Now that spring practice is over (well, expect for UCLA, which finishes Saturday), it's time for fans to truly turn their attention to the fall and wonder what could be.
The 10 guys we're spotlighting today should be especially nervous about what could be, as they make up our list of the coaches sitting on the hottest seats in the nation.
10. Mike Riley, Oregon State
Record: 64-49 in nine seasons. Six bowls (5-1).
Buzz: If he is fired, which seems unlikely, Riley would be a victim of his own success. This is his second go-round as the Beavers' coach; he was both Dennis Erickson's predecessor and successor, sandwiched around a four-year run in the NFL that included three seasons as San Diego's coach. His second tenure began in 2003, and he guided Oregon State to a bowl appearance in six of the first seven seasons. But Oregon State was bowl-less in each of the past two seasons, losing 16 games in that span. That's the worst two-season stretch for the Beavers since 1996-97 ('97 was Riley's first season in his first tenure). The Beavers have been mediocre on offense in each of the past two seasons, and the 2011 campaign began with a loss to FCS member Sacramento State and never really improved. The recent downturn also has come at arguably the highest point of archrival Oregon's football history. The Ducks have won four in a row in the fierce rivalry, by an average of 19 points per game. Oregon State won just three times last season, and while the outlook is brighter this season, it might be a stretch to think the Beavers can win more than seven games. Again, Riley seems unlikely to be fired. But all bets are off if Oregon State wins three again.
9. Doug Marrone, Syracuse
Record: 17-20 in three seasons. One bowl (1-0).
Buzz: When Marrone took over after the 2008 season, Syracuse hadn't had a winning record since 2001. Marrone led the Orange to eight victories in 2010 and things were looking up. But Syracuse slipped back to five wins last season, when the Big East might have been as down as it ever has been. The league doesn't look all that strong this season, either, so Marrone will be feeling the heat if he can't get Syracuse on the plus side of .500. The offense was lacking last season, putting too much pressure on a defense that eventually crumbled. Syracuse allowed at least 27 points in each of its final five games and at least 30 in each of its last three games. The offense looks as if it will lack playmakers again, which bodes ill. This will be the final season for Syracuse in the Big East as it prepares for a move to the much tougher ACC.
8. Danny Hope, Purdue
Record: 16-21 in three seasons. One bowl (1-0).
Buzz: While he received a contract extension in December after leading the Boilermakers to a victory in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, Hope wouldn't survive a three- or four-win season in 2012. The non-conference schedule is such that Purdue should go 3-1 in that portion of the season, so it really shouldn't be all that hard to get to another bowl.
7. Mike Price, UTEP
Record: 45-52 in eight seasons. Three bowls (0-3).
Buzz: The Miners haven't been horrible under Price of late, just mediocre. UTEP won eight games in each of Price's first two seasons, but the Miners have won either four or five in every season but one in the past six seasons. Not surprisingly, the offenses have been strong under Price, an offensive guru. But the defenses have been bad. One thing that might be saving Price: UTEP isn't exactly a school with a great football tradition. The Miners have won at least eight games only five times since 1956 – and two of those seasons were under Price. UTEP plays Oklahoma and Wisconsin in the first month of the season and returns just four defensive starters, so this easily could be another under-.500 season.
6. Randy Edsall, Maryland
Record: 2-10 in one season.
Buzz: Edsall's first season with the Terps was so bad that he belongs on this list. The Terps have had upward of 20 players transfer out since Edsall took over, and they will have low scholarship numbers this fall. The Terps won last season's opener in a thriller over Miami, but it was all downhill from there. Edsall has talked about having to change the culture among the players and that might be true; still, he took over a team that won nine games in 2010, then steered it to just two wins in 2011. Edsall can coach: The guy took Connecticut to a BCS game. But his tenure at Maryland is going to be a short one unless the Terps show some signs of improvement this fall. The defense should be OK, but the offense looks to lack playmakers.
5. Mack Brown, Texas
Record: 141-39 in 14 seasons. 13 bowls (9-4).
Buzz: The guy has averaged a bit more than 10 wins per season in 14 years and he's on the hot seat? Well, sort of. Texas has lost 12 games in the past two seasons, the highest two-season loss total since 1996-97; then-coach John Mackovic was fired after that '97 campaign. And to be fair, those 12 losses over the past two seasons equal the total number of losses in the previous seven seasons combined. Still, there is no question that Texas has slipped and been underachieving. The offense has been mediocre, but there is hope that it returns to form this season. If it doesn't and Texas again loses four or five games? In that scenario, it wouldn't be a surprise if Brown, who makes a reported $5.1 million annually and turns 61 in August, decides to retire.
4. David Bailiff, Rice
Record: 23-38 in five seasons. One bowl (1-0).
Buzz: He guided the Owls to a 10-win season in 2008, complete with a victory in the Texas Bowl over Western Michigan; that was Rice's first bowl win since the 1953 season (Rice won that season's Cotton Bowl in a game in which Alabama's Tommy Lewis famously came off the bench to tackle Owls star RB Dicky Moegle). But since that '08 season, the Owls have won just 10 games and have had some of the worst defenses in the nation. They have surrendered an average of 38.3 points per game in the past three seasons, and even in defense-challenged Conference USA, those are unacceptable numbers. The Owls are rebuilding along both lines, and it's hard to see them finishing with a winning record this fall.
3. Robb Akey, Idaho
Record: 19-43 in five seasons. One bowl (1-0).
Buzz: Eight of Akey's victories came in 2009, when the Vandals won the Humanitarian Bowl. That win, which came in just the school's second bowl appearance, garnered some good will, but Idaho was 2-10 last season and that good will basically is gone. Idaho is in the WAC, which has seen it stature steadily drop. If the Vandals don't challenge this season, it seems doubtful Akey will return.
2. Frank Spaziani, Boston College
Record: 19-19 in three seasons. Two bowls (0-2).
Buzz: In his three seasons, BCS has gone from eight wins in 2009 to seven in 2010 to four last season. The Eagles have had pitiful offenses under Spaziani, BC's former defensive coordinator. (That trend actually started before Spaziani became coach, but he hasn't been able to reverse it.) The Eagles were 33rd nationally in total offense in 2007, when they had Matt Ryan as quarterback. Since then, they have finished 94th, 99th, 109th and 112th. The passing attack has been an embarrassment; BC was sixth nationally in passing in 2007 but hasn't finished better than 93rd since. Is there a legit ACC quarterback on the roster? There doesn't appear to be. Boston College has continued to have a solid defense, but when you can't score, you don't win. BC has some cachet as the ACC's only Northeast school, but that is going to change when Syracuse (and Pitt, too) eventually joins the league.
1. Derek Dooley, Tennessee
Record: 10-14 in two seasons. One bowl (0-1).
Buzz: He has had to live with the poor recruiting made by predecessors Phil Fulmer and Lane Kiffin. The Vols have had just three players selected in the past two drafts combined; from 2006-10, Tennessee had a combined seven first-rounders. Despite the lack of talent when Dooley took over, it's now time for the Vols to show some improvement on the field this fall. Had QB Tyler Bray and WR Justin Hunter not been hurt last season, the Vols would've gone to a bowl. But they still were a long way from being among the SEC elite. And Dooley isn't being paid big bucks to go to the Liberty or Music City bowls; he is being paid to contend for SEC East crowns. A problem: He doesn't look to have the necessary talent to do so in 2012, which means he might not be around in 2013. The athletic director who hired him (Mike Hamilton) is gone, which doesn't help Dooley's job security.
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