Since we just looked at coaches who may be on the hot seat I thought we should look at realistic expectations for the new coaches for the 2021 season. This post is going to focus on the coaches who took power five coaching jobs. Sorry Marshall, I love you guys but not today. I know we all really want to dive into Tennessee first but that will have to wait. For the expectations, we are going to give a conservative and a stretch goal for them to reach this season. Let’s start in alphabetical order and jump right in!
Auburn: Gus Malzahn is out at Auburn after an up and down tenure as the head coach. The Tigers bring in former Boise State coach Bryan Harsin who saw success in Boise. Auburn is a very interesting case because there is talent on the team. Malzahn struggled to develop talent and would lose games he should not have. Auburn has games on the road at Penn State, LSU, and Texas A&M next year. None of those games are going to be easy. He also has home games against Georgia and Alabama. While Harsin could see success early in the year, the SEC is a different monster than what he is used to. I do not see Auburn beating Alabama or Georgia. Games such as Ole Miss and Arkansas could cause some issues too. The development of QB Bo Nix is going to be vital for Auburn to succeed and be competitive in Harsin’s first season. Harsin will rely on RB Tank Bigsby to help carry the load. Bigsby averaged 6.0 yards per carry as a freshman and should be the focal point of the offense in 2021. I have the high for Auburn at 9-3 with the low at 6-6. If Auburn can pull an upset or two, it’s a successful season.
Illinois: Lovie Smith shaved the beard and he got fired. I would like to think that is the move that got him fired. While Smith was showing slow improvements, it was not enough for him to keep his job. His team took a step back in 2020 after making a bowl game in 2019 and the administration thought it was time for a change. Illinois made a smart hire by getting Bret Bielema. Heading into 2021, Illinois might be the least talented team in the Big 10. The only games that appear Illinois may have a chance in are Rutgers, @ Purdue, Charlotte, UTSA, and maybe Nebraska. It would not be shocking if they went winless in their conference games next season with most of their opponents getting better. Bielema returns an experienced quarterback in Brandon Peters who should help alleviate some of the issues for the offense. For a high, I have Illinois at 4-8 followed by a low of 2-10. I think they beat both Charlotte and UTSA which means it all comes down to the conference games. Purdue is their best chance to avoid going winless from my perspective.
South Carolina: Many thought Will Muschamp was a bad hire for South Carolina and sure enough it did not work out. Shane Beamer is an interesting hire with a lot of upside potential. He is an offensive minded coach who worked under Lincoln Riley to help produce some of the best offenses of the last decade. From a talent perspective, South Carolina is a not in a great spot. Muschamp never finished higher than 7th in SEC recruiting. Beamer is going to need time to bring talent back into the program and have a chance to compete in the SEC East. Out of conference games against ECU, Troy, and Eastern Illinois should provide three wins. Vanderbilt and Tennessee will both be down so South Carolina has a fair chance in those games. Missouri, Kentucky, and Auburn should all be better so it would take an upset to beat any of them. Finally we have Florida, Georgia, and Clemson, which are just unrealistic. For my high, I have South Carolina at 7-5. I think Beamer could bring an exciting offense to the SEC and put up enough points to upset one or two teams. For the low, I have them at 4-8. If the bad gets worse, they might split the games between Tennessee and Vanderbilt.
Tennessee: Oh boy, it is time for another Tennessee coach to take over after being a turnstile for the last decade. Josh Heupel takes over after coaching at UCF for the last few years. Many thought this was an underwhelming hire, myself included. No matter what, this is the head coach of the Tennessee Volunteers for the next few years. Tennessee has seen a mass exodus from the program since Jeremy Pruitt was fired. Players such as RB Eric Gray, OL Wanya Morris, LB Henry To’o To’o, LB Quavaris Crouch, and DB Key Lawrence have transferred out of the program leaving a lack of talent on the team. Next year is not the year to judge Josh Heupel on. Being hired this late puts him behind the eight ball and most should expect him to struggle. Tennessee’s out of conference games include Pitt, Bowling Green, South Alabama, and Tennessee Tech. Along with their traditional rivalry game against Alabama, Tennessee also faces Ole Miss from the SEC West. Tennessee will struggle next year. For the high, I have Tennessee at 5-7, and that feels too high to me. This would include them beating Pitt and Vanderbilt and I am not confident in that happening. For the low, I have them at 3-9. Tennessee should not lose to any group of five schools, but we have seen it happen before.
Texas: The Tom Herman experiment failed. He was absolutely the right hire at the time, but eventually he wore out his welcome and it was time to move on from him. In steps Steve Sarkisian. The former USC and Washington head coach takes over as the Longhorns head coach. Overall, Texas is in a good position. Sarkisian walks into a situation where he has a good amount of talent on the roster including one of the best young running backs in Bijan Robinson. Finding the quarterback to take over for Sam Ehlinger will be the major key for 2021. Casey Thompson and Hudson Card will battle it out for Ehlinger’s successor. Sarkisian is known for his offensive play calling and creativity so Texas fans should expect a strong offensive presence in 2021. Texas defense has been a liability over the past few year so Sarkisian will need to see improvement from the defense to have confidence heading into 2022. Texas opens the season with a tricky game against Billy Napier and Louisiana. If they can get past Napier’s team, it should be smooth sailing until the Oklahoma match up. On the high end, Texas could go 10-2. Sarkisian has the right pieces in place and built a strong coaching staff. Should the quarterback play be lack luster or Robinson fail to progress in year two, Texas could stumble to a 7-5 season. As I mentioned earlier, the defense improving will be a major key for 2021.
Vanderbilt: When looking at all the power five jobs in the country, Vanderbilt is one of the hardest places to win. Vanderbilt holds themselves to higher academic standards which makes it harder to recruit. Along with playing in the SEC East, making a bowl game is challenging. Defensive Coordinator Clark Lea leaves Notre Dame to take over for Derek Mason. Notre Dame’s scoring defense ranked 14th in the country allowing 19.7 points per game. The problem for Vanderbilt is their ability to score. In 2020, Vanderbilt ranked 125th out of 127 team in scoring in 2020. QB Ken Seals started as a freshman but only averaged 6.7 yards per attempt which ranked 94th in the country. Seals will need to develop as a passer to put his team in more opportunities to score. Vanderbilt hired David Raih who was most recently a wide receiver coach for the Arizona Cardinals before being released. Raih has very little experience calling plays but will need to prove he is capable this year in order to have success. On the high end, Vanderbilt could win four games. Colorado State, ETSU, UConn, and Tennessee are the games they are most likely to win. Stanford and Mississippi State are interesting games that could go Vanderbilt’s way if they get hot. On the low end, Vanderbilt is looking at 2-10. UConn and ETSU are the only locks right now, and they could lose every game other than those two.