We’re barely halfway through the football season and there are already five coaching vacancies – including four among the Power 5 ranks. After Illinois dismissed Tim Beckman on the eve of the season opener, new jobs have opened up this past week at USC, South Carolina, Maryland and North Texas.
Of course the USC job is catching all the attention, with names from both the pros and colleges being mentioned as likely candidates. Chip Kelly is purportedly at least mildly intrigued. Sean Payton is said to be on the short list. Ever since Steve Sarkisian’s summary dismissal, nearly every big name in college football has been in some ways associated with the Trojans’ opening, including even Nick Saban.
But the hottest coaching prospect has got to be Justin Fuente, whose Memphis Tigers are 6-0 after an impressive takedown of Ole Miss on Saturday. The Tigers are one of three unbeaten American Athletic teams, all vying for a New Year’s Six bowl berth now that Boise State is out of the running after being routed by Utah State on Friday.
Should the Tigers continue their winning ways, Fuente, 39, almost certainly won’t be back at Memphis next season. Any Power 5 program looking for a young, dynamic offensive coach will be casting a lustful eye.
Fuente, who played quarterback at Oklahoma and Murray State, helped develop Andy Dalton while he was the co-offensive coordinator at TCU. At Memphis since 2012, he’s resurrected a program in a downward spiral into a consistent winner, going 10-3 last year with a Liberty Bowl victory over BYU.
Fuente is unlikely to land at USC, however, as after the disaster of young-and-upcomer hires of Lane Kiffin and Sarkisian has not exactly worked out. Look for him to land a lucrative new gig in either the SEC or Big 12.
The more things change …
The 2015 college football season is playing out much like the 2014 college football season, with just a couple of minor variations. This despite some early-season upsets, mid-season turmoil and the presence of a cyclone named Jim Harabugh. If you look across especially the Power 5 conferences, it’s like watching a rerun of last fall’s blockbuster:
* Despite repeated attempts by many to declare Alabama dead, the Crimson Tide are right where they were a year ago. They have survived an early-season upset loss to Ole Miss (just like last season) and are humming along toward another SEC title. Standing in their way is not some emerging new threat but their old foe LSU, which is now the only unbeaten SEC team after knocking off Florida on Saturday.
* In the ACC, the only unbeaten teams are once again Florida State and Clemson as they careen toward a collision course for the division (and really, the conference) title, just like last year, and the two years before that. The Tigers are ranked higher this time around but until they can prove otherwise, the Seminoles are still king.
* There are three undefeated teams in the Big 12, but the title will be decided by the two teams that shared it last season – TCU and Baylor – in the regular-season finale. Sure, both teams will have to defeat unbeaten Oklahoma State on the road, but at least this time around the Big 12 is ready to crown “One True Champion” via a tiebreaker if necessary.
* Despite Harbaugh’s best efforts, he won’t be able to break up the Ohio State-Michigan State monopoly atop the Big Ten in his first season back in college ball. The Wolverines’ late-game mishap (see below) pretty much ensures the Nov. 21 showdown between the Big Ten’s two unbeatens will decide the East division title, with the winner the prohibitive favorite to take on the conference’s only other undefeated team (Iowa) in the title game.
* The Pac-12 is the only Power 5 conference to have altered the script, as Oregon’s character has been usurped by Utah, the conference’s lone unbeaten. The Utes dethroned the Ducks with blowout win in Eugene and have answered the bell against Michigan, Cal and Arizona State thus far. With both L.A. schools reeling, they’re headed to Levi’s Stadium to take on perhaps the winner of the Big Game for the Pac-12 title.
Five of the teams that finished in the top six of last season’s AP poll are again playoff contenders, with four of them still unbeaten. Yes, Harbaugh and Florida’s Jim McElwain did their best to crash the party in the first year of their respective terms but both of their plans got derailed for now thanks to special teams blunders Saturday.
Game of the week
Michigan State 27, Michigan 23: Unless you were stuck on Mars with Matt Damon, you have already seen the replay of Michigan’s botched punt snap that gifted Sparty the game a thousand times. The Wolverines were 10 seconds away from putting their lil’ brother back in his place when disaster struck. Harbaugh thus became the seventh consecutive Michigan coach to lose to State in his first year.
Player of the week
Derrick Henry, Alabama: The Tide’s junior running back shredded Texas A&M, rushing for a career high of 236 yards and scoring two touchdowns as Alabama silenced the Kyle Field crowd early and coasted to victory. Henry is running in Leonard Fournette’s shadow (who isn’t?) but he’ll get a chance to emerge from that when LSU visits Tuscaloosa on Nov. 7.
1, Utah, 2. LSU, 3. Clemson, 4. TCU, 5. Baylor, 6. Michigan State, 7. Ohio State, 8. Florida State, 9. Stanford, 10. Alabama, 11. Oklahoma State, 12. Iowa, 13. Notre Dame, 14. Florida, 15. Memphis.