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July 12, 2008
Roundtable: Which seat is the hottest?
At the College Football Roundtable each week, we ask each member of the coverage staff for their opinion about a current topic.
HAVE YOUR SAY: Tell us what your answer is
THIS WEEK'S QUESTION: Which coach do you think is on the hottest seat going into the 2008 season?
There are a few, but current events would seem to point at Kansas State's Ron Prince, and not just because he's 12-13 in two seasons.
Prince's 2008 recruiting class included 20 junior college transfers. Then, Kansas State buys its way out of a home game against Fresno State and schedules Division I-AA Montana State instead.
Stockpiling junior college players and ducking a good non-"Big Six" opponent smacks of desperation to me. Now, K-State faces a non-conference schedule that features no Division I teams that had winning records last season. If they don't post a winning record and reach a bowl, Prince would seem to be in trouble.
Oh, yeah: Kansas' emergence doesn't help, either.
No question the coach under the most pressure to perform is Tyrone Willingham. After three seasons under Willingham, Washington is 11-25 overall and 6-20 in the Pac-10. The fans are growing restless. During the offseason, boosters offered donations if Willingham were fired. Always a sign of impending change, good or bad, Willingham shook up his coaching staff by replacing longtime assistant Kent Baer with Ed Donatell, among other changes.
Fan and booster unrest and staff changes are common for programs enduring losing seasons. But at Washington this season, Willingham will constantly have to prove himself in the spotlight. The season begins with this gauntlet: at Oregon, then at home against BYU and Oklahoma. That's only a warm-up. He will face his former team, Notre Dame, in a barometer game for both programs. Then, former Huskies coach Rick Neuheisel, whose tenure in Seattle brought a Rose Bowl and a litany of off-field issues, comes to town with his new team, UCLA. All the while, Washington will play with a team comprised almost entirely of Willingham recruits. No one will be watched more than quarterback Jake Locker, the face of the Washington program.
Willingham inherited a mess at Washington and has the program on the right track. But things could get messier. Losing to Notre Dame and Neuheisel in front of the home fans would be devastating. Willingham already lost one of his biggest supporters when athletic director Todd Turner resigned in December. He could lose a lot more if Washington stays home again for bowl season.
Mike Stoops is entering his fifth season at Arizona. He's 17-31 overall with the Wildcats (12-22 in the Pac-10), hasn't gone to a bowl and hasn't finished above .500 in the league in any season.
While there's no question Stoops has raised the Wildcats' talent level over what was left for him by John Mackovic, there's also no question he's on the hot seat.
When Arizona has been solid defensively, the offense has been bad. Last season, the offense was good – but the defense was atrocious. There are 10 offensive starters returning, including quarterback Willie Tuitama (3,683 yards, 28 TDs, 12 picks last season). But the defense must be rebuilt, with just three starters back.
How the season is going to go likely will be determined before the end of September. The Wildcats close the month with road games against New Mexico (which won in Tucson last season) and UCLA. Wins in both and Arizona almost certainly would be 4-0 and looking good for a bowl. Lose both and it would be a long season. Splitting them likely means the Wildcats would head into the final three games needing to win at least one to go to a bowl. The final three games: at Oregon, vs. Oregon State and vs. Arizona State.
Here's betting that if Arizona doesn't get to a bowl, Stoops doesn't keep his job.
The newest edition of the Big East has produced plenty of unlikely powers. South Florida rose as high as No. 2 in the polls last season in the program's 11th year of existence. Cincinnati delivered its first 10-win season since 1951 last season. Louisville won the Orange Bowl two seasons ago. All the while, the program that arguably boasts the richest football tradition in the Big East has sunk to its lowest depths.
How bad have things gotten in Syracuse since Greg Robinson's arrival? Paul Pasqualoni was fired after going 6-6 in 2004. Syracuse has won a total of seven games in the three years since. The Orange are 2-19 in the Big East in Robinson's three seasons after winning a share of the Big East title in Pasqualoni's final year.
You can't pin all the blame on Robinson. Syracuse has endured plenty of adversity. Delone Carter missed the entire 2007 season with a dislocated hip after rushing for 713 yards and nine touchdowns as a freshman in 2006. Mike Williams led the Orange with 60 catches for 837 yards and 10 touchdowns last season, but he was suspended for academic reasons this summer. Robinson also didn't exactly inherit a wealth of talent from Pasqualoni, so the Orange figured to take a step back before they took a couple of steps forward.
But the Orange still haven't turned a corner, and actually watched their record drop from 4-8 in 2006 to 2-10 last season. Robinson arrived at Syracuse after serving as defensive coordinator for the NFL's New York Jets, Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs, but the Orange ranked 112th out of 120 Division I-A teams in total defense last season. Syracuse hasn't been ranked higher than 110th in total offense in any of Robinson's first three seasons. If the Orange don't at least double their win total this year, they might decide it's time to find a coach with a reputation as an offensive guru.