The Biggest Offseason Priority for Every New Power 5 CFB Coach
After Arizona hired Kevin Sumlin last week to complete the 2017-18 FBS coaching carousel and Alabama's overtime win over Georgia in the national championship game, college football teams around the country are looking ahead to next season.
Few teams are on the same plane as the Crimson Tide and Bulldogs, and programs across the country fired coaches or saw them leave and now must start anew.
But with newness comes the hope of improvement.
Even teams whose coaches bolted (like Florida State) have reasons to be excited about a change at the top. So while Jimbo Fisher left Willie Taggart with a stocked cupboard, the former Oregon coach must find a way to meld his philosophy with the players who'll outfit the roster.
That's just one of the biggest needs facing new coaches around the country. Others, like Tennessee's Jeremy Pruitt, Florida's Dan Mullen and Nebraska's Scott Frost, want to return their programs back to elite status.
From recruiting to positional improvements to marrying schemes with stars already on board, there are plenty of things on the new guys' "to-do" lists.
Let's take a look at each new coach in a Power Five conference and what his biggest goal should be between now and the beginning of the 2018 season.
Arizona's Kevin Sumlin: Get Comfortable with Khalil Tate
When Florida hired Dan Mullen, the new coach went out and recruited an ideal quarterback to run his system. Fortunately for brand-new Arizona coach Kevin Sumlin, he's got one already on campus.
The Wildcats unleashed Khalil Tate on the nation last year, and the rising junior instantly became one of the most dynamic playmakers in the sport. He figures to have the opportunity to be a Heisman Trophy candidate over the next two seasons in Tucson.
There are plenty of reasons to believe Sumlin was the perfect person to bring the most out of Tate, especially if he can replicate what he was able to do with Johnny Manziel.
Sumlin was never able to build Texas A&M to the level he'd hoped after Johnny Football left College Station, but Tate is the same type of "next level" player with which Sumlin can work wonders.
ESPN.com's Edward Aschoff wrote that the styles of Manziel and Tate are similar: "He might not be Manziel, with the improvisational running and passing skills, but Tate's zig-zagging style is very similar to Manziel's, which has to have Sumlin giddy."
Sumlin was able to recruit top-level quarterbacks to A&M after the Manziel era, but he couldn't keep them there. With the Wildcats, he'll have one who only needs the roughness around the edges removed to be a superstar.
If Sumlin lures his A&M offensive coordinator to Tucson, Noel Mazzone will help mold Tate into the best college football player he can be. There are a lot of exciting parts already on the roster, and Rich Rodriguez recruited a lot of young quality players on defense.
It's just a matter marrying Sumlin's philosophy with Tate's skills. Once that happens, the Pac-12 should watch out.
Arizona State's Herm Edwards: Continue to Improve the Sun Devils Defense
Before Herm Edwards was an NFL head coach with the New York Jets and Kansas City Chiefs from 2001-08, he was a quality defensive backs coach in the league.
After a nearly 10-year hiatus from coaching, the ESPN NFL analyst was puzzlingly pegged to lead the program at Arizona State. He attempted to keep former coach Todd Graham's coordinators, but they both left. Offensive coordinator Billy Napier left to take over his own program at Louisiana-Lafayette, and defensive coordinator Phil Bennett left a month ago.
Edwards tabbed former San Diego State defensive coordinator Danny Gonzales to the same position, and he hopes that Rocky Long's former right-hand man can continue the upward trajectory on which Bennett had the Sun Devils defense.
With the offensive-minded Graham at the helm, ASU rarely had issues putting up points. But the Devils gave up more than their fair share. Two seasons ago, they allowed 39.8. The Devils were still poor a season ago, giving up 31.2 under Bennett, but the turnaround was still immense.
The team allowed 268.1 passing yards per game after surrendering 357.4 in 2016. Edwards needs Gonzales to drop those numbers even more to be able to compete in the Pac-12.
