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AAC releases 2016 conference schedule

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The American Athletic Conference released its 2016 conference schedule highlighted by, oddly enough, non-conference games that pit league gem Houston against Oklahoma (on opening day at Houston’s NRG Stadium) and Louisville (in Houston on Nov. 19).

Those two games, more than any others, will sink or swim the conference’s chances of not only grabbing the Group of Five spot in the New Year’s Six, but a spot in the College Football Playoff itself.

The 2016 conference slate kicks off with Navy meeting Connecticut on Sept. 10 and concludes with the second annual AAC title game on Dec. 3 at a to-be-determined campus site.

The AAC led the way in scheduling Power 5 opponents — highlighted by a Week 3 schedule that will see the entire East Division punching up a weight class — and includes the likes of Florida State, Maryland, N.C. State, Virginia, Syracuse, Kansas, TCU and Oklahoma (for all intents and purposes) visiting AAC campuses.

View the full AAC slate here:

 

Smart, Richt currently pace all new head coaches in recruit rankings

CORAL GABLES, FL - DECEMBER 04:  New University of Miami Hurricanes head coach Mark Richt makes the 'U' sign after he was introduced at a press conference at the school on December 4, 2015 in Coral Gables, Florida.  (Photo by Joe Skipper/Getty Images)
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In somewhat of an ironic twist, the head coach who was forced to leave Georgia and the coach who replaced him are doing quite well on the recruiting trail at their new programs.  In fact, they’re doing better than any other who found a landing spot in the 2015-16 spinning of the coaching carousel.

As it stands now, Miami’s Mark Richt has the 19th-ranked recruiting class according to Rivals.com, the second-best of any of the  27 head coaches hired in the past three months.  The best?  Georgia, which has the No. 15 class thanks in part to Kirby Smart, Richt’s successor in Athens.

UGA right now, though, and fully understanding that there are nearly two weeks left until National Signing Day, is nine spots behind the No. 6 class Richt signed in 2015.  The U, meanwhile, was ranked 26th for Al Golden‘s last class, a full seven spots behind were Richt stands now.

Not surprisingly, a significant number of programs have seen their recruiting rankings dip from a year ago.  One of the most glaring is that of USC.  Despite offensive coordinator Clay Helton taking over as interim head coach in mid-October and then taking over permanently in late November, USC has just the 23rd-ranked class; last year at this time, the Trojans were well on their way to having Rivals’ No. 1 class under Steve Sarkisian.

Of the 27 head coaches new to their teams, 17 have classes that are ranked lower than their predecessors from a year ago.  The biggest drop belongs to Seth Littrell‘s North Texas (127th currently, 90th in 2015), while that ignominious honor for Power Five programs goes to Dave Odom and Missouri (59th, 27th).

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Matt Campbell has taken his new team on one of the biggest rises, lifting Iowa State from No. 69 under the departed Paul Rhoads to No. 52.  Interestingly, Campbell’s successor at Toledo, UT offensive coordinator Jason Candle, has the Rockets at 73rd, 17 spots higher than his predecessor’s 90th-ranked class of a year ago.

Below are the 27 newest head coaches, with where their teams rank now in the recruiting rankings compared to a year ago:

2016 New HC Recruit Rankings

Spinning of 2015-16 coaching carousel comes to a halt (probably)

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 07:  Head coach Clay Helton of the USC Trojans before the game against the Arizona Wildcats at Los Angeles Coliseum on November 7, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The 2015-16 head-coaching carousel began spinning August 28 of last year with Illinois’ firing of Tim Beckman. Exactly 141 days later, the hiring of Frank Wilson by UT-San Antonio has brought it to a halt. Probably.

Barring an unexpected firing by an FBS program or an NFL team swooping in to steal a coach, it’s come time, I think, to sit back and take a look at how this year’s version of the carousel has shaken out.

All told, 26 FBS teams will head into the 2016 with head coaches who did not begin the 2015 season in that capacity — Bill Cubit, the Illini’s interim coach after Beckman’s firing, was ultimately named as the permanent head coach and would be considered a 27th. That’s a significant jump from the recent past, with 2013 yielding 19 changes and “just” 15 in 2014. Of this cycle’s changes, 13 came at Power Five programs — nine as the result of dismissals, four because of retirements.

