The college football season begins for 18 teams in Week 0, so we finally get a chance to see how some of these teams look. I wrote in last week’s Point Spread Weekly about some offensive coordinator changes that could have a significant impact. It only makes sense to look at defensive coordinator changes this week.
The coordinators and position coaches mean so much in college football. They are on the front lines recruiting but also have such a huge impact on game day. Some teams have made bigger upgrades than others, and here are five new defensive coordinators that I would keep a close eye on:
Texas Tech: This will not be an easy job for Tim DeRuyter, but there may not be anybody better for the job. The Air Raid is back in full force at Texas Tech with Zach Kittley calling the offensive plays, which means DeRuyter’s defense might be on the field a lot. The former Fresno State head coach has been the DC at Oregon, Cal and Texas A&M, so he’s had an impact at multiple stops.
This is a defense that hasn’t allowed under 30 points per game since 2009. I don’t know if that’s plausible with the offensive scheme, but DeRuyter is a good recruiter and a really strong hire.
Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons always seem to be well-coached, and Brad Lambert looks to be an excellent hire as the latest defensive coordinator. Wake Forest has shifted into more of a high-octane offensive team the last few seasons under Dave Clawson, which has left the defense under duress. The Deacons have allowed at least 28.9 points per game in each of the last four seasons.
Lambert was a very successful head coach at Charlotte and he oversaw the program’s transition to Division I. He was the DC at Purdue last year and the Boilermakers held 10 of their 13 opponents under 30 points (only Wisconsin, Ohio State and Tennessee hit 30). This is a good, veteran hire for a defense that needs a spark.
TCU: Joe Gillespie had a rough assignment in the high-octane AAC. The conference features a ton of different offensive styles and tempos, but one thread that ties a lot of teams together is they throw the ball a lot. Gillespie, a two-time Broyles Award finalist, stymied the SMU teams of Sonny Dykes while at Tulsa, so when Dykes took over the Horned Frogs, he just went ahead and made Gillespie his DC.
This is a notable scheme change, as TCU goes from Gary Patterson’s patented 4-2-5 to a 3-3-5. For a team that allowed nearly 35 points and over 220 rushing yards per game, Gillespie has a lot of work to do. I’m high on this hire, though, and expect instant improvement. The more I look at TCU, the more I like them. Tulsa allowed under four yards per carry in each of the last two seasons and under 400 yards per game in each of the last three.
Kent State: If the Golden Flashes are going to take it to another level, the defense has to improve. Many teams likely came calling for Northern Iowa head coach Jeremiah Johnson, but his first FBS job will be at Kent State. Johnson has led three straight top-15 scoring defenses and his Panthers had 35 sacks and 27 takeaways last season. Kent State hasn’t eclipsed 30 sacks since 2012. The Flashes did force 16 interceptions last season and had a + 13 turnover margin, so Johnson could continue those good fortunes.
This is a tough gig because Kent State runs an up-tempo offense. The Flashes had 6.6 yards per play last season but only 33 points per game, so they get to the scoring areas and then struggle. The defense hasn’t allowed fewer than 30 points per game since 2016, but it could reach new heights if Johnson is able to work with the six returning starters and the new 3-3-5 defense.
Virginia: The Cavaliers made an interesting hire in John Rudzinski. He was the DC at Air Force from 2018-21 and any coach to come out of a service academy is a question mark. Service academy defenses can be undersized, which is something most other Division I programs don’t have to worry about, but they’re also not on the field very much. The ball-control offenses limit the exposure for defenses and allow play callers to do different things.
The Cavs’ best weapon on offense is QB Brennan Armstrong, who threw 500 passes last season, so this should be a much different offensive look. I’m not entirely sure about this hire in Year 1. Virginia did allow nearly 32 points per game, so the bar isn’t all that high, but I’d be concerned about a service academy play-caller in the ACC.