Despite the improvement, the Sun Devils gave up over 40 points in losses to USC, UCLA and Texas Tech. Arizona State ranked eighth in the league in total defense and 107th nationally, giving up 447 total yards per game.
The head coaching and defensive coordinator duo share a common philosophy and similar background coaching secondaries. The Sun Devils need it to be an ideal marriage.
"He is as genuine as they come," Gonzales told AZCentral's Jeff Metcalfe. "What you see on TV is what you get. His knowledge of coaching secondary is awesome."
Arkansas' Chad Morris: Ensure John Chavis Can Help Fix the Defense
When Arkansas decided on former SMU coach Chad Morris to replace Bret Bielema after being turned down by Gus Malzahn, the Razorbacks secured a sharp offensive mind.
But it's no secret the 'Hogs are gambling on defense by doing so.
Morris rebuilt the Mustangs into a respectable program, but he never quite got the defense going. Now, he inherits a Razorbacks team that struggled a season ago on the defensive side of the ball, finishing 14th and last in the SEC in scoring defense, allowing 36.2 points per game.
They were also 11th in run defense, 12th in pass defense and 13th in total defense. That's bad across the board. Morris told fans he was going to hire the best defensive coordinator in the nation at his introductory press conference, but that quest appears to have fallen short.
Still, he wound up with longtime SEC defensive veteran John Chavis, who led successful defenses at Tennessee and LSU before trying to help rebuild Texas A&M's unit the past couple of seasons.
Though Chavis has a long history of producing, his units have dipped the past few years. Barrett Sallee of CBSSports.com said Morris' decision to hire Chavis was a "huge mistake." On the other hand, Gridiron Now's Jacob Parker said it was a "slam dunk."
So, which is it? Chavis' defense is coming off an awful performance, allowing 55 points to Wake Forest in the bowl game. Now, he inherits a defense that is nearly devoid of playmakers other than perhaps defensive end McTelvin Agim.
The 61-year-old veteran needs to find some difference-makers—and quickly—or Morris is going to be questioned for one of his first major decisions in Fayetteville.
Florida's Dan Mullen: Begin Developing the Quarterback of the Future
If there's one thing new Florida coach Dan Mullen is known for, it's developing quarterbacks.
From Tim Tebow to Dak Prescott to Nick Fitzgerald, Mullen has the reputation of being a "quarterback whisperer" who has molded some of the best dual-threat signal-callers in college football in the past two decades.
That's one of the reasons why he's such an ideal fit in Gainesville.
The Gators have been downright awful under center since the Tebow era. Last year, it was worse than it's ever been, and that did former coach Jim McElwain no favors. With Mullen in town, that figures to change, but who is going to be the guy for the Gators?
Though rising sophomore Feleipe Franks has the size and arm strength to be an SEC quarterback, he was far too inconsistent in 2017 to be considered a lock. Yes, he showed flashes like the game-ending Hail Mary to beat Tennessee, but he was pulled countless times throughout the year.
He'll face stiff competition, especially from blue-chip stud Emory Jones, who flipped from Ohio State to the Gators and signed during the early period. Kyle Trask and Jake Allen have a chance, too, but Jones looks like the perfect fit for Mullen's system if he can put on 15 to 20 pounds.
Jones told SEC Country's Zach Abolverdi he wants to be a major part of UF's turnaround:
My whole life I've always been on a team that always starts off not too good, and then they end it very well. I feel again it's another thing that God put this in front of me for a reason. I feel like I'm the type of dude to come in and change a program around. There's not really any pressure to it. This is what I do. I worked so hard for this and it's all paying off now. I definitely accept this challenge. I know what I have to do.
If he proves himself in the offseason, the Gators may have their quarterback of the future right now.
Florida State's Willie Taggart: Instill His Philosophy with the Seminoles
Willie Taggart hasn't gotten off to the quickest start at Florida State after bolting a good situation at Oregon, where he was building one of the top recruiting classes in the country.
