Even though the 2023 NCAA Football season won’t start for a while, we’re already thinking about what will be at stake for some coaches.
NCAA Football: Coach With the Most to Prove?
Let’s talk about which coach has the most to prove in NCAA Football next season:
Texas A&M isn’t paying Fisher $95 million to lose four or more games, but in four of his five seasons, that’s exactly what he’s done. The COVID-19 event changed the Aggies’ 2020 season, when they went 9-1, and they don’t have much else to show for it. In the last two seasons, Texas A&M has gone 17–9, and Fisher’s teams are 23–18 against SEC teams during his time there. Few FBS schools have spent more on coaches and facilities than the Aggies, and their NIL packages give recruits more money than almost anyone else’s.
What have they done with it? A year ago, the problems in the locker room looked a lot like the end of Fisher’s terrible time at Florida State. Now, Fisher is bringing in Bobby Petrino, who was the coach at Arkansas and Louisville, to fix things on offense. Several high-profile candidates turned down the job, so Fisher chose Petrino. This move smells like a last ditch effort.
Nick Saban and Billy Napier
It would be easy to say Nick Saban. After a bad season for Alabama, Saban seems ready to change the direction of the offense by replacing Bill O’Brien with Tommy Rees, who is more of a pro-style coordinator. And instead of putting a young, up-and-coming coach in charge of the defense, Saban brought Kevin Steele back for a third time. But what does a coach who has won seven national titles have to prove? Perhaps not.
Let’s stay in the SEC and take a look at one of Saban’s students: Florida’s Billy Napier had a rough first season in Gainesville, going 6-7 and losing badly to Oregon State in the SRS Distribution Las Vegas Bowl. Fans didn’t have a lot of faith in Graham Mertz after he replaced quarterback Anthony Richardson. Then came the Jaden Rashada mess. According to The Associated Press, the four-star quarterback was let out of his letter of intent after a NIL deal fell through. To get the program going in the right direction again, Napier needs to get wins on the field and with recruits.
Chip Kelly was once thought of as a college football visionary and one of the best coaches in the sport. So, when he went back to UCLA after coaching the Philadelphia Eagles and the San Francisco 49ers in the NFL, a lot of people thought the Bruins would start living up to the potential of being in one of the best places in the country for recruiting. It hasn’t come about. Even though last year was the Bruins’ best under Kelly, it was still a disappointment because they lost the Sun Bowl and were ranked No. 21 in the last AP poll.
What about Ryan Day? His Buckeyes have only lost six games in the last four years, and they haven’t finished lower than sixth in the AP poll since 2013. However, this year seems to be a turning point in Columbus. Ohio State has lost to Michigan twice in a row, and even though his defense got better overall under Jim Knowles, Day’s third coordinator in four years, it still gave up more than 500 yards and more than 40 points in each of the season-ending losses to Michigan and Georgia.
At the same time, his team came closer than anyone else to beating Georgia in 2022, and they should start out in the top three or so of the polls. The 2023 season offers both a chance and a risk. Ohio State could make a lot of noise again in the race for the national title, or it could fall behind Michigan and a rising Penn State in the Big Ten.
Brent Venables waited a long time to become a head coach. Then, he took a job at Oklahoma that might have been his dream job. But after a few weeks of the season, his first game was a disaster. Oklahoma lost to TCU by 31 points and then to rival Texas 49-0, which was the worst loss in the history of the Red River Showdown. The Sooners ended the season with a record of 6-7, which was their most losses since 1998, which was before Bob Stoops became coach.
Even by OU’s high standards, they have had a few bad seasons, but they haven’t gone two years without 10 wins since 1997 and 1998. Another team that doesn’t have a chance to win would make people doubt Venables as a head coach, especially since Oklahoma is going to join the SEC in 2024. Venables is a great coordinator and recruiter, and OU got a lot of high school players and players from other schools. But in Year 2, the team will have to show results, especially on defense, where they gave up 30 points per game.
Now let’s talk about Mario Cristobal of Miami. He won’t be fired if things don’t go well, but after a terrible season in 2022, all the excitement and energy that surrounded his return to his old school could be gone with another bad season. This offseason, Cristobal did a lot of cleaning up. He sent a lot of veterans to the portal and got rid of both coordinators (plus a host of other assistants).
But he also got the best recruiting class in the ACC, got some good transfers, kept Tyler Van Dyke as quarterback, and hired Shannon Dawson (offense) and Lance Guidry (defense), two interesting coordinators who promise to take both units in new directions. If 2023 goes well, Cristobal will be praised for putting the city back together quickly, and the phrase “Miami is back” will finally mean something. If not, it might feel like the whole experiment is over after just two years.
Mel Tucker was put under a lot of pressure and had a lot of expectations when he signed his $95 million contract extension at Michigan State. In 2021, the Spartans went 11-2 and won the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. Last fall, they had a hard time, going 5-7. Tucker has made recruiting (in high school and through the transfer portal) as good as it was in the last few years of Mark Dantonio’s time as coach.
But player development, which was so important to Dantonio’s success (six 10-win seasons, three Big Ten titles, and one appearance in the College Football Playoff), needs to get better if Tucker wants to be more consistent in a conference that will only get harder now that USC and UCLA are joining.
Thank you for checking this piece on which NCAA Football has the most to prove during the upcoming season!