Q&A: New Coordinators Set for Success

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Numerous head coaching changes around college football beget new coordinators in new locations. In this week’s CFB Huddle Q&A, I’ll give you my new coordinators set up for the most success in their first year.

I also had a lot of fun envisioning a sixth power conference. A LOT of fun. Perhaps a little too much fun, as you’ll see below.

That’s what you have to look forward to when you submit YOUR questions for CFB Huddle Q&A, which you can do @kensing45 or @cfbhuddle.

Dave Aranda, DC, LSU: Wisconsin flourished with defenses built on lowly recruited overachievers like Joe Schobert and Jack Cichy. Imagine Dave Aranda having a comparable impact calling plays for the talent-rich roster he inherits at LSU.

Aranda runs an aggressive 3-4, heavy on linebacker blitzes. Such a style should play nicely with LSU’s talent. Kendell Beckwith could have a monster season akin to Schobert’s 2015.

Manny Diaz, DC, Miami: I feel Manny Diaz was unfairly scapegoated for systemic problems during his abbreviated tenure at Texas. Louisiana Tech thrived under his watch in 2014, leading the nation in turnovers forced. He exceeded expectations taking over a Mississippi State bereft of experienced starters.

He plans to have a similar, immediate impact with Miami, as he spelled out for the Associated Press earlier this week:

“We didn’t come here to wait five years to get this thing rolling,” Diaz said. “The first thing we have to do is this has to look like a Miami defense. People from here know what that means. The biggest compliment I can be paid is someone saying ‘It looks like the Canes again.”

Matt Lubick, OC, Oregon: Oregon offensive coordinator is an impressive subhead on a coaching resume. The coaches to have held the post since 2007 are Chip Kelly, who replaced Mike Bellotti before moving onto the NFL; current Ducks head coach Mark Helfrich; and new UCF head coach Scott Frost.

Indeed, this gig’s a proven stepping stone to a head coaching gig, and that’s because the job itself is designed to succeed. Since Kelly introduced the hurry-up, no-huddle spread, the concepts have been woven into the fabric of Oregon’s identity.

Lubick is faced with a quarterback decision — and, as last year’s dip without Vernon Adams proved, it’s an important decision — but he’ll have Royce Freeman and a studly wide receiver corps around which to build.

Clancy Pendergast, DC, USC: Clancy Pendergast’s 2013 run at USC might be somewhat romanticized after the struggles of Justin Wilcox’s two years in L.A. That said, the talent he inherits is much better equipped to thrive in Pendergast’s 52 formation than in the 3-4 Wilcox favored.

Ballyhooed 2015 recruits Osa Masina and Porter Gustin should grow into big-time play makers playing up with more opportunities to blitz.

Jeremy Pruitt, DC, Alabama: No-brainer. Jeremy Pruitt returns to Tuscaloosa, where he made his name as defensive backs coach for two Alabama championship runs, taking over for new Georgia head coach, Kirby Smart.

Pruitt won a national championship as defensive coordinator at Florida State, where we called plays for talent comparable to that which he’ll have at Alabama.

At American Athletic Conference media days, commissioner Mike Aresco referred to the American as “a challenger conference,” capable of pushing the Power Five narrative.

The results on the field backed up his claim. Four AAC teams reached the Top 25, Houston dominated Florida State in the Peach Bowl, Keenan Reynolds deserved to be a Heisman finalist and Paxton Lynch could be a 1st round draft pick.

The American’s potential is sky-high as is, and granting it power-conference privileges would help it reach that potential: more money to retain quality coaches, better facilities, more TV exposure.

One wrinkle, though, is I’d expand the American to be the first 16-team super-conference, adding four more programs to the mix: Boise State, Fresno State, Northern Illinois and BYU.

Boise State’s power-conference credentials are well-established. This program’s grown into a nationally recognized brand and remained strong through a decade-and-a-half of player and coaching turnover.

BYU is another obvious choice — so much so, the Cougars are routinely linked to the Big 12, which already enjoys power-conference designation. BYU has an upper-echelon tradition, a devoted fan base and a power-conference venue.

The next two selections weren’t as simple. Focusing on Western partners for Boise State and BYU, I pinpointed Fresno State.

Fresno State’s had Top 25-level success sporadically for the past quarter-century, but maintaining has proven difficult. The resources and prestige that come with power-conference affiliation would help Fresno State reach its ceiling more routinely — and that ceiling is high.

The surrounding high school football scene is loaded with talent, and the program typically has great, local fan support. Bulldog Stadium is a respectable venue with capacity near 42,000, which already attracts Power Five opponents for nonconference dates.

I deliberated on the fourth addition for a while, wavering between two programs: Air Force or Northern Illinois.

Northern Illinois is one of the most successful programs in all of college football over the last 12 years, claiming both an Orange Bowl appearance and Heisman Trophy finalist. NIU also ostensibly delivers the Chicago TV market, though that distinction’s somewhat debatable.

Troy Calhoun’s had many good teams in his time as Air Force head coach, winning 10 games in 2014 and playing for the Mountain West Conference championship in 2015.

Air Force also has an immediate rival in Navy, but that’s actually a detriment for my purposes. Air Force-Navy as part of the conference schedule would throw a wrench into the framework of the scheduling. Assigning every program an annual, cross-quadrant “rival” is a burdensome task.

With the promise of new territory in Chicago and a track record for success, Northern Illinois gets the nod.

That geographic footprint is massive, spreading the American quite literally across the continent. Even just a traditional split down the middle doesn’t completely alleviate travel issues.

Moreover, in the current 14-team conferences, we see affiliates go years without playing one another. Are you really in a conference with an opponent you can see only once over the course of a four-year college career?

What I propose for the sixth power conference is a completely new scheduling dynamic featuring four quadrants of four teams. Members of a quadrant play each other every season, as is customary for divisions, then face two opponents from each of the other quadrants.

That ensures a nine-game league schedule — which I champion for every power conference — and eliminates the long stretches some programs go without playing one another in the current super-conferences.

American West: Boise State, Fresno State, BYU, Northern Illinois

American East: Navy, Temple, Cincinnati, Connecticut

American Central: Houston, SMU, Tulsa, Tulane

American South: UCF, USF, East Carolina, Memphis

Now, the issue of a conference championship game gets tricky. Two best records solves the issue rather seamlessly, but ties are inevitable. Barring head-to-head, strength of quadrant or performance against common opponent are perfectly acceptable tiebreakers.

That conference would not struggle to produce multiple Top 25 teams per year. With power conference resources and opportunities, I don’t doubt this version of the American could produce national championship contenders.

Well, what can I say, other than: