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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

Need to Know

For 13 Teams, Losing Culture Carries Over

Middle Tennessee State is in the same boat as 12 other programs in college football. The Blue Raiders, like the dozen others, enters 2012 on at least a five-game losing streak. How this team stumbled over the second half of last season raises some important questions about the program’s future under Rick Stockstill, whose career record at Middle Tennessee now falls under .500 after six years with the program. For nearly half of the 13 teams, last year’s sluggish finish has led to significant changes: six have since made a coaching change. Middle Tennessee opted to stand pat, but like every team that heads into the fall on at least a five-game losing streak, changes are afoot.

Just how have things changed at these 13 stops? In some way or another, all have addressed the issues that spiraled out of control over the second half of 2011 — issues that, for some, began in September and continued unabated through the end of the regular season.

Six, as noted, changed head coaches. Kansas swapped Turner Gill for Charlie Weis, after some thorough deliberation. Tulane fired Bob Toledo, replacing him with former New Orleans Saints assistant Curtis Johnson. Akron brought in Terry Bowden to clean up Rob Ianello’s mess.

Likewise at Colorado State, where Jim McElwain — who already has his hands full with a few off-field issues — steps in for Steve Fairchild. Hugh Freeze inherits Mississippi’s talent; he also trades in the Sun Belt for the SEC, so wish him well. Todd Graham’s family begged him to take the job at Arizona State, he claimed.

These are major, big-picture changes at programs desperately in need of such massive alterations. You know that the Green Wave, for example, were in dire need of a new voice: Tulane had stagnated under Toledo — had never gotten off the ground, in fact. Johnson, while a first-time head coach, has already lent the program a degree of respectability thanks to his N.F.L. pedigree.

Three other schools made a change at both coordinator spots, and a fourth hired a new defensive coordinator. Randy Edsall made scapegoats of his coordinators following a disastrous debut, replacing Gary Crowton and Todd Bradford with Mike Locksley and Brian Stewart. U.N.L.V. changed coaches from within the current staff, promoting tight ends coach Brent Myers and defensive backs coach J.D. Williams while relegating their predecessors into smaller roles.

The Blue Raiders’ coordinators are new, in a way. Buster Faulkner was promoted to offensive coordinator midway through last season; this will be his first full year in the role. Tyrone Nix, formerly of Mississippi, will share defensive coordinator duties with holdover Steve Ellis.

Texas Tech’s marriage with former T.C.U. defensive backs coach Chad Glasgow lasted one season; he was sent packing — following a strange and completely avoidable back-and-forth with the university — in favor of former North Carolina assistant Art Kaufman.

And three teams did nothing of the cosmetic variety, opting to go back into the breach with the same staff that ended last season on such a low note. Kevin Wilson’s staff returns for year two at Indiana. Duke kept roughly the same look. Rather than shake up his staff, Doug Marrone left things alone at Syracuse.

From one perspective, the changes — or lack of changes — are insignificant. Maryland needs a wholesale change in mentality more than it needs two new coordinators; the play-calling wasn’t an issue last fall, but the way team went through the motions was. McElwain’s new system will be impotent if Colorado State doesn’t begin believing it can win games in the Mountain West.

It’s difficult to quantify, this idea that each team has a culture problem, but the issue exists. The problem exists at Akron, where Bowden takes on a team that has won five games in three years. Arizona State folded up and died over the second half of last season, which is why Graham has preached to his new the importance of body language: look good, feel good, play good.

This is the elephant in the room for the teams heading into this season on the tail end of an extended losing streak. Ask Ron English about how hard it is to reverse a losing culture: it took English three years and 20-plus losses to reach his team, formerly the perennial whipping boy of the MAC. The task was equally painful for Western Kentucky’s Willie Taggart; the Hilltoppers won four games from 2008-10 before reaching bowl eligibility last season.

Or think about the situation Al Golden took on at Temple in 2006. “You find a lot of young men who have lost hope, and you’ve got to start educating,” Golden said in 2009, when the Owls were close to clinching their first bowl berth in three decades. “You have to start to implement your culture and your core values. As you evolve, you have a lot of people who aren’t willing to make those sacrifices. So many of them had to move on.”

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