That, of course, means 14 openings came from the Group of Five schools; not surprisingly, the Power Five movement had an impact on that group as four G5 head coaches left for the same job with P5 teams, while another, Ball State’s Pete Lembo, left to become an assistant at a P5 program. Six of the remaining holes were created by firings, while two more jobs in that group came open because of retirements. The lone remaining? Willie Fritz left Georgia Southern to take over at Tulane.

Of the openings, eight were filled by coaches who were defensive coordinators in 2015, and another eight by offensive coordinators.  That is quite the turnaround from a year ago, when just one DC, Michigan State’s Pat Narduzzi to Pittsburgh, became a head coach, while five of their offensive brethren landed head-coaching jobs.

The next group could be called the Noah’s Ark of the carousel, coming from their 2015 jobs in twos: interim head coaches (Cubit, USC’s Clay Helton), FCS head coaches (Louisiana-Monroe’s Matt Viator, Texas State’s Everett Withers) and running backs coach (Bowling Green’s Mike Jinks, Wilson).

Finally, one NFL assistant made the move back to the collegiate ranks: Mike Neu, who left the New Orleans Saints to take over for Lembo at Ball State.

And with that, I (probably) wash my hands of the ’15-’16 carousel, knowing full well that it’ll all begin again another 10 months or so — or seven months, if another program decides to pull a preseason Illini.

Mike Leach adds ex-ECU OC to his Wazzu staff

EUGENE, OR - OCTOBER 10: Head coach Mike Leach of the Washington State Cougars looks up at the video screen during the third quarter of the game against the Oregon Ducks at Autzen Stadium on October 10, 2015 in Eugene, Oregon. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
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A familiar face will fill a soon-to-be hole in Mike Leach‘s Washington State coaching staff.

According to the school in a release, Leach has hired Dave Nichol as his outside receivers coach.  Nichol will replace Graham Harrell, who is leaving Wazzu following Saturday’s Sun Bowl against Miami to be the offensive coordinator at North Texas.

“Dave has tremendous passion for coaching and recruiting and will be a great addition to Cougar football,” said Leach in a statement. “He brings a great background and a lot of experience. He is familiar with our concepts and how to attack different areas of the field. We’re excited to have him on board.”

The familiarity of concepts comes from Nichol working for Leach at Texas Tech from 2003-05.

The 39-year-old Nichol has spent the past four seasons at East Carolina. After serving as outside receivers coach the first three years with the Pirates, he was promoted to offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.

Scottie Montgomery adds recent SEC, NFL coaches to first ECU staff

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In assembling his first coaching staff, Scottie Montgomery has decided to tap into a pipeline of assistants with recent connections to both the SEC and NFL.

East Carolina announced that Montgomery has added three coaches to his initial staff while also retaining one from the Ruffin McNeill regime.  A key hire for Montgomery, who slants decidedly toward the offensive, is going to be his defensive coordinator, with the first-time head coach pinning his initial hopes on that side of the ball to Kenwick Thompson.

Thompson spent the past two seasons at Vanderbilt, where he served as linebackers coach as well as held the title of associate head coach.  Prior to that, he was the defensive coordinator at San Jose State in 2013 and, prior to that, was an assistant at Cal for six seasons.

“We are extremely fortunate and happy to have someone of Kenwick’s caliber as our defensive coordinator,” Montgomery said in a statement. “Not only does he possess an outstanding defensive mind, he’s a great man, teacher and motivator both on and off the field. Kenwick is a tireless recruiter who will impact our program in an immeasurable manner.”

In addition to Thompson, Montgomery announced the outside additions of Deke Thompson (defensive line) and Phil McGeoghan (wide receivers).

From 2013-15, Thompson served as the line coach at South Carolina. McGeoghan has been with the NFL’s Miami Dolphins the past four seasons, first as assistant receivers coach before being named receivers coach just last month. His last job at the collegiate level came with USF in 2011.

Finally, it was confirmed that Rick Smith has been retained as defensive backs coach.