Tom Dienhart Rivals.com College Football Senior Writer
The heat is on, especially in the Pac-12.
The new league christens a new era of 12-team, two division football with four coaches on the hot seat: UCLA's Rick Neuheisel, Washington State's Paul Wulff, Arizona State's Dennis Erickson and Cal's Jeff Tedford.
We're exactly three months from the start of the 2011 season, and here is a ranking of the 14 hottest seats in the nation. It's time to win, guys.
The buzz: Yes, injuries ruined last season, but the jury remains out. Waning ticket sales say so, as Hope has gone 9-15 in two seasons. Purdue ended last season with the resounding thud of six consecutive losses, including a humiliating loss at home to Indiana. Hope also has managed to drop home games to the likes of Northern Illinois and Toledo. It's not Purdue's style to dump coaches quickly, but myriad empty seats and a fourth consecutive bowl-less season could make for an interesting offseason.
The buzz: Tulane is a tough gig. Toledo is 13-35 in four seasons, with his best season being his first: 4-8 overall and 3-5 in Conference USA, with a third-place finish in the West. Toledo is coming off a 4-8 season, but his program showed some signs of life last season. Will that continue this season?
The buzz: The guy has one of the toughest jobs in America. Considering that, Callaway has done OK. But his record still is 15-33 in four seasons. His best C-USA mark is 4-4, and he's never finished higher than a tie for fourth in C-USA East. Will changing coaches really matter? This program has been to one bowl ever, the 2004 Hawaii Bowl.
The buzz: This is more of a "sense of urgency" than a "hot seat" for Nutt. Remember, the guy led the Rebels to consecutive 9-4 records and Cotton Bowl championships in his first two seasons in 2008 and '09. But Ole Miss slipped to 4-8 last season, and his SEC record has gotten worse each season. Perhaps what hurts most of all is that archrival Mississippi State appears to be a fast-rising program -- and one that has won two of three against Nutt in the Egg Bowl. The SEC West again could feature five top-25 teams nobr>-- with Ole Miss the only program not ranked.
The buzz: This isn't an indictment on the job he has done. Rather, perhaps Tedford and Cal each would benefit from a fresh start. Tedford is 72-42 in nine seasons in Berkeley. He also shared the Pac-10 title in 2006 and has gone to seven bowls. Plus, Tedford has been the spark for ongoing stadium and facility improvements. But has he run his course and maxed out his potential? The Golden Bears are coming off a 5-7 season, Tedford's first losing mark. And the past three seasons have seen decreasing victory totals each year. In addition, the meteoric rise of Stanford has to make Cal fans feel some angst: "It took Jim Harbaugh only four years to get the Cardinal to a BCS bowl; why hasn't Tedford done it?" Do Cal official want to christen a redone stadium with a new coach in 2012?
The buzz: Let's go ahead and call him the father of modern Rutgers football. In 10 seasons, Schiano has breathed life into the program and made Rutgers relevant. But is he capable of taking it to the next level? Schiano hasn't been able to recapture the magic of the 2006 season that saw the Scarlet Knights finish 11-2 and rank 12th in the nation. Coming off its first losing season since 2004, Rutgers may have plateaued. In the past four seasons, Rutgers is 12-16 in the Big East and is one of just two league schools (USF is the other) that hasn't played in a BCS bowl.
The buzz: After Tommy Bowden was fired five games into the 2008 season, Swinney got the job by posting a 4-3 mark the rest of the way. He then delivered Clemson's first trip to the ACC title game in 2009 but undid any goodwill he had built with a 6-7 flop last season. South Carolina's rise puts additional scrutiny on Swinney, who is banking on a revamped offense to return Clemson to the ACC elite. He better be right. Just to be safe, Clemson A.D. Terry Don Phillips may want to have Rich Rodriguez -- a former Clemson assistant -- on speed dial.
The buzz: The last time we saw Richt, his team was losing to UCF in the Liberty Bowl. Unacceptable. And Bulldogs fans can't like his 2-8 mark against Florida. Look, no one is saying Richt isn't a good guy. But things are trending down in Athens. In the past two seasons, Georgia is 14-12 overall and 7-9 in the SEC. The Bulldogs haven't won the SEC East since 2005. South Carolina looks to be the SEC East favorite this season, and Richt must produce.
The buzz: Things looked good following a 7-6 record and a bowl trip in 2008, Fairchild's first season as coach at Colorado State. But the Rams have followed that with consecutive 3-9 seasons, including a 0-8 record in the Mountain West in 2009.
The buzz: Three seasons, five wins and two last-place finishes -- that's no way to impress the boss. Even worse, many of the defeats have been gruesome, such as 66-3, 63-14, 66-13, 69-0, 58-0, 52-6, 48-7, 65-17, 50-16 and 42-0. But, hey, Wulff does have one win over Washington (in 2008), so he has that going for him.
The buzz: I know all about the 133-34 overall record in Austin. I know about the 2005 national championship and the trip to the 2009 BCS title game. But Texas is coming off of a 5-7 season, and the last Longhorns coach who had a losing season was fired. That was John Mackovic, who went 4-7 in 1997. Brown is back, but he has used up his mulligan in a season that saw Texas lose -- at home, no less -- to Iowa State and Baylor. Brown turns 60 in August and is entering his 14th season at Texas. He has shaken up his coaching staff. This may be his last stand.
The buzz: It all started so well for Erickson in Tempe. He notched a 10-3 record and a first-place tie in the Pac-10 in his debut in 2007, capping the season with a Holiday Bowl trip. Since then, the Sun Devils have gone 15-21 overall and 10-17 in the Pac-10, with no winning seasons and no bowls. There are high expectations this season, and for Erickson's sake, the Sun Devils need to meet them.
The buzz: A 2-22 record is bad enough for the New Mexico coach. But a 2-22 record coupled with an altercation with an assistant and an age- and sex-discrimination complaint filed by an administrative assistant? That's almost too much baggage for any coach to survive.
The buzz: Upon arrival at his alma mater after the 2007 season, UCLA and Neuheisel took aim at USC. Neuheisel was featured in a UCLA marketing campaign that stated, "The Football Monopoly in L.A. Is Officially Over." He also said, "When you're at UCLA, you have to have your passion bucket full when you play the Trojans." It all has proven to be a lot of hot air. Neuheisel is 0-3 against the Trojans, getting outscored 84-28. He's 15-22 overall with one bowl and no finish higher than eighth in the Pac-10.