With the regular season two-thirds complete, we have a good feel as to which teams are for real and which ones are pretenders. In a number of cases, new assistants and coordinators are making their mark behind the scenes, helping propel their teams up the polls and conference standings.
It’s time for these guys to get their due. Here are some of the new assistants making the biggest impact across the college football landscape.
Chad Morris – Offensive Coordinator, Clemson: Of all the hires this off-season, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney may have made the best one when he hired Chad Morris away from Tulsa. Morris, a high school coaching legend in the state of Texas, coached just one year with the Golden Hurricane prior to heading to the Palmetto State. All he has done since he arrived is engineer one of the biggest offensive turnarounds in recent memory.
Clemson ranked 88th nationally in total offense in 2010, averaging just 24 points per game. This year? Clemson ranks 17th in the nation in total offense, with an average 473 yards per game. Plus, the Tigers are scoring 38 points per game.
Oh, yeah – they’re also 8-1 and leading the ACC Atlantic.
This kind of turnaround isn’t new to Morris. In his first season coaching at the college level, Morris improved Tulsa’s offensive output by 95 yards per game and had his unit ranked fifth nationally in total offense.
Morris is a spread offense guru, and his offensive style has meshed extremely well with sophomore quarterback Tahj Boyd, who is getting some consideration for the Heisman Trophy.
Steve Kragthorpe – Quarterbacks Coach, LSU: Les Miles hired Kragthorpe to be LSU’s offensive coordinator, but midway through fall camp, Kragthorpe was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. As a result, Kragthorpe remained on staff while relinquishing his duties as offensive coordinator. He is still heavily involved in the offense but officially serves as LSU’s quarterbacks coach. Offensive line coach Greg Studrawa coordinates the offense and calls the plays.
Despite having his starting quarterback was suspended right before the season started, LSU’s quarterbacks have likely seen more improvement this year than any single position group in the country. A year ago, LSU ranked 92nd in the nation in passing efficiency. In 2011, Tiger quarterbacks are ranked first in the SEC and eighth nationally. On the season, they have thrown 16 touchdowns and just one interception.
If you’re looking for evidence of Kragthorpe’s impact, check out senior Jarrett Lee. Formerly a punchline around Baton Rouge, Lee starts for the Tigers and plays the large majority of snaps. Through his first three seasons, Lee’s numbers completed 53.5 percent of his passes and threw 18 touchdowns against 17 interceptions. This year under Kragthorpe, his completion percentage is up to 63.2 percent. Even more impressive, Lee has thrown 13 TDs and just 1 INT.
Needless to say, Kragthorpe has been the biggest difference maker for an offense that scores 39 points per game.
Chuck Heater – Defensive Coordinator, Temple: Heater served as co-defensive coordinator at Florida before coming along to Temple with new head coach Steve Addazio. Now at Temple, Heater has lost the “co-” designation and is in full control of the defense. The results have been fantastic.
To former coach Al Golden’s credit, Temple’s defense was strong in 2010. But Heater has taken it to another level in 2010. Just how good are they?
- The Owls are allowing only 10 points per game, ranking behind Alabama only nationally. (They allowed 19 in 2010.)
- Temple also ranks fifth nationally in total defense, 10th in rushing defense, and eighth in pass efficiency defense.
Heater’s imposing defense is the biggest reason why Temple is 5-3 and leading the East division of the MAC. With four winnable games remaining on the schedule, Temple has a chance to win 10 games for the first time since 1979.
Todd Monken – Offensive Coordinator, Oklahoma State: The former receivers coach for LSU and the Jacksonville Jaguars came to Stillwater to lead the Cowboys’ offense. Replacing Dana Holgorsen’s high powered passing attack was no easy task. After all, Oklahoma State had the third-best offense in the nation in 2010.
Monken has done a good job of keeping the ball rolling. In fact, the Cowboys are averaging 35 more yards per game than they did a year ago.
Having an experienced quarterback like Brandon Weeden and perhaps the nation’s best receiver in Justin Blackmon does not hurt. Even so, Monken has had a big hand in Oklahoma State being ranked third in the BCS standings at the beginning of November.
Josh Heupel – Offensive Coordinator, Oklahoma: Under Bob Stoops, Oklahoma has consistently had some of the top offenses in the nation despite losing offensive coordinators such as Mark Mangino and Kevin Wilson. But with each change, Sooner fans wonder if the offense will continue to roll up points.
Although he shares offensive coordinator duties with receivers coach Jay Norvell, Heupel calls the shots for the high-powered OU offense. Under Heupel, the Sooners have had no problems keeping pace with their predecessors. In fact, they’re averaging about 82 yards and 9 points more per game than a year ago.
Brent Pease – Offensive Coordinator, Boise State: Formerly the Broncos’ wide receivers coach, Pease takes over for Bryan Harsin, who departed in the off-season for Texas.
After losing a pair of productive wide receivers to the NFL, many thought Boise State’s offense would take a step back in 2011. Due in large measure to Pease’s guidance, that has not really been the case. Boise has continued to roll along, averaging 488 yards and 43 points per game in 2011 while competing for a spot in the BCS Championship Game.
In particular, Pease has done a nice job of redistributing the touches given to his departed wideouts in 2010. Seven different players have caught at least 12 passes for the Broncos this season.