College Football: Which New Head Coaches are in the Best Position to Succeed?

Kristofer GreenSenior Writer IJuly 31, 2008

With the start of the 2008 college football season just around the corner, most fans know what they are going to get from their team’s head coach.  Good or bad, fans understand the way their coach calls the game, adjusts to the other team, recruits, and handles defeat.

There are a select few teams who will begin the 2008 season with nothing but hope and speculation as to how their new head coach will fare.
What new head coaches are in the best positions to succeed? 
Bill Stewart -- West Virginia Mountaineers
2007 record: 11-2 (beat Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl)
Best returning offensive player:  Pat White (QB, 1,724 yards passing, 1,335 yards rushing)
Best returning defensive player:  Reed Williams (LB, 107 tackles)
Pat White is one of the most dangerous dual-threat quarterbacks in the nation and that versatility has done well for the Mountaineers over the last few seasons. The offense will be slightly different without running back Steve Slaton and fullback Owen Schmitt, but Noel Devine is ready to take over where Slaton left off.  The offensive line will be dominating this season. Tackle Ryan Stanchek and guard Greg Isdaner are all-conference quality players and there are nine offensive linemen on the roster that have started at least one game during their careers.
Coordinator Jeff Casteel was retained by Bill Stewart, which was great news considering how well the Mountaineers performed in 2007.  The linebackers will be the strength of the defense with the return of Reed Williams and Mortty Ivy.  Scooter Berry is the only returning starter on a defensive line that will need to be rebuilt, but with returning second teamers Zac Cooper and Chris Neild, as well as, red-shirt freshman Julian Millernd and highly touted JUCO transfer Tevita Finau things may not look so bad.

Bo Pelini -- Nebraska Cornhuskers
2007 record:  5-7 (no bowl game) 
Best returning offensive player:  Marlon Lucky (RB, 1,019 yards rushing)
Best returning defensive player:  Larry Asante (S, 78 tackles)
For all of Nebraska’s problems last season, the offense really wasn’t one of them.  Quarterback Joe Ganz returns after electrifying performances to close out the 2007 season.  Also returning is running back Marlon Lucky who not only led the team in rushing yards but also had a team high 75 receptions.  The offensive line had one of its best seasons in years and will get several starters back including Lyndon Murtha and Matt Slauson.  Replacing Maurice Purify may be the biggest concern on the offense.
The thing Cornhusker fans should look forward to most about the 2008 defense is that the coaching will be much better.  The changes have already begun in Lincoln.  The defensive line (one of the worst ever at Nebraska in 2007) is now leaner, meaner, and has some veteran players who should play better this season.  Lack of depth in the linebacking corps and in the secondary will test the Pelini brothers.  But if they can coach up some marginally talented players in linebackers Tyler Wortman and Phillip Dillard and if Larry Asante and Armando Murillo can continue to build off a good 2007 campaign the Huskers may return to the old “blackshirt” glory days sooner than expected.
Rich Rodriguez -- Michigan Wolverines
2007 record:  9-4 (beat Florida in the Capital One Bowl)

Best returning offensive player:  Greg Matthews (WR, 366 yards receiving)
Best returning defensive player:  Terrance Taylor (DT) 
The Wolverines have many questions on the offensive side of the ball with just three returning starters from 2007. With the implementation of the spread offense, it may be nice that Rodriguez can choose players that fit his style without the burden of keeping high-profile stars happy.  Despite questions at the skill positions, the biggest concern is on the offensive line.  Steven Schilling is the lone starter returning from last year.  David Moosman, Cory Zirbel, and Tim McAvoy will fill out the rest of the line and will have to learn quickly if the offense is going to be successful.
Scott Shafer's defense should be solid after bouncing back from a disastrous start in 2007. The line has the potential to be among the best in the nation, but now all the talent needs to turn into more production with tackles Terrance Taylor and Will Johnson and ends Tim Jamison and Brandon Graham needing to dominate. The secondary was terrific last year, and it will be again even with new safeties to go with strong corners Morgan Trent and Donovan Warren. The question is with a linebacking corps that should be decent, but nothing special outside of Obi Ezeh in the middle.

Bobby Petrino -- Arkansas Razorbacks
2007 record:  8-5 (lost to Missouri in the Cotton Bowl) 
Best returning offensive player:  Casey Dick (QB, 1,695 yards passing)
Best returning defensive player:  Ernest Mitchell (NT, 66 tackles)
Center Jonathan Luigs anchors an offensive line that only gave up one sack per game last season. With Malcolm Sheppard and Jose Valdez also back, the Razorbacks line will be the strength of the offense. And with such a good line, running back Michael Smith, who is small and quick, could be the next explosive Arkansas back.  Casey Dick will certainly be called on to pass the ball more often and after a great spring practice it looks as though he is up for the challenge.
It should be interesting season for defensive coordinator Willy Robinson. The defensive line has the potential of being the best in the SEC, if everyone plays up to their talent level.  Ernest Mitchell and Malcolm Sheppard are a great tandem at tackle and Adrian Davis and Antwain Robinson are two of the conferences best defensive ends.  The linebacking corps is in bad shape now that Freddie Fairchild has been kicked off the team.  Returning starter Elston Forte will have to carry the load and newcomers Ryan Powers and Jerry Franklin (at least until the Wendel Davis saga plays out) are going to have to step up. The secondary has to replace all four starters, but it shouldn't be all that bad if the pass rush can help the cause.

Kevin Sumlin -- Houston Cougars
2007 record:  8-5 (lost to TCU in the Texas Bowl) 
Best returning offensive player:  Case Keenum (QB, 2,259 yards receiving)
Best returning defensive player:  Phillip Hunt (DE, 10.5 sacks)
Houston is installing the same Texas Tech spread that’s perennially among the nation’s leaders in passing.  First, Sumlin will have to decide between quarterbacks Case Keenum and Blake Joseph, who split time a year ago. Joseph has the stronger arm, but Keenum is more accurate and moves well outside the pocket, making him a nice fit for offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen’s system.  The receivers need to step up, putting pressure on last year’s backups L.J. Castile, Tim Monroe, and Chris Gilbert. After missing most of 2006 and 2007 with a knee injury, promising tackle SirVincent Rogers is a welcome addition to the offensive line.

The defense was often overlooked last season because of the high powered offense, but they did rank first in the conference in total defense and should again this season. End Phillip Hunt had a C-USA high 10.5 sacks in 2007 and will anchor an experienced line. The secondary returns four starters including safety Kenneth Fontenette who is the returning leader in tackles and interceptions and corners Brandon Brinkley and Quinte Williams.  Linebacker Cody Lubojasky is back to man the middle and new faces Tyrell Graham and Matt Nicholson who are both upperclassmen and are ready to step up into starting roles.