Of the 133 FBS programs set to compete this season, 24 will have a new head coach on the sidelines. Regardless of the circumstances, each unique hire marks the dawning of a new era. It’s an age that always begins the same way, an offseason full of predictions fueled by hope. That is until September finally rolls around and what were only hazy visions morph into on-field action.
And where a handful of new leaders will look like great hires by the time October comes, another subset will seem a far cry from the answer that everyone was looking for. Though lots of variables go into a first coaching impression, the schedule is one that unfairly wields a ton of power. What follows are guys on the wrong side of that equation.
BIFF POGGI – CHARLOTTE
First five opponents: FCS South Carolina State, at Maryland, Georgia State, at Florida, at SMU
In Charlotte’s seven seasons as an FBS club it’s only managed a winning record once, posting a 7-6 mark in 2019. Changing the narrative won’t be easy, especially at the beginning of the season, for new head man Biff Poggi who most recently spent two seasons as an off-field assistant at Michigan.
While Poggi’s first-ever head coaching gig, at any level, should kick off with a win vs. SC State, the 49ers got drilled by their most recent FCS opponent, falling 41-24 last season to William & Mary. After that it’s a pair of roadies at P5 programs (Charlotte has only beaten one Power foe since joining the FBS ranks in 2015 – a 31-28 win over Duke in 2021) combined with a pair of G5 opponents. While it should have a chance at home vs. Georgia State – a team that struggled to a 4-8 mark in 2022 – the away game at SMU won’t be easy, especially for a defense that finished last year ranked No. 121 in the nation vs. the pass.
SCOTT SATTERFIELD – CINCINNATI
First five opponents: FCS Eastern Kentucky, at Pitt, Miami Ohio, Oklahoma, at BYU
The former head man at App State (51-24 from 2014-18) and Louisville (25-24 from 2019-22), Scott Satterfield will need to hit the ground running to convince Cincinnati fans that he’s the right guy. Where other coaches listed will have the grace period associated with taking over a struggling program, Satterfield’s got the keys to a machine that’s posted a 53-11 mark since 2018.
While the Bearcats ought to win their opener, the road trip to Pitt is tricky. Though the Panthers aren’t as obvious a threat as say, Penn State, they’re 20-7 over the last two seasons, a couple of notches better than the Nittany Lions’ 18-8 mark. After a brief pause vs. Miami Ohio (a rival which the Cats have beaten 16 straight times) it’s a home date vs. Oklahoma – a program that despite last year’s product is as athletic as virtually any team in the nation – and a visit to BYU.
It adds up to a September that could plausibly end with a 3-2, or 2-3 mark. After that the rest of the Big 12 waits.
DEION SANDERS – COLORADO
First five opponents: at TCU, Nebraska, Colorado State, at Oregon, USC
Though you’ve got to figure that Deion Sanders will improve on Colorado’s dismal 1-11 mark from last season, he may start his first month as an FBS head coach with a mere one or two wins creating a big gap between media-driven expectations and performance. The Buffs’ opening salvo includes three teams that ought to start 2023 in the Top 15 and a former big hitter with a new head coach and lots to prove. The only true respite is the home game vs. Colorado State, a program that’s skidded to a 14-38 mark since 2018. Despite all the hype, Sanders’ early-season performance deserves to be seen through the lens of Colorado’s September schedule, one of the toughest in the entire nation.
BRENT KEY – GEORGIA TECH
First five opponents: Louisville (at Atlanta, Ga.), FCS South Carolina State, at Ole Miss, at Wake Forest, Bowling Green
Brent Key was masterful as the interim head coach at Georgia Tech after Geoff Collins was fired last September. His 4-4 record, all four victories coming in league action, marked the most ACC wins for the Yellow Jackets since 2018, the final year of the Paul Johnson era.
Key’s first five games as an official college head coach won’t be easy. Included in the uphill battle is the opener vs. Louisville (a club that won eight games last season and has built loads of momentum with new head coach and favorite son Jeff Brohm) and roadies at Ole Miss (a preseason Top 25 club) and Wake Forest – a matchup that looks winnable until you remember that the Deacons are 19-8 since 2021. It’s another slate that could easily produce only two wins. The good news is Georgia Tech fans have suffered severely enough to have earned the virtue of patience.
ZACH ARNETT – MISSISSIPPI STATE
First five opponents: FCS Southeastern La., Arizona, LSU, at South Carolina, Alabama
Zach Arnett – who spent the last three seasons as Mississippi State’s DC – takes over the reins in Starkville after the tragic passing of Mike Leach. It puts him in a complicated position. Where on one hand he offers the continuity from one staff to the next, an especially precious commodity given the circumstances, on the other he’s following an accomplished coach who always seemed to get more done with less. And with that comes a certain level of expectations. Arnett is one of only four new head coaches who will play four of their first five games against Power opponents. And Arnett takes it to another level with two of those programs likely appearing in the preseason Top Ten and the other, South Carolina, a potential Top 25 squad, fresh off a 8-5 campaign that oozed with Grade A hope. Arnett deserves a fuller body of work before being declared either “the” or “not the” guy.
RYAN WALTERS – PURDUE
First five opponents: Fresno State, at Virginia Tech, Syracuse, Wisconsin, Illinois
When you analyze how Bret Bielema took an Illinois program that hadn’t won more than seven games since 2007 to an 8-5 mark in only his second season you discover a defense that finished ranked No. 1 in the nation in points allowed and No. 3 in total defense. The mastermind of that coup was none other than Ryan Walters, who takes over at a Purdue program that went 17-10 over its last two years, the best back-to-back performances since 1997-98. On tap for Walters in his first month, ever, as a head coach are the defending Mountain West champs followed by a string of four consecutive Power foes. Though a solid hire, Walters may have only one or two wins to his name by the end of September. And while Boilermaker fans are historically more tolerant than other Big Ten fanbases, they might need to be prepared to take a step backwards before, once again, making strides forward.