College Football Head Coaches Who'll Make the Most Improvement in 2014

Greg WallaceFeatured ColumnistAugust 18, 2014

College Football Head Coaches Who'll Make the Most Improvement in 2014

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    With an offensive makeover, Will Muschamp and Florida should be improved this fall.
    With an offensive makeover, Will Muschamp and Florida should be improved this fall.Phil Sandlin/Associated Press

    College football is a win-now business. This is not exactly breaking news: The ever-increasing influx of television and bowl money into the game has ratcheted up the pressure on head coaches to show on-field success, and immediately.

    According to Syracuse.com's Patrick Stevens, only 57 of the 128 Football Bowl Subdivision head coaches have spent more than three seasons in their current positions.  College football’s coaching carousel is constant.

    Per Stevens, the median hire date for an FBS head coach is Dec. 8, 2011. If coaches don’t win immediately, athletic directors and boosters have shown they aren’t afraid to pay a buyout clause and find someone who can.

    When the 2014 season begins in less than two weeks, fans across the nation will be looking for signs of improvement from their favorite programs. Here is a look at some college football head coaches who should make the most improvement in 2014, running the gamut from newbie to established.

Gary Andersen, Wisconsin

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    Gary Andersen and Wisconsin have a chance at a 10-win season this fall.
    Gary Andersen and Wisconsin have a chance at a 10-win season this fall.John Raoux/Associated Press

    Year with Program: Second

    2013 Record: 9-4

    Why 2014 Will Be Better

    Gary Andersen had a solid debut with Wisconsin, bolting to a 9-2 record before losing the season’s final two games to Penn State and South Carolina. Only 10 starters return this fall, but there are significant reasons for optimism in Madison.

    Four starters return on the offensive line, and they’ll block for one of the nation’s top tailbacks in junior Melvin Gordon, who turned down the NFL draft for one more season of college football.

    Wisconsin needs to settle on a quarterback. Junior Joel Stave has started 19 games in his career and threw for 2,494 yards with 22 touchdowns against 13 interceptions last fall. But he left the Capital One Bowl with an injured AC joint in his throwing shoulder and missed much of spring practice. That opened the door for competition from junior Tanner McEvoy, a more mobile option (which Andersen likes).

    Fox Sports Wisconsin's Jesse Temple said that Stave appears to have the lead in the competition after a solid first scrimmage which saw him complete nine of 17 passes for 115 yards with two touchdowns. Andersen spoke highly of Stave afterward. 

    Joel's done a nice job. He's poised. He's confident. He loves to compete. I think he's handling his team. I would say on the flip side of that, I think Tanner is doing the same thing. Again, they're competing well against each other. It's a great situation to be in. I'm proud of Joel Stave. He's gone through a lot of things in his career. He battles like crazy and comes to work every day. He's gotten better.

    The Badgers have a tough neutral-site opener against LSU, but the schedule is otherwise favorable. They play only one true road game before November and don’t play Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State or Penn State from the Big Ten East. The door is open to challenge for the Big Ten West title and a 10-win season.

    Projected Record: 10-2

Dave Doeren, NC State

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    A young N.C. State team could be significantly improved this fall.
    A young N.C. State team could be significantly improved this fall.Gerry Broome/Associated Press

    Year with Program: Second

    2013 Record: 3-9

    Why 2014 Will Be Better

    Dave Doeren’s North Carolina State tenure started off smoothly enough. The Wolfpack began 2013 3-1, with the only loss a competitive 26-14 home defeat to Clemson.

    But everything fell apart from there. State lost its final eight games of the season, with only one (a 27-19 loss to North Carolina) coming by fewer than 14 points. The Wolfpack went winless in ACC play for the first time since 1959.

    That said, there is reason for optimism in Raleigh. NC State was staggeringly young last fall (51 of its 85 scholarship players were redshirt freshmen or true freshmen), and those players will only be better with a year of experience.

    Plus, Florida transfer Jacoby Brissett is now eligible. Brissett is a mobile quarterback who can run the offense that Doeren used so successfully at Northern Illinois and is capable of moving the ball in multiple ways. The offense (which averaged 22.8 points per game last fall, No. 97 nationally, needs a spark that Brissett could provide.

    State’s schedule is very manageable. While the Wolfpack is in the tough ACC Atlantic with Clemson, Florida State and league newcomer Louisville, it avoids Virginia Tech, Duke and Pitt from the Coastal. And the nonconference schedule is paper-soft: Georgia Southern, Old Dominion, at South Florida and Presbyterian. If the young guys mature, there’s no reason this bunch can’t go bowling.

