Haney's handle: Seven college football coaching changes to watch

May 9, 2012 |
Haney's handle: Seven college football coaching changes to watch
Mike Leach will be running the show on the WSU sidelines this season.
Mike Leach will be running the show on the WSU sidelines this season.
It stands to reason that many of the Division I college football teams that made head coaching changes this offseason performed poorly against the pointspread last year.

A failure to cover the spread with consistency often correlates with other problems in the program.

Consider a team that has a solid record straight up but is unable to put away overmatched opponents as a favorite. This situation can make fans and well-heeled supporters of the school restless, whether they are consciously aware of the spread or not.

If a team is losing games outright and failing to cover the number as an underdog, the outlook is even bleaker. This typically means they’re getting blown out week after week, landing the head coach on the hot seat.

The exception comes when a coach performs well straight up and against the number, then cashes in his chips by taking a higher-profile gig. Think Hugh Freeze leaving Arkansas State (10-3 ATS last year) for Mississippi, or Kevin Sumlin going from Houston (11-3 ATS last year) to Texas A&M.

Brand-name coaches like Urban Meyer (Ohio State) and Charlie Weis (Kansas) have received the most attention among new college coaches, and deservedly so. Big names like those can be expected to generate news and chatter in the sports world.

Football handicappers know how essential it is to research coaches with lower profiles as well.

I’m bullish on some, bearish on others, but either way these are the seven new head coaches I’ll be watching from a pointspread perspective this coming season …

Terry Bowden, Akron:

The Zips finished 4-8 ATS last year, ending the season with a four-game losing streak against the number. In his five-plus years as head coach at Auburn, Bowden compiled a winning record straight up but was under .500 ATS.

Bowden said he had his choice of several schools in returning to Division I coaching. He chose Akron because he was impressed by the administration’s commitment to building a new stadium and new practice facilities including a revamped weight room.

Still, he has only 65 scholarship players and plenty of questions on offense and defense. Don’t expect much from the Zips this season, although a turnaround could be in the works in the next couple of years.

Gus Malzahn, Arkansas State:

The Red Wolves shouldn’t miss a beat after losing Freeze. In his three years as offensive coordinator at Auburn, Malzahn earned honor after honor, including the Broyles Award for the sport’s best assistant coach. Malzahn’s fast-paced, no-huddle offensive philosophy figures to fit well at A-State.

Carl Pelini, Florida Atlantic:

Pelini takes over an FAU team that finished 3-9 ATS last year, with little hope in sight. To pay for their new stadium and offset other costs associated with their still-young football program, the Owls typically travel to play “money games” against tough opponents.

Last year, they lost 41-3 as a 34-point underdog at Florida and lost 44-0 as a 32-point underdog at Michigan State. It could be more of the same when they travel to Georgia and Alabama on consecutive Saturdays in September.

Freeze, Ole Miss:

The spread offense favored by Freeze should help the Rebels keep the score somewhat close in two key games this season: at Alabama and at LSU. Last year, Ole Miss lost to Alabama 52-7 as a 27.5-point underdog and lost to LSU 52-3 as a 30.5-point underdog.

The Rebels should improve on last year’s marks of 2-10 straight up and 3-9 ATS.

Larry Fedora, North Carolina:

Another devotee of a hyper-aggressive spread offense, Fedora comes to the Tar Heels after four years at Southern Mississippi. The Golden Eagles went 28-22 (56 percent) against the pointspread over that stretch (discounting pushes and any games in which lines were not widely available).

In an intriguing strategic maneuver, Fedora has already taken some verbal shots at rival North Carolina State. The Tar Heels have lost and failed to cover the spread against N.C. State in each of their past five meetings.

Sumlin, Texas A&M:

In his four years as head coach at Houston, Sumlin’s teams went 28-23 (55 percent) against the spread. The Aggies’ backers at the betting windows are looking for improvement after a 4-9 ATS season a year ago, including a 3-9 ATS mark in the regular season.

Mike Leach, Washington State:

In his decade as head coach at Texas Tech, Leach’s teams grinded out an ATS record of 63-55 (53.4 percent).

Leach figures to generate some decent results with his — you guessed it — spread offense (sense a pattern?) although only true believers expect the Cougars to emerge as a real threat on the national level.

Washington State is a 500-1 long shot to win the BCS championship game in Las Vegas (LVH sports book odds).

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