More often than not, offseason pressure in college football comes from one unruly source—simultaneously the best and worst part about each program in the sport.
Specifically, pressure exists where production does not meet expectation. Where the fans of a program demand either greatness or competence but are treated to average-ness or deficiency.
That disconnect puts coaches and players in an uncompromising position. They can either improve and win in the short-term or expect to be booted in the long-term. Their backs are against the wall and they can no longer afford to dissatisfy expectations.
Teams, staffs and programs in this situation cannot coast through spring practice or offseason drills. Given their performance in 2013 or the losses they incurred soon after, fall practice will not be enough time to fix their pronounced flaws. It has to happen now.
The pressure is on from the get-go.
All star ratings and recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.com.
Like any second-year head coach—and he will not be the only one on this list—Bret Bielema can be forgiven for struggling to adapt his system in Year 1 with his new program. Sometimes, translating coach to personnel and vice versa takes more than a single season.
His leash will be less long in 2014.
Bielema has already put his foot down this offseason by suspending numerous players, chief among them star running back Alex Collins, who was named the SEC Freshman of the Year after rushing for 1,026 yards on 190 carries in 2013.
The suspension was only for a week and won't necessarily impact the team going forward, but it does send a powerful message from coach to player: No one is special and Bielema demands them to fall in line.
After ending the year on a nine-game losing streak and failing to win a conference game last season, Arkansas needs Bielema's tactics to work. It needs for players to embrace the system so that Fayetteville, in turn, can embrace its second-year head coach.
Another season like last would put Bielema squarely on the hot seat.
It's easy to forget, but Cal was a perennial contender in the mid-to-late part of last decade.
When Sonny Dykes, one of the hottest coaches on the market, was hired away from Louisiana Tech in 2013, the Bears expected to get back to the level of operation. And fast.
Instead, Year 1 of the Dykes experiment was an abject disaster. The defense was historically bad and the offense, supposedly a strength, could only muster 175 points. The team finished 1-11 overall, went winless against FBS teams and finished with an ungodly point differential of minus-240.
When Dykes' forerunner, Jeff Tedford, took over in 2002, he immediately turned a 1-10 team into one that went 7-5. Cal went 8-6 in 2003 and 10-2 the year after that. This program and its fanbase expect to see quick success.
The Bears don't need to contend for a Pac-12 title or even necessarily make a bowl game next season. All they need to do is show the seedlings of competence. That process starts by reassessing each and every position group during spring practice.
Otherwise, the unrest in Berkeley could reach extreme heights.
Despite the losses of Dalvin Cook Jr. and Ermon Lane to Florida State, Will Muschamp alleviated some pressure with a strong close to the recruiting cycle on national signing day.
He still has a lot more to go.
Muschamp and new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper, who was nominated for the Broyles Award as the nation's top assistant last season with Duke, will have their work cut out for them the moment spring practice engages.
Who will be the quarterback? How healthy is Jeff Driskel? Who, if anyone, is capable of beating press coverage on the outside? How does Muschamp deal with an offense that is not predicated on ball control, that abandons his tenets of big, dumb, ugly football?
The Gators lost a lot of spare parts on defense this offseason, too. There Muschamp has far less pressure to prove himself as his defenses have always performed well, but integrating players like 5-star cornerback Jalen Tabor is not as easy as it sounds.
Everything must go right in Gainesville next season. Everything. Simply taking baby steps after the debacle of 2013—a 4-8 season that was the program's worst since 1979—will not be enough.
The Gators must take bounding strides.
Michigan's new offensive coordinator, Doug Nussmeier, has been hired amid high expectations to fix a unit that has underachieved and has questions at every major spot.
Is the quarterback Devin Gardner or Shane Morris? Is Derrick Green a slow starter or a slow runner? Who replaces Jeremy Gallon on the outside? Who replaces Taylor Lewan at tackle? Can anyone on the offensive line learn how to run-block?
Few offensive coordinators come to Michigan and find less talent than they had at their previous stop. Nussmeier, who spent the last few seasons at Alabama, is the rare case that did. He trumpeted Ann Arbor as a "special, special place" at his introductory press conference, but the city Nussmeier just left is itself far from being ordinary.
The wholesale improvements needed on this unit cannot just take place next fall. They are far too embedded from the Al Borges era and need to be fixed straightaway.
For an even more thorough breakdown, I highly recommend this piece from B/R's Michael Felder on the challenges that lie ahead.
In 2013, it was easy for Notre Dame to make excuses.
Before the season even started, Everett Golson was suspended from the university and Brian Kelly's hand was forced into playing Tommy Rees at quarterback.
From that point forward, the Irish were essentially playing with house money; anything they won was a positive because everything they lost could be vindicated with just wait until Golson comes back.
Welp. Now he's back. And he's supposedly much improved. And for a quarterback who led his team to the national title game as a redshirt freshman two seasons ago, supposed improvement should mean potential Heisman candidacy.
Snowballing even further, potential Heisman candidacy should mean a top-10-type team that's contending for a spot in the College Football Playoff—a place that the Irish, from players to coaches to fans, will expect to be each season.
Beyond just Golson, the entire team will need to improve on last year's 9-4 outfit that struggled to beat Rutgers in the Pinstripe Bowl. That holds doubly true on defense, where All-American-type guys like Manti Te'o, Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix are gone from the last team Golson was part of in South Bend.
With partial-ACC membership looming and a schedule that is even harder than usual—including Florida State and Louisville on top of usual suspects like Michigan, Stanford and USC—Notre Dame must make marked improvements to satisfy its annual expectation.
Virginia Tech has begun to lose some luster these past few seasons.
After losing an average of three games per year between 2003-2011, Frank Beamer's team lost six in 2012 and five more in 2013.
Now the 15th-winningest coach in NCAA history is unthinkably on a mild hot seat, though the thought of newly introduced athletic director Whit Babcock actually firing him is hard to imagine.
Still, especially after a recruiting cycle where the top eight players from Virginia went elsewhere—including 5-star prospects in Da'Shawn Hand, Quin Blanding and Andrew Brown—the Hokies enter spring in a parlous position.
With no good answer to replace Logan Thomas at quarterback, a running game that just finished 117th (out of 125) in yards per attempt and Scot Loeffler hardly inspiring confidence at its helm, the offense in particular needs to have a productive offseason.
And even that might be putting it lightly.