When it comes to handicapping NCAA football (or any other sport, for that matter), desperate coaches can be very useful. When a coach is clearly and obviously on a hot seat and coaching for their continued employment sparks can often fly. You can’t always predict how coaches in these positions are going to respond. Some rise to the challenge by adapting their approach, adjusting their schemes, changing their staffs, and bringing renewed vigor to their job. Others get overwhelmed by the challenge and look even more lost than they already have. While you can’t be sure which approach coaches will take in these situations, what you can be fairly sure of is that something is definitely going to change, and change can be very useful for bettors who can spot it and capitalize on it. Here’s a look at five guys who are certainly on the hot seat this year:
Rich Rodriguez, Michigan – My beloved Michigan is in, to say the least, in a down cycle. Lloyd Carr’s last couple of years weren’t inspiring, but every Michigan fan on the planet longs for them after what we have had to endure the last couple of years. Michigan fans expect a clean program that regularly compete for Big Ten titles and the odd national championship. They’d even settle for beating Ohio State once in a while. Instead, we are faced with a team that hasn’t played in a bowl in two years, isn’t recruiting very well, and is facing sanctions as a result of some brainless violations. It’s getting increasingly hard to be optimistic about the team, and the talent on board doesn’t give us a whole lot of reasons to think that things will be dramatically better this year. Michigan is in rough shape, and Rodriguez will be shown the door if the team doesn’t take big steps forward. My guess is that he needs at least eight wins – or six and a win over Ohio state – to survive. Frankly, I’m not sure if I’m hoping he pulls it off or not.
Dan Hawkins, Colorado – It has been five years since Hawkins was a genius. Back then he was at Boise State winning 31 conference games in a row and building the reputation that the Broncos still enjoy now. Since then, he has been at Colorado and has learned the hard way that not everything is transferable. It’s really a miracle that Hawkins has lasted this long – last year he promised 10 wins and delivered three. His overall record is a very ugly 16-33, and he has never been more than an afterthought in the Big 12. The Buffs are heading to the Pac-10 next year, and that move could easily be accompanied by a change at the helm if this season isn’t surprisingly good. Given what we have seen recently, there is certainly no reason to expect a miracle.
Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State – The Cowboys badly underachieved last year when they had high hopes and were loaded with offensive talent. Much of that talent has moved on this year, and Gundy could be in real trouble if he doesn’t win eight or more games. Gundy’s biggest problem despite posting some solid seasons in his five years at the helm is that he is a combined 0-10 against Texas and Oklahoma. That’s obviously not going to be acceptable to the administration, or to deep pocketed super-donor T. Boone Pickens. Something to keep in mind for all college football handicappers is Pickens has been hanging around with Mike Leach this offseason, and it’s a good bet that he will put the pressure on to replace Gundy with Leach if this year isn’t positive.
Dennis Erickson, Arizona State – Erickson is a miracle worker who isn’t working miracles. At Idaho, Washington State, Miami, and Oregon State he was able to quickly turn struggling programs into serious contenders. That’s why he was given the chance at Arizona State – a team that had long been spinning their wheels. The first season looked so promising – he was 10-3 and named Pac-10 coach of the year. He lost the Holiday Bowl that year, though, and that sparked an ugly decline. In 2008 they were 5-7, and last year they dropped to 4-8 although 6-5 against the college football point spread. He’s just 13-14 in the Pac-10 over his three years at the school. There’s no good reason why the Sun Devils should be this bad, and if they don’t take big steps forward then it’s unlikely that Erickson will be given a chance to stick around. Given his age and his poor understanding of the concept of loyalty this could be the last good opportunity that Erickson gets, so if he wants to keep coaching then he should fight here.
Mark Richt, Georgia – It’s really a miracle that Richt has lasted this long. His teams are often good, but never quite good enough. Two years ago he started the season as the much feared, top ranked team in the country and limped home to a 10-3 record and no BCS appearance. Last year wasn’t impressive, either. Richt looked like had bought himself a year or two of time when he hired NFL defensive coordinator Todd Grantham to re-tool the offense and implement a 3-4 scheme. Thanks to Damon Evans, though, that security is no longer guaranteed. Evans was the AD at Georgia – and a huge supporter of Richt – until he was busted at the end of June for DUI while he was driving around with a young, mostly naked woman who definitely wasn’t his wife. There’s no guarantee that the new regime will be fans of Richt, and it’s all but certain that he won’t have the blank check now that he did under Evans.