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Evaluating first-year offensive coordinator changes

Last week we took a run at evaluating the head coaching hires of 2011 and found that in 22 of the 24 cases, it was easy to tell which way the wind was blowing by year three. With that in mind, today we take a look at the 19 FBS staffs that changed offensive coordinators from 2012 to 2013 either by choice (BYU, LSU), that promoted a new head coach from within (Oregon, Syracuse) or where a coordinator was lost to a head coaching job (Texas, Texas A&M). We did not include new offensive coordinators that came on board with a brand new staff due to a head coaching change as we felt those guys need more than eight games to be fairly evaluated. 

Obviously the sample size is smaller, but we think you'll find that most changes tended to be positive ones, and that first impressions may turn into lasting ones. 

To be clear, our analysis is not a judgment on the hire, but more an evaluation of whether an impartial person can see evidence of improvement at this point in year one (which isn't always that easy). Our analysis finds that in 63 percent of the cases below, there has been clearly demonstrable evidence of improvement in just eight games of year one. 

Akron - Not Yet
The Zips have dropped from 45th to 106th in total offense, 80th to 107th in yards per play, 77th to 98th in passing efficiency, 16th to 72nd in passing offense and 79th to 108th in scoring. Though somehow I get the feeling all that would be forgiven if they just could've gotten those four extra yards at Michigan back in mid-September. A.J. Milwee is the second-youngest offensive coordinator in FBS at age 27. Terry Bowden should give him some time to grow into the position. 

BYU - Thumbs Up
A career offensive line coach, Robert Anae has relied on what he knows in returning to a position he occupied from 2005-10 - he's leaning on those big guys up front. After running for a spectacularly average 153.2 yards per game and 3.94 per carry in 2012, BYU has become a ground-based assault a year later, ranking 14th nationally with 258.9 yards per game on 4.71 yards per carry. Here's the type of company BYU has joined in year one under Anae: only Army, Georgia Tech, Air Force and Navy run the ball more than the Cougars' 55 rushes per game. The duo of Taysom Hill and Jamaal Williams rank 21st and 22nd individually in rushing, combining for 210 of those 259 yards per game; among FBS quarterbacks, only Northern Illinois' Jordan Lynch has accumulated more rushing yards than Hill. Most importantly, the 6-2 Cougars are up two wins from this point last season and are one of the pleasant surprises in college football this fall. 

Houston - Thumbs Up
In a year's time, Houston has morphed from a Conference USA afterthought to a serious contender in the American. A defense that leads the nation in takeaways has surely played a large part in that, but Doug Meachem's ability to cut down the Cougars' giveaways has been equally important. With 35 lost turnovers in 12 games (third-worst in FBS), Houston was as generous as Oprah on New Car Day. This season, Houston has seven giveaways through eight games, tied for the sixth-fewest nationally. The Cougars are also achieving 0.62 more yards per play and 9.6 more points per game.

Illinois - Thumbs Up
With a month yet to be played this season, Illini signal caller Nathan Scheelhaase has already thrown for 288 more yards and eight more touchdowns than he did the entire 2012 season. Illinois got off to a 3-1 start this season thanks to a Bill Cubit-led offense that scored 137 points in those three wins. The Illini are still fighting for their first Big Ten win, but it's Cubit's offense that gives them a chance.

LSU - Thumbs Up
Where would the Tigers be without Cam Cameron? LSU has scored 35 or more seven times through nine games in 2013, something they did only six times in the entire 2012 season. While dropping 18 spots (12th to 30th) nationally in scoring defense, LSU has risen 43 spots (57th to 14th) in scoring offense. Cam Cameron has gotten the most out of quarterback Zach Mettenberger in particular, orchestrating a 38 percent boost in his passer rating from his junior to senior seasons. 

Miami - Thumbs Up
Let's start with the obvious - the 7-0 Hurricanes matched their 2012 win total before Halloween. Though their play the last two weeks can hardly be called a ballet of offensive football, James Coley has upped Miami's output by more than seven points and 40 yards per game. After finishing just outside the cusp last season, the 'Canes have moved to FBS's top 10 in yards per play (7.32). That said, any supposed movement into the nation's elite will be judged against Miami's performance in Tallahassee on Saturday night. 

Michigan State - Not Yet
Calling plays opposite Pat Narduzzi's defense has to feel like playing hockey in front of Patrick Roy in his prime: as long as you don't screw it up, your guy is going to get enough stops to win the game. The Spartans rank 88th nationally in yards per game, 99th in yards per play, 79th in passing efficiency, 37th in rushing offense, 51st in yards per carry and 65th in scoring. Yet every one of those stats represents an improvement from last season. After losing five Big Ten games by a total of 13 points, the Spartans are off to a 4-0 start in conference play thanks in large part to an offense that has cut its turnover rate from 1.38 per game to 1.13 per game - and a defense that ranks among the top three nationally in virtually every metric. 

Missouri - Thumbs Up
According to Gary Pinkel, the only adjustment Missouri made from 2012 to 2013 was managing to keep the injury virus away from the Faurot Field home locker room. That said, Josh Henson has gotten much-improved play out of quarterback James Franklin, upping his passer rating by 26 percent and seeing his touchdown-to-interception ratio jump from 10-7 to 14-3, and coaxed serviceable play out of redshirt freshman Maty Mauk in relief. Henry Josey's return, out for the entire 2012 season after a devestating knee injury suffered in 2011, has certainly helped as he leads the team with 573 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. As a whole, Missouri is up nearly 150 yards per game, 1.82 yards per play and 16 points per game. 

