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2-0 to 3-0? Eight new Power 5 coaches are still undefeated but tougher tests await

Jesse Simonton09/14/22
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Less than a month ago, I profiled every head coach taking over a new Power 5 program, setting reasonable Year 1 expectations or all the new faces in new places.

Like a post-procedure checkup, let’s look at how the coaches have fared now that we’re a few weeks into the season. 

Of the 14 head coaches, Notre Dame‘s Marcus Freeman has already seen his star lose the most shine, while Brian Kelly, Dan Lanning and Brent Pry all had rude first-game introductions before picking up feel-good-victories over cupcakes last Saturday. 

Then there’s Billy Napier, who secured a signature win in his first game as Florida’s head coach with the upset over Utah, only to come back down to earth a bit after the Gators lost at home to Kentucky. 

That leaves eight Power 5 coaches at new jobs starting the 2022 season 2-0. But the schedule is about to get cranked up — and for many, that means a tough test this weekend. 

Here’s a rundown of the remaining undefeated new Power 5 coaches and who their teams have upcoming on the slate.

Mike Elko, Duke

Up Next: NC A&T

After taking a three-touchdown lead on the road at Northwestern, the Blue Devils nearly collapsed in Evanston — but they didn’t. They held on and won to move to 2-0, so let’s highlight the early positives of the Mike Elko Era. 

Duke had a preseason win projection of three, and Elko should have that in the bag by this weekend. 

Under veteran spread OC Kevin Johns, the Blue Devils have overachieved thanks to an explosive passing offense (10.5 yards per attempt is second-best in the ACC) and a solid rushing attack. 

With games still on the schedule against Kansas, Virginia, Georgia Tech, Boston College and Virginia Tech, Duke can at least eye a path to bowl eligibility in Elko’s first season — unthinkable just a few weeks ago.  

Mario Cristobal, Miami

Up Next: at No. 24 Texas A&M

The Hurricanes mollywhopped Bethune-Cookman in Mario Cristobal’s return home — the largest win in program history, but like his teams did too many times at Oregon, Miami then struggled against another subpar foe the very next week. 

UM was up just 10-7 at halftime against a bad Southern Miss team last Saturday before creating some distance in the second half for a 30-7 win. 

They’ll need to play much better this weekend primetime in the Texas heat. 

In the faux NIL vs. NIL Jamboree, Cristobal’s Hurricanes take on Jimbo Fisher’s Texas A&M Aggies, and with what happened in College Station just a week ago, Miami better be ready to face a desperate, rabid squad.

A win on the road against the Aggies though means Cristobal could have the Hurricanes in the College Football Playoff conversation come November. 

Brent Venables, Oklahoma

Up Next: at Nebraska 

Brent Venables already has the Sooners back in the Top 10, but with all the upsets last weekend, Oklahoma’s uninspiring performance against Kent State was mostly overlooked. 

OU was nearly down 10-0 at halftime before a late second-quarter swing saw the Sooners take a 7-3 lead. 

They cruised to a 33-3 win with a strong second half, as transfer quarterback Dillion Gabriel got cooking. 

While the offense still needs to sort itself out, Venables has already started to improve OU’s defensive reputation during its 2-0 start.

The Sooners are playing with better fundamentals and effort, leading to better results. They rank second in the Big 12 allowing just 3.94 yards per play. 

While Nebraska is a dumpster fire right now, the Cornhuskers can score, so Venables’ unit will be tested on the road in Lincoln. Then the schedule really gets serious for OU, with a three-game stretch against Kansas State, TCU and Texas. 

Lincoln Riley, USC

Up Next: vs. Fresno State

LA is all about the flash and sizzle, and Lincoln Riley has wasted little time making the Trojans California Cool again. 

USC is already a Top 10 team averaging nearly 55 points per game, leading the Pac-12 with 8.62 yards per play. 

Transfer quarterback Caleb Williams is among the early Heisman Trophy front-runners after torching Stanford for four touchdowns and 350 yards. The defense still has some holes (33 first downs allowed to Stanford), but overall, it looks and plays faster and more aggressively (Pac-12 best eight takeaways and nine sacks). 

Now can the Trojans avoid a letdown loss?

Before a big road trip to Corvallis in two weeks, USC hosts Fresno State late on Saturday night. The Bulldogs just lost a heartbreaker to Oregon State, but quarterback Jake Haener is more than capable of torching SC’s defense if it doesn’t come ready to play. 

Sonny Dykes, TCU

Up Next: at SMU

Dykes became the first Horned Frogs head coach to start 2-0 in 88 years! He seems to have settled on a quarterback in Max Duggan, and now has two weeks to prepare for his previous employer. 

On Sept. 24, TCU plays at SMU, where Dykes coached for four seasons before skipping across town. The Mustangs are also undefeated under first-time head coach Rhett Lashlee and Dykes’ former stat-stuffing quarterback Tanner Mordecai

After that? Dykes gets his introduction to the Big 12 with a visit from No. 8 Oklahoma.  

Joey McGuire, Texas Tech

Up Next: at No. 16 NC State

The Red Raiders won a double-overtime thriller over No. 25 Houston last weekend, with Joey McGuire beating Dana Holgorsen with his backup quarterback. 

Now comes the hard part. 

Texas Tech’s first-time head coach must navigate a grueling four-week stretch that starts with a road trip across the country to NC State this weekend and then dates with Texas and at Kansas State and Oklahoma State. That’s four games against current (and likely in the Wildcats’ case) and future Top 25 teams. 

It’s been a great start for McGuire, but over the next month, we’ll know more about where his program really is in Year 1. 

Kalen Deboer, Washington

Up Next: No. 11 Michigan State

The Huskies have beaten up on a couple of slappies to open the season, and the early returns from Deboer’s offense have been promising. They’re averaging 48.5 points per game, and former Indiana quarterback Michael Penix has six touchdowns. 

They welcome Mel Tucker and the Spartans to town on Saturday, and we still don’t know if State has truly fixed one of the worst passing defenses in the country, so if Deboer can cook up a gameplan that protects Penix for long enough — Michigan State leads the Big Ten in sacks through two games — then the Huskies have a real shot at pulling off a big upset at home.

Jake Dickert, Washington State

Up Next: Colorado State

Dickert recorded his first Top 25 win last week, out-Wiscons’ing Wisconsin in Madison to surprisingly move to 2-0 early in 2022. 

During the preseason, the Cougars were billed as a potentially exciting offensive team with the Incarnate Ward coach-quarterback pairing in OC Eric Morris and Cameron Ward. 

But Washington State’s offense has been downright bad — just 20 points per game — to start the season, as Ward has struggled a bit in the leap from FCS to FBS. Instead, they stunned the Badgers with Dickert’s defense. 

Against Wisconsin, WSU had just 253 yards, three turnovers and went 2-of-11 on third down — and won. That’s not going to be a recipe for success the rest of the season, though. 

They should knock out some kinks Saturday against a bad Colorado State team before a three-week stretch against Oregon, Cal and USC.