How coaching changes affect CFB betting

By Steve Makinen  (Point Spread Weekly) 

April 15, 2020 08:52 PM

I’ll spend the next several weeks breaking down key information you’ll want to know as you get ready for college football from a betting perspective. First I’ll look at the head coaching changes since last season wrapped up. In all, 24 schools made changes.

Unlike the NFL, in which the coaching carousel is a somewhat short ride highlighted by “Black Monday” as coaches are typically fired the day after the regular-season finales, the process in college football is more extended. In fact, for this offseason, the process really lasted almost three months. Rutgers hired Greg Schiano on Dec. 1, and Colorado wrapped it up by naming Karl Dorrell coach on Feb. 23. That might not be the last change we see before the season kicks off. Coaching changes always make a huge difference in a team’s prospectus and must be considered near the top of the list of important factors in handicapping college football.  

Head coach is one of the key variables I use in my College Football Stability System, which I publish at the beginning of each season. In more cases than not, teams with new coaches are play-against teams, particularly early in the season. However, obvious exceptions exist.

With college football season win totals having been released in earnest last week, it’s a perfect time to start digging into the 2020 season. Let’s kick it off with the coaching changes, listed in alphabetical order by school.

Appalachian State

2019 record: 13-1 SU and 9-5 ATS

Former coach: Eliah Drinkwitz

New coach: Shawn Clark

Analysis: Clark will be the Mountaineers’ third coach in three years, but the program has remained consistently good. There’s no reason to think anything will change with this hire. Clark is a Mountaineer through and through, having played there and served as offensive line coach and co-offensive coordinator since 2016. He’ll have senior QB Zac Thomas back, so this should be a very good team again. 

Better or worse in 2020: Little change; Sun Belt favorite.


2019 record: 2-10 SU and 4-8 ATS

Former coach: Chad Morris

New coach: Sam Pittman

Analysis: Morris guided the Razorbacks to back-to-back 2-10 seasons, making his stay in Fayetteville short. He was plucked from SMU as a hot-commodity hire after leading the Mustangs from 1-11 to 7-6 in three seasons. This time around, Arkansas went in a completely different direction. Pittman, a former Razorbacks assistant, was lured from SEC powerhouse Georgia. He was one of the Bulldogs’ lead recruiters and had been promoted to associate head coach in February. Although this is his first head coaching gig, he has an impressive enough SEC resume to make this look like a good hire.

Better or worse in 2020: Slightly better, with more promise down the road.


2019 record: 11-3 SU and 9-5 ATS

Former coach: Matt Rhule

New coach: Dave Aranda

Analysis: Rhule was the perfect guy at the perfect time for downtrodden Baylor in 2017. The Bears made a remarkable three-year jump, going from one win to 11, culminating in a Sugar Bowl berth. The key factor in the resurrection was atmosphere, and that was why Rhule’s departure for the NFL’s Panthers could have huge consequences. He was a rah-rah guy who embraced character, the Waco area and the new Baylor way. He spoke more highly of Baylor than Chip and Joanna Gaines from HGTV’s “Fixer Upper.” That will be hard to duplicate, and even though Aranda is a well-respected coordinator and defensive mind, I can’t see anything but a drop in 2020.

Better or worse in 2020: Worse; hard-pressed to match 2019 success.

Boston College

2019 record: 6-7 SU and 7-6 ATS

Former coach: Steve Addazio

New coach: Jeff Hafley

Analysis: I talked about the Boston College coaching situation on VSiN and the challenge the Golden Eagles would face because of it against Cincinnati in last season’s Birmingham Bowl. Well, BC did not rise to the challenge and was walloped 38-6. Having lost QB Anthony Brown as a transfer and with only about half the team’s production coming back, I would put this program on my play-against list, for sure early in the season. Hafley is taking on his first head coaching job after serving just one season as Ohio State’s co-defensive coordinator. His other experience has come as a college and pro secondary coach. This looks like a sizable challenge more befitting a coach with more experience.

Better or worse in 2020: Worse; fifth straight bowl season highly unlikely.


2019 record: 5-7 SU and 6-6 ATS

Former coach: Mel Tucker

New coach: Karl Dorrell

Analysis: Dorrell has spent all but one of the last 12 years as an NFL assistant. He was UCLA’s coach from 2003-07, winning 35 games. This will be a tough spot for him. Stud QB Steven Montez has used up his eligibility after starting for the last three seasons and throwing for 2,800 or more yards in each one. However, a 5-7 record was the result all three years. Tucker used his one season at Colorado as a bridge to get to Michigan State, perhaps knowing the big production losses for the Buffaloes this year could keep him from moving up the ladder.

