul Johnson doesn’t appear to be under much pressure to win immediately.

Tech’s fan base became so frustrated with Chan Gailey’s inconsistent and sometimes boring teams that just having a new face on the sidelines seems to have satisfied the Yellow Jacket faithful for now.

(How many diehard Georgia Tech fans have you ever bumped into? There’s a reason for that.)

Fans have said they’re willing to be patient with Paul Johnson and bettors might want to follow suit. As the Jackets become more comfortable in the system, Tech could cause problems for teams trying to prepare for the option - say someone like Miami, who visits Georgia Tech in late November for a Thursday night game.

Downside: There will be major adjustment period to the option offense. It showed in a pitiful spring game performance by the offense, which had nearly as many fumbles as first downs.

Johnson downplayed his team’s spring struggles, but there are definite reasons for concern.

Navy struggled to a 2-10 mark in his first season, averaging just over 24 points a game and 182 yards rushing. Upon arrival, Navy’s roster was much more suited for Johnson’s offense than Georgia Tech’s.

Few offenses rely more heavily on the quarterback than the option, and that’s a position that looks especially shaky for the Yellow Jackets.

Expected starter Josh Nesbit is not the prototypical shifty option quarterback. He is an exceptional downhill runner, but getting around the corner is not the 6-1, 214-pounder’s strength.

To make things even more difficult, the Yellow Jackets have little time to get comfortable in the offense. They have a tough opening month, including games at Virginia Tech and Boston College and verse improved Mississippi State. If the offense sputters early, the players could lose confidence in the system and the Jackets could head into a tailspin.


ARKANSAS RAZORBACKS – Bobby Petrino

Upside: Arkansas lost a ton of big-name talent and is picked to finish last in the SEC West.

Outside of Fayetteville, expectations for the Razorbacks are minimal. Yet, Petrino believes he’s in a better situation in his first year at Arkansas than he was in his first year at Louisville.

(Although, anywhere without dog-fighting quarterbacks probably would look good to Petrino after last year’s visit to the NFL.)

In 2003, Petrino quickly and efficiently implemented an extremely inexperienced quarterback and running backs into his pro-style offense. The transition was seamless. The Cardinals averaged 34.6 points and made stars out of quarterback Stefon LeFors and running Michael Bush, a converted quarterback.

“I think we might have been voted last in the conference that first year, too,” Petrino said at SEC Media Days.

It’s hard to believe Petrino has inherited a less talented roster at Arkansas than he did at Louisville. Just ask yourself this: Who’s the better recruiter, ex-Louisville coach John L. Smith or Petrino’s predecessor at Arkansas, Houston Nutt? Plus, the Razorbacks boast a proven quarterback in senior Casey Dick and are strong on both lines.

Downside: Louisville was still in Conference USA when Petrino arrived, so the transition was a little bit easier than it will be in the SEC. And keep an eye on the off-the-field problems. Five Razorbacks were arrested before August.

For a team that lacks experience, losing players to suspensions will ugly-up the depth chart in a hurry.

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