The 2022 college football season ended Monday — sometime during the first quarter, if we’re being honest — and you already have questions about the 2023 season…
Which first-year coach do you think has been the most successful or had the biggest turnaround in his first year? – pride
Everyone who takes over a program this season faces a high bar set by Daniel Dykes — I bet you didn’t know Sonny’s real first name — after Dykes took TCU 5-7 to the national title game in his first season. Can any of the newcomers put their team into the title game in 2023? Doubtful. Can some new coaches help their teams make leaps and bounds? at all.
The most obvious candidate is Colorado’s Deion Sanders because Sanders takes on a program that went 1-11 (and honestly, it can’t get much worse) and infuses it with a level of talent he hasn’t had in years. But here’s the tricky part for Sanders: This may be the best, deepest Pac-12 game we’ve seen since the era when Pete Carroll’s USC Trojans ruled the sport.
In another year, just adding Deion’s son Shedeur Sanders at quarterback would point to a huge bump. But this is a deeeeeep quarterback league in 2023. USC has Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams. Cam Rising, who led Utah to 12 consecutive Pac-12 titles, is back. Bo Nix is back in Oregon State. Michael Bennix Jr. is back in Washington. Former Clemson quarterback DJ Uiagalelei joined an Oregon State team that went 10-3 in 2022 and almost all returned. Colorado has to play all of those teams except Washington. Plus the Buffaloes have to face the aforementioned TCU on September 2nd, and they take on Nebraska on September 9th.
So if you’re planning a huge jump for Colorado under Sanders in year one, maybe temper the expectations. Winning a few games would be huge progress. Making a bowl would be a massive feat. Anything beyond that is gravy.
Speaking of Nebraska, Matt Rule has a chance to get the Cornhuskers back into their first-year eligibility. As I mentioned above in reference to Colorado, expecting more than that right out of the gate can be too demanding. Georgia Tech transfer QB Jeff Sims will have a chance to take the starting job in spring practice with incumbent Casey Thompson out recovering from an injury. But just as important might be the transfer gate additions of Arizona State center Ben Scott and four-year Stanford offensive line starter Walter Ross. Mummies needs to block better, and Rhule and his staff will have to develop what they have – and possibly get more out of the gate – to make that happen.
Nebraska hasn’t played a game since Mike Riley’s sophomore season finale in 2016. The six-win mark is a good goal for Nebraska.
In another situation, I’d probably pick Hugh Freese to have a huge first season at Auburn. Remember, Gus Malzahn took over in 2013 and took a team that went 0-8 in the SEC in 2012 to a conference title and a berth in BCS play. But Gene Chizik left a beautiful closet. Brian Harsin’s recruitment philosophy plus transfer losses from two coaching changes in quick succession has given Freeze a more difficult task at the front end.
Freese’s stints at Ole Miss and Liberty suggest he’ll get Auburn’s roster where it needs to be and make the Tigers competitive in the SEC, which means he’ll be competitive anywhere. But for a team that has to play against Georgia, LSU and Alabama right now, it might take a year or so to get the Tigers into a competitive position that will keep their fan base happy. Auburn has been looking for a QB in the transfer gate, but don’t be shocked if the Freeze can make a QB currently on Auburn’s roster (Robby Ashford, for example) look like a much better QB this year.
The coach who appears to have the best chance of making an immediate impact also feels like the one who can build the best long-term program. Luke Fickell is known to be a picky eater, so the fact that he put his hood on at Wisconsin and liked what he saw indicates that the Wisconsin State Department is willing to give him the resources to compete against the top ten finishers. Not the best in the Big Ten West, which won’t be a thing even after this season. The entire Big Ten.
The Big Ten West is still a thing in 2023, and the Wisconsin roster that Fickel inherits will be much better than the one he inherited in Cincinnati. That included youngster Desmond Reader, but the Bearcats needed serious development along both lines of scrimmage. Fickel went 4-8 that first year, but Cincinnati improved to 11-2 in the second.
Fickell doesn’t have much to do on the front end with a Wisconsin team that went 7-6 with a pedestrian offense and good-to-excellent defense. Yes, the Badgers should replace star defensemen Nick Herbig, John Turchio and Keanu Benton, but former coordinator Jim Leonard has done a good job stocking this side of the ball, and Fekle knows exactly what to look for in the transfer window. He did catch defensive tackle Darian Varner out of the gate. Varner was a first-team All-American Athletic Conference selection at Temple last season.
Meanwhile, new offensive coordinator Phil Luongo completely reconfigured the quarterback’s room. Current starter Graham Mertz is in Florida right now. Tanner Mordecai, who was so old that he backed up Kyler Murray as a freshman and Galen Hurts as a freshman at Oklahoma before heading to SMU to stack touchdowns for Dykes and current coach Rhett Lashley, is expected to start the veteran. Oklahoma State transfer Nick Evers, and Mississippi State transfer Brayden Locke has four years of eligibility remaining and appears to be eyeing a QB role from the future. All three come from Texas, the state of Lungo, which specializes in recruiting.