    Projected Record: 6-6

Brady Hoke, Michigan

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    Brady Hoke hopes an offseason offensive makeover takes hold this fall.
    Brady Hoke hopes an offseason offensive makeover takes hold this fall.Tony Ding/Associated Press

    Year with Program: Fourth

    2013 Record: 7-6

    Why 2014 Will Be Better

    Michigan enters 2014 seeking offensive equilibrium. The Wolverines had none of that last fall, and it cost offensive coordinator Al Borges his job. The Wolverines slipped from 11-2 to 7-6 and managed only 125.7 yards of rushing offense per game, ranking No. 102 nationally.

    Hoke replaced Borges with Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, who will inject some balance into the Wolverines offense. In 2013, Nussmeier’s Alabama offense averaged 454.1 yards of total offense per game (248.5 passing and 205.6 rushing).

    It’ll be piloted by senior quarterback Devin Gardner, who has fended off a preseason challenge from sophomore Shane Morris, per Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press. Michigan brings back seven offensive starters, three on the offensive line, but must replace left tackle Taylor Lewan, an NFL first-round selection. Sophomore Eric Magunson slides over from guard to replace Lewan.

    Nussmeier has emphasized balance and avoiding negative offensive plays. Michigan also returns eight starters on defense and has a favorable schedule. The Wolverines have a chance to get off to a fast start by opening the season with Appalachian State, a trip to Notre Dame and visits from Utah and Minnesota.  Trips to Michigan State and Ohio State will be treacherous, but there’s no reason not to expect improvement from 2013.

    Projected record: 8-4

Todd Monken, Southern Miss

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    Todd Monken had a rough first season at Southern Miss, but improvement is on the horizon.
    Todd Monken had a rough first season at Southern Miss, but improvement is on the horizon.STEVE COLEMAN/Associated Press

    Year with Program: Second

    2013 Record: 1-11

    Why 2014 Will Be Better

    Southern Miss was once one of college football’s best mid-major programs, a group that accepted the challenge to play anyone, anywhere, with tremendous success. Before 2012, the program’s last losing season came in 1993.

    But after Larry Fedora departed for North Carolina following 2011’s 12-2 record and Conference USA title, the Golden Eagles’ wings were clipped with shocking suddenness.

    Ellis Johnson had a disastrous one-year tenure, going 0-12 before being shown the door. Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Todd Monken was hired and lost his first 11 games before breaking the 23-game losing streak with a 62-27 rout of UAB in the 2013 season finale.

    Now, there’s nowhere to go but up, right?

    Southern Miss returns 16 starters, led by sophomore quarterback Nick Mullens, who threw for 1,776 yards with 13 touchdowns against 14 interceptions as a true freshman.

    The Golden Eagles defense allowed 41.9 points per game last fall (No. 117 nationally) but does return seven starters. In addition, talented safety Jacorius Cotton (who missed last season with academic issues) and linebacker Alan Howze and defensive tackle Rakeem Nunez-Roches (who each missed much of last season with injuries) are back, too, giving the unit some added talent.

    The season’s first month will be tough (trips to Mississippi State and Alabama), but this should be a group that improves as the year goes on in a revamped Conference USA. A bowl game might be out of reach, but the Golden Eagles should show they’re headed in the right direction.

    Projected Record: 4-8

Dan Mullen, Mississippi State

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    Dan Mullen and Mississippi State will be competitive in the SEC West this fall.
    Dan Mullen and Mississippi State will be competitive in the SEC West this fall.Butch Dill/Associated Press

    Year With Program: Sixth

    2013 Record: 7-6

    Why 2014 Will Be Better

    2013 was up-and-down in Starkville, but it ended on a major high. The Bulldogs limped into late November 4-6, but they beat Arkansas and archrival Ole Miss in overtime to salvage a bowl bid. They followed that up with a 44-7 Liberty Bowl pasting of Rice.

    Mississippi State returns 16 starters (eight on offense and eight on defense), and there’s good reason to believe that Dan Mullen’s Bulldogs will build on last season’s success.

    Junior quarterback Dak Prescott is a dual-threat signal-caller who has 947 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns in his career, but he does need to improve his downfield accuracy. He has a very capable target in senior Jameon Lewis (923 yards in 2013).

