Mark Stoops2

We touched on this a little bit over the weekend, but I thought it deserved more coverage today: five second-year coaches that are in the midst of turning their programs around.

Mark Stoops, Kentucky
Last year’s record: 2-10
This year’s record: 5-4
How they’re doing it: Recruiting. The talent level has obviously risen and will continue to do so as long as Stoops remains in Lexington. Patrick Towles is the perfect example. Signed in Stoops’ first recruiting class, the redshirt freshman has stepped into the starting lineup and jumped close to 60 spots in passing from predecessor Maxwell Smith, ranking 36th nationally with nearly 250 passing yards per game – Smith averaged 142 last year – to go with 13 touchdowns against five picks. Improving from 61st to 17th in turnover margin and 112th to 13th in pass efficiency defense also helps.
Where they’re going: A bowl is not guaranteed with a home game against Georgia Saturday and then road trips to Tennessee and Louisville to close the season. That triple-overtime loss to Florida looms large. Even if this team finishes 5-7, the arrow will still point straight upward.

Sonny Dykes, California
Last year’s record: 1-11
This year’s record: 5-4
How they’re doing it: Cal had a lot of problems last season, but everyone of them was exacerbated by the nation’s second-worst turnover margin (minus-1.25 per game). This year? They’re merely average, with 13 giveaways and 13 takeaways. That turnover-neutralness has allowed the nation’s fourth-ranked passing attack to do its thing. New defensive coordinator Art Kaufman has also helped, jumping the Bears from 87th to 53rd in rushing defense. It’s much easier to win games when you’re not constantly hemorrhaging possessions and offer resistance to the opponent’s running game.
Where they go from here: The Bears will be underdogs at USC and at home versus Stanford, which could leave the finale against a tanking BYU team as a swing game between bowl and no bowl. A two point loss to UCLA and a Hail Mary loss to Arizona hurt, but Cal also managed to beat Colorado in double overtime and beat Washington State by one.

P.J. Fleck, Western Michigan 
Last year’s record: 1-11
This year’s record: 6-3
How they’re doing it: The Broncos have jumped from 113th to 41st nationally in rushing offense, and from 12th to third within the MAC. They’ve also leaped from 12th to fifth in rushing defense. The same team that was roasted on the ground, out-rushed by an average of 250-116, has turned the trenches into a strength, out-rushing opponents by an average of 198-151. They’re also nearly a full turnover ahead from last year, leaping from 11th (minus-.58 per game) to third (plus-.22 per game) in the MAC. Oh, and the same team that ranked dead last in the conference in sacks (seven in 12 games) is now second in the league with 20 through nine games.
Where they go from here: The Broncos get Eastern Michigan at home after a bye, and then get another improving team in Central Michigan in Mount Pleasant before closing at home versus Northern Illinois. This could easily be an eight-win team. And how crazy is this? The only thing keeping Western Michigan out of first place in the MAC West is a missed extra point. A 20-19 overtime loss to Toledo is the only thing that separates the first-place Rockets and the second-place Broncos.

Skip Holtz, Louisiana Tech
Last year’s record: 4-8
This year’s record: 6-3
How they’re doing it: New defensive coordinator Manny Diaz has helped the Bulldogs leap from ninth to first among Conference USA intra-league games (26.6 to 14.8), while also leading the conference in total defense, yards per play defense, pass efficiency defense and ranking second in rushing defense. The offense has doubled its output in conference play from 20.4 to 42.8 points per game. And like many on this list, turnover margin has become an asset, improving from plus-one over eight conference games to a C-USA-best plus-nine through five games.
Where they go from here: Considering Louisiana Tech owns a 55-3 win over 3-1 UTEP, Rice is the only thing standing between Louisiana Tech and a spot opposite Marshall in the Conference USA championship. And considering the 5-0 Bulldogs have UAB and Old Dominion over their next two games, La Tech could have the division wrapped up before even facing Rice in the finale.

Brian Polian, Nevada
Last year’s record: 4-8
This year’s record: 6-3
How they’re doing it: Run defense has improved from horrifying (258 yards per game, 6.57 a carry, second to last nationally) to mediocre (152 a game, 4.65 a carry, 56th nationally) and, as a result, nearly 10 points a game has been shaved from the Wolf Pack’s scoring defense. Nevada ranks eighth in turnover margin, but they ranked 23rd last year.
Where they go from here: The first MWC West team to reach bowl eligibility, wins over Air Force, Fresno State and UNLV will put Nevada into its first Mountain West Championship.

Matt Rhule, Temple
Last year’s record: 2-10
This year’s record: 5-3
How they’re doing it: Did you see the East Carolina box score? Temple managed a 20-10 win despite getting out-gained 428-135 by forcing five turnovers, and committing none. That’s more than a third the number of turnovers they produced all last season. The Owls have hopscotched from 116th in takeaways (13) all the way to sixth (24). They’re also playing credible defense against the pass – 24-to-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio last year, 7-to-8 this year – which has helped because their total offense has dropped from 75th to 119th.
Where they go from here: Three interesting games wait in succession (vs. Memphis, at Penn State, vs. Cincinnati) before closing with a bowl-eligibility safety net at Tulane.

Sean Kugler, UTEP
Last year’s record: 2-10
This year’s record: 5-3
How they’re doing it: The Miners can score! After losing games while posting 13, 20, seven, seven, seven, three and 17 points in 2013, UTEP has only had one such clunker in 2014 – a 55-3 loss to Louisiana Tech that currently serves as the difference between first and second in the C-USA West. In a similar theme to others on this list, UTEP has jumped from 97th to 10th nationally in turnover margin.
Where they go from here: Two tough road games (Western Kentucky, Rice), a home game UTEP should win (North Texas) and a toss-up home game (Middle Tennessee) leave the Miners’ over-under at 6.5 wins.

Steve Addazio, Boston College
Last year’s record: 7-6
This year’s record: 6-3
How he’s doing it: The only coach on the list that enjoyed a winning season in 2013, I thought Addazio deserved mention for two reasons. First, so much of last year’s success was built on the strength of Andre Williams’ nation-leading 2,177 rushing yards. Williams is now a New York Giant, but the Eagles are still getting it done. Second, perhaps no team in college football has such an obvious blueprint for victory. B.C. has out-rushed its opponents by an average of 258-69 in its six victories, and been out-rushed by an average of 193-167 in its three defeats.
Where they go from here: Boston College ended up on the wrong end of the ACC’s incredibly arbitrary divisional structure, landing with Florida State, Clemson and Louisville instead of the much more forgiving ACC Coastal. The Eagles host Louisville this week, visit Florida State on Nov. 22 and then close with Syracuse on Nov. 29. Worth noting: Florida State is 102nd nationally in rushing and 52nd in rushing defense.