The pressure is on.
These coaches, players, and programs will be feeling the heat once the 2009 college football season finally kicks off a little over a month from now.
From coaches on the hot seat to players with big shoes to fill to programs needing to bounce back in a big way, the pressure will be on.
Will they succeed? Or fall victim to the college football monster?
Lane Kiffin—Head Coach, Tennessee Volunteers
On the surface, Lane Kiffin seems like a perfect fit for the SEC. He has the name recognition, the pedigree, and the brash attitude. He has kicked butt from day one inside the program, poked the Gator down in Gainesville, and stirred the Ole Ball coach in Columbia.
But can he coach? Because in the land of the SEC, the conference of ridiculously high expectations and short tempers, wins are all that matters.
How much pressure will really be on Kiffin?
At Tennessee, just getting to bowl games isn’t enough for any coach, much less one who’s been ruffling as many feathers as Kiffin has. The Volunteers are used to winning, and after a bowl-less 5-7 season, fans are restless.
Remember, Tennessee played in the 2007 SEC Championship game and challenged the eventual national champions LSU to a 21-14 loss on their way to a 10-win season.
For Kiffin to be successful on Rocky Top, the Vols have to contend for SEC championships and national titles at least every other year.
The coaching staff is in place to make it all happen and the talent will follow, but can Kiffin handle the pressure?
Jimmy Clausen—Quarterback, Notre Dame Fighting Irish
The super recruit was ready to be a star on signing day when he arrived at his announcement in a limo. Then reality set in and Clausen found out just what he was entitled to.
This season, the junior—who really could be as talented as originally advertised—has a receiving corps to work with that could be the program’s best in a long time. He has a talented line, a back who can run, and a defense that will keep the score reasonable.
The wins are expected in South Bend, and Clausen has to be the man to deliver them. Oh, and while you're at it Jimmy...now you also have to save your coach’s job.
Will Clausen fold under the pressure? Or will he build off the momentum of the Hawaii Bowl blowout of Hawaii to make the same leap under Charlie Weis that Brady Quinn made going from his sophomore to junior season?
Weis and the Irish are praying for the latter.
Gus Malzahn—Offensive Coordinator, Auburn Tigers
The pressure may ultimately lie with head coach Gene Chizik, but if there’s going to be a big turnaround at Auburn this season, chances are it will be due in large part to offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn.
The last time Malzahn was working in the SEC—or trying to, at least—he was stuck in a losing battle over styles with Houston Nutt at Arkansas.
When Malzahn was finally able to unleash all of his offensive wizardry at Tulsa, his offenses became the best in the nation.
Now it’ll be up to him to make his attack work at Auburn, where offensive coordinators go to be chewed up and spit out. He can’t make things any worse, after the Tigers finished 110th in the nation in scoring, 104th in yards, 99th in passing, and 106th in passing efficiency last season.
But the SEC isn't Conference-USA, and SEC defenses are among the toughest in the country. Can Malzahn handle the pressure they will bring?
This is Miami. A program that can pluck some of the most talented players in the nation right out of their own backyard without even trying. So why has The "U" become so mediocre in recent years?
When the ACC wooed Miami to join their conference six seasons ago, Commissioner John Swofford thought he was getting the crown jewel of the Big East. Instead, Miami has become a shell of its former self.
There have been no ACC title game appearances, and the 'Canes best bowl win over the last four years was a 21-20 struggle over Nevada in the MPC Computers Bowl.
Head coach Randy Shannon has pulled together some excellent recruiting classes and now, in his third year, it is time to try to restore the glory of Miami football. Easier said than done.
Shannon and the 'Canes must traverse a schedule that begins with a nasty, brutal stretch of games. They must travel to rival Florida State, take on a tough Georgia Tech team at home, travel to Blacksburg to meet Virginia Tech, and then face the Oklahoma Sooners at home. Yikes!
There was a time when Miami teams would have rolled through this slate without breaking a sweat. Unfortunately for Shannon and the 'Canes, that time is in the past.
The pressure is mounting in Coral Gables. Will Shannon and the 'Canes survive the impact or buckle under the pressure?
Jim Delaney and The Big Ten Conference
The nation's oldest athletic conference has taken a beating over the last few seasons.
There have been individual successes: Ohio State played for the National Championship in 2006 and 2007, Penn State was a hair away from playing for the championship in 2005 and 2008, and the conference still churns out talent to the NFL as well as any conference in the country.
But the Big Ten's pitiful bowl record and out-of-conference record against other BCS teams has dropped the perception of the conference to an all-time low.
Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delaney recognizes the perception, but doesn't seem to care. He has taken heat from Big Ten supporters and dissenters alike about his stubborn, bullish stance on conference expansion and a national play-off.
To no avail.
The commish is stuck in a time warp. A time when the Big Ten rules the college football landscape. Problem is, those times are long gone, and every day Delaney keeps the Big Ten in the past, the darker the future appears to be.
This season, the Big Ten must make strides to improve its national perception. It starts by winning the big out-of-conference games, continues by making Delaney feel the pressure he must be under, and ends with the Big Ten moving into the future.