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Predicting the Number of 2012 Wins for All 28 New FBS Coaches

David LutherFeatured ColumnistAugust 12, 2012

Predicting the Number of 2012 Wins for All 28 New FBS Coaches

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    The proverbial college football coaching carousel was in high gear again in 2012, and we'll see 28 FBS programs with new leadership when the season kicks off in just a few short weeks.

    Sometimes new coaches can be a great thing for a program.

    Take Brady Hoke and Michigan last season. The Wolverines shrugged off a few years of stagnation under Rich Rodriguez to make impressive improvements almost overnight.

    And the result was a BCS trip and a Sugar Bowl championship.

    But that's not always the case. New leadership can also disrupt the rhythm of a team.

    So where will the 28 head coaches with new programs end their inaugural seasons?

    (Note: Our 2012 wins predictions are for regular season games, and do not include possible conference championship or bowl game victories).

Terry Bowden, Akron

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    After more than a decade, Terry Bowden, son of legendary Florida State former head coach Bobby Bowden, is making his return to the ranks of FBS head coaches.

    Bowden is best known for his five-plus seasons as head coach at Auburn, where he was 47-17-1 and finished in the final AP Top 25 each of his five completed seasons.

    After 10 years away from coaching, Bowden returned in 2009 to coach Division II power North Alabama. With his team loaded with FBS hand-me-downs from his father's program, Bowden led the Lions to a 29-10 record in three seasons, earning a playoff berth each year.

    Now, he has a chance to rebuild his FBS image at Akron.

    The MAC is as good a place as any for head coache to start (or start fresh), as names like Brady Hoke, Woody Hayes, Nick Saban, and Bo Schembechler all spent time coach MAC programs.

    But Bowden takes over one of the worst MAC programs, as Akron has a meager total of just two wins over the past two seasons.

    Bowden will try to give the Zips their first winning campaign since 2005, but it's going to take more than a few months in the job to accomplish anything that grand.

    2012 Wins Prediction: Three

Garrick McGee, Alabama-Birmingham

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    The University of Alabama is king of college football. It also happens to be the flagship institution in the Cotton State, and its three system campuses are home to some of the top academic programs in Dixie.

    But football success doesn't cross over to the satellite locations, and the University of Alabama at Birmingham is clearly lagging far behind the folks in Tuscaloosa.

    It is, however, important to remember that UAB got its football start in 1991 as a Division III program, and joined the FCS in 1993 before finally making the jump to the FBS in 1996.

    But since the final move to the top division of college football, success has been fleeting. The Blazers have made just one bowl game: the 2004 Hawai'i Bowl, a 59-40 loss to Hawai'i.

    UAB's win percentage has also been on a historical downward trend since the beginning, and Garrick McGee, former Arkansas offensive coordinator, will be the latest to try and reverse the trend.

    Don't hold your breath.

    2012 Wins Prediction: Four

Rich Rodriguez, Arizona

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    After seven glorious years at West Virginia building the program into a national power, RichRod's career sputtered a bit after he moved to the “big time” at Michigan.

    In the end, it was the wrong job for the wrong man, as Rodriguez's whole-sale change in football culture was not well received in Ann Arbor.

    Whether it was his attempt to alter the core beliefs of the dynastic Michigan program, his disregard for traditions in Ann Arbor or his folksy manner that rubbed the academic elite the wrong way, by the end of his three seasons at Michigan it was clear that both parties needed something different.

    Michigan found Brady Hoke, and Rich Rodriguez has found Arizona.

    If the powers that be at Arizona give Rodriguez the power and time to build the program his way, it's possible he can do for the Wildcats what he did for West Virginia.

    And Arizona doesn't have the pigskin dogma pervading the program as does Michigan.

    Despite last season's lackluster 4-8 finish, Arizona is still a solid program in a major conference.

    Will the addition of RichRod mean the Wildcats will be beating the Trojans or Ducks or Cardinal this season? No. But it does mean that's a possibility in the near future—if Arizona gives him the power and time to build the program his way, and believes in his system.

    2012 Wins Prediction: Six

Todd Graham, Arizona State

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    You have to feel for the fans at Arizona State.

