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College football forecast: New coaches bring big changes

September 21, 2017 07:32 AM
Oregon, obviously improved under new coach Willie Taggart, is a 15-point favorite at Arizona State on Saturday night.
© USA Today Sports Images

In the span of two years, Oregon went from a college football juggernaut to a joke. In three games, Willie Taggart has stopped the laughing and losing.

Sometimes, rebuilding a program requires a few years’ work. But some coaches can change the culture in a matter of months. It’s already obvious Taggart is steering the Ducks back in the right direction.

A poorly-coached 4-8 team a year ago, Oregon is 3-0 and looking legit. The early success Mark Helfrich had after replacing Chip Kelly was a mirage, a case of Helfrich riding Kelly’s coattails before allowing the Ducks to disintegrate. In time, Helfrich was exposed and eventually fired. In no time at all, Taggart is turning it around.

A similar transformation is taking place at Purdue, where Jeff Brohm has instantly restored order and optimism after replacing Darrell Hazell, who could not coach a cat to chase a mouse.

“When you go from a poor coach to a good one, you notice it immediately,” said Bruce Marshall, editor of The Gold Sheet. “It makes a big difference.”

The handicappers and oddsmakers who were not ahead of the curve on Oregon and Purdue are quickly adjusting the power ratings.

Taggart, who proved himself by winning at Western Kentucky and South Florida, has a sharp offensive mind. He was an assistant to Jim Harbaugh at Stanford. He hired Jim Leavitt, a former head coach and one of the nation’s top defensive coordinators, to run the other side of the ball.

The Ducks are not going to win the Pac-12 Conference, but they are well coached again and worth watching. Justin Herbert is a solid veteran quarterback, and running back Royce Freeman already has nine touchdowns. Leavitt’s defense is no joke.

Oregon, which whipped Wyoming 49-13 as a double-digit road favorite last week, is a 15-point favorite at Arizona State on Saturday night. That line might be too much of an adjustment, but if the Sun Devils get blown out, coach Todd Graham will be on the way out soon.

Purdue is 2-1 straight up and 3-0 against the spread, easily covering all three times. The Boilermakers were 7-point road ‘dogs in a 35-3 win over Missouri a week ago. The Tigers might be headed for the Southeastern Conference basement, but it still was a dominant showing.

Brohm is an imaginative play-caller. He’s also no-nonsense and intense, nearly a mirror image of the Big Ten coach he will see on the opposite sideline Saturday. Brohm and Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh are former quarterbacks who coach that position at the highest level.

A week or two ago, the Boilermakers would have been at least 14-point home underdogs against the Wolverines. The line is now 10, due to Purdue’s upgrade and Michigan’s offensive problems. (For a writeup on this game, see Point Spread Weekly, VSiN’s digital magazine.)

Another team on the rise thanks to a coaching change is California. Justin Wilcox, a former defensive coordinator at Wisconsin and Southern California, has immediately improved the Golden Bears following the firing of Sonny Dykes.

Cal is 3-0 straight up and 2-1 ATS, with upsets of Mississippi and North Carolina. The Bears appear to be for real, but they are about to get a big test as 17-point home underdogs against USC. Wilcox will be challenged to contain Trojans quarterback Sam Darnold.

Stiffer competition is ahead of Oregon, Purdue and Cal, but Taggart, Brohm and Wilcox have paid off bettors who were ahead of the curve on the best coaching changes.

Saturday’s plays: Wake Forest (-4½) over APPALACHIAN STATE; PURDUE (plus-10) over Michigan; Mississippi State (plus-5½) over GEORGIA; KENTUCKY (plus-2½) over Florida; MICHIGAN STATE (plus-4) over Notre Dame; Hawaii (plus-6½) over WYOMING; CALIFORNIA (plus-17) over Southern California; ARIZONA STATE (plus-15) over Oregon; STANFORD (-7) over Ucla.

Last week: 5-4 against the spread

Season: 12-12

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