It's Year Three.
The time to show growth.
The time for a coach to prove he's not winning or losing with someone else's players. Regression is not on the menu for third-year coaches.
Yet here are Brady Hoke and Will Muschamp, in their third seasons at premier football schools with offenses that look like they just got the playbook before kickoff.
This week's "Chasin' the Devil" -- the race to unseat Nick Saban -- assesses coaches entrenched in their third season, mostly to successful results.
There are high-profile exceptions.
There's no bigger disappointment from this group than Muschamp, whose Gators went from narrowly missing the BCS to chasing the wrong kind of history. Florida (4-5) on Saturday lost to Vanderbilt at home for the first time since 1945, inching closer to the school's first losing season since 1979. The offense is tied for 110th in passing touchdowns, behind a triple-option offense (Georgia Tech) and arguably the worst team in the BCS (Purdue). Attendance in the Swamp is waning. Injuries have plagued Florida, but Florida got its soul stripped against Vandy.
Hoke's Wolverines are 6-3 but are not playing winning football, looking sluggish against inferior nonconference opponents and recording back-to-back conference losses with negative rushing yards.
Hoke's job is not in jeopardy. Muschamp's status is more tenuous but could improve with more time if athletic director Jeremy Foley grants it. Still, what began as a promising year for these ascending coaches has raised serious concerns with challenging games still ahead.
This year's sixteen third-year coaches have a combined record of 92-57 (61.7 percent) this season, slightly better than their collective three-year record of 317-234 (57.5 percent). They can thank Stanford's David Shaw (31-5) for upping the percentages.
There has been improvement, especially at the smaller schools.
David Shaw, Stanford. Devil rating: 8.0
Shaw wants no part of the SEC, and his teams do enough on the field where he can get away with that stance without looking petty. His 31-5 clip would be impressive in any league. He's doing it in the Pac-12.
Pete Lembo, Ball State. Devil rating: 6.5
Lembo's done one of the country's most understated coaching jobs. Lembo won six games in 2011 and has improved every year. #MACtion takes flight Wednesday night as 9-1 Ball State visits No. 20 Northern Illinois. His agent might be busy in December.
Jerry Kill, Minnesota. Devil rating: 6.0
Interim coach Tracy Claeys gets a nod for the Gophers' eight-win campaign with four straight Big Ten victories. But Kill built the roster and has produced a banner third season at each of his last three stops. His process: He builds with linemen, then fills in skill players to match the line play.
Al Golden, Miami. Devil rating: 5.5
The Hurricanes started 7-0 but got chin-checked the last two weeks. Still, Golden has Miami well-positioned for the long term. He's recruiting Miami well. And he's got more scholarships to offer than he might have expected a year ago. Thanks, NCAA.
James Franklin, Vanderbilt. Devil rating: 5.0
And for his latest trick, Franklin just beat Florida and Georgia in the same season for the first time in his school's history. Franklin is eyeing a second straight season of eight wins or more -- at Vandy. Has Franklin received his hand-written letter from Pat Haden yet?
Mark Hudspeth, Louisiana-Lafayette. Devil rating: 5.0
Hudspeth has pumped out a 25-10 record in less than three seasons and eyes a potential Sun Belt crown in 2013. Here's another bright name to keep in mind as the December carousel swirls.
SLOW, STEADY CHASE
Dan McCarney, North Texas. Devil rating: 4.5
What a story. McCarney has overcome a stroke, underwent bypass surgery, and now has a once-dormant Mean Green program poised to win a Conference USA divisional crown in the school's first year in the league. North Texas hadn't won more than three games in any of the six seasons before McCarney's arrival.
Randy Edsall, Maryland. Devil rating: 4.0
Maryland (5-4) has struggled lately, but is showing third-year progress overall under Edsall, who can get the Terps bowl-eligible by beating one of these three teams -- Virginia Tech, Boston College, NC State. Edsall inherited a messy roster in 2011.
Kevin Wilson, Indiana. Devil rating: 3.5
Wilson is in a tough spot. He's shown slight improvement with a 4-5 record and conference wins over Penn State and Illinois, but Wisconsin and
Larry Coker, Texas-San Antonio. Devil rating: 3.0
Coker has lifted an upstart program that's holding up well in C-USA. As Georgia State is finding out, launching a college football program requires MacGyver-like problem solving. But Coker is a solid 15-15 through three seasons.
Rocky Long, San Diego State. Devil rating: 2.5
Save a curious loss to Eastern Illinois, the Aztecs play with toughness and were a blocked field goal away from knocking off Fresno State. Long has landed safety after resigning from New Mexico in 2008.
Dennis Franchione, Texas State. Devil rating: 2.5
Franchione's career has covered more ground than a shutdown corner. At 62, he's wrapping things up nicely at Texas State, which just gave him an extension. The Bobcats are 6-3 in his third season.
TRIPPED AND FELL
Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia. Devil rating: 2.0
West Virginia's 4-6 season is fairly easy to explain, which is why Holgorsen will probably get a fourth year. The Mountaineers are in Year Two of a tough transition to the Big 12. Losing nearly all of last year's offensive production slowed WVU's hurry-up offense as the new players figured out the system. WVU is better on defense and has a chance to be pretty good in 2014.
Brady Hoke, Michigan. Devil rating: 1.0
Michigan replaced several starters from last season, and the inexperience is starting to show. All options should be on the table for an offense that has Devin Gardner looking worn down and facing too many third-and-longs. He's taken seven sacks in each of the past two weeks. It's a crucial time for Hoke to stabilize Michigan.
Will Muschamp, Florida. Devil rating: -1.0
This quote from Gary Danielson about Florida's offense on our CBSSports.com postgame show after Florida-Georgia still sticks with me. "[As a coach] I don't circle one guy as a guy I've got to stop." That can't happen at Florida. If Muschamp stays, major offensive changes should be in order. It still seems doubtful to me that Foley wants to concede the Ron Zook and Muschamp hires. Save a colossal implosion down the stretch, my guess is Muchamp gets time. Last year's 11-win campaign buys him time.
Bill Blankenship, Tulsa. Devil rating: -2.0
At 2-7, Tulsa faces unfamiliar turbulence after a combined 19 wins from 2011-12. The nation's 103rd-ranked scoring defense coupled with erratic quarterback play explain Tulsa's struggle. Blankenship has built up enough clout to offset a bad year.