But it's only a matter of time before Taggart has FSU going in his direction with his recruits and his staff.
Taggart is known as a tough-minded coach and exceptional recruiter who helped build South Florida. Now, he'll try to do the same for the Seminoles after a forgettable final season of the Jimbo Fisher era.
Recruiting will come (though the ranking likely won't be FSU-like this season), but this offseason is more about Taggart getting the current Seminoles on board with what he wants to do on both sides of the ball.
This is a team ready to win big, with double-digit returners on both lines of scrimmage, quality running backs Cam Akers and Jacques Patrick coming back and star quarterback Deondre Francois back from injury that cost him the entire 2017 season.
Not only must he find fits in recruiting, Taggart must find an offensive coordinator who shares his philosophy and can help him put his brand on FSU. A couple of possibilities are Alabama's Mike Locksley and Maryland's Walt Bell.
Seminoles fans want to know who will help lead their offense, but Taggart won't be in any rush, if what he told Seminoles.com's Tim Linafelt back in December is true:
There are plenty of coaches out there that know Xs and Os. But if we're not touching the hearts and minds of our players and getting them to play hard, those Xs and Os aren’t going to matter at all. But it's got to be the right fit. If not, it's not going to work. If we're not a tight group as a staff, we can't expect our players to be a tight group. It's got to be that way.
Taggart has to complete his staff before he can help blend his philosophy into the talented roster already in place in Tallahassee.
Mississippi State's Joe Moorhead: Tailor His Offense to Nick Fitzgerald's Skills
If this sounds similar to the situation at Arizona, it's because it is. The only difference between that situation and this one is Kevin Sumlin's offense is ideal for Khalil Tate, but what about Joe Moorhead's with Nick Fitzgerald?
One thing is certain: Fitzgerald is one of the top returning quarterbacks in the nation. Mississippi State's offense will revolve around the dual-threat quarterback. Moorhead is coming off coaching Trace McSorley at Penn State, who had the ability to run, but Fitzgerald is a much bigger weapon.
Will Fitzgerald's development suffer with the change of scheme, or will Moorhead enhance his abilities? It's Moorhead's job to do the latter.
Before anybody denounces Moorhead's ability to a dual-threat quarterback, McSorley doesn't have a dissimilar skill set. Also, the former Fordham head coach has diversified his scheme and adapted it to the talent around him; he's been a master at it.
So, when he tells Fitzgerald that he's "going to get you a Heisman for your mantle," according to Mississippi State's official Twitter account, it carries some weight.
The Bulldogs have a lot of talent returning to one of the most surprising SEC teams from 2017. Though things didn't go well for them in the Egg Bowl following Fitzgerald's season-ending injury, the Bulldogs beat Louisville 31-27 in the TaxSlayer Bowl without him.
If that's not a testament to the players Moorhead is inheriting, there isn't one. It's going to be fun to see what the new coach can do with Fitzgerald, and if the two hit it off, the Bulldogs will be a force to contend with Alabama in the SEC West.
Nebraska's Scott Frost: Find a Way to Recapture Some of That UCF Magic
This isn't your father's Nebraska Cornhuskers.
As Scott Frost will find out quickly, it isn't the same dominant program for which he played back in the mid-1990s. They're no longer in the Big 12, of course, but they're also not on the national championship stage year in and year out like was the case under Tom Osborne.
Frost is the perfect coach to return them there.
After a spotless second season at Central Florida ended with a win over Auburn in the Peach Bowl, Frost left Orlando under the best terms, and he'll inherit a Nebraska team that just endured an awful fit under Mike Riley.
The Big Ten has plenty of big punchers like Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan, but the only one in Nebraska's side of the division is Wisconsin. That means the path to competing for important games isn't that far away for Frost if he can get his system in place.
But that's easier said than done. If you've watched the Cornhuskers the past couple of seasons, they're a big, plodding Big Ten team without a ton of dynamic playmakers. Frost wants to play fast, and he needs a quarterback like he had in McKenzie Milton to run the show.
