Three first-year coaches will open the season in the future American Athletic Conference. What are the biggest challenges they face?
Tommy Tuberville, Cincinnati. The Bearcats have had more consistent success in this league over the past five seasons than any other program. So challenge No. 1 is maintaining their standing at the top of the league in Year 1. Many coaches have said maintaining a program is much more challenging than rebuilding a program. Tuberville certainly has the coaching background to ensure the Bearcats continue winning championships, but once again Cincinnati goes into the season without much national love. That brings us to challenge No. 2 -- taking down Louisville, its cross-state rival and the favorite to win the Big East. As for some of the on-field challenges, Cincinnati has to get adjusted to a slightly different offensive scheme while finding some playmakers at the skill positions. Figuring out a running back rotation is a top priority, along with developing a deep threat at receiver. Defensively, Cincinnati has to answer some questions up front and in the secondary.
Matt Rhule, Temple. Several challenges await Rhule. First and foremost, getting the Owls back to a bowl game after slipping to a losing record last season in Year 1 in the Big East. He may not have all of the pieces in place to get there in 2013, but Rhule has been a part of a winning Temple program and knows exactly what it takes to get things going in the right direction. There are some pieces in place but this is a young team without a lot of depth, particularly at the skill positions. The entire offensive scheme has been changed. Temple will now play more of a pro-style spread offense, so the Owls have made a change at quarterback. They have nobody proven at running back or receiver, so that is a major challenge heading into fall camp. Defensively, there are question marks in the secondary and depth has to be built up front. Temple also lost terrific punter/kicker Brandon McManus and special teams player of the year Matt Brown, so there are challenges all over the field for this team.
Willie Taggart, USF. Like Rhule, Taggart has to find a way to get the Bulls back into a bowl game. But the hard times have lasted a smidge longer in Tampa, where USF has now gone two straight seasons without making the postseason. There will be pressure on Taggart to deliver a long-anticipated league championship based on his track record and all the resources USF has to be able to bring in quality talent in the area. But there are challenges everywhere in Year 1. Right at the top of the list is the offense, which has major questions at every single position. There is no starting quarterback right now; the running backs did not show much in the spring and there is not much depth at the position. The offensive line had its share of problems last year and the receivers are unproven behind Andre Davis. Defensively, the secondary was abysmal last year and depth has to be built at linebacker. The nonconference schedule has two big challenges, too, in games at Michigan State and home to Miami. In addition, Taggart is working to change the culture around the program. He is trying to instill a different mindset and different demeanor, and to get players to believe in themselves again. That could be the biggest challenge of all.