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College football hot seat: Conference-by-conference breakdown of potential hirings and firings this season

An expected light year in the coaching carousel last season turned into a whirlwind, as market drivers like Florida, Tennessee, Texas A&M, Oregon and UCLA opened up. In total, 21 jobs turned over, including nearly half of the SEC. That should portend a quiet spin this year, but a potential opening at Ohio State and other potential market drivers could lead to another significant year of turnover.

Here’s a look at the potential hirings and firings in college football this year.

POWER FIVE

ACC

Hot seat – A quiet year in the ACC got a bit louder this month.

North Carolina – Larry Fedora wouldn’t have been here a month ago, but he earned his spot through controversial media day comments and a shoe scandal that will hang over this season. Fedora also went 3-9 last year with just one ACC win, but he’s two years removed from an 11-win season. There’s quarterback uncertainty in the program, and the best thing going for Fedora right now is the school would owe him nearly $12 million to fire him. Does UNC care that much about football? We may find out, as UNC opens with road games at California and ECU before hosting UCF. Not an ideal schedule to get your program back in sync.

Worth monitoring – We dove deep into the Louisville situation earlier, as Purdue’s Jeff Brohm coaching there at some point feels inevitable. (As does some backlash for Bobby Petrino having three family members on staff.) There’s a chance Georgia Tech’s Paul Johnson, who turns 61 this month, steps away at the end of the season. A job like Georgia Tech is interesting because in a down market they could nab a better candidate than in most coaching cycles.

There are no other glaring jobs right now in the ACC. But the interesting dynamic to watch will be what gives in the league’s brutal Atlantic division. With Boston College and Wake Forest both the strongest they’ve been in years, someone has to slip. Is that Louisville? North Carolina State? Does Syracuse stay mired in the basement? Something has to give there with the middle class rising.

BIG 10

Hot seat – There’s really only one glaring non-Ohio State job here.

Illinois – Lovie Smith is 5-19 in two years, fresh off a 2-10 season and mired in a 10-game losing streak. A hire no one thought would work isn’t working so far. Athletic director Josh Whitman expounds optimism for the program, but the reality is pretty bleak. In Smith’s two seasons, all of the Illini’s peers in the Big Ten West that have changed jobs have ended up with a jolt – Minnesota, Nebraska and Purdue. Wisconsin is poised for a dominating season and Northwestern just opened a $270 million football facility. Iowa is steady Iowa. Illinois is falling behind fast. The $12 million buyout may be untenable for Illinois, but we’ve learned to never rule that out. Important to note it drops to $4 million in year four. If the Illini are brutal this year, can Illinois afford to keep him another year to save money? Or would they cut a deal?

Illinois head coach Lovie Smith shouts from the sideline during the second quarter of an NCAA college football game against Wisconsin in 2017. (AP)

Ohio State – The inclusion of Ohio State here isn’t a hint at what the school decides on Urban Meyer’s fate. But with Meyer on paid leave and his immediate future uncertain, it’s impossible to ignore right now. There will be a decision on Ohio State within the next 10 days. If Ohio State does let Meyer go, it would certainly be a disruptive force in the coaching market. Virginia Tech’s Justin Fuente, Iowa State’s Matt Campbell and former Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops are the most prominent names there. Mike Vrabel may get a look as well. Could they swing at Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald? Other than Stoops, who has shown zero interest in returning to coaching, there’s no coach with a semblance of a resume that matches Meyer’s when he arrived after his stint at Florida.

Worth monitoring – There’s been enough drama at Maryland to keep an eye on D.J. Durkin. With a new athletic director and the tragic death of a player from heatstroke at an off-season workout, Durkin will be under the spotlight. He’s 10-15 with a bowl appearance and needs to show improvement from 4-8 in 2017.

BIG 12

Hot seat – This league projects to have the most activity, as Kansas, Kansas State and Texas Tech could all open.

Kansas – Give David Beaty credit for the acrobatics he showed at Big 12 media day when he spun hundreds of questions about his job security into positives. It was Cirque du Soleil-level impressive. This is the most inevitable move with a new athletic director (Jeff Long) and a 3-33 record. Kansas may be wise to part ways early to get a jump on the market. Names here will include Tulane’s Willie Fritz, Arkansas State’s Blake Anderson, North Texas’ Seth Littrell, Navy’s Ken Niumatalolo, Tulsa’s Philip Montgomery and Oklahoma State assistant coach Mike Yurcich.

Kansas State – Bill Snyder has battled through throat cancer, but it was striking to see his frail physical appearance at Big 12 media days. The end is near for Snyder if he can’t hold up physically, as one of the best pure coaches of this generation – or any, really – appears close to the end of the line. Snyder turns 79 this season, and his preference that his son, Sean, replaces him appears more like a Hail Mary with each passing year. Look for names from athletic director Gene Taylor’s past to come up, including North Dakota State’s Chris Klieman and Wyoming’s Craig Bohl. Don’t be surprised if Kansas State extends Snyder’s contract in the near future based on their history of rolling him over. Health is the key issue here.

