Saturday Football: Gus Bus to UCF, Vols' new hires and Purdue's SEC look
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In today’s newsletter, we’ll discuss Gus Malzahn heading to Orlando, Purdue’s reshuffling ahead of 2021 and Tennessee’s first staff under new head coach Josh Heupel. Let’s get started!
GUS BUS TO UCF
Gus Malzahn is heading to UCF. Can he keep the Knights among the Group of 5 elites?
The UCF Knights have found a replacement for Josh Heupel. Instead of taking a year off after being fired at Auburn, Gus Malzahn is back in the FBS coaching ranks, as the Knights announced his hire on Monday. Now, Malzahn will be tasked with keeping UCF among the elite programs at the Group of 5 level.
So, what should we expect from the former Auburn coach in Orlando? Let’s take a look at what has happened since the Knights made it official with Malzahn:
- The opening press conference was truly something to behold. Malzahn even had the honor of being “knighted” by the UCF mascot. He also called the UCF job “one of the top 20 coaching jobs in all the college football.” That’ll fire up the UCF fans.
- Malzahn will have plenty of money coming his way, too. The Auburn Tigers still owe him a sizable portion of a $21.45 million buyout. And, his contract at UCF was reported to be a 5-year deal worth $11.5 million. Not bad for a guy who said he was prepared to sit out the season until the UCF job came open.
- Malzahn has wasted no time making waves in Orlando. First, he ended any speculation about who will call plays on offense by saying he plans to call plays for the rest of his career. He added that he thinks the College Football Playoff should expand. As for the defense, it has been reported that Malzahn plans to bring in former Auburn assistant Travis Williams as his defensive coordinator.
- Media and fan reaction has been mostly positive about UCF. Saturday Down South’s Connor O’Gara wrote that he’s all aboard the Gus Bus. Yahoo’s Pete Thamel wonders if Malzahn can lead the Knights into a Power 5 conference. Many fans on Twitter were wondering if UCF actually made a better hire than Tennessee (which hired former UCF coach Josh Heupel). Florida coach Dan Mullen is a big fan of the hire.
The one big question is about QB development. Malzahn inherits one of the best AAC quarterbacks in Dillon Gabriel. Malzahn had a checkered past at Auburn when it came to developing quarterbacks, but both Mike Farrell and Adam Gorney of Rivals think Gabriel will do just fine under Malzahn’s tutelage. Can he get the Knights to the Playoff, which has kept out G5 teams throughout its history? We’ll find out starting this fall!
- Only a handful of teams have ever made the College Football Playoff. The familiar names — Alabama Clemson, Ohio State, etc. are usually the ones in the mix for the four berths every year. Will things change in 2021? Not likely. Bleacher Report’s David Kenyon named the 10 teams with a chance to win a title this coming season.
- Some teams are holding spring games, while others aren’t. Some schools have decided that holding a spring game during a pandemic isn’t worth the hassle. Saturday Down South’s Connor O’Gara says he understands why these decisions are being made, but dives into the impact not having a spring game could have on certain SEC programs.
- There will be plenty of new players and coaches in 2021. Some new impact guys will be freshmen, some will be coordinators, others will be transfers. ESPN’s college football staff put together a list of the best newcomer on each early 2021 top 25 team.
- Bret Bielema is taking over at Illinois ahead of the 2021 campaign. The former Wisconsin and Arkansas head coach faces a big project to return the Illini to respectability. Saturday Tradition’s Dustin Schutte named the five biggest holes on the Illinois roster that Bielema will have to address.
TENNESSEE’S COACHING STAFF
Josh Heupel’s first Tennessee coaching staff has taken shape. What should we expect from the Vols?
It took some time, but the Tennessee Volunteers’ coaching staff is finally starting to come together under first-year head coach Josh Heupel. The former UCF coach will call the plays offensively and his staff on that side of the ball has some distinct UCF flair. But, now, we have some hires being made on the defensive side of the ball.
Considering how Heupel’s offenses tend to not win the time-of-possession battle very often, the defensive assistants will have their hands full in 2021 and beyond. So, let’s take a look at some of the most-recent hires Heupel has made on Rocky Top:
- First, we’ll start with the defense, where hiring has been slower. Heupel now has the biggest piece of the puzzle in place, though. The defensive coordinator will be Tim Banks, who comes over from Penn State, where he’s been the co-defensive coordinator the past few years. Heupel praised Banks’ aggressive schemes and multiple fronts as big reasons why he hired the former Penn State assistant. Banks came with a glowing recommendation from Penn State coach James Franklin. Saturday Down South’s Connor O’Gara explained why Heupel’s offensive system makes finding the right DC extra important. Elsewhere on defense, Heupel reportedly hired longtime SEC assistant Rodney Garner as the team’s DL coach. He has been in the SEC since 1990. Yahoo’s Pete Thamel reports that Tennessee is hiring another experienced SEC assistant to coach defensive backs.