He may have just gotten one with freshman Adrian Martinez, who flipped his commitment with Tennessee and signed in the early period. The Martinez coup was one of several early recruiting victories that prove Frost gets it, and he will know how to recruit kids to Lincoln because he knows Lincoln.
Landof10's Sean Keeler wrote recently:
Frost is a win not just because he's crazy smart and a crazy good coach — there's no debating either point — but because he's also a feel-good throwback to 20-25 years ago, when Cornhuskers football ruled the Earth. He grew up here. He played here. Bill Callahan and Bo Pelini and Mike Riley could wax on the Big Red football giant that used to come out of the cave on Stadium Drive and club people senseless, but they didn't live it. Frost did.
Now, if he can land a couple of immediate-impact difference-makers and squeeze some potential out of a few guys on the roster, the Huskers may be significantly better right away.
Ole Miss' Matt Luke: Find Some Guys Who Can Get After Opposing Quarterbacks
Now that Matt Luke has his dream job with no "interim" label attached to it, he can focus on building Ole Miss in the long term how he wants it.
The NCAA shadow still hasn't completely broken up over Oxford as there will be no postseason again in 2018, but the Rebels can at least begin to look beyond it.
Former star but oft-injured signal-caller Shea Patterson is no longer a part of the program after electing to transfer to Michigan, but Luke needs to be concerned about who is still there. The Rebs ended their season with a resounding win over rival Mississippi State, and there is plenty of returning talent on offense.
Defensively is another story, however. They've got to find a way to resurrect the Landshark. That begins with finding some capable bodies to replace departed pass-rushers Marquis Haynes and Breeland Speaks. That's going to be a tall order.
Haynes is the school's all-time sacks leader, and Speaks was poised to be a stud senior, but he elected instead to pursue an NFL career. Without being able to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks, rebuilding that broken defense is going to be a lot more difficult.
It helps considerably that the Rebels get tall, rangy defensive end Victor Evans back from injury.
Though there isn't any experience around him, there is talent. Markel Winters and Charles Wiley were well-regarded recruits who could burst onto the scene with reps. Ryder Anderson is a 6'6" rising sophomore who saw snaps as a freshman as well.
The Rebels also have Syracuse transfer Qaadir Sheppard. James Williams and Deuntra Hyman could come in and earn reps, too.
The opportunity is there for everybody. It's going to be difficult to replace Haynes and Speaks, but it's vital Luke finds pass-rushers to help along the process.
Oregon's Mario Cristobal: Find the Next Royce Freeman
New Oregon coach Mario Cristobal shouldn't have any issues replicating Willie Taggart's recruiting success in Eugene. The Ducks have some of the nation's top facilities and playing time to sell, and Cristobal is a proven salesman.
Developing running backs is going to be a much more difficult task.
With Royce Freeman out of eligibility and NFL-bound, the Ducks will be looking for the next great ball-carrier to go along with budding quarterback Justin Herbert and the offensive weapons around him.
Rising senior Tony Brooks-James was the team's second-leading rusher and has another season remaining, but he can't carry the load alone. At 5'9", 175 pounds, Brooks-James isn't the every-down answer.
Maybe that'll be Darrian Felix. The Florida product is a speedster who should weigh more than 200 pounds at the start of the 2018 season. He has some major ability, and developing him is vital to the Ducks continuing to improve offensively.
Incoming freshman Jamal Elliott is another possibility, though he isn't the biggest back, either, at 5'10", 180 pounds. The North Carolina 4-star product was coveted by teams across the country but chose to go cross-country and play for the Ducks.
Travis Dye is another incoming freshman who is on the smallish side. All three pale in comparison to the 6'0", 238-pound bruiser Freeman, who should be a star on the next level.
Freeman elected not to play in the Las Vegas Bowl, and the Ducks lost 38-28 to Boise State. Though Freeman was healthy, he was preparing for the NFL draft, and his absence drew criticism from ESPN broadcaster Kirk Herbstreit during the game, according to the Oregonian's Tyson Alger.
