The Biggest Offseason Priority for Every New Power 5 CFB Coach
Whether they've accepted opportunities elsewhere or received promotions at their current schools, first-year college football head coaches rarely inherit perfect situations.
In recent seasons, the only exceptions are Oklahoma's Lincoln Riley and Ohio State's Ryan Day. Otherwise, in all likelihood, the coaching job opened for a reason.
And that reason typically isn't a good one.
Heading into 2020, every Power Five conference will have a new coach leading a program. The SEC leads the nation with four recently hired coaches. Both the ACC and Pac-12 have two, and the Big 12 and Big Ten have one. They'll face plenty of challenges, but one particular issue will demand a whole lot of attention this offseason.
Atlantic Coast Conference
Jeff Hafley, Boston College
Despite losing star running back AJ Dillon, Boston College has enough returning talent on offense to be dangerous. Well, if the Eagles settle on a quarterback.
Anthony Brown hit the transfer portal but is considering a return, per Bruce Feldman of The Athletic. Notre Dame transfer Phil Jurkovec may be immediately eligible, pending a waiver. Dennis Grosel started seven games in 2019 but was strikingly inefficient, posting a 48.4 percent completion rate and 6.3 yards per attempt.
The perception of Hafley's first season hinges on the quarterback.
Mike Norvell, Florida State
We can talk personnel, an overhauled offense or any number of valuable things. But more than anything, Mike Norvell needs this Florida State roster to buy in. For the senior class, the former Memphis boss is the group's third head coach.
Progress will not happen without it. Evidenced by the return of defensive tackle Marvin Wilson—a potential early-round NFL draft pick—Norvell must be off to a good start.
Big 12 Conference
Dave Aranda, Baylor
In the offense-happy Big 12, Dave Aranda has a unique opportunity to embrace being a defense-driven force. Aranda has proved an exceptionally smart and creative defensive coordinator.
That doesn't mean the offense takes a backseat, though.
Among power-conference teams in 2019, Baylor surrendered the fourth-most tackles for loss (97) and the eighth-most sacks (38). They mustered a shade under four yards carry in those games too. Improving the Bears offensive line will be vital to Aranda's success.
Big Ten Conference
Greg Schiano, Rutgers
Recruit, recruit, recruit.
Next season is a Year Zero situation in which the record hardly matters. Rutgers will not suddenly be competitive again because it hired a coach who succeeded there previously. Greg Schiano, though, has a vision to sell and results to back it up.
Rutgers signed only one of the top-20 recruits from New Jersey during the 2020 cycle. Start winning the in-state battles, and the Scarlet Knights will gain much-needed momentum on the trail.
Jimmy Lake, Washington
Lake recognized the need for an updated offense and didn't retain coordinator Bush Hamdan. The replacement is risky, though.
John Donovan hasn't held the OC role since an uninspiring end to his Penn State tenure in 2015, and his replacement, Joe Moorhead, both thrived at PSU and was just hired at Pac-12 rival Oregon. Perhaps four seasons in the NFL helped Donovan, but Lake's defensive background is key to Donovan running a less predictable offense.
Nick Rolovich, Washington State
While system fit is more important than proximity, Rolovich needs to make Washington State an in-state recruiting factor.
From 2016-20, the state has produced 21 players with 4- or 5-star ratings and 48 in the top 1,000. The Cougs landed one of the 21 and six of the 48; rival Washington has signed 12 and 21, respectively. Correlation does not equal causation, but a seven-game losing streak in the Apple Cup has ties to recruiting.
Sam Pittman, Arkansas
Among power-conference teams, the Razorbacks had the second-worst completion percentage (49.6) and the third-worst yards per attempt (5.7). They started five quarterbacks who combined to throw 14 touchdowns and 14 interceptions as the team lumbered to 2-10. Pittman hopes he's found the answer in Florida transfer Feleipe Franks, who committed to Arkansas on Monday.
Lane Kiffin, Ole Miss
Lane Kiffin is lauded for his offensive acumen, but Ole Miss' greatest weakness is its defense. The "Landshark" days of the mid-2010s are long gone; not since 2015 have the Rebels finished better than 83rd nationally in yards allowed per play.
There is no simple, magical fix to this problem, but adding defensive talent is a must.
Mike Leach, Mississippi State
Mississippi State is capable of sticking around with top SEC opponents. However, since smashing LSU in September 2017, the Bulldogs have hardly put up a fight in such situations. Mississippi State is 1-11 against teams that finished in the AP Top 25, averaging a disastrous 10.7 points in those losses.
It is vital for Leach to identify the right personnel to execute his Air Raid offense for MSU to be competitive again. While a basic thought, it's no less important.
Eliah Drinkwitz, Missouri
As the program is operating under scholarship reductions and recruiting restrictions, Eliah Drinkwitz cannot waste any moment finalizing the 2020 class. Missouri needs to land a couple of linemen on each side of the ball.
Where they come from—high school, junior college, transfer—doesn't much matter, but Drinkwitz needs to add usable depth. In 2019, Mizzou ranked 97th in yards per carry and tied for 105th in tackles for loss.