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Chris Peterson, Boise State (13-0 in '06, 10-3 in '07)
Peterson became the first coach ever to have a 13-0 record in his first season as head coach. Peterson took over a nice situation in Boise, following Dirk Koetter and Dan Hawkins (0.828 winning percentage in five years).
Although he did have to replace a successful QB, year two was a bit of a disappointment. Being upset by East Carolina in the poorly attended Hawaii Bowl was a far different bowl experience than his first season.
Peterson was rumored for the UCLA job, but he appears willing to wait for the perfect fit before leaving the high desert. Given Hawkins' slow going at Colorado, Peterson may not be a lock for a BCS program.
Turner Gill, Buffalo (2-10, 5-7)
The former Cornhusker took over a tough situation. An improvement to 5-7 in his second year marked Buffalo's best season ever in Division I-A. Gill was rumored for the job at Nebraska, his alma mater.
Gill, 45, was expected to learn on the job at Buffalo, so a second-year record of 5-7 puts him ahead of schedule.
Dan Hawkins, Colorado (2-10, 6-7)
Coach Hawk was highly desired while at Boise State, so many are surprised he hasn't had instant success in Boulder. Colorado was likely set for a downturn regardless of coaching, so perhaps Hawkins should be given a pass on his early struggles.
In year three he won't get such a pass. Another baby step in 2008 and people will have to question if Hawkins can ever get Colorado to be dominant in an improving Big 12 North.
Dennis Erickson, Idaho (4-8, ---)
Erickson returned to Idaho where he cut his coaching teeth in the early '80s. He didn't stay long this time, leaving for Arizona State after one season and upsetting the Vandal faithful. You would expect Erickson, 61, to be on his last job.
Ron Prince, Kansas State (7-6, 5-7)
Kansas State surprised a lot of people when they went outside the Bill Snyder coaching tree to tab his replacement. Ron Prince surprised a lot of people when he upset Texas and played in the Texas Bowl in his first season.
More head-scratching ensued when Prince followed up his first season with a difficult 5-7 season behind a struggling defense. Will the real Ron Prince please step forward?
Rick Stockstill, Middle Tennessee State (7-6, 5-7)
Similar to Prince, Stockstill went bowling in year one only to regress in his second year. Stockstill has a solid pedigree, coaching at South Carolina and Clemson, but in order to get a promotion to a BCS program, more gridiron success must come.
Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern (4-8, 6-6)
Given the trying circumstances following the death of Randy Walker, any coach would be given a pass on a 4-8 first season. That's especially true when you hire a 32-year-old coach with only linebacker coach experience.
The legendary Wildcat linebacker took a nice step forward in '08, going 6-6 and leading the Big Ten in total offense. Unfortunately, he had to replace both his offensive coordinator (Garrick McGee, took Arkansas QB job) and defensive coordinator (Greg Colby, fired).
Northwestern was without an athletic director during the hiring process, so this was a tough task for the young Fitzgerald. He made a couple of solid choices in Mick McCall (BGSU offensive coordinator) and Mike Hankwitz (Wisconsin defensive coordinator). Fitzgerald will need time and Northwestern will afford him that.
NU eventually hired Northern Illinois' AD Jim Phillips, a rising star. Coupled with Fitzgerald's energetic yet stoic personality, Northwestern may have found the right combo to win in a challenging environment.
Todd Graham, Rice (7-6, ---)
Graham got a lot of credit for taking Rice to their first bowl game since 1961. Tulsa liked what he did too, so they hired their old defensive coordinator back as head coach.
Chuck Long, San Diego State (3-9, 4-8)
The former Heisman finalist appeared to be ready for his own head gig after a long and successful tenure as Oklahoma's offensive coordinator. Last season's successful offense was wasted due to a horrid defense. That offensive unit was ravaged by graduation, including NFL draft pick QB Kevin O'Connell.
Long could be the first of this group to be shown the door.
Al Golden, Temple (1-11, 4-8)
Only at a place like Temple is a 4-8 season cause for celebration. People at Temple weren't the only ones who were impressed with Golden's work—he interviewed for the UCLA job.
Golden, one of two Virginia coordinators in this coaching class, and Gill could have the MAC East flipped upside down in just three or four years. Golden is eyeing the head job at his alma mater, Penn State, but is likely a long shot.
Bret Bielema, Wisconsin (11-1, 9-4)
Bielema took over as part of a succession plan to replace the legendary Barry Alvarez after serving as defensive coordinator. His 11-1 season was outshined by only Peterson among first-year coaches in '06. Wisconsin was kept out of a BCS bowl due to the rule preventing a conference from sending three schools to bowls.
Bielema has Wisconsin best suited to crash Ohio State and Michigan's party atop the Big Ten.