"Oregon may come back and win, but the way they've started, I don't know necessarily if that's a great recipe for a winning opportunity to have a guy who's healthy, skipping a bowl game because he's getting ready for the draft, to be out there," Herbstreit said.
If that game was any indication of life without Freeman, it's going to be a long 2018. Cristobal must find the guy (or guys) to replace his production.
Oregon State's Jonathan Smith: Find a Way to Recruit Studs to Corvallis
Much like Scott Frost knows the recruiting landscape and makeup of Nebraska, Jonathan Smith is exactly the right man for Oregon State.
The former walk-on quarterback has spent time in Corvallis, and he has experienced success. He was a major part of the 11-1 Beavers team that won the Fiesta Bowl under Dennis Erickson in 2000, so he's seen the program at its best.
It has been far from that the past few years following Mike Riley's decision to leave OSU for Nebraska. Now, Smith is back as the head coach, and he has Riley around as an assistant head coach, too. That is two men who know how to replicate the past success of Oregon State and need to help sell it to recruits.
Corvallis is potentially the worst Power Five town to recruit to because of its remote location and rainy weather, USA Today's Lindsay Schnell wrote. They must recruit against the sunny-weather Arizona schools, Los Angeles programs like USC and UCLA and the monster facilities at Oregon.
But none of that matters to Smith. "Oregon State fits me," he said, "and I fit Oregon State."
Riley said in the same article that if the school was going to build statues, they should be of Smith and former running back Ken Simonton. But statues don't recruit; people do. Now, Smith is charged with getting difference-makers to his alma mater.
The Beavers rank 12th in the Pac-12 and 88th nationally in recruiting, according to 247Sports' composite rankings. That isn't going to cut it. They'll never build a top-10 class, but it's vital they convince some kids they can come in and turn things around.
Joshua Gray is a 3-star offensive tackle target who'd be huge to land. Andre Hunt is a 3-star receiver who is high on Nebraska and Oregon State after Riley built a relationship with him while with the Huskers.
Perhaps the biggest potential playmaker would be a 4-star receiver from Sacramento, California, Isaah Crocker, who would almost certainly make an instant impact. Oregon State is one of his five finalists along with Alabama, Nebraska, Oregon and UCLA.
Smith has to win battles like that if he's going to turn around the Beavers, and getting a couple of those guys this offseason would be an ideal start.
Tennessee's Jeremy Pruitt: Shore Up the Lines of Scrimmage
One of the Volunteers' slogans under former coach was being "Tennessee Tough," but unfortunately for UT, that hardly ever materialized. Not only were the Vols one of the most oft-injured teams in the country, they were pushed around by teams week in and week out.
That's one of the reasons why new athletic director Phillip Fulmer went out and plucked Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt from the rival Crimson Tide to be the next head coach.
If there's one person who understands what it takes to win in the SEC, it's Pruitt, who has been a part of five national championships, including four with Alabama. He also won one as Florida State's defensive coordinator and led the defense at Georgia, too.
He's used to recruiting, and his units have been known for toughness. There are no areas that need an infusion of that more than UT's offensive and defensive lines.
Under Butch Jones and Derek Dooley before him, Tennessee struggled on the offensive front. In 2017, that group was perhaps the weakest unit on a team that wound up going 0-8 in the conference. The Vols have a massive building block in sophomore Trey Smith, but not much else is proven.
Pruitt is off to a decent start in luring JUCO offensive tackle Jahmir Johnson and 4-star lineman Jerome Carvin to help the Vols on the offensive front, but UT needs more bodies and to improve the ones already on campus.
Defensively, as UT transitions to a 3-4 base, it must prepare guys like redshirt freshman Matthew Butler and junior Alexis Johnson to fit into that scheme. Losing would-be senior Kahlil McKenzie to the NFL draft when he should have come back to play nose guard was a big blow.