    Defensively, State is deep,  returning eight defensive linemen who played in at least 10 games last fall. Junior linebacker Benardrick McKinney had 102 tackles in 2013. State has to travel to LSU and Alabama, but hosts Texas A&M and Auburn. The Bulldogs avoid SEC East stalwarts like Georgia, Missouri and South Carolina, with the toughest “crossover” game probably being Vanderbilt. The SEC West is never easy, but there is room for improvement this fall.

    Projected Record: 8-4

Will Muschamp, Florida

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    With a new offensive coordinator, Will Muschamp is hoping for marked improvement this fall.
    With a new offensive coordinator, Will Muschamp is hoping for marked improvement this fall.John Raoux/Associated Press

    Year with Program: Fourth

    2013 Record: 4-8

    Why 2014 Will Be Better

    Will Muschamp hasn’t shied away from “hot seat” talk this summer. Florida’s third-year coach knows full well that he’s firmly on a scalding-hot seat in Gainesville. The Gators slipped from 11-2 in 2012 to 4-8 last fall. It was the program’s first losing season since 1979, with the crowning glory a November home loss to then-FCS team Georgia Southern.

    SI.com's Andy Staples says Muschamp fully embraced the hot-seat issue. He faced the issues head-on at SEC Media Days, per ASAP Sports.

    There will be a lot of chatter about hot seat business.  That's part of it.  The way you combat that is having a winning football team and winning football games, which is what we're going to do.

    I got a lot of confidence in this team and staff.  This is probably the most complete team we've had since I've been at the University of Florida in all three phases.

    Some of the Gators’ problems were out of Muschamp’s hands. Florida lost 15 players to season-ending injuries, including starting quarterback Jeff Driskel, who sustained a season-ending broken leg in the season’s third game vs. Tennessee. Florida finished No. 113 nationally in total offense (316.7 YPG), No. 113 nationally in scoring offense (18.8 PPG) and No. 107 in passing offense (170.9 YPG).

    Muschamp fired offensive coordinator Brent Pease and replaced him with Duke offensive coordinator Kurt Roper. Roper, a David Cutcliffe acolyte, helped fuel the Blue Devils’ 10-win season and ACC Coastal Division title in 2013 with a fast-paced spread offense that emphasizes the shotgun formation.

    That formation should better fit the Gators’ offensive talent like Driskel, tailback Matt Jones and wideouts like Andre Debose, Quinton Dunbar, DeMarcus Robinson and Chris Thompson. Last fall, Duke averaged 426.1 yards per game (47th nationally) and 32.8 points per game (41st nationally).

    Florida returns seven starters on defense, led by star sophomore cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III. The schedule isn’t easy (trips to Alabama and Florida State and visits from LSU and South Carolina), but the Gators should be significantly improved this fall.

    Projected Record: 8-4

Gary Patterson, TCU

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    Gary Patterson and TCU hope a new offensive philosophy helps push aside memories of an ugly 2013.
    Gary Patterson and TCU hope a new offensive philosophy helps push aside memories of an ugly 2013.Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Year with Program: 14th

    2013 Record: 4-8

    Why 2014 Will Be Better

    2013 saw TCU take a shocking fall from grace. The Horned Frogs struggled to a 4-8 record, the program’s first losing season since 2004. From 2003-2012, TCU had been one of the nation’s steadiest programs, going 100-27 with eight 11-win seasons in that span.

    TCU averaged just 25.1 points per game (No. 90 nationally), and longtime coach Gary Patterson looked for new offensive leadership. He hired Houston offensive coordinator Doug Meacham and Texas Tech quarterbacks coach Sonny Cumbie. Both are very experienced in the wide-open Air Raid passing offense and will serve as co-offensive coordinators.

    This month, TCU is picking between Texas A&M transfer Matt Joeckel and versatile returnee Trevone Boykin as its starting quarterback. Joeckel threw for 293 yards and two touchdowns while backing up Johnny Manziel, while Boykin had seven touchdowns against seven interceptions as a quarterback but also caught 26 passes for 204 yards as a wide receiver. If Joeckel can lock down the job, Boykin could move outside and give him another versatile weapon.

    TCU returns eight defensive starters but loses sophomore end Devonte Fields, the Big 12’s preseason Defensive Player of the Year, who was permanently separated from the university following an assault investigation.

    The Horned Frogs host Oklahoma and Kansas State but must travel to Baylor and Texas. If the new offense takes hold, overall improvement should follow.

    Projected Record: 7-5