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Assessing the progress of third-year head coaches

Helfrich Dykes

The last two coaching change cycles have been relatively quiet by recent standards, and that's perhaps in part due to the frenzy that athletics directors and university presidents found themselves in during the final weeks of 2012 and the first weeks of 2013. Twenty-nine coaches hired prior to the 2013 season will enter their third seasons this fall - nearly as many as the two following classes combined.

As you'll see below, the first two seasons for the 29 members of the 2013 class have followed many different paths. Some have been handed the keys to a Maserati, others are trying to build a new car from spare parts, and still others are on the side of the road staring at a smoking engine while wondering how on Earth they ended up where they are.

Year three is always a critical one for a new coach, and this year's results could determine whether or not another large hiring class is ushered in before the 2016 season.

ACC

Steve Addazio, Boston College (14-12, 8-8 ACC): Addazio has posted matching records of 7-6 overall and 4-4 in ACC play in each of his two seasons, though through different methods. His 2013 Eagles leaned heavily on Heisman Trophy finalist Andre Williams, while last year's bunch incorporated the running ability of Florida quarterback transfer Tyler Murphy. Either way, Addazio's teams have fit well with the BC mold: a team that probably won't compete for a championship but - as Florida State saw in November - will be a tough out every single week.

Dave Doeren, N.C. State (11-14, 3-13 ACC): After a 3-9 reboot year, Doeren's club rebounded to win the St. Petersburg Bowl in year two while joining the gaggle of teams to get a few jabs in on Florida State before the 'Noles responded with a haymaker. The 2014 Wolfpack's eight wins came against its eight worst opponent and its five losses came by the hands of the five best. Instead of enjoying life in the wide-open Coastal, Doeren must gear N.C. State up to compete in a division with Florida State, Clemson and Louisville.

Scott Shafer, Syracuse (10-15, 5-11): Shafer's two seasons have diverged completely from Doeren's, as the Orange won the Texas Bowl in his debut and then fell to 3-9 (1-7 ACC) in 2014. Heading into the always-critical year three, Shafer needs a big year.

BIG 12

Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech (12-13, 6-12 Big 12): They said there'd be a learning curve for Kingsbury's first two years as a head coach and, well, they were right. After winning his first seven games back home in Lubbock, Kingsbury closed the 2013 regular season by losing five straight before rebounding with an inspiring Holiday Bowl blowout of Arizona State. Perhaps the biggest head scratcher thus far has been at his signature position - quarterback - which has been a revolving door of injuries, inconsistent play and transfers.

BIG TEN

Darrell Hazell, Purdue (4-20, 1-15 Big Ten): Hazell has won four games in two full seasons. The man Purdue fired to hire him, Danny Hope, won six in his final season. Needless to say, that's not the ratio Purdue had in mind.

PAC-12

Sonny Dykes, California (6-18, 3-15 Pac-12): Year one was a culture shock, for sure, though that's to be expected when moving from Ruston, La., to Berkeley. Year two was more of what one expects from a Sonny Dykes team, as the win total jumped by four and the overall competition level grew by leaps and bounds. As depth continues to improve, look for the Bears to break though to the postseason in 2015.

Mark Helfrich, Oregon (24-4, 15-3 Pac-12): Helfrich has filled the void left by Chip Kelly admirably, putting his stamp on the program while never once looking insecure in himself and his abilities. Now he gets to prove once again he can win without a brilliant talent, except this time it's the guy under center that's leaving.

Mike MacIntyre, Colorado (6-18, 1-17 Pac-12): Like Dykes, Mike Mac got off to a tough start but his team showed improvement last year.

SEC

Bret Bielema, Arkansas (10-15, 2-14 SEC): Never has a 2-14 mark looked more threatening. The Razorbacks posted back-to-back shutouts of LSU and Ole Miss and played Alabama, Mississippi State, Texas A&M and Missouri to within one score. As imposing as the Arkansas offense can be once the offensive line gets the backs running downhill, consider this stat: the Hogs allowed a total of 45 points in their final five games.

Butch Jones, Tennessee (12-13, 5-11 SEC): Tennessee may not quite be ready to play for an SEC championship in 2015, but the all-important narrative sees a wide-open SEC East and wonders why the Vols can't find their way to Atlanta. There's a lot of talent in Knoxville to be sure, but let's remember this is a roster that's 1-11 against ranked foes heading into this fall.

Gus Malzahn, Auburn (20-7, 11-5 SEC): The memorable run to the 2013 SEC championship and national title game (deservedly) grabs the top bullet point, but if I'm an Auburn fan it's the loss to Alabama last year that encourages me most. Malzahn proved he can walk into Tuscaloosa and put the Tide on its heels even when he's not throwing his best stuff. Now add a Will Muschamp defense to the mix and see what happens.

Mark Stoops (7-17, 2-14 SEC): Stoops and AD Mitch Barnhart have successfully upped the ante in recruiting, in facilities, and in overall attitude. Kentucky no longer behaves like a basketball school dallying in football, instead like a major athletics department that wants to be really good in both. After a season in which his Wildcats started 5-1 and ended 5-7, it's time Stoops' on-field product matches everything else.