    It's not often you can have a setup like the Sun Devils had in 2011. The Devils finished 6-6 in 2010, but four of those games were decided by a combined nine points.

    With 21 starters returning in 2011, you figured that experience would be more than enough to find nine points somewhere. A run at the Pac-12 South Division title—especially with USC ineligible—looked like a real possibility.

    So what happened?

    There are plenty of reasons why the Sun Devils' success never really materialized last season, but in the end, Dennis Erickson found himself out of a job, and Todd Graham bolted Pittsburgh in the middle of the night to take over at ASU.

    It's a long road back to the days of 2007 and 10-3, and the Sun Devils haven't been close to smelling roses since that magical 1996 season.

    But Graham is certainly capable of turning things around, especially considering that Arizona State has been one catalyst away from seemingly being just that good for a few years now.

    Graham will have a lot of youthful players in 2012, which gives him ample opportunity to build quickly. This year may not be the breakthrough season, but it certainly could shape up to be a great first step.

    2012 Wins Prediction: Six

John L. Smith, Arkansas

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    When John L. Smith was first announced as the replacement for the now-disgraced Bobby Petrino, many thought it was an interim position for Smith.

    But after reading and rereading the press release from Arkansas, there was no mention of the word “interim,” or anything leading us to believe it was anything but a permanent position.

    Of course, the contract was for just this one season.

    Still, it provides Smith the opportunity to show what he's made of, and impress the folks at Arkansas enough to give him an extension.

    But Smith's last head coaching stop wasn't exactly the stuff of which legends are made.

    He spent four seasons in East Lansing coaching the Michigan State Spartans. Over much of that time, his teams were known as the “Same Old Spartans,” a team that would get off to a quick start only to fall flat down the stretch.

    After a 22-26 record at MSU, the remainder of his contract was “bought out,” which is just fancy talk for fired with severance.

    Still, he's taking over one of the top teams in the nation at Arkansas, and his Hogs are loaded with talent. Smith is also “part of the gang” at Arkansas, having spent the last three seasons as the special teams coach for the Razorbacks.

    2012 Wins Prediction: 10

Gus Malzahn, Arkansas State

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    Arkansas State was easily one of the surprises of 2011.

    The Red Wolves finished with a 10-3 record, which included a perfect 8-0 conference mark and earned the program's first-ever bowl berth.

    That being said, we're still talking about a team out of the Sun Belt. Is it any wonder that Hugh Freeze took the first job offer that came along?

    It's much too soon to tell if Arkansas State will be able to sustain any success or if 2011 will be a flash in the pan, but we do know that repeat Sun Belt title hopes took a huge shot when the former Auburn standout was dismissed from the Red Wolves squad in July.

    This is also Malzahn's first outing as a head coach at any collegaite level, so there are just too many unknowns for us to put much stock in the Red Wolves for 2012.

    2012 Wins Prediction: Seven

Jim McElwain, Colorado State

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    Jim McElwain takes over at Colorado State in his first outing as a full-time head coach.

    McElwain was an “assistant head coach” under John L. Smith at Michigan State.

    But we've already seen how well those years went.

    Colorado State is also a program that has languished in the Mountain West for a good long while, and there's nothing on the immediate horizon that points to a quick turnaround after three straight 3-9 seasons.

    We're not saying McElwain can't be successful in Fort Collins, but that success won't happen overnight.

    2012 Wins Prediction: Four

Carl Pelini, Florida Atlantic

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    There are probably few things in college football more intimidating than becoming the act that has to follow Howard Schnellenberger, but that's exactly what Carl Pelini has to do at Florida Atlantic.

    The legendary Schnellenberger was brought out of retirement to take over the brand new FAU football program in 2001. The Owls smartly spent their first five seasons in the FCS before making the jump to the FBS in 2006.

    By 2007, the Owls had won their first conference title and earned the program's first bowl trip—and victory.

    But 2007 was the peak of success, as each successive season saw fewer and fewer wins.

    Last year, the Owls were just 1-11.

    So can Pelini turn things around?

    He has enough experience as an assistant, having spent time in Division II and the FBS (particularly with his brother at Nebraska), but this is his first outing as a collegiate head coach and he has a huge mountain to climb.

    2012 Wins Prediction: Three

Tim DeRuyter, Fresno State

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    For some time now, Fresno State has been one of the better BCS non-AQ programs in the nation.

    The problem has been that conference rival Boise State and a few other non-AQs out west have been stealing the spotlight.

    The Bulldogs have never really been able to get over the hump—namely, beating the Broncos.

    Still, the Bulldogs have won eight-or-more games eight times over the past 11 seasons, including nine-or-more six times over that span.

    Fresno State finally did something usually associated with “old time” college football; the Bulldogs fired long-time head coach Pat Hill despite his winning record, history of success and frequent bowl trips mainly because he couldn't win “the big ones.”

    Don't feel too bad for Hill, though. He found a job in the NFL.

    Enter Tim DeRuyter, who is now tasked with doing what Hill couldn't: winning conference titles.

    DeRuyter spend the last few seasons as the defensive coordinator at Texas A&M. He has no head coaching experience save one game as interim head coach for the Aggies, but has been an FBS assistant since 1991.

    He still is tasked with building a non-AQ program into a power while trying to compete with the recruiting juggernaut USC In California.

    Look for Fresno to rebound in 2012, thanks to a injection of energy a new coach brings. But rebounding from 4-9 and beating Boise State to earn a Mountain West title are two vastly different things.

    2012 Wins Prediction: Six

Norm Chow, Hawai'i

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    After Hawai'i head coach Greg McMackin resigned “under pressure,” the job has fallen on one of Hawai'i's own, Norm Chow.

    Chow is Hawai'ian born and raised, and he returns to his home after decades with some of the top programs in the nation, including BYU, USC, UCLA and his alma mater, Utah.

    His program is also one capable of making the big leap from “other guy” to a true BCS-buster.

    Hawai'i has the ability to recruit top talent from the west and the islands themselves, along with other outlying U.S. territories, providing some of the best recruits in their history.

    Hawai'i had posted four 10-plus-win seasons in the past decade, including back-to-back 12-win seasons in 2006 and 2007, which included a berth in the 2008 Sugar Bowl.

    With Chow's guidance and wealth of experience, don't be shocked for a moment if the Warriors come screaming back on the national stage.

    And soon.

    2012 Wins Prediction: Seven

Tony Levine, Houston

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    Kevin Sumlin rode the Houston train about as far as it could take him, and he hopped off in College Station, Texas.

    Why was Sumlin so ready to bolt Houston? Was it because a top-tier program like A&M came calling? Was to take the opportunity to coach in the SEC? Was it for more money?

    All valid reasons, but likely not to real cause of Sumlin's departure.

    Over the past few seasons, Houston Cougars football has benefited immeasurably due to one person: Case Keenum.

    Keenum is one of a few examples of a single player carrying an entire program on his shoulders. He alone took Houston from mediocrity and mid-major anonymity to potential BCS-busting status.

    But Keenum, and his whopping record of 38-12 as a starter, is gone. And Houston is left to ponder what will happen next.

    For the record, over the same span when Keenum didn't start, the Cougars were 7-9.

    We don't believe Houston will completely fall off the map. But new head coach Tony Levine is in the unenviable position of having to deal with lofty expectations after last season's success without having the player personnel necessary to make any serious run.

    2012 Wins Prediction: Seven

Tim Beckman, Illinois

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    Illinois fans can finally sigh now that Ron Zook has been handed his walking papers.

    After becoming the first FBS team in history to start 6-0 only to finish 6-6, Illinois pulled the trigger on Zook's time in Champaign.

    Enter Tim Beckman.

    Beckman comes from Toledo, where he was 21-16 over three seasons, which included a share of the MAC-West crown in 2011.

    Beckman now has the opportunity to join the ranks of other great MAC coaches like Brian Kelly or Brady Hoke, who are capable of turning around a once-proud program in relatively short order.

    And Beckman will certainly have enough talent to do so. For 2012, the Illini return 15 starters from last season. And while we're not deluded enough to think there's a Rose Bowl Game in Illinois's near future, we do expect the Fighting Illini to make some noticeable improvements over 2011.

