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CFT Previews: The Coaching Hot Seat

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We’re still days away from the kickoff of the 2019 college football season and further still from hot seat season, but it’s never too early to forecast what spots on the coaching carousel may come vacant later this fall.

Here are four jobs to watch, with one bonus pick at no extra charge:

Clay Helton, USC: This is the one plenty of people in college football consider as good as open — including Reggie Bush. Put it this way: winning the Rose Bowl and the Pac-12 in consecutive seasons could only get the USC fan base lukewarm on Helton, and every bit of those warm fuzzies washed away with last season’s 5-7 debacle. The 2019 Trojans have the most difficult opening half in college football, with games against ranked opponents Stanford, Oregon, Washington and Notre Dame and non-conference games at BYU and home against defending Mountain West champion Fresno State. If USC returns home from its Oct. 12 trip to Notre Dame at 2-4 or worse, it’s officially off to the races for the best job that could conceivably come on the market this winter.

Gus Malzahn, Auburn: We all know the drill by now. Auburn has a good season and wants to marry its coach. Then, on the honeymoon, it begins plotting how to get the thing annulled. This time around, Auburn handed Malzahn a 7-year, $49 million contract after winning the SEC West in 2017, then followed that up by going 3-5 and finishing in fifth place in that same division. Given Auburn’s yo-yo tendencies, War Eagle will probably shock the world and win the SEC this fall. But if Malzahn is under .500 in SEC play for a second straight season, Auburn may not be able to stop itself from cutting its current coach a massive check to go away so it can cut another huge check to a different coach and start the whole dance anew.

Lovie Smith, Illinois: This one is so obvious you probably forgot about it, right? This was a weird hire from the get go — he got the job in March!!! — and has never even flirted with success. Smith is 9-27 in three seasons and 4-23 in Big Ten play. Two of those four wins are against Rutgers. This isn’t hard. Right or wrong, if this wasn’t a pride play for AD Josh Whitman, who plucked Smith off the unemployment line and pulled him back to college football for the first time since 1994 weeks after getting the job, Smith would have been gone a year ago.

Derek Mason, Vanderbilt: All 14 SEC head coaches return from a year ago. That type of continuity isn’t common in college football isn’t common and won’t happen again. If Auburn surprises and/or balks at the sticker price of replacing Malzahn (plus staff) and hiring a new head coach (plus staff), the next best bet is up the road in Nashville. The program hasn’t slid to near the depths it was pre-James Franklin, but it’s also not close to where it was with Franklin, either. Mason has been at Vandy five seasons; the Commodores have missed a bowl game three times and went 6-6 with a bowl loss in the other two, including 2018. He’s 9-31 in SEC play (though he has taken three straight from Tennessee). New AD Malcolm Turner has been on the job since December, which is plenty long enough to get his sea legs and marshal support to make a head coaching change if one becomes necessary.

And one bonus pick:

Jim Harbaugh, Michigan: No, I don’t believe Harbaugh is anywhere near the danger zone at Michigan. He’s not even in danger of being close to the danger zone. Despite what his critics might tell you, he’s significantly elevated the level of football played by the maize and blue upon his homecoming.

But, still. Harbaugh is 1-9 against the AP Top 10 at Michigan. What if he loses to Ohio State… again? Failing to best Urban Meyer is one thing, but losing to Ryan Day is something different. And it’s not just the Ohio State game, either. If USC has the nation’s toughest first half, Michigan has the nation’s most daunting close: at No. 14 Penn State, vs. No. 9 Notre Dame, at Maryland, vs. No. 20 Michigan State, at Indiana, vs. No. 5 Ohio State. What if Michigan goes 3-3 in that stretch? That sound you’ll hear is the process of a fan base losing its collective mind as it realizes it wants to move on from its head coach but can’t because he’s Jim Harbaugh.

UMass adds Florida State, Pitt, Auburn and others to future schedules beyond 2021

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It’s apparently a big week on the schedule front for FBS independents.

While UConn and Maryland announced a new home-and-home series in what is always going to be known as the Randy Edsall bowl, fellow New England independent UMass had a number of dates added to their calendar this week too.

According to the school, the Minutemen have confirmed several dates and games against Power Five opponents as well as a host of other smaller programs being added to the team’s future docket including:

  • at Pitt on Sept. 4, 2021
  • at Florida State on Oct. 23, 2021
  • at Auburn on Sept. 2, 2023

In addition, FCS foes like Merrimack (Nov. 4, 2023) and Wagner (Sept. 21, 2024) were scheduled. Two other contests were moved as well, including a game against Boston College from Sept. 2022 to Sept. 6, 2025. A game against New Mexico State was shifted up into Week 0 and is now set for Aug. 26, 2023 as well.