AMERICAN

Tommy Tuberville, Cincinnati (18-8, 13-3 American): This is right in line with what was expected when Tuberville abruptly left Texas Tech for Cincinnati, keeping the Bearcats in contention for conference titles while not bolting for a bigger program - yet. As for securing Cincinnati a spot in the ACC? Still waiting on that one.

Willie Taggart, South Florida (6-18, 5-11 American): What seemed like a perfect match on paper has not turned out that way in real life. A successful head coach, a talented recruiter with a magnetic personality that happens to be from the Tampa area taking over USF? What could be better? The Taggart era started with a stumble - a 53-21 loss to FCS McNeese State - and still hasn't found its footing.

Matt Rhule, Temple (8-16, 5-11 American): A near identical record as Taggart, but Rhule's two seasons have inspired a completely different feel. After a 2-10 debut, Temple posted a bowl-eligible 6-6 mark in 2014 with close losses to Navy, Memphis and Cincinnati while playing some of the country's best defense. The Owls are a team to watch in 2015.

MOUNTAIN WEST

Ron Caragher, San Jose State (9-15, 7-9 MW): Caragher took over a team that went 10-2 and cracked the top 25 the year prior, and has since seen the Spartans' win total drop to six and then three.

Brian Polian, Nevada (11-14, 7-9 MW): The running game is no longer among the top 10 in the nation, but Polian has kept the ship steady. A 4-8 debut season was answered with a 7-6 finish and a bowl trip in 2014.

Matt Wells, Utah State (19-9, 13-3 MW): Just imagine what this guy could do if he could get a quarterback to say healthy. After sharing a Mountain West title in year one, Wells won 10 games in 2014 while navigating a season in which he had to play four different quarterbacks. Heading to year three, though, the question will be if Wells can sustain that level of success with offensive coordinator Kevin McGiven gone for Oregon State and only the remains of Gary Andersen's recruits still in Logan.

CONFERENCE USA

Skip Holtz, Louisiana Tech (13-13, 10-6 C-USA): It may have not worked out at South Florida, but Holtz knows how to win in Conference USA. After winning C-USA titles in each of his final two seasons at East Carolina, Holtz jumped back into the league and claimed the C-USA West Division crown in year two at Louisiana Tech. Now, will his Bulldogs look like last year's 9-5 team or the 4-8 team of 2013 without defensive coordinator Manny Diaz leading a unit that produced an FBS-best 42 turnovers?

Sean Kugler, UTEP (9-16, 6-10 C-USA): Don't let the record fool you, Kugler has the Miners heading in the right direction. UTEP jumped five wins from 2013 to 2014 and held fourth quarter leads over Texas Tech and Western Kentucky last year.

Todd Monken, Southern Miss (4-20, 2-14 C-USA): How could arguably the nation's most consistent mid-major go through a stretch where it wins only two conference games in 24 tries? Did Larry Fedora forget to leave behind the answer key or something? Whatever the reason, Monken needs to find some answers in 2015.

Ron Turner, Florida International (5-19, 4-12 C-USA): What can we say? This was a curious hire by AD Pete Garcia at the time, and it hasn't looked much better in the two seasons since. Turner did bump the Panthers' win total by three from 2013 to 2014, but now he and his staff must deal with Charlie Partridge in the battle for South Florida's recruits.

MAC

Rod Carey, Northern Illinois (23-6, 15-1 MAC): Like Helfrich, Rod Carey has demonstrated how a passing-of-the-torch should go at a successful program. But unlike Helfrich, Carey has already posted an 11-win season and a conference championship without his franchise quarterback.

P.J. Fleck, Western Michigan (9-16, 7-9 MAC): Among coaches taking over struggling programs, no one in his hiring class has performed the reboot-and-reload better than Fleck. The first-time head coach sling-shot his Broncos from 1-11 in year one to 8-5 in year two, with eyes on the program's first bowl win in year three.

Paul Haynes, Kent State (6-17, 4-11 MAC): Kent State hasn't fared any better without Hazell than Hazell has without Kent State. Under a first-time head coach in Haynes, the Flashes have fallen from 11 wins in 2012 to four in 2013 and then two in 2014.

SUN BELT

Doug Martin, New Mexico State (4-20, 1-7 Sun Belt): If there's one school on this list where a 4-20 beginning should be met with patience, patience and more patience, it's New Mexico State.

Trent Miles, Georgia State (1-23, 0-15 Sun Belt): It's hard to say where the problem lies, but heading into year three without an FBS victory was not part of the plan. Especially in the most talent-rich area of the conference and while another school with the same initials downstate already has more Sun Belt championships than Georgia State has Sun Belt victories.

Paul Petrino, Idaho (2-21, 1-7 Sun Belt): Perhaps we're biting more than we can chew in one paragraph but with Idaho - and perhaps the two preceding programs - perhaps the school should question if it's in the right subdivision before it questions if it has the right coaching staff.

Scott Satterfield, Appalachian State (11-13, 6-2 Sun Belt): Don't let what happened last season at Georgia Southern fool you, this is how an FBS transition is supposed to go. Improving from 4-8 in a farewell-to-FCS to a 6-2 Sun Belt debut is a great sign for Satterfield and his staff.

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