    2012 Wins Prediction: Seven

Charlie Weis, Kansas

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    Did anyone really expect a guy like Charlie Weis to be content wearing a coordinator's headset for very long?

    Weis jumped at the opportunity to take over his own college program again and left Will Muschamp's staff at Florida after just one season.

    Now Weis leads a program where the specter of history isn't looking over his shoulder, and the weight of expectations is considerably lessened over places like South Bend and Gainesville.

    Unfortunately, it's also about as bad of a program as you can find in BCS AQ conferences.

    Kansas has won just five games over the last two seasons combined, and just 10 games over the past three years.

    Add in the renewed urgency at programs like Oklahoma and Texas along with the arrival of Oklahoma State, and you have a perfect storm for another ho-hum season in Lawrence.

    Make no mistake about it: Football isn't the primary athletic focus at the University of Kansas.

    It's now up to Charlie Weis to change that mindset.

    2012 Wins Prediction: Four

Charley Molnar, Massachusetts

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    Yes, we really mean Massachusetts.

    UMass has finally made the jump to the FBS this season and are one of four new programs in the top division of college football (along with Texas-San Antonio, Texas State and South Alabama).

    And as difficult as that transition can be, UMass has the added hurdle of breaking in a new coaching staff.

    There are a couple of problems that jump right off the page at you when you take a look at the Minutemen.

    First, UMass hasn't been that great in the FCS lately. Ever since the Minutemen appeared in the 2006 FCS National Championship Game (a loss to Appalachian State), it's been pretty much downhill.

    The last three seasons have seen records of 5-6, 6-5 and 5-6, respectively.

    Now UMass has moved up in class and has joined the FBS as a football-only member of the MAC—not exactly the kind of conference from which you expect big things.

    New head coach Charley Molnar left a pretty nice position as the offensive coordinator at Notre Dame to take the job at UMass, marking his first foray into the head coaching world.

    Molnar has been with Brian Kelly since his days at Central Michigan, so apparently the folks at UMass are hoping some of that magic wears off.

    Still, you can't expect much out of a mediocre FCS program in its first FBS season.

    2012 Wins Prediction: Two

Justin Fuente, Memphis

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    It's hard to argue against naming Memphis the worst of the worst in the FBS over the past several seasons.

    The Tigers have won just five games in the last three seasons combined. That's a rate of futility that would get any coach fired, and Larry Porter found that out the hard way.

    Justin Fuente will need to improve the program quickly if he's to avoid the same fate as Porter. How hard will it be to improve upon Porter's 3-21 mark as a head coach?

    Fuente is still young, be he's spent the last fives seasons with another non-AQ program that has seen more than its share of success. As running backs coach and later co-offensive coordinator at TCU, Fuente has helped build the Horned Frogs into a program that has shown its ability to compete at the highest level in college football.

    If he can bring even a sliver of that know-how to Memphis, we'll see an improvement.

    2012 Wins Prediction: Four

Hugh Freeze, Mississippi

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    Hugh Freeze made a very smart decision after his lone season at Arkansas State.

    So many coaches try to exhibit their loyalty by sticking with a lowly non-AQ program after a successful season, only to find that success at that level can be fleeting.

    Freeze took the other path. Rather than sticking around Arkansas State and trying to extend the Red Wolves' winning ways, Freeze jumped at the chance to coach in the SEC, accepting Mississippi's offer to take over the program.

    Just another reason to believe the bottom of the SEC is better than the top of the Sun Belt, at least from a professional standpoint.

    Freeze only has three years of head coaching experience, two of which were in the NAIA at ill-fated Lambuth University.

    Freeze guided the Eagles to a 20-5 record over two seasons, which included a conference championship in 2009 and a trip to the NAIA Quarterfinals—before the program was shuttered, shortly before the university itself went under.

    After one season as the offensive coordinator at Arkansas State, Freeze was elevated to the head coaching position and guided the Wolves to a 10-2 record, a Sun Belt championship and the program's first-ever bowl invitation.

    Now the trick will be to transfer some of that 30-7 record into something better than what Ole Miss has been capable of lately.

    Unfortunately, the SEC isn't the best place for a down-and-out program to stage a renaissance these days. And the Rebels aren't making it easy on themselves with a non-conference game against Texas.