Tennessee is short on bodies and talent on both lines of scrimmage. That must be resolved for UT to compete, and those are tough positions for quick fixes.
Texas A&M's Jimbo Fisher: Recruit New DC Mike Elko Some Shiny Toys
When LSU gave defensive coordinator Dave Aranda an unprecedented new contract to stay in the Bayou with Ed Orgeron rather than go to Texas A&M and join Jimbo Fisher's staff in College Station, the Aggies simply moved on to another big-name defensive coordinator.
They lured Mike Elko from Notre Dame to come to Texas A&M, and he seems to be an ideal candidate to help turn around a defensive unit that John Chavis couldn't do during the past two seasons. There's obviously a long way to go following a 55-point embarrassment in a bowl loss to Wake Forest.
Elko won't stand for performances like that, but it's essential to the Aggies that they upgrade the talent on that side of the ball to help along the process.
Signees defensive end Max Wright, safety Jordan Moore and JUCO defensive tackle Mohamed Diallo is a good start, but it's far from filling all the gaps the Aggies have on that side of the ball.
A massive start would be getting 4-star defensive tackle Bobby Brown back in the fold. The 6'4", 282-pound Lamar High School product was a one-time Aggies commit who reopened his recruitment. He committed to Alabama on December 22, and Fisher wants him to visit College Station one more time.
Safety Leon O'Neal would be a great addition to the team with Moore on the back end of the defense if the Aggies can get him there. He too is a one-time Aggies commit who reopened after Sumlin was fired.
But perhaps the two biggest needs (besides Brown) in this class would be defensive end Joseph Ossai and 4-star receiver Joshua Moore, who is being recruited on the offensive side of the ball for the Aggies but who some see as a defensive back.
"Simply, A&M needs to load up on defensive linemen and defensive backs in a big way, and Fisher hopes to add some over the next month," Brent Zwerneman of the Houston Chronicle wrote. "It's also key that he hangs on to the pledges of linebacker DaShaun White, defensive end Tyree Wilson and safety Brian Johnson headed into early February as well."
UCLA's Chip Kelly: Find the Heir Apparent to Stud QB Josh Rosen
Back when Chip Kelly was destroying college football defenses as the head coach at Oregon, he was doing so because he had dual-threat stars at quarterback like Marcus Mariota.
It's important that he finds his next great playmaker under center now that he's taking over UCLA, especially after Josh Rosen decided to leave for the NFL draft. But who will it be now that the Bruins are turning the page from the Rosen era?
The safe bet is Devon Modster, who passed for 671 yards and four touchdowns when Rosen was injured in 2017. But does he run enough to do what Kelly wants to in Westwood? That's a question that can only be answered once spring practice starts.
His competition will come from true freshman Dorian Thompson-Robinson, a 6'2", 195-pound quarterback who didn't sign in the early period.
A new wild card in the mix is graduate transfer K.J. Carta-Samuels, who is leaving Washington for UCLA for his final season of eligibility. He told CBSSports.com's Barton Simmons:
UCLA is the right place because, first of all, Chip Kelly is a huge reason why. He's going to be running an offense that I'd like to be a part of and add to. With that said, it's close to home. Being from the Bay Area, it's just a little bit south. Being on a quarter system, up at Washington finishing winter quarter and I can step right in in the spring quarter. So being able to partake in spring ball is a big factor.
One player who won't be a part of it is Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa, who will almost certainly stay in Tuscaloosa after his national championship game heroics. Before that game, he was blocked by Jalen Hurts and could have elected to transfer. He'd be a perfect fit for Kelly's system after an idol, Mariota, played for him.
Instead, Tagovailoa looks like the future in Tuscaloosa, and any rumors of him going elsewhere have died down. So, it looks like a battle between Modster, Thompson-Robinson and Carta-Samuels next year at UCLA. Surely, one of them will be a fit for Kelly's system.
Brad Shepard covers college football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter at @Brad_Shepard.