Kevin Sumlin ushered in a brand new era at Texas A&M after taking charge of the Aggies prior to 2012. With him came a brand new offense that was expertly run by Johnny Manziel, the school's first Heisman Trophy winner in 55 years. It took David Cutcliffe a few seasons to get Duke known for more than just basketball, but considering he inherited a Blue Devils team that had won twice in three seasons before being hired in '08, that's understandable. James Franklin did a superb job in a short time at Vanderbilt, as has Jim Mora Jr. at UCLA.
A few teams are expected to rebound from poor showings in 2013 and move back into the picture. Michigan is one of them, coming off a 7-6 showing last year and losing five of its last six games. Florida is another following a disastrous 8-loss performance. I'm not going to include programs like that on my list, partly because they are going to have to show vast improvement in 2014 or fall into the column of programs on the decline.
Instead, here's a quick glance at three college football programs that should be on the rise the next few years, and once again, the thing they share is a new head coach.
Franklin Departs Music City For Happy Valley
Penn State football really had nowhere to go but up after the scandalous end to 2011. Heavily penalized by NCAA sanctions and the scorn of John Q. Public, it was Bill O'Brien who first restored some order to the Nittany Lions. Big Ten Coach of the Year honors in 2012 were followed by a slight downturn in 2013, and the call of the NFL lured O'Brien to Houston where he'll take over for the Texans.
Enter James Franklin, formerly of Vanderbilt. Under Franklin, the Commodores went to three successive bowl games after missing the postseason each of the five years prior to his arrival. Vandy won its last two bowl appearances, and a key reason for the quick turnaround under Franklin was a wide-open offense. Penn State has always been associated with '3 yards and a cloud of dust' on offense, and that is definitely going to change. The 'Dores averaged less than 17 PPG in the two seasons before Franklin's arrival, and nearly 29 PPG in his three years on the job. Franklin, a Pennsylvania native, is bringing the majority of his assistant coaches from Nashville, including offensive coordinator John Donovan.
The Nittany Lions did take a hit or two on the recruiting front with the sudden change in coaching, but still brought in a good class, especially on offense with QB Michael O'Connor plus wide receivers Saeed Blacknail and Chris Godwin.
Will Petersen's Formula Find Success In Pac-12?
Traveling cross-country for our next stop, the Washington Huskies should be another program on the rise in a scenario much like Penn State. Steve Sarkisian did a good job rebuilding a Huskies program that had gone winless the season before he got to Seattle, but now he's shifting south along the Left Coast to Southern Cal. Taking over will be Chris Petersen after a hugely successful stint at Boise State.
Petersen will be hard-pressed to show immediate improvement in his first season after UDub won nine games in 2013. The late start in recruiting didn't help as the Huskies landed a middling class of recruits, though one of them is QB Kyle Carta-Samuels who was originally courted by Franklin and Vanderbilt where older brother Austyn just completed his senior season.
Playing in the same Pac-12 North Division with Oregon and Stanford isn't going to be easy. This might be a slow-rising Huskies team, but Petersen has defied the college football odds before with what were supposed to be less-talented players, and he will again at Washington.
'Horns Hook Strong As Brown's Successor
Okay, so it's not like the Texas Longhorns have been wallowing in the gridiron muck the past few seasons, but by their standards, it was bad. The 5-7 record in 2010 started the slow-roasting of head coach Mack Brown, and it all came to an end when the Longhorns dropped three of their final four games in '13.
I don't believe Texas could have picked a better replacement for Brown than Charlie Strong, and yes, that includes all those rumors about Nick Saban coming to Austin. Strong will definitely have his work cut out for him to rebuild the Longhorns' tradition of stellar defense following a campaign in which they ranked in the middle to lower-half of most statistical categories. But you can bet he will restore a stout defense.
Texas will also have a lot of experience back on offense, especially in the backfield where David Ash returns following a medical redshirt for his 2013 season marred by a concussion. The 'Horns landed 11 four-star recruits, including QB Jerrod Heard who many are already comparing to Teddy Bridgewater, Strong's pivot at Louisville. Texas will win 10+ in 2014, with a Big 12 title and top 10 ranking very possible endings to his first year on the job.