The moves give UMass five of their 12 games for 2021-2024 while there’s even more work left to be done beyond that.

“We’ve been hard at work over the last nine months building competitive future schedules that will allow our Independent program to grow and be challenged,” AD Ryan Bamford said in a release. “We are pleased with our scheduling progress and ability to secure agreements with a mix of Power Five, Group of Five and regional FCS opponents.”

The Minutemen host Coastal Carolina on Saturday and have notable games coming up against Army, Northwestern and BYU down the stretch in 2019.

Designs released for UAB’s future stadium in downtown Birmingham

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It’s truly been remarkable how far UAB has come since the program was shuttered just a few years ago but the next major step in the rebirth of the Blazers came on Wednesday as the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex unveiled the latest plans for the upcoming $175 million football stadium that the CUSA program will soon call home.

You can check out the latest renderings here.

The 45,000 seat venue is designed to host a number of different events once completed in 2021 but the primary purpose each fall will be UAB home games. As you would expect, all the modern design elements for a stadium nowadays are incorporated, such as suites, open concourses, a large press box and a hefty number of restrooms (including nearly double the number for women than men).

The price tag for everything is set at right around $175 million for the project, with bids going out sometime later this fall and an estimated date of completion prior to the 2021 season starting in late August.

The biggest question left about the stadium now might be not whether it will actually get built but what the Blazers will be playing on in terms of the surface. The school has reportedly expressed interest in having turf but the area trying to attract major soccer matchups could mean the venue has a grass field instead.

Either way, UAB remarkable turnaround on the gridiron took another big step this week and is poised to make a giant leap come 2021.

QB Artur Sitkowski to start for Rutgers against Boston College with McLane Carter not cleared from concussion

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Boston College’s bid to avoid losing to both Kansas and Rutgers in the same season may have received a slight boost thanks to the quarterback situation this week with the Scarlet Knights.

Speaking to the media on Thursday after practice, Rutgers head coach Chris Ash confirmed that starting signal-caller Carter McLane remains in the school’s concussion protocol and will not play on Saturday against the Eagles. That means the job falls on last year’s starter in Artur Sitkowski for the Scarlet Knights.

“(Carter) is still day-to-day (and) hasn’t practiced so he won’t be cleared to play,” Ash said according to NJ.com. “I’ve got nothing but 100 percent confidence and belief in Art. We talked all through training camp about the battle between the two. There wasn’t a whole lot of difference. The biggest one was just at the moment McLane was a fifth-year player and had a little bit more experience. But Art had a tremendous training camp, and the players, the coaches, everybody has nothing but 100 percent faith and trust in him to go out and lead the team. And we’re excited for him to do that.”

Carter, a grad transfer from Texas Tech, started the opener against UMass but was knocked out of last week’s shutout loss to Iowa after a hard hit in the first half. Sitkowski replaced him the rest of the way and will now make his first start of 2019.

A former four-star out of IMG Academy, Sitkowski was handed the reigns of the team as a true freshman last season and made 11 starts at Rutgers… with things not exactly going well under center considering he threw for just over 1,100 yards with four touchdowns against 18 interceptions. He’ll have a chance for redemption on Saturday against Boston College, which leads the ACC in interceptions but did give up a number of big passing plays in their shocking loss to Kansas last week.

Interestingly enough, the move to elevate Sitkowski in the wake of McLane’s concussion means that former Eagles quarterback Johnny Langan will now be the No. 2 QB for Rutgers in the game against his old team.

Lane Kiffin thinks UCF should be in top 10: ‘They looked just like an ACC or SEC team’

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Lane Kiffin is a believer… in a newsworthy in-state rival.

Speaking to Yahoo! Sports, the always talkative Florida Atlantic head coach threw his weight behind UCF being a top 10 team this season and even a College Football Playoff contender had they been starting veteran QB McKenzie Milton. 

“They looked just like an ACC or SEC team,” said Kiffin. “Not Alabama or Clemson, but one of the top teams in both of those conferences. They’ve done an unbelievable job recruiting. They have skill. Normally in the Group of Five they have skill players but not the [size on] the lines, well UCF has long and good-looking linemen.”

Kiffin would know having seen the Knights up close each of the past two seasons, including a 48-14 blowout by the defending AAC champions down in Boca Raton earlier in September. A former offensive coordinator in the SEC, he also got a good look at one of this season’s elite programs too considering FAU opened the year with a 45-21 loss to Ohio State in Columbus.

Though Kiffin doesn’t have a vote in the weekly Coaches Poll, he did add he’d rank UCF as high as No. 5 but certainly in the top 10, blaming the name on the front of the Knights’ jersey as much as anything for why they’re not being taken seriously nationally.