Evaluating College Football Head Coaching Changes: Part 1
There are 21 first-year college football head coaches which provide a lot of opportunities for bettors. Over the course of the next week we’ll break down each hire in-depth and provide recommendations on how you should approach them from a betting perspective. I’ll cover attributes like background, offensive and defensive schemes, pace, and current talent. Today, let’s start with some of the top power conference hires.
Joe Moorhead – Mississippi State
As offensive coordinator of Penn State, Moorhead was the architect of an offense that jumped from 23 ppg to 41 ppg in just three seasons. During that time, he showcased a tremendous ability to recruit which will come in handy as regional rival Ole Miss continues to deal with various penalties and restrictions. There’s talent in Starkville. Moorhead inherits two All-American defensive linemen and a senior quarterback in Nick Fitzgerald who is primed for a breakout season. Last year’s offense was quietly effective but at times hurt by the lack of big plays. Moorhead specializes in just that. In 2017 Penn State produced 85 plays of 20 or more yards. Mississippi State notched only 53. Currently lined at 8.5 wins, Moorhead has the pedigree and tools to help Mississippi State reach double-digit wins.
Dan Mullen – Florida
Mullen walks into a near-perfect situation. The Gators not only have talent but a ton of returning experience. He made a career of doing more with less in Starkville and will now have access to a richer talent pool. Mullen’s background (OC under Urban Meyer at Florida) should spark an immediate uptick. Since Tim Tebow departed in 2009, the Gators have failed to crack the top ten in the SEC in yards per game. The quarterback situation is still ongoing but two of his options are former 4-star recruits. And whoever takes the snaps will be working behind an offensive line with over 100 combined career starts. I project the offense to improve by as many as 75 ypg and 4 ppg. Mullen will also be given the keys to a defense loaded with NFL potential. And don’t forget how hard 2017’s squad was hit by injuries and suspensions. My only concern is whether or not Mullen can win back the locker room. Last year’s Florida squad showed a lot of “quit” the back half of season (1-5 SU/ATS).
Willie Taggart – Florida State
Florida State was not nearly as bad as its 7-6 record. Jimbo Fisher’s departure was being discussed during the season. Quarterback Deondre Francois was lost for the year in Week 1 vs. Alabama. The offense was then led by a freshman quarterback and running back. And defensive coordinator Charles Kelly and Fisher were constantly at each other’s throats. No matter how much talent a team has — and FSU had lots — it’s tough to overcome that much instability. Taggart walks into a really good situation of catching the Seminoles on the rebound. He has a wealth of skill position talent and a defense that still performed at a high level (18th nationally in total defense) despite all of the drama surrounding the program. Snagging Michigan State defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett is also expected to pay huge dividends. Like Gus Malzahn, Art Briles, and Chip Kelly, Taggart created his own system; one built on speed, pace, and aggressiveness. Fisher’s teams were notoriously conservative so expect improvements across the board on offense. Taggart was ultimately the ideal hire and one that will produce plenty of wins.
Kevin Sumlin – Arizona
Good situation for Kevin Sumlin who inherits a Heisman-caliber quarterback in Khalil Tate and the PAC-12’s most experienced defense. It’ll take time to get his system installed but there’s wiggle room with a soft early season slate that features home games vs. BYU and Southern Utah and a road trip to bottom feeder Oregon State. Sumlin is a rare coach who plays to his roster rather that sticking to the same mantra year after year. He also relies on his coordinators more that most coaches. It’s good to trust those around you but Sumlin’s teams have earned a reputation for struggling with late game decision making. How he handles Tate will also go a long way with Year 1’s results. Reports indicate that Sumlin wants Tate to become more of a passer. Tate of course is one of the best ball carriers in the country (9.2 ypc last season) and thrived under former head coach Rich Rodriguez. Holding Tate back in order to keep him healthy or letting him run wild could be the difference between a successful campaign or .500.
Scott Frost – Nebraska
Long term, this is an A+ hire. But I’m projecting plenty of Year 1 struggles. There’s a good chance a freshman lines up under center. That’s fine for the future of the program or even against East Carolina’s defense but not in the Big Ten. Frost also inherits a suspect defense that has little to no talent or experience. NU had one of the worst power conference stop units in the country last season (112th, 6.34 ypp). His best two players are wide receivers which isn’t ideal in a power option, run-pass-option attack. There’s the potential for five or six wins but it’s clear Frost has his eyes on the future. And with that comes the sacrifice of playing some of his young talent that isn’t ready to compete at a high level. Frost is a special coach and Nebraska is in good hands. But don’t get sucked into the hype; this isn’t a team that I’m looking to routinely bet on this season.
Read all four installments evaluating new hires for the 2018 college football season:
Part 2: Power Conference New Hires (continued)
Part 3: Mid-Major Coaching Changes
Part 4: Non-Power 5 New Hires