Panic Meter: How Much Should These Struggling Proud Programs Be Worried?

Tim Rohan
Sports Illustrated

After the 2017 season, four proud college football programs hired new head coaches. Tennessee fired Butch Jones and hired Jeremy Pruitt, the Alabama defensive coordinator. UCLA fired Jim Mora and hired offensive mastermind Chip Kelly. Florida State hired Willie Taggart, after Jimbo Fisher bolted for Texas A&M. And Nebraska hired Scott Frost, a native son, hoping the former Huskers quarterback would lead the program back to glory.

Now those four coaches are all in their second year in charge, and all four have had rough starts to the 2019 season. We took stock of each situation and graded out, just how concerned each program should be.

1. Tennessee

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Tennessee has been a wreck for the last decade now, save for a few nine-win seasons under Butch Jones. In 2017, Jones’s last year, the Volunteers went 4–8. In 2018, the first season under Jeremy Pruitt, they went 5–7. This year seems it’s more of the same. Tennessee is 0–2 for the first time since 1988, and those two losses are to Georgia State and BYU in double overtime.

What’s most concerning perhaps is how Tennessee lost those two games. The Volunteers looked unprepared for Georgia State and trailed by as much as 15 points in the fourth quarter. Then against BYU, Tennessee flinched when it mattered most, surrendering a 64-yard pass to set up a late game-tying field goal to send the game to overtime.

If Pruitt doesn’t turn around things quickly, Tennessee could be looking for another coach sooner rather than later.

Concern level: 10/10

2. UCLA

What happened to Chip Kelly’s offense? In 2018, his first year at UCLA, the Bruins went 3–9 and ranked 98th in scoring offense (24.6 points a game). This year, the Bruins have gone 0–2 against Cincinnati and San Diego State, and the offense appears to be even worse. Look at the numbers:

• Against Cincinnati: 218 total yards, 12 first downs, 14 points

• Against San Diego State: 261 total yards, 16 first downs, 14 points

UCLA still has four ranked teams and Stanford on its schedule. Seems as if Chip Kelly could be heading toward another really ugly season.

Concern level: 8/10

3. Florida State

Two games, two second-half meltdowns for Florida State. In the season opener, the Seminoles led Boise State 31–13 deep into the second quarter, only to surrender 23 unanswered points and lose. The next week, Florida State led Louisiana-Monroe 24–7 at halftime and eventually went to overtime, where the Seminoles won when the Warhawks missed an extra point.

Florida State is lucky to be 1–1, but may not be as fortunate going forward. These second-half collapses seem to be symptoms of a larger issue, a lack of composure and discipline across the board, and that falls on the coach, Willie Taggart.

From 1976 to 2017, Florida State had two coaches: Bobby Bowden and Jimbo Fisher. Now in his second season, Taggart has a 6–8 record. We’ll see how much time Florida State gives him to turn things around.

Concern level: 6/10

4. Nebraska

Of these four teams, Nebraska had the highest aspirations this season. The Cornhuskers started at No. 24 in the AP poll, and it seemed that, after going 4–8 in 2018, Scott Frost might have Nebraska poised to make some noise in the Big Ten. Then the Huskers struggled against South Alabama (yet recovered to win) and lost in overtime to Colorado. The Buffaloes stormed from behind and outscored Nebraska 27–14 in the fourth quarter and overtime.

Nebraska still has a chance to right its season, mostly because it has a real talent at quarterback in Adrian Martinez, although he played a so-so game against South Alabama. It’s up to Frost, the former Huskers quarterback himself, to get more consistent play from his quarterback. Nebraska’s season may depend on it.

Concern level: 5/10

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