Texas Tech – Kliff Kingsbury saved his job with a bowl appearance last year and can likely do the same this year. Overall, he’s 30-33 with a 16-29 Big 12 record. The league is wide open and Tech’s defense projects to be the best in Kingsbury’s time there. Working against him is Tech would owe him just $4 million to part ways. A popular name here will be Troy’s Neal Brown, a former Red Raider assistant who could keep Air Raid roots but perhaps extract the Red Raiders from the middle class.

Worth monitoring – None.

PAC-12

Hot seat – Only one job is in any danger here, as only five jobs have established coaches – Washington, Washington State, Stanford, Colorado and Utah.

Colorado – Mike MacIntyre was the national coach of the year two years ago. But four losing seasons in his five years have taken some of the glow off that. It would cost just under $10 million to fire him, which is a lot for any Pac-12 school considering how far the league has fallen behind in revenue. MacIntyre and the school’s handling of Joe Tumpkin’s alleged domestic violence incident still lingers and has been brought back up amid the allegations against former Ohio State assistant Zach Smith. Could athletic director Rick George use a quiet market to make a splash?

Worth monitoring– USC extended Clay Helton through 2023 this offseason, and he’s coming off a Pac-12 title. While he’s not in trouble by any conceivable metric, the fit with athletic director Lynn Swann still feels like an awkward clash of personalities.

Clay Helton was rewarded in February with a contract extension running through 2023. (AP)

SEC

Hot seat – There are none glaring after six jobs changed in the league last year. But if LSU’s offense sputters through the early schedule, there will be one job scalding.

Worth monitoring – Vanderbilt could enter the discussion, as the feel-good vibes from James Franklin’s time here are long gone. Derek Mason is 6-26 in the SEC, and another repeat of last year’s 1-7 league mark could draw some heat. His contract is through 2021, but the buyout is unknown as Vanderbilt is a private school. In a down run of the SEC East, Vanderbilt hasn’t capitalized.

INDEPENDENT

Hot seat – BYU’s place in the college sports’ axis is teetering, as Kalani Sitake went 4-9 last season and lost to bottom feeders UMass and East Carolina. BYU also had to fire former Heisman winner Ty Detmer as offensive coordinator, which got more publicity than their sputtering season. A brutal start this season – at Arizona, California and at Wisconsin – could lead to more momentum for a new face here. With BYU not in a league, it has to ask itself if it can afford another irrelevant season. New coordinator Jeff Grimes needs to revitalize an offense that finished No. 123 in scoring last year (17.1). BYU needs a new identity soon.

Worth monitoring – Notre Dame is always a hot-button topic. After winning 10 games last year, Brian Kelly (69-34) should be fine. But a dip is expected this year with arguably his three most important staff members – DC Mike Elko, OL coach Harry Hiestand and associate athletic director Chad Klunder – all gone in the past year. Combine that with a departure of your team’s identity – tackle Mike McGlinchey and guard Quenton Nelson – and there’s a pinch of uncertainty in South Bend. Are inexperienced coordinators Chip Long (OC) and Clark Lea (DC) seasoned enough to author another 10-win season? The good news for Kelly is that changes in the strength staff have yielded dividends, the roster is solid and he has three years left on his contract after this season. That makes a move expensive but not untenable.

Also worth monitoring is UMass, as Mark Whipple is 12-36 since returning to campus. Life as a Division I independent is tough sledding, especially in a region that cares little about college football.

NON-POWER FIVE

AAC – East Carolina is one of the biggest certainties to open, as Scottie Montgomery has gone 6-18 and proven a bad fit. To be a marketable job, however, ECU needs a permanent athletic director. (The basketball search didn’t go smoothly.)

CONFERENCE USA – The hot job that up-and-coming assistants are eyeing is Charlotte. The location and recruiting base should yield better than Brad Lambert’s 7-29 record the past three seasons.

MAC – This could be a busy year in the MAC, which lacks the usual depth of quality young coaches. Bowling Green’s Mike Jinks and Ball State’s Mike Neu are the most likely to depart. Age could be a factor elsewhere: Akron’s Terry Bowden is 62 and Ohio’s Frank Solich turns 74 this year. Northern Illinois’ schedule is vicious, as games against Iowa, Utah, Florida State and BYU make it perhaps the toughest non-conference slate in the country. Miami (Ohio) needs to be improved this year, as Chuck Martin (16-33) can’t afford a fifth straight losing season.

MOUNTAIN WEST – This projects to be a quieter year, as Bob Davie at New Mexico and Tony Sanchez at UNLV are the only coaches in significant danger. The totality of New Mexico’s off-field issues are catching up to Davie. Sanchez has done well at a tough job, but a new athletic director and 12-24 record don’t bode well unless he reaches a bowl.

SUN BELT – Texas State coach Everett Withers is the most glaring Sun Belt coach in trouble. He’s 4-20 with just one conference win, not good enough for a job that’s located in a place where the results should be better. Coastal Carolina coach Joe Moglia is 69, so he’s worth monitoring.

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