New Mexico State - Thumbs Up
Gregg Brandon is New Mexico State's third coordinator in as many years, stepping onto a team that hasn't beaten an FBS opponent since November 12, 2011. Clearly we're grading on a curve here. Even though the Aggies' scoring average has remained stagnant from last year to this year (18.7 in 2012, 18.5 in 2013), Brandon has seen his team's yardage averages jump by 33.3 per game and 0.31 per play. The Aggies have climbed out of the 100's in both categories, to 87th in yards per play and 92nd in yards per play. 

Oklahoma State - Not Yet
This is an interesting one. Last year, Oklahoma State had a trio of passers with zero starts between them that finished the year ranked 18th nationally in passing efficiency, eighth in yards per attempt and seventh in passing yardage. Wes Lunt is now gone, but Clint Chelf and J.W. Walsh have seen their combined numbers drop them to 77th in passing efficiency, 73rd in yards per attempt and 36th in passing yardage. The Cowboys' rushing ranking has dropped 45 spots, total offense has fallen from fourth to 48th, and their scoring average is down a touchdown per game with four of the conference's top five defenses (excluding Oklahoma State) yet to be played. Yet they're a game ahead of where they were a year go, and need one win to match 2012's regular-season win total.

Oregon - Thumbs Up
Scott Frost would've had to go out of his way to screw up Marcus Mariota and the Ducks' offense but, still, you've never been an offensive coordinator until you've been an offensive coordinator, and stepping on the play-calling stage after Chip Kelly can be a challenging act to follow. Mariota has yet to throw an interception, and Oregon is up nearly 100 yards per game, a yard and a half per play and nearly a touchdown per game. 

Rutgers - Not Yet
Up until two weeks ago, Ron Prince appeared to be just what Rutgers needed to fix the offense in year two under Kyle Flood after the Scarlet Knights scored 24.8 points per game in their nine wins and 14 points per game in their four defeats. That production gap has only grown through seven games in 2013. In four wins, Rutgers put up just over 37 points a game. Rutgers has averaged 25 points in its three losses, though I'd argue the 24 combined points in losses Louisville and Houston, two teams leading the Scarlet Knights in the American Athletic Conference race, are more relevant to this discussion than the 51 Prince's offense totaled in a season-opening overtime loss at Fresno State. 

Stanford - Thumbs Up
The Cardinal will never put up the numbers of some on this list, but Mike Bloomgren has done a good job of engineering the Stanford offense to perform within its specifications (does that sentence sound Stanford enough for you?). Stanford has shown moderate improvement you would expect with a returning starter at quarterback, jumping 0.7 yards per play, 16 yards per game and nearly five points per game. The Cardinal are also up four points per game in Pac-12 play to date. 

Syracuse - Not Yet
The Orange had a significant loss at quarterback, losing entrenched starter Ryan Nassib to graduation, and a sizable brain drain in the offensive meeting room in losing head coach Doug Marrone and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett to the Buffalo Bills. Add in a step up in conferences from the Big East to the ACC, and it's probably best to wait a year or so before drawing any conclusions in Syracuse's drop from 17th to 80th in total offense and 55th to 81st in scoring.

Texas - Thumbs Up
It certainly wasn't Major Applewhite's fault the Longhorns suddenly forgot how to tackle. Despite losing returning starter David Ash for a still unspecified amount of time, Applewhite has played to the strengths of back-up Case McCoy and gotten better at it each week. Namely, he stopped stretching the limitations of a limited quarterback. After throwing 45 times and running 29 in a squeaker win over Iowa State, the Longhorns' last two wins - each of them by a comfortable margin - have featured 41 passes and 112 runs. 

Texas A&M - Thumbs Up
Even though the rest of the pieces stayed in place, Clarence McKinney's ability to step in for Kliff Kingsbury was a size 36 font question mark hanging over Texas A&M's head before this season. Consider this question answered. The Aggies are up 27 yards and three points per game over last season. Their streak of consecutive games with 40 points or more has reached an FBS-best 12 games, and Texas A&M's performance against Alabama smashed all sorts of Tide-opponent records. More than anything, McKinney has let Johnny Manziel do what Johnny Manziel does.

Utah - Thumbs Up
Following last season's 5-7 finish, Kyle Whittingham brought in 66-year-old Dennis Erickson to be paired with 26-year-old Brian Johnson to turn the Utes' offense from bad to good. Eight games in, the pair have managed to push Utah from bad to decent, which was enough to beat Utah State, BYU and Stanford, but not enough to score more than three points against a severly-shorthanded USC. Year over year, Utah is up a full yard per pass attempt, a toenail short of a full yard per rush attempt, which equates to a jump of 1.03 yards per play and nearly five points per game. 

Virginia - Not Yet
Last season, Virginia lost eight games and failed to top 20 points in seven of those losses. This season, Virginia has lost six games and scored 20 or more in all but two losses. So that's... progress? Mike London turned to Steve Fairchild (along with new associate head coach for offense Tom O'Brien) to help aid his job security, and it's hard to say that target has been met at this point. While their scoring average has held steady, the Cavs have dropped by 14 yards per game and 0.77 per play from last season. 

Virginia Tech - Not Yet
After shorter stays at Florida, Temple and Auburn than he would have liked, Scott Loeffler was the man Frank Beamer tabbed to fix Logan Thomas' and the ailing Hokies offense. It hasn't worked. Thomas has fallen from 93rd to 100th in passing efficiency, thanks to a yards per attempt average (6.9 to 6.43) and touchdown-to-interception ratio (18-16, 9-10) that have gotten worse. As a result, Virginia Tech has dropped from 83rd to 101st in scoring offense and 83rd to 111th in total offense and, despite a defense that ranks fifth and third nationally in those categories, the Hokies find themselves outside the rankings.