    With a killer of a conference schedule, which includes a cross-divisional game against Georgia, it will be difficult for Ole Miss to manage anything beyond four wins in 2012.

    2012 Wins Prediction: Four

Bob Davie, New Mexico

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    It's been a long time since we have heard from Bob Davie, but the former Notre Dame head coach is making his return to college football in 2012—and at New Mexico of all places.

    When Davie was fired from Notre Dame in 2001, it ushered in the long search in South Bend for a football savior that bounced from George O'Leary to Ty Willingham to Charlie Weis and finally to Brian Kelly.

    But after 10 seasons not on the sidelines, Davie will finally be back on the sidelines in 2012, as head coach of the New Mexico Lobos.

    As bad as aforementioned Memphis has been over the past three seasons, one of the only programs to actually be worse has been New Mexico.

    The Lobos have been so bad, they've accumulated as many losses in three seasons (33) as conference foe Boise State has in the last 15 seasons.

    Bob Davie is going to have to turn a perennial laughing stock into a winner, and do so in a region of the country not known for football, devoid of any prep talent to speak of and in complete defiance of all historical indications.

    Still, his experience—something New Mexico hasn't enjoyed for a while—should count for something.

    2012 Wins Prediction: Two

Larry Fedora, North Carolina

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    Larry Fedora takes over a program that a few short years ago, we thought might be the next big thing in the ACC.

    But after an academic cheating scandal wiped away two seasons worth of wins and decimated the roster—and eventually the coaching staff—it's doubtful we'll be talking about a Tar Heels run in the ACC anytime soon.

    Fedora has to find a way to put the pieces back together. In some ways the task is easier, considering he has a fresh slate. There isn't a ton of leftover talent from the Butch Davis era, and Fedora will be able to quickly build the program his way.

    That being said, we are talking about 2012 here, so we're going to temper out expectations for the Tar Heels.

    2012 Wins Prediction: Six

Urban Meyer, Ohio State

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    Yes, we are dealing with a program under some pretty serious NCAA sanctions in 2012.

    Yes, this program is banned from participating in the postseason, including the Big Ten Championship game.

    But it is Ohio State, and it is Urban Meyer, and there will be 19 returning starters taking the field this season.

    Regardless of your personal feelings, Ohio State is one of the top programs in the nation and Urban Meyer is one of the best coaches alive, with a .819 win percentage, four conference titles and two national championships over 10 seasons and three programs.

    There will be no national championship run for the Buckeyes in 2012 or even a Big Ten title march for that matter, but that doesn't mean Ohio State won't follow up its first losing season (on the field) in over two decades with a truckload of wins.

    2012 Wins Prediction: Nine

Bill O'Brien, Penn State

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    Penn State might be one of the most difficult teams to predict in 2012.

    After all that has happened in State College, Pennsylvania over the past year, it could probably be considered something of minor miracle that Penn State will even be playing football in 2012.

    But the Nittany Lions will be on the field, and for the first time in most of our lifetimes, there will be a new head coach in charge.

    Still, Penn State is facing some crushing sanctions.

    A scholarship reduction is one thing, but a reduction by 20 each season for four seasons is something particularly harsh. In essence, Penn State will be fielding an FCS program for the next four seasons (FCS programs are allowed 63 full ride-equivalent scholarships, while Penn State will be allowed to have 65 players on scholarship).

    Bill O'Brien has proven himself to be a capable individual, both on and off the field.

    His first coaching job was as the tight ends coach at the Ivy League's Brown. After spending time at Georgia Tech, Maryland and Duke, O'Brien found his way to the NFL and the dynastic New England Patriots. In Boston, he eventually rose to the position of offensive coordinator before accepting the offer to replace Joe Paterno at Penn State.

    Since then, he's done an admirable job of keeping Penn State football and its future as separate as possible from the actions of a criminal and a small group of misguided men.

    But that effort can only be so successful. In the end, Penn State will be judged—at least for our purposes here—by its wins and losses.

    And it's not looking good for those hoping to see lots of wins.