Better or worse in 2020: Worse; will be fortunate to reach 5-7 for a fourth straight season.

Colorado State

2019 record: 4-8 SU and 7-5 ATS

Former coach: Mike Bobo

New coach: Steve Addazio

Analysis: Though the Rams went to bowl games in Bobo’s first three years, they never improved in any season until last year, and that was a minuscule bump from 3-9 to 4-8. Clearly, it was time for a change, as Bobo inherited a 10-win team in 2014. Addazio never won more than seven games in his seven seasons at Boston College, and he’s now 60, so this feels more like a stopgap measure than a hire that will return CSU to prominence. A decent amount of production returns, including senior QB Patrick O’Brien. But he isn’t a lock to retain the job after an up-and-down season.

Better or worse in 2020: Similar, if not slightly up.

Florida Atlantic

2019 record: 11-3 SU and 10-4 ATS

Former coach: Lane Kiffin

New coach: Willie Taggart

Analysis: It can be debated whether FAU used Kiffin for three years or Kiffin used FAU. In the end it was a win-win situation for both: Kiffin got back to the SEC at Mississippi, and the Owls had their two best seasons ever. They won 11 games in 2017 and 2019. Kiffin also left the remnants of a well-paved recruiting trail for Taggart, so the cupboard won’t be bare. But Taggart hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire as a head coach, going 58-64 for his career and 18-20 the last three years with Florida State and Oregon. This program should remain competitive in Conference USA. But make no mistake, this is a coaching dropoff. 

Better or worse in 2020: Worse; Kiffin’s offenses were prolific, Taggart’s not.

Florida State

2019 record: 6-7 SU and 4-8-1 ATS

Former coach: Willie Taggart

New coach: Mike Norvell

Analysis: Fitting that the sequel to Taggart’s FAU story starts just one team later. Taggart’s 2019 Seminoles team was supposed to be one of the best in the ACC, with a ton of returning experience, yet finished just 6-7 and showed little spark in its 20-14 Sun Bowl loss to Arizona State. FSU used to be considered one of the premier programs in the country, having won a national title just seven years ago. That seems like a generation ago. However, if a young offensive mind is needed to bring FSU back into prominence, Norvell could be the perfect option. Memphis averaged about 42 PPG in his four-year stint, and he was the mastermind. 

Better or worse in 2020: Better; could be one of the country’s biggest surprises.

Fresno State

2019 record: 4-8 SU and 4-7-1 ATS

Former coach: Jeff Tedford

New coach: Kalen DeBoer

Analysis: Tedford enjoyed two fantastic seasons with Fresno State in 2017 and ’18 before falling to 4-8 a year ago with a team that had lost a ton of production. His departure was due to health concerns, as anything else mandating a new coach here would have been a massive knee-jerk reaction. According to ESPN, Fresno State has the 94th-most returning production for 2020, so restoring the Bulldogs to a double-digit-win team seems unrealistic for DeBoer. But the former Indiana offensive coordinator does step into a nice spot to realize improvement this season.

Better or worse in 2020: Slightly better; program had won 22 games in two years before 2019.


2019 record: 10-5 SU and 8-7 ATS

Former coach: Nick Rolovich

New coach: Todd Graham

Analysis: In 2016, Rolovich took over a Hawaii program that had won 11 games in four seasons. He led the school to three bowl games in four seasons, including a 10-win campaign in 2019. He was naturally a top candidate for a Power 5 program, and he landed at Washington State. But the Warriors were just 21-32-2 ATS (39.6%) in Rolovich’s stay, so they aren’t at the top of the mountain. Graham takes over after two seasons away from football. He had a 95-61 career record in his four jobs at Rice, Tulsa, Pitt and Arizona State. His teams have played fast, scoring and allowing a lot of points, so don’t expect much change in what we see from Hawaii. However, would-be senior QB Cole McDonald declared for the draft in January, leaving a huge void for Graham to fill. 

Better or worse in 2020: Worse; new coach-QB combo is a stability issue; Hawaii will be a play-against team early.


2019 record: 12-2 SU and 7-6-1 ATS

Former coach: Mike Norvell

New coach: Ryan Silverfield

Analysis: Memphis hired internally when Norvell left for Florida State, promoting offensive line coach Silverfield, who coached in the 53-39 Cotton Bowl loss to Penn State. The Tigers won 38 games under Norvell in four seasons and 19 the previous two years, so the program is on solid footing. It sounds like Silverfield was a popular hire in the locker room, and QB Brady White is back for his senior year along with a lot of other starters, so all is well in Memphis. 

Better or worse in 2020: Similar; Group of 5 New Year’s Six bowl contender.

