The preseason Amway Coaches Poll is out. USA TODAY’s Paul Myerberg breaks down the biggest college football story lines from the top 25.
For every head coach with rock-solid job security — Dabo Swinney and Nick Saban, to name two — there are a couple of dozen firmly on the hot seat heading into the 2019 season.
One name in particular stands out: Southern California coach Clay Helton. On the heels of last year’s losing record, Helton finds himself under a spotlight at one of college football’s most prestigious stops. (It doesn’t help that Urban Meyer is on the market, his statements about being happy in retirement notwithstanding.)
A temperature check of seats across the Bowl Subdivision with the start of the season fast approaching:
1. Clay Helton, Southern California
Helton took a step toward reclaiming his job security in hiring former North Texas assistant Graham Harrell, who will install a scheme rooted in the Air Raid that could mesh well with the Trojans’ enviable skill level. Helton needs a major rebound to show he’s the right man for the job.
2. Bob Davie, New Mexico
The Lobos have followed up back-to-back bowl berths with matching 3-9 records in the past two seasons. At the same time, Davie was suspended by the university for 30 days last winter following allegations he physically assaulted players and obstructed a rape investigation. It makes you wonder what was behind New Mexico’s decision to have him return in 2019.
3. Chris Ash, Rutgers
Rutgers followed up a fairly impressive 2017 season, relatively speaking, by going 1-11 overall and winless in Big Ten play a year ago. While Ash is well-regarded by his peers, that swoon and the program’s overall trajectory paint a dim picture for his security heading into a make-or-break campaign.
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4. Lovie Smith, Illinois
Smith has bought time by rebuilding Illinois from the bottom up, via the addition of several intriguing young recruits and a handful of top-rated transfers. Yet the results have been dismal: Smith is 9-27 across three seasons and brings into 2019 the one team no one is picking to win a wide-open Big Ten West Division.
5. Gus Malzahn, Auburn
It wouldn’t be a hot-seat list without Malzahn, who annually finds himself on the hot seat only to convince Auburn that he’s the right man for the job — with the help of a massive buyout, to be fair. Auburn heads into this season looking strong enough to contend for a New Year’s Six bowl but not quite up to the challenge of reaching the College Football Playoff, which should reignite this debate next summer.
6. Matt Luke, Mississippi
Luke walked into a tight spot at Ole Miss after the conclusion of the Hugh Freeze era and ensuing NCAA penalties. That gives him a pass for last season, when the Rebels won just once in SEC play and capped its year with a 35-3 loss to rival Mississippi State. There’s hope to be found in his new coordinators, Rich Rodriguez and Mike MacIntyre, but Luke would exhaust his goodwill with another season at or below bowl eligibility.
7. Brent Brennan, San Jose State
Brennan’s energy and optimism haven’t translated into wins for San Jose State, which has lost 22 games across his first two seasons. This year might be better — the Spartans have been very young — but few are expecting a leap toward six wins.
8. Philip Montgomery, Tulsa
Montgomery’s stock was trending upward after Tulsa won 16 games across his first two seasons, including 10 in 2016. His last two teams, on the other hand, have combined to lose 19 games. That the Golden Hurricane blossomed just a few years ago has bought Montgomery some time, but he needs to deliver another bowl berth in 2019.
9. Randy Edsall, Connecticut
Trotting out one of the worst teams in recent FBS history last season hasn’t done wonders for Edsall’s job security, obviously. Still, the program’s all-time leader in wins and games coached has earned some benefit of the doubt heading into 2019 – but only to a point. UConn has to show progress that goes beyond simply being better than it was a year ago.
10. Willie Taggart, Florida State
There’s no sugarcoating just how much of a disaster 2018 was for Taggart, who in his debut oversaw a losing finish and the end of the Seminoles’ 36-season bowl streak. It’s possible to imagine a scenario where FSU struggles again in 2019 and all parties involved decide it’s not the best fit.