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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

Key New Offensive Coordinator Hires

The summer. Some programs will need to use this time more productively than others.

As I recently detailed on the defensive side of the ball, there are a number of new coaches taking over the offensive reins at some significant programs. I think these gentlemen have a more challenging task at hand; defensive schemes, by and large, can be simplified to the point where you can put your players in positions to excel — though it may take a year or more to truly round into form — while offensive schemes tend to be extremely varied on the college level, oftentimes leaving square pegs to fit into round holes. Here are the four new coordinators on the offensive side of the ball who I think bear watching in 2010. Chalkboards and sticks to draw in the dirt not included.

Offensive Coordinators

Neal Brown, Texas Tech Perhaps the story of the year last season was the way that Mike Leach was forced out of Texas Tech after ten incredibly successful and dynamic years in Lubbock. Leach is now off philosophizing about pirates and Americana on his own dime, and the Red Raiders are breaking in a new staff led by former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville, who hired Neal Brown in early January to call the offensive shots. I feel for Brown; there cannot be larger shoes to fill on the F.B.S. level than those left behind by Leach. Outside of his first two seasons in Lubbock when he was recruiting the players to fit his scheme, the Red Raiders never finished lower than sixth in total offense from 2003-9, including the top ranked offense in the nation during that 2003 season.

In comes Brown, one of the youngest coordinators in the F.B.S. at age 30, from Troy University, where he led the Trojans to the third best total offense in the nation last year. Clearly the cupboard is not bare at Texas Tech, as both Taylor Potts and Steven Sheffield will be back under center, and the fact that Brown also runs a spread-style offense should mean fewer growing pains for an already spread-oriented offense. Whether the Red Raiders will finish in the top six nationally in total offense every year remains to be seen, but I expect Tuberville’s team to be competitive from the get-g0, especially on the offensive side of the football.

Dana Holgorsen, Oklahoma State Another spread offense disciple, Holgorsen cut his teeth as co-offensive coordinator under the aforementioned Mike Leach at Texas Tech from 2000-7. He left for Houston the following year, tempted by the opportunity to run an offense without Leach’s interference. Anyone who has watched Houston the past couple of years knows how effective that offense was; the fact that Case Keenum was a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate for much of the 2009 season while playing at a non-B.C.S. program is a testament to Holgorsen’s ability to run a high-octane passing attack. Unlike Neal Brown, however, Holgorsen will not have plenty to work with in Stillwater.

Yes, Kendall Hunter and Hubert Anyiam return, but the Cowboys must replace quarterback Zac Robinson –  a multiple-year starter — and receiver Dez Bryant, though Bryant had already missed most of last season. Gunter Brewer, who shared offensive coordinator duties with the since-departed Trooper Taylor last year, will stay on as wide receivers coach. This should mean some stability on the offensive side of the ball. Mike Gundy will also have his say in what happens offensively, so the pieces are in place for an impressive offense in Stillwater. However, it might take a year before the Cowboys are running at full tilt.

Noel Mazzone, Arizona State A longtime coach in the collegiate ranks, Mazzone spent three years at the professional level coaching wide receivers for the New York Jets under Eric Mangini until his dismissal in 2008. After taking a year’s sabbatical, coaching high school in North Carolina, Mazzone accepted Dennis Erickson’s offer to become Arizona State’s new offensive coordinator in 2010. Like Todd Grantham at Georgia, Mazzone’s success will have a great say as to whether the widely traveled (and mostly successful) Erickson will remain as head coach of the Sun Devils following a disappointed stretch the past two years in Tempe.

Mazzone and Erickson have a past history together — Erickson hired him to be his offensive coordinator at Oregon State in 2002 — but Erickson’s wanderlust to try new things ended that relationship after just one year together in Corvallis. Once burned, twice shy? Not for Mazzone. The Sun Devils do return three quarterbacks with F.B.S. starting experience — including the Michigan transfer Steven Threet — which should make Mazzone’s job easier, but I’m not sure there’s enough there to keep the Erickson administration in place another year. If the Sun Devils don’t finish up in the top half of the Pac-10 this year, Mazzone may be once again looking for a new place to call home in 2011.

Mike Bajakian, Cincinnati With Bajakian, Cincinnati gets a coach with both college and professional experience, having spent time with the Chicago Bears in the N.F.L. as well as Michigan and Central Michigan on the collegiate ranks. Perhaps his greatest claim to fame is his work with C.M.U. quarterback Dan LeFevour. All LeFevour did in his time as the leader of the Chippewas was amass the second most total yardage of any player in F.B.S. history; become the second player in N.C.A.A. history to throw for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in a season; and the second player to throw for 20 touchdowns and score 20 touchdowns in one season. Tony Pike won’t be around to reap the benefits of Bajakian’s tutelage, but the Bearcats are getting a talented coach. That said, Bajakian has a lot to live up to, as the Brian Kelly-led Bearcats put up huge numbers last year: 447 yards of offense per game, good for 11th in the country. Will Cincinnati go 12-1 next year?  I’ll leave that up to Paul to prognosticate. Will Cincy average at least 447 yards a game in 2010?  I’m going to say no.

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  1. Dave says:

    Bajakian is probably a pretty good coach. But don’t give Jones/Bajakian full credit. LeFevour’s best yards/attempt numbers happened in his (true) freshman year under Kelly. Kelly should get the lion’s share of the credit here.

    LeFevour wasn’t even the starter out of camp that year either; Brian Brunner was. Kelly is just that damn good.

  2. Seth C says:

    Not trying to pimp my own website, but I did a profile on Neal Brown and his connections to the spread offense run fairly deep as his former coaches (he was a receiver in college at Kentucky for a few years) include Hal Mumme, Mike Leach, Tony Franklin and Chris Hatcher ( http://www.doubletnation.com/2010/6/1/1492719/texas-tech-coaching-profiles ).

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