Longo brings a radically different offense to Madison, but that doesn’t mean he’s unwilling to use Wisconsin’s best resources—its men and its backs. The hope is that Longo will use the running backs of Braelon Allen and Chez Mellosi in the same way he used Javonte Williams and Michael Carter in 2020 at North Carolina. That year, the Tar Heels averaged 5.8 yards per carry and ran for 2,830 yards while also throwing for 3,617 yards and averaged 10.1 yards per pass attempt. The running game’s success has made life easier for QB Sam Howell, and if Longo can do the same at Wisconsin, whoever wins the QB job will benefit.
In what must be the teams final year of Big Ten play, the Badgers must face Ohio State (in Madison Oct. 28) but miss Michigan and Penn State. With better raw materials than he did his first year in Cincinnati, Fickel might be able to bring the Badgers back to double-digit wins.
dew I really enjoy your podcast and I started listening last year when USC started being a specialist and hired Lincoln Riley. Now that I’ve seen USC collapse at the end of the season including what I consider to be the worst defensive performance I’ve seen since I started watching football in the mid-2000s at the Cotton Bowl. Thinking about your podcast, I came up with an idea that I want your opinion on. Is USC Pizarro Iowa? (For non-comic book readers, Bizarro is the opposite of Superman.) Think about it: The USC defense is bad enough, but its special teams kick the longest kick Caleb Williams has ever done. And let’s not forget Iowa’s noble touchdown of two safeties and a field goal. Side note: Is the Iowa/USC debate also the answer to Is it fun to have an elite offense or an elite defense? – Richard
Bizarro is actually the opposite of Superman, but Richard forgets that a large portion of the population remembers explaining Bizarro and Superman from the classic “Seinfeld” episode “Bizarro Jerry*”.
And Richard’s assessment of USC as Bizarro Iowa is spot on.
*This is my favorite episode of Seinfeld. I lose it every time Kevin (Bizarro Geary) says “…and this guy, we call him Feldman.” But the story may not be the best in the episode. That episode also includes Kramer pretending to work for a bathroom company. She has “male hands”. He has George use a photo of Jerry’s girlfriend to get into an exclusive club full of models. It was a tour de force.
We took pity on Iowa this season because one side of the ball was horrible and the other was elite. Meanwhile, we improved USC most of the season even though the Trojans had the same case with both sides of the ball reversed.
The loss to Utah in the Pac-12 key game and the collapse against Tulane in the Cotton Bowl shed a brighter light on USC’s defense woes, and I think we ended the season sharing the same compassion for USC’s offensive players as we did for Iowa’s defensive players. (And that pathos was extended this week when USC coach Lincoln Riley said defensive coordinator Alex Grinch would be retained.) But it took the entire season to see the obvious from the jump. We were feeling sorry for the Iowa defenders during their season opener against football’s national champion South Dakota.
This is because most of us assume that a team with elite offense always has a chance and a team with terrible offense never has a chance. But the exact opposite is true. An elite defense can sometimes make up for the incompetence of an offense like Iowa just as easily as an offense like USC can score enough to beat a defense it can’t handle.
As for which one I prefer to watch, I’m the wrong person to ask. I am sick. I watched the Iowa games just to see if the Hawkeyes defense could outpace the Hawkeyes offense. I think the average fan would much prefer to see a team with an elite attack and a terrible defense because shootouts are generally more interesting than rock battles.
Richard’s question is excellent, and brings up another thought: If you made a team that consisted of USC’s offense and Iowa’s defense and had Riley and the Trojans coach the offense and Iowa coordinator Phil Parker and his staff direct the defense, could that team compete for the national title? The answer is likely yes.
Tom would like me to rank the one-hit wonders. we go away…
1. “My worst enemy” — lit
2. “Let me clear my throat” – DJ Cole
3. “All My Life” – K-Ci and JoJo
4. “Sharona” – Talent
5. “96 tears” -? and Mysterians
6. “Baby Got Back” – Sir Mix A Lot
7. “I’ll Be (500 Miles)” – The Advocates
8. “Groove in the Heart” – Deee-Lite
9. “Dancing in the Moonlight” – King of the Harvest
10. “He’s Going Down” – Young Jok
11. “Detty” – Paperboy
12. “Tainted Love” – The Soft Cell
13. WHAT’S THERE – 95 South
14. “Not Addicted” – Choice K.
15. “Come On Eileen” – Dexys Midnight Runners
16. “I love you always and forever” – Donna Lewis
17. “In a big country” – a big country
18. “Sugar, Sugar” – The Archies
19. “867-5309/Jenny.” — Tommy Tutoni
20. “This Is Why I’m Hot” – MIMS
21. “Supersonic” – JJ Fudd
22. “Meanwhile” – Spacehog
23. “Tubthumping” – Chumbawamba
24. “Closing Time” – Semisonic
25. “The lion sleeps tonight” – Symbols
(Top photo of Deion Sanders: Jayne Kamin-Oncea / USA Today)