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Grading First-Year Coaches

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Editor’s Note: Don’t miss out on Bruce Marshall’s college football selections all season long. Click to win!

Midseason Grades - Teams

Terry Bowden, Akron (1-7 straight up, 4-4 vs. line)...More improvement from the discarded Rob Ianello regime than the record might suggest, as Bowden has at least re-energized the Zips with a new and entertaining spread offense featuring Stephen F. Austin transfer QB Dalton Williams. The Zips rank 11th in national passing stats. The defense still leaks (109th overall and scoring at nearly 38 ppg allowed), and Bowden is still looking to exceed Ianello's one-win campaign form 2011, but at least there seems to be a pulse at InfoCision Stadium. Grade: B

Rich Rodriguez, Arizona (4-3 SU and vs. line)...Many Pac-12 sources suspected that Rich-Rod could reignite a program that had made progress, then regressed, under predecessor Mike Stoops. Rich-Rod's pet spread option has proven a great fit for holdover QB Matt Scott, who pilots an attack ranked 5th in total offense (and Scott himself 4th in national total offense stats). The Cats don't yet have enough defense to make a serious run at Pac-12 South honors, but Rich-Rod seems to have UA on course for a return to the bowl scene. And after rousing upset over Oklahoma State in early September, the Cats think they have a puncher's chance of pulling another surprise when top ten Southern Cal visits Tucson this week. Grade: A

Todd Graham, Arizona State (5-2 SU, 5-1-1 vs. line)...The upgrade in the desert from Graham predecessor Dennis Erickson, under whom the on-field product had become sloppy, undisciplined, and mistake-prone, has been nothing less than profound despite what anyone watched last Thursday night in the 43-21 loss to Oregon. Graham's Sun Devils appear confident yet highly-charged, with a robust "D" featuring DT Will Sutton (though he was hurt last week vs. the Ducks) and soph QB Taylor Kelly, who ranks 8th nationally in pass efficiency and has made the early departure of Brock Osweiler to the NFL a non-topic in Tempe. No reason to expect ASU to slow down in the final weeks. Grade: A

John L. Smith, Arkansas (3-4 SU, 1-5 vs. line)...Smith figured to be an interim replacement for the deposed Bobby Petrino and nothing has happened to change that thinking, except the fact some believed Smith could get the boot even before the regular season until recent wins over troubled Auburn and Kentucky. Smith will not return in Fayetteville next fall. Grade: F

Gus Malzahn, Arkansas State (5-3 SU, 4-4 vs. line)...The Red Wolves have been competitive in Malzahn's debut but they haven't been better than the Hugh Freeze Arkansas State squad that won the Sun Belt last year with a 10-2 regular-season mark. The jury is still out whether Malzahn has done enough to get a call from a bigger school (namely Arkansas) after the season. Grade: B-

Jim McElwain, Colorado State (1-6 SU, 2-5 vs. spread)...McElwain has had little luck with injuries, now down to what appears to be his third QB (RS frosh Conner Smith) before Halloween, and Mountain West sources in the know suggested that the ex-Alabama o.c. was inheriting a bare cupboard form predecessor Steve Fairchild. But McElwain hasn't helped matters by lambasting the team's new indoor facility and publicly challenging the heart of his troops (which many in region believe would be better served to be done behind closed doors). The on-field product, if anything, has been worse than Fairchild's recent succession of 3-9 teams, and no indicators that things will get better before the season concludes. Grade: D

Carl Pelini, Florida Atlantic (1-6 SU, 5-2 vs. line)...No one was expecting much from the Owls, who had bottomed out at 1-11 under Howard Schnellenberger a year ago. So, at least FAU hasn't disappointed, including its new and supposedly "uptempo" spread that has only produced 16 ppg, with holdover QB Graham Wilbert an awkward fit from Schnelleberger's pro-style sets. But the Owls at least weren't humiliated in losses at Georgia and Alabama and have covered the spread five in a row, suggesting a bit of progress is being made in Boca Raton under Pelini. Grade: B

Tim DeRuyter, Fresno State (5-3 SU, 7-1 vs. spread)...That DeRuyter, a decorated defensive coordinator after recent stints at Texas A&M, alma mater Air Force, Nevada, and Ohio, would manage to reignite the Bulldog "O" with an uptempo, no-huddle spread has been proven to be one of the pleasant surprises in the western region. That style of attack has been a good fit for holdover QB Derek Carr, a real gunslinger, while RB Robbie Rouse has been running downhill all season and could crack the 1000-yard mark this week at new Mexico. DeRuyter has also (as expected) upgraded the Bulldog defense, which among other improvements has 22 sacks, ranks 17th in pass defense, and 24th on total defense, much better than the triple-digit rankings of 2011. So far, DeRuyter has been a homerun hire. Grade: A+

Norm Chow, Hawaii (1-5 SU, 2-4 vs. line)...Some Mountain West oldtimers relayed how Chow was joking to them that "someone should have told me how hard this (a heading coaching job) was going to be" in the summer. Only maybe Chow wasn't joking. So far, this hire has turned out to be a disaster, with the rabid Warrior fan base in the islands up in arms at the on-field efforts that have been getting worse in recent weeks. Chow's defense has taken many injuries but he is mostly under-fire for junking the June Jones/Greg McMackin Red Gun for pro-style offensive sets that have stalled under new QB Sean Schroeder. This is an example of a coach trying to fit existing personnel into his own style, and having it backfire. It's been a mess. Grade: F

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Tim Beckman, Illinois (2-5 SU, 2-5 vs. line)...
After a successful run at Toledo, Beckman was expected to prove an upgrade from predecessor Ron Zook, but to this point it hasn't happened in Champaign-Urbana. Beckman's team has had injury problems, and QB Nathan Scheelhaase has been in and out of the lineup with an assortment of ailments. But the Illini are still winless in Big Ten play, and if they can't beat Indiana this week, might stay that way this season. A bit of a letdown. Grade: D

Charlie Weis, Kansas (1-6 SU, 3-4 vs. line)...The fact no one was expecting much from the Jayhawks, who expected to the punching bags of a deep and potent Big 12, doesn't absolve wither Weis or the school (read misguided AD Sheahon Zenger, who apparently didn't pay attention to Weis' career at Notre Dame, or his subpar work as Florida's o.c. last year...or talked to anyone who has had to spend any time around Weis) from blame for what appears in our book to be a blown hire. KU has been marginally competitive in a few games this season, but the stench from the premature dismissal of Turner Gill could haunt this program for years. Grade: D

Charley Molnar, UMass (0-7 SU, 2-5 vs. line)...Molnar, most recently Notre Dame's o.c. under Brian Kelly, inherited a tough situation from predecessor Kevin Morris, as the Minutemen were making the jump from FCS to FBS level competition and a place in the upgraded MAC. All of this from a team that was just 5-6 in the CAA last seas. Moreover, Molnar lost holdover QB Kellen Pagel (last year's starts) to injury before the season, forcing RS frosh Mike Wegzyn into the lineup. Predictably, it's been a bumpy road. Grade: C

Justin Fuente, Memphis (1-6 SU, 3-4 vs. line)...The Tiger program had been run into the ground under Larry Porter, and recent TCU co-offensive coordinator Fuente inherited a program with only 51 scholarship players. This is a ground-up operation at the Liberty Bowl that locals hope gets up to speed in time for the move to the Big East next season. The "O" still ranks near the bottom nationally (1145th overall and 111th scoring), but the Tigers have covered their last two home games, including a rare SU win vs. Rice on October 6. It's not much, but it's a start. Grade: C

Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss (4-3 SU, 6-1 vs. line)...Picking up where he left off at Arkansas State when recording 10-2 SU and spread marks last season, Freeze has re-energized the Rebels with his version of a spread offense featuring juco QB Bo Wallace, and using former QB Randall Mackey in the sort of slash/wildcat role that Kentucky used Randall Cobb a few years ago. The Rebs impressed when standing toe-to-toe vs. Alabama and are unfortunate not to be 5-2 after blowing a late lead vs. Texas A&M on October 6. Now Ole Miss looks like it could be bowling for the first time in three years as the failed Houston Nutt regime disappears from consciousness in Oxford. And Freeze (16-3 vs. the line since last season) keeps covering point-spreads! Grade: A+

Bob Davie, New Mexico (4-4 SU, 6-2 vs. line)...Talk about working with the available talent! Davie inherited a program short on scholarship players (much like Memphis) but found a proper fit with a pure option offense featuring QB B.R. Holbrook and a stable of north-south runners (especially Kasey Carrier, who gained a Mountain West-record 338 YR last Saturday at Air Force!) that have been able to move the chains and clock and keep an undermanned defense off of the field. It's amazing what a little coaching can do for a program that had none of it the ;last few years from the Mike Locksley regime. Grade: A+

Larry Fedora, North Carolina (5-3 SU, 4-4 vs. line)...Fedora got hit with a shot to the gut when Carolina was put on bowl probation for this season after he signed on as Tar heel coach last December. For the most part, however, UNC is upgraded, with Fedora's pet spread offense proving a good fit for holdover QB Bryn Renner and RB Gio Bernard. Keeping the Heels focused in the last month of the season without a bowl carrot could be a chore, however. Grade: B

Urban Meyer, Ohio State (8-0 SU, 3-5 vs. line)...That the Buckeyes have recovered so quickly is no surprise, given Meyer's track record. But not even wild-eyed Buckeye backers were expecting OSU to be sitting at 8-0 in late October and with QB Braxton Miller (assuming last week's injury vs. Purdue isn't serious) as a legit Heisman candidate. We think a downgraded Big ten and soft non-conference schedule have helped the Buckeyes greatly, but no reason to nitpick. Grade: A