Michigan State

2019 record: 7-6 SU and 4-9 ATS

Former coach: Mark Dantonio

New coach: Mel Tucker

Analysis: Dantonio spent 13 years in East Lansing, mostly good, but was forced to step down in February after allegations of recruiting violations surfaced. After winning 53 games in six years from 2010-15, he won only 27 in his last four seasons, so perhaps a change was due. In the last five seasons, the Spartans are just 26-39 ATS, so bettors might embrace the change to Tucker. However, ESPN ranks the Spartans 117th of 130 teams in returning production, and with the internal problems the athletic program is enduring, this might be a team in the beginning stages of taking its lumps. 

Better or worse in 2020: Worse; very unstable situation, potential for rough first season under Tucker.


2019 record: 4-8 SU and 7-5 ATS

Former coach: Matt Luke

New coach: Lane Kiffin

Analysis: It was an arms race in Mississippi this year for head football coaches, as Mississippi State nabbed Mike Leach and Ole Miss snared Kiffin. Both are big names and both will be very entertaining to watch as they try to lift their programs back to prominence. Kiffin was fantastic at Florida Atlantic, leading the Owls to 11 wins in two of his three years. His offenses were prolific, and with the Rebels coming off a season in which they scored an eight-year-low 26.5 PPG, room for growth is obvious. There’s a good supply of talent back for 2020 as well. 

Better or worse in 2020: Better; should be highly competitive, at least by end of season.

Mississippi State

2019 record: 6-7 SU and 5-8 ATS

Former coach: Joe Moorhead

New coach: Mike Leach

Analysis: Despite setting a school record for first-year head coaches with eight wins in 2018, Moorhead’s honeymoon at Mississippi State was short, as he was fired after two seasons. The biggest problem was its passing game. The quickest way to solve that problem is to hire a guy like Leach. This should be one of the most intriguing first-year seasons for a coach in all of college football, as the SEC gets its first consistent look at the Air Raid. Not much production returns from 2019, but that could be a good thing since the system overhaul will leave this program virtually unrecognizable. It’s going to be fun. 

Better or worse in 2020: Worse; loaded SEC will prove troublesome for highly unstable situation in Leach’s first year.


2019 record: 6-6 SU and 4-8 ATS

Former coach: Barry Odom

New coach: Eliah Drinkwitz

Analysis: Drinkwitz is just 36 and comes off a 13-1 season with Appalachian State, his first year as a head coach. He was offensive coordinator at NC State before that. Does that make him ready to lead an SEC program? That remains to be seen, but this looks like a team that could struggle in 2020. The Tigers are just 11-21 in conference play over the last four seasons and are ranked No. 100 on the ESPN returning-production list. From a betting perspective, keep an eye on totals. Mizzou’s games produced just 44.8 PPG combined last year, and Appalachian State’s offense actually averaged 0.15 plays per minute fewer than the Tigers. 

Better or worse in 2020: Worse; how does Drinkwitz handle the SEC and adversity?

New Mexico

2019 Record: 2-10 SU and 3-8-1 ATS

Former coach: Bob Davie

New coach: Danny Gonzales

Analysis: From the sound of it, many New Mexico backers were positioning to get Gonzales back to his alma mater even before the university and Davie “mutually agreed to part ways.” Gonzales was the defensive coordinator at Arizona State the last two years. If nothing else, it seems the energetic Gonzales could provide a shot in the arm for a program in much need of it after eight wins over the last three seasons (11-24-1 ATS). 

Better or worse in 2020: Slightly better; was 2-10 record bottom of the curve?

Old Dominion

2019 record: 1-11 SU and 4-8 ATS

Former coach: Bobby Wilder

New coach: Ricky Rahne

Analysis: The 2019 season was expected to be a rebuild for Old Dominion, with just nine total starters returning for Wilder’s 11th season. The bottom fell out as the Monarchs suffered through their worst season of FBC football by far, winning just once and finishing on an 11-game skid. Rahne steps in after six seasons as a Penn State assistant, most recently as offensive coordinator the last two years. Over 80% of the team production is back for 2020, though it could be debated whether that is good or bad. 

Better or worse in 2020: Better; a situation where things couldn’t really get worse.


2019 record: 2-10 SU and 4-8 ATS

Former coach: Chris Ash

New coach: Greg Schiano

Analysis: Since Schiano left for the NFL after the 2011 season, Rutgers has had just two winning seasons and has plummeted to only four wins over the last three years. You can’t blame the brass of the athletic program for trying to relive the golden era of Scarlet Knights football. It is a very curious hire, though, since when Schiano was last there, Rutgers was in the Big East. But Schiano did serve as defensive coordinator for Ohio State under Urban Meyer from 2016-18, so he knows the Big Ten landscape. It’s hard to see this program coming back up in the immediate future, though, with Schiano’s recruiting talents taking time to show an impact.