    2012 Wins Prediction: Six

Paul Cryst, Pittsburgh

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    Pitt has already announced to the world their intent to leave the floundering Big East in favor of the ACC.

    But switching conferences is only part of the process, and the ACC won't be welcoming the Panthers until 2013.

    In the meantime, Pitt will be desperately trying to restore its good name on the football field by making one last push towards the Big East's automatic BCS berth.

    After more head coaches than we can keep track of over the past few seasons, Pitt has finally (we hope) found a head coach that is capable of rebuilding this nine-time national championship program into something that at least resembles its former self.

    But he'll have to stick around more than a season or two to do that.

    2012 Wins Prediction: Eight

Kyle Flood, Rutgers

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    With the exodus of top Big East programs, there's been more that a little idle speculation that Rutgers might soon follow suit.

    But that hasn't happened yet, and you can bet the Big East will do all it can to hang on to the Scarlet Knights, not to mention its lone New York City media market route for football games.

    Rutgers enters the 2012 season as one of the early favorites in the Big East, and with 16 returning starters, there's more than enough reason to think the Knights will have every opportunity to knock off programs like Cincinnati and Louisville this year.

    Kyle Flood takes over as head coach after Greg Schiano left for the NFL.

    But Flood isn't new to the Rutgers family. Flood has coached under Schiano at Rutgers since 2006 and was offensive line and assistant head coach, as well.

    That should ease much of the transition pains for the program, and it's doubtful the Scarlet Knights will see any adverse on-field effects from the switch.

    2012 Wins Prediction: Ten

Ellis Johnson, Southern Mississippi

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    Ellis Johnson takes over at Southern Mississippi, and will be one of the most experienced first-time FBS coaches to take the field this fall.

    Johnson began his coaching career in 1975 as the defensive ends coach for The Citadel. After spending time at both the high school and college level, including a head coaching gig at The Citadel (his alma mater) from 2001 to 2003, Johnson became the assistant head coach under Steve Spurrier at South Carolina.

    Johnson now replaces Larry Fedora, who has accepted the top position at North Carolina.

    Southern Mississippi was victorious in one of last season's best upsets, knocking off then-BCS-bound Houston in the Conference USA Championship Game in Houston, and the Golden Eagles capped off their 12-2 season with a Hawai'i Bowl victory over Nevada.

    But Johnson won't be the only new face for the Eagles in 2011.

    With just 11 combined returning starters, there will be plenty of room for error in 2012—especially with games against Boise State, Nebraska and Louisville. Hoping for a back-to-back conference championship run is likely well out of reach for Southern Miss.

    2012 Wins Prediction: Seven

Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M

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    After four season as head coach at Houston, Kevin Sumlin could see the writing on the wall as well as anyone else.

    Now that Case Keenum has left the Cougars, there may not be much hope of a BCS bust-up from Houston in the near future.

    Still, Sumlin enters his shiny new SEC job with an impressive 35-17 record, and he has a proven history of finding those diamond-in-the-rough recruits and polishing them into valuable gems.

    But now that he's at Texas A&M, he likely won't have to search hard for those diamonds, and they won't be in such rough shape.

    It will be very interesting to see how well Sumlin does at a program with the resources of Texas A&M. Similarly, we're keeping a close eye on whether or not the SEC will turn into a recruitment draw for the Aggies.

    If everything goes according to plan, A&M could emerge as a national power once again before you can say “Gig 'em.”

    But in the short term, the Aggies might be in for a tough welcome to the SEC.

    There's more than enough returning talent—17 starters—to field a very competitive team, but just how successful that competition against the SEC-West will turn out is a serious point of contention.

    2012 Wins Prediction: Nine

Matt Campbell, Toledo

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    Toledo may not be the most noteworthy program, but the Rockets were one of the most entertaining teams to watch in 2011.

    As much as we malign the MAC—and for good reason—it's not all bad in the upper Midwest.

    Last season the Rockets were 9-4, which included a thrilling final-minute victory over Air Force in the Military Bowl as well as two games with more than 60 points for the Rockets.

    The Rockets scored 42-or-more points eight times last season, including five of 49-or-more.

    Offense certainly isn't the problem at Toledo, but when a team scores 60 points against Northern Illinois and loses, there are clearly some defensive issues.

