Chasin' the Devil: Get on Gus Bus, because Auburn's rolling

While Gus Malzahn is having success at Auburn, Bret Bielema is struggling at Arkansas. (USATSI)
While Gus Malzahn is having success at Auburn, Bret Bielema is struggling at Arkansas. (USATSI)

If a coach struggles in Year One, he either inherited a bad roster or might not be a good long-term fit.

This year's rookie class must have some bad rosters, because it seems unlikely the 14 new coaches with two wins or less in early November are all bad fits.

Nine of the 31 new coaches this season have a winning record so far, compared to 11 of 27 last season.

This year's coaches have a .394 winning percentage (104-160), compared to .431 in 2013 (145-191).

But let's stop piling on, because this class has breakout stars looking to unseat Nick Saban in this week's "Chasin' the Devil" segment.

While last year had Kevin Sumlin, this year has Gus Malzahn. The shiny Gus Bus is curbed outside of Jordan-Hare Stadium, awaiting Saban to visit the Plains in a few weeks for a rivalry game infused with intrigue because of Malzahn's 8-1 start.

This week's Chasin' the Devil breaks down the top-five newbie Saban chasers and the five who, well, are just chasin' a few wins and hoping for a Year Two breakout. Many good coaches fall into this category -- Cal’s Sonny Dykes and Kentucky’s Mark Stoops come to mind. They seem like good long-term fits, but have struggled mightily in their debuts.

The Chase is on...
Coach Devil Rating Comment

Mark Helfrich, Oregon -- Helfrich got the three-story mansion in the Chip Kelly divorce, but what Helfrich has done with the Ducks shouldn't go overlooked. Some coaches around the country think Oregon's offense is actually better under Helfrich and new coordinator Scott Frost.

Gus Malzahn, Auburn -- Who expected Gus to tear up the West? Well, we sort of did -- but not an 8-1 start. Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee know when to go fast, when to slow the offense and didn't throw too much at Nick Marshall early in his career. Tre Mason is vicious.

Gary Andersen, Wisconsin -- You could argue that among two-loss teams, Wisconsin (6-2) is in the top two. The Badgers believe they should be a one-loss team after the late-game Arizona State debacle. Andersen gets the Wisconsin culture and will thrive in Madison.

Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech -- Don't let the past two weeks taint Kingsbury's first year. At 7-2, Tech already has exceeded expectations. Tech had chances to win against Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. The offense put up 35 first downs on the Cowboys.

Rod Carey, Northern Illinois -- Carey's a great story. Three years ago, he was the offensive line coach at North Dakota. Now he's coaching the country's No. 18 team. Having Jordan Lynch helps. But Carey has the Huskies playing their best ball.

Just missed the cut: Tennessee's Butch Jones (4-5), Cincinnati's Tommy Tuberville (6-2), Boston College's Steve Addazio (4-4).

The Chase is off...
Coach Devil Rating Comment

Bret Bielema, Arkansas -- Those who expected 10 wins from Bielema (3-6) in his first year didn't know the roster. Bobby Petrino left that defense Brazilian-model thin. If Bielema succeeds at Arkansas, he must escape Year One with his spirit intact. Are we sure SEC jobs are so attractive? Bielema, Stoops and Jones a combined 9-17.

Todd Monken, Southern Miss -- Playing FIU in early October was Southern Miss' best chance for its first win since 2011. FIU won 24-23, effectively sucking the life out of the Monken era early in his tenure. Monken will need time to correct an offense ranking 122nd nationally in points.

Sonny Dykes, California -- Dykes had high hopes that his young team could compete for a bowl game. But a brutal schedule, several injuries to key starters and erratic play on both sides of the ball has Cal (1-8) on pace for its worst finish since 2001. With a little time, Dykes should be fine. But the transitional phase has been painful.

Darrell Hazell, Purdue -- Is Purdue (1-7) the worst team in a BCS conference? Serious question. Gotta be top five, right? Save maybe the Notre Dame game, Purdue didn't seem to have a chance in any of its losses. Its only win came against Indiana State. Hazell can be good for the Boilermakers, but that will have to show in year two.

Mark Stoops, Kentucky -- The vibe in Lexington: Let's get to 2014 and see what Stoops can really do. His recruiting has been solid, he passed the offseason test (energy, attitude, etc) and Kentucky played South Carolina tight a few weeks ago. But the 2-6 start still feels a bit like the old Kentucky. Stoops aims to change that.

Next devils up: N.C. State's Dave Doeren (3-5), FIU's Ron Turner (1-7).

Our Latest Stories