- Offensively, Heupel will run the show as the play-caller. That’s the way he did it at UCF and he’ll keep that going on Rocky Top. But, he’ll still have an offensive coordinator in Alex Golesh. Golesh spoke this week about Tennessee’s QB battle, featuring Virginia Tech transfer Hendon Hooker, sophomore Harrison Bailey, incoming freshman Kaidon Salter and junior Brian Maurer. Don’t expect a decision to come any time soon, Golesh said. Here’s a look at the rest of the offensive coaching staff.
Money is always an interesting topic, especially with how freely they’ve been throwing it around at Tennessee recently. Here’s a look at some of the contract details for the new Tennessee assistants. How will those assistants fare in their first seasons with the Vols? We’ll get our first look at this new Tennessee program this spring!
JUST FOR FUN
We mentioned earlier that new UCF coach Gus Malzahn is in favor of expanding the College Football Playoff. If that happens, it will certainly open the door for more programs around the country to compete for national championships. In fact, there have been seven Playoffs held thus far and only 11 total schools have ever gotten the chance to participate. So, for today’s quiz, can you name all 11 schools that have made at least one appearance in the College Football Playoff?
Scroll down for the answers to today’s quiz.
PURDUE’S SEC CONNECTION
Purdue has plucked a lot of talent from the SEC this offseason. Will it help the Boilers get back on track?
Losing records in back-to-back seasons has Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm looking for answers in different places as he begins his fifth year with the Boilermakers. All started well when Brohm took over in West Lafayette in 2017, leading Purdue to bowl games in consecutive seasons and a monumental upset victory over Ohio State in 2018. Over the last two years, the train has veered of the tracks with the Boilers posting a 6-12 record.
What’s changing? Brohm has made some changes to his coaching staff and is looking to the transfer portal to add talent, experience and depth to the roster. So far, Purdue has added three former defensive players and a position coach from the SEC this offseason. Could the “It just means more” attitude coming to West Lafayette change the fortunes for Purdue?
- Three defensive players from different SEC schools will unite at Purdue. The biggest issues for Purdue the past two seasons have come on the defensive side of the football. So it was encouraging news last month when the Boilers received word that former Auburn linebacker O.C. Brothers and South Carolina defensive end Joseph Anderson both committed to continuing their careers with the Boilers. This week, former Florida defensive back CJ McWilliams also announced he’s also heading to West Lafayette.
- Coaching changes should help, too. Brohm scrapped his defensive staff after Purdue ranked in the bottom half of the B1G in every major statistical category for a second-straight season. Brad Lambert will be the new defensive coordinator after an outstanding year in the same role at Marshall and Mark Hagen returns to Purdue as the defensive line coach. The Boilermakers had another splash hire in the offseason, bringing in Florida defensive backs coach Ron English to help improve a secondary that ranked 13th in pass defense last year.
- What’s the outlook for Purdue’s defense in 2021? Finding a replacement for wide receiver Rondale Moore is the talking point in the offseason, but it’s really the defensive side where Purdue needs improvement. Saturday Tradition’s Kyle Charters points that out in outlining the Boilers’ five biggest holes to fill in the 2021 season. He also projects what the starting lineup will look like when Brohm’s bunch kicks off the season against Oregon State.
What’s the intrigue for players and coaches to leave the SEC for Purdue? Maybe it’s because the Boilermakers are scheduled to play Northwestern at Wrigley Field in November. Or maybe it’s the chance to step onto the turf and immediately make an impact. Regardless of the reason, these new players and coaches will have to learn together quickly, with Purdue starting spring practice this week.
The 11 schools to appear in at least one College Football Playoff are:
- Alabama (6)
- Clemson (6)
- Ohio State (4)
- Oklahoma (4)
- Notre Dame (2)
- LSU (1)
- Oregon (1)
- Georgia (1)
- Florida State (1)
- Michigan State (1)
- Washington (1)
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“One thing that I think is interesting, a lot of people are trying to figure what the future of college football is going to look like going forward. I love being here at the University of Florida. I think we have a great program, we have a great fan base, great history, the opportunity to become a championship program every single year.
“I think there are concerns with coaches (about) what the future of college football is going to look like, which I think there are a lot of uncertainties right now of how that’s going to shape up. … What is college football going to look like in three or four years and I think there’s a lot of uncertainty with that, that we are trying to figure out as coaches to see what our futures are going to hold.”
– Florida coach Dan Mullen said this week that many college football coaches are contemplating their futures as potentially big changes loom large on the sport’s horizon. With Names, Images and Likenesses bills appearing on state and national levels, potential Playoff expansion, recruiting stresses and more, a lot is changing. Will Mullen and others soon look to the NFL?
TWEET OF THE DAY
New Alabama assistant Jay Graham came to Tuscaloosa after spending a few years on the Tennessee staff. He’s also a Tennessee alum. But, after switching sides in the rivalry, he poked fun at his alma mater with the above graphic. He also had some fun in the replies to that tweet, as you can see here.