    It will be up to Matt Campbell to sort through those problems in an attempt to guide Toledo to its first MAC title since 2004.

    Campbell has been with the program since 2009, and took over as interim head coach just prior to last season's Military Bowl victory over Air Force when Tim Beckman left for his new job at Illinois.

    While the MAC is notoriously difficult to predict, it's probably safe to assume we'll see some more offensive fireworks for the Rockets in 2012. And if their defense can step it up, it may turn out to be a very good year, indeed.

    2012 Wins Prediction: 10

Curtis Johnson, Tulane

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    After 16 seasons as a college assistant, Curtis Johnson made the leap to the NFL ranks, spending the last six years with the New Orleans Saints as wide receivers coach.

    His success in New Orleans earned him enough local respect to find himself a head coaching position at Tulane—a program in desperate need of some success.

    So just how bad are things in the Big East for the Green Wave?

    The last winning season was 2002. The last conference championship was 1998—which was its first since its 1949 SEC title (although Tulane was an independent for 29 of those seasons in between). Just three bowl games since 1981. And to cap it all off, a 2-11 finish in 2011.

    So what can Curtis Johnson hope to do?

    First, he brings a winning know-how to a program that has been ignored for years. He's also well-connected in New Orleans, and his NFL experience may be seen as a bonus for some prospects passed over by the big boys of the SEC.

    But Johnson is still taking over a program that can't even claim second fiddle in the football-crazy state of Louisiana, and attracting any top recruits is probably too much to hope for.

    And a quick turnaround in time for 2012 is completely out of the question.

    2012 Wins Prediction: Two

Jim Mora, UCLA

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    Jim Mora is already making headlines as head coach at UCLA.

    It may not be the kind of headlines for which he was looking, but there won't be too many complaints from the Bruins' fan base, anyway.

    UCLA is a major big-name, historical program with fans as dedicated as any group in the nation. UCLA has also been the program that almost could, for the better part of the last half-decade.

    Following 2005's 10-1 success, there's been a steady decline for the Sons of Westwood.

    After declining quickly, Karl Dorrell was unceremoniously fired prior to the 2007 Las Vegas Bowl. UCLA alumnus and NFL veteran Rick Neuheisel was hired to redeem his alma mater's honor, but similarly had difficultly finding success. After four seasons, Neuheisel was fired before UCLA's appearance in the 2011 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.

    Enter Jim Mora.

    The stakes couldn't be higher. UCLA is at a point where any further decline would be viewed as the beginning of the end for the program's status as a truly major player in the Pac-12. Regardless of UCLA's asterisk-laden 2011 Pac-12 South Division title, there aren't many around the nation that take the Bruins seriously anymore.

    Mora has a wealth of experience and has proven to be fully committed to the program. This is, however, his first college coaching job. His entire coaching career to this point has been in the NFL, so we're anxious to see how he transitions to the college game.

    It is worth mentioning that Mora's last coaching job was in Seattle—where he was fired and replaced by former USC head coach Pete Carroll.

    As if those two programs needed anything else to add fuel to the rivalry.

    2012 Wins Prediction: Seven

Mike Leach, Washington State

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    For the past four or so seasons, no Pac-12 team has fared worse in terms of wins and losses than Washington State.

    Last season was by far the best year of the bunch, with the Cougars finishing 4-8—a far sight better than the usual 11-loss season that had become almost typical in Pullman.

    But just as a foundation of success was beginning to take shape, head coach Paul Wulff was fired. Even WSU athletic director Bill Moos had to admit that Wulff needed to be thanked for his work in the trenches.

    So why was Wulff fired?

    In the end, it may boil down to his 9-40 record and the fact that someone like Mike Leach was available and interested in the job.

    The firey and animated Leach now takes over with the task of taking the next step for Washington State. Can he turn the struggling laughingstock of the Pac-12 into a competitor in the North Division?

    Most observers are just interested to see what happens next in the saga of Mike Leach. Will his “pirate” skills allow him to “steal victories” and right the ship at WSU? Or will it be another media circus?

    Our bet is that he'll be successful, and the improvements will be evident right away.

    2012 Wins Prediction: Six

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