Better or worse in 2020: Similar; currently overmatched in Big Ten East.

San Diego State

2019 record: 10-3 SU and 8-5 ATS

Former coach: Rocky Long

New coach: Brady Hoke

Analysis: This coaching change should be one of the most stable transfers of power of the offseason. Long retired after last season, leaving a team that went 10-3, culminating with an impressive 48-11 win over Central Michigan in the New Mexico Bowl. Long’s replacement is Hoke, that team’s defensive line coach. Hoke coached SDSU for two seasons in 2009-10 before moving to Michigan for four years. Thus, he has substantial head coaching experience, including at the current school, and was an assistant for the current team. That’s about as stable as coaching transfers go. Replacing three-year starting QB Ryan Agnew will be a challenge.

Better or worse in 2020: Worse; coaching situation stable, but 92nd-ranked returning production a concern.

South Florida

2019 record: 4-8 SU and 6-6 ATS

Former coach: Charlie Strong

New coach: Jeff Scott

Analysis: Strong’s hiring three years ago was met with great optimism, but the team went from 11 wins when he was hired to 10 to seven to four. That is a negative trend. Last year’s 4-8 record was particularly disappointing since the Bulls brought back 15 starters, including senior QB Blake Barnett. He was injured in the fourth game and needed season-ending surgery, but even so, the offense scored just 10 points in its two FBS games before that. The team totally unraveled with four straight losses to end the season, scoring just 41 points. A team unraveling is typically met with the coach being fired. Scott had spent 12 years as an assistant for Dabo Swinney at Clemson, serving as the co-offensive coordinator the last five seasons. This could be a good fit. Scott is a Florida native who should elevate recruiting, has been with a winning program and has a good portion of the team back for 2020 — including potentially Barnett, who applied for a medical redshirt after the injury cost him 2019.

Better or worse in 2020: Better; some good pieces in place for typically competitive AAC program.

Texas San Antonio

2019 record: 4-8 SU and 7-5 ATS

Former coach: Frank Wilson

New coach: Jeff Traylor

Analysis: Wilson was one of two coaches fired after his team improved in 2019. UTSA went from 3-9 in 2018 to 4-8 last year, but expectations were higher. Traylor takes the reins after serving as Arkansas’ associate head coach the last two seasons. Traylor, who is from Texas, was also an assistant at Texas and SMU. The assumption in cases like this is that in-state connections naturally boost recruiting. The reality is sometimes different, and Traylor comes from an Arkansas program that recorded back-to-back 2-10 seasons with him in an elevated position.

Better or worse in 2020: Similar, if not slightly worse.


2019 record: 4-8 SU and 6-6

Former coach: Tony Sanchez

New coach: Marcus Arroyo

Analysis: The experiment of trying to turn Sanchez, a high school legend, into a successful college coach failed to produce a single bowl bid, and UNLV remains submerged in an era of losing that has produced just one bowl appearance since 2001. Enter Arroyo, most recently Oregon’s offensive coordinator, who has also spent time at San Jose State, Wyoming, California and Southern Miss. He inherits a large rebuilding job in Sin City, where the Runnin’ Rebels will no longer be the No. 1 football team in town with the Raiders arriving. A big loss in team production is on tap for 2020, but QB Kenyon Oblad did show some promise last fall. 

Better or worse in 2020: Similar; UNLV has averaged a consistent 3.7 wins over the last six seasons.


2019 record: 8-5 SU and ATS

Former coach: Chris Petersen

New coach: Jimmy Lake

Analysis: Continuity is a key in coaching changes. Washington’s situation could be fluid. With Petersen resigning before the Huskies’ bowl game in December, Lake was able to start his reign with a resounding 38-7 blowout of Boise State in Las Vegas. Although this will be Lake’s first full-time head coaching gig, he was the defensive coordinator at Washington for four seasons under Petersen. QB Jacob Eason declared early for the NFL draft, and the Huskies will have a lot of other fresh faces in their lineup this fall.

Better or worse in 2020: Worse; still a bowl team but likely a play-against point-spread team.

Washington State

2019 record: 6-7 SU and 5-8 ATS

Former coach: Mike Leach

New coach: Nick Rolovich

Analysis: Leach’s departure was abrupt, but Washington State was able to replace him quickly with another innovative offensive coach in Rolovich, who led a resurgence at Hawaii. While that would seem to be a positive, the Cougars will have a new head coach, two new coordinators, a new quarterback and several other new starters for 2020. That is the definition of instability. 

Better or worse in 2020: Worse; no bowl game in 2020.


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