College football coaches in new surroundings don’t provoke quite the same confusion and disorientation, because many of them bounce around the country like flight attendants. But their performances in new gigs certainly deserve some notice.
Some of the more captivating cases are taking place in the Pacific 12, which is fast becoming a green room for celebrity coaches.
UCLA in recent years has been shabby when it comes to football. It brings in a coach — Bob Toledo, Karl Dorrell, Rick Neuheisel — who teases the fan base with dreams of grandeur. Then the Bruins lose to teams they shouldn’t lose to before being stomped by crosstown enemy USC.
And no one knew for sure if Jim Mora would continue this dubious tradition of underachieving. But the Bruins are 3-0 — including an upset of then No. 16 Nebraska — and are ranked 19th in both polls heading into a tough match Saturday at home against Oregon State. The Bruins are playing physical football, and they have a quarterback in Brett Hundley who hints at being sensational for the long term. In his first season, Mora seems to have done more to resurrect this program than Pete Carroll did at USC when he first took over.
Rich Rodriguez belly-flopped at Michigan. But he has the Arizona Wildcats ranked 21st in the nation. His up-tempo spread offense has been entertaining and effective during the team’s 3-0 start, which included an eye-opening 59-38 thumping of then-18th-ranked Oklahoma State.
Arizona State is 2-1 but unranked after falling to Missouri last week, 24-20. But the Sun Devils opened with lopsided victories against Northern Arizona and Illinois under first-year coach Todd Graham. And if it can knock off Utah this weekend, ASU could sneak into the top 25.
Then there is Mike Leach at Washington State. The Cougars should be 3-1 after this week’s game against lowly Colorado. They haven’t beaten anyone of note yet, and might not for a while. Yet he’s raising the profile of the program with a high-powered passing game, and therefore Washington State promises to be at least less of a doormat in coming seasons.
Over in the Big Ten, Urban renewal continues in Columbus, Ohio. In his first season as head coach at Ohio State, Urban Meyer has his team ranked 16th by the Associated Press after a 3-0 start. The Buckeyes might not quite be back to where they had been at the height of the Jim Tressel era, because they’ve beaten non-juggernauts Miami of Ohio, Central Florida and California.
But the Big Ten is up for grabs, and Meyer comes along at an opportune time. Michigan and Michigan State were brought down to earth from preseason prognostication intoxication by Alabama and Notre Dame, respectively. Wisconsin and Nebraska are ordinary, at least right now. A steady improvement by Ohio State will only serve to enhance Meyer’s already glowing credentials.
In the Big East, Paul Chryst is in his first season at Pittsburgh. And after his first two games — losses against Youngstown State and Cincinnati — Pitt fans weren’t exactly comparing him to Johnny Majors or Jackie Sherrill. But last week the Panthers pulled off a shocker with a 35-17 upset over Frank Beamer’s Virginia Tech team, which came in ranked No. 13. With the exception of a contest Nov. 3 at Notre Dame, the rest of Pitt’s schedule is manageable and winnable.
Then there is John L. Smith, who wants the world to smile. He took over for Bobby Petrino after a messy motorcycle accident involving a young woman caused him to become an ex-coach. Smith’s Razorbacks began the season with a win over Jacksonville State, but followed it by getting stun-gunned by Louisiana-Monroe, 34-31, in overtime. Then No. 1 Alabama came into town and thrashed Arkansas, 52-0. At that point, Arkansas officials were probably thinking about Petrino and saying, “You know, maybe we were a little unfair to Bobby.”
Then Smith started a press conference by demanding that members of the media smile. Check it out below.
Some media types may have indeed complied, but if Arkansas doesn’t have a good showing against visiting Rutgers on Saturday, I would advise Smith not to make the same request of Razorback fans.
Michael Ventre is a regular contributor to NBCSports.com. Follow him on Twitter http://twitter.com/#!/MichaelVentre44
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