Bill O'Brien, Penn State (5-2 SU, 6-1 vs. line)...Raise your hand if you saw Penn State's renaissance on your radar screen. Especially after the Nittany Lions opened 0-2 with losses to Ohio U and Virginia. But all O'Brien has done since is steer Penn State to five straight wins, while jazzing up an offense that had grown stale in the later Paterno years. All of this while surviving several key defections (including star RB Silas Redd to Southern Cal) after the probation was announced. The Big Ten isn't much this season, but could anyone have imagined Penn State as the best of that lot? Grade: A+

Paul Chryst, Pitt (3-4 SU, 4-3 vs. line)...The Panthers started slowly for Chryst, sucker-punched in the opener by Youngstown State and then flattened at Cincinnati, and have recovered somewhat since. But outside of a rousing upset over Virginia tech (which in retrospect isn't looking as impressive as it first seemed), the "O" has been mostly sluggish, a bit of a letdown considering Chryst's offensive credentials. The jury is still out. Grade: C

Kyle Flood, Rutgers (7-0 SU, 5-2 vs. line)...Like with Penn State's O'Brien, raise your hands if you thought Rutgers would emerge as a BCS contender under Flood, the former Scarlet Knight aide who took over when Greg Schiano bolted for the NFL Bucs. Rutgers has parlayed an ultra-physical style to an unbeaten mark, although its toughest big East tests remain on the horizon. Still, a smashing success in Piscataway. Grade: A+

Ellis Johnson, Southern Miss (0-7 SU, 2-5 vs. line)...Some regional observers warned that USM could be in for a big downturn under Johnson, who inherited a graduation-depleted roster after leaving South Carolina, where he served as Steve Spurrier's d.c. But past stints as a HC at Gardner-Webb and The Citadel did not go well, and thus far, Johnson looks like another career coordinator ill-suited to head coaching duties. Among other things, he's still juggling his QBs into late October, and the Golden Eagles haven't stayed winless this long since 1976. Grade: F

Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M (5-2 SU, 3-4 vs. line)...A lot of Aggies were holding their breath at the move to the SEC, but Sumlin seems to have allayed many of those fears with the same spread offense he employed with Case Keenum at Houston. He's found a proper trigger-man in super frosh QB Johnny Manziel, and "Johnny Football" has even generated some peripheral Heisman talk in College Station. Kyle Field is energized again. Grade: A

Matt Campbell, Toledo (7-1 SU, 6-2 vs. line)...The young Campbell (only 32 years old!) actually made his debut in last December's Military Bowl. Counting that 42-41 win over Air Force, he's now 8-1 SU in his career, and only an OT loss in the opener at Arizona is preventing the Rockets from being mentioned as a possible BCS Buster. A possible MAC title game showdown vs. unbeaten Ohio U could generate more interest than usual for that often-overlooked conference championship clash. Grade: A

Curtis Johnson, Tulane (1-6 SU, 3-3-1 vs. line)...Thanks to a series of debilitating injuries (including a tragic one to DB Devon Walker at Tulsa), to be fair we should probably give Johnson an incomplete grade. He was down to his third QB for a few weeks until original starter Ryan Griffin resurfaced in a rousing 27-26 win over SMU, and the Wave was competitive again last week at UTEP. Way too soon to make judgements here. Grade: C+

Garrick McGee, UAB (1-6 SU, 3-4 vs. line)...Though the record doesn't look to be an upgrade from predecessor Neil Callaway, C-USA sources insist the Blazers are headed in the right direction with McGee. The progress of RS frosh QB Austin Brown (who threw three TD passes last week vs. East Carolina) is one of the exciting developments at Legion Field, although UAB still has a long climb to respectability. Grade: B

Jim Mora, UCLA (5-2 SU, 4-3 vs. line)...The Bruins needed something bold and new and to clean out the stench of the failed Rick Neuheisel regime, and Mora seems to have done that, with the Bruins displaying a swagger not seen since the early days of the Bob Toledo regime in the late '90s. RS frosh QB Brett Hundley has proved a great fit for the new spread offense installed by Mora, which has been operating much better than Neuheisel's various interpretations over the past few years. Although the momentum has slowed about with a recent losses, UCLA seems headed back to contending status. Grade: A-

Mike Leach, Washington State (2-5 SU and vs. line)...Leach's debut season has been a bit of a disappointment in the Palouse, as his Air Raid offense has not sounded too many alarms, and a lack of playmakers on defense (never a Leach speciality) has proven problematic. The fact the Cougs look like they'll miss a bowl that many in Pullman were expecting after the Leach hire has been a bit of a downer. Grade: C-

  
HEADLINES
Edwards: 2014 Big 12 Predictions
Nelson: September Situations
Marshall: Team to Watch - Marshall
Edwards: 2014 Pac-12 Predictions
Lawrence: 2014 Sun Belt Preview
Blankenship: Fade Alert - Ohio
Edwards: 2014 SEC Predictions
Marshall: Team to Watch - UNC
Lawrence: 2014 SEC Preview
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