Here are a few interesting CFF coaching hires that have occurred since the season concluded which I think deserve notice.
Butch Jones - Arkansas State HC
The well-traveled Jones takes over one of the most pass heavy offenses in the nation, as the Red Wolves averaged the second most passing yards with 364 PYPG. The selection process of his OC didn’t go smoothly, as both Major Applewhite and A.J. Milwee accepted the job only to back out for other positions shortly thereafter. As a result, Arkansas State welcomes back 2019-20 OC Kirk Heckendorf for his third season.
Jones had employed mobile quarterbacks in his previous stops, with CFF legend Dan LeFevour running the show at Central Michigan, Munchie Legeaux at Cincinnati and Josh Dobbs calling the shots at Tennessee. People tend to forget that Jones led the Volunteers to back-to-back nine win seasons with offenses that averaged 36 points per game in 2016 & 2017. What UT wouldn't give for a pair of nine-win seasons right now!
With the retention of OC Heckendorf and pro-style QB Layne Hatcher returning, the staff and personnel are geared towards the pass heavy offense we are accustomed to from ASU. I’d expect a similar split to the 364 passing yards/125 rushing yards dichotomy of this year, but the next generation of quarterback recruits will likely start to possess dual-threat traits.
With Jonathan Adams and Dehu Greene moving on, freshman Wide Receiver Corey Rucker is poised to occupy the high-volume X-WR role after his nine catch, 310 yard, four touchdown explosion in ASU’s season finale on December 5. Expect to see an uptick in the usage of running backs Marcel Murray and promising freshman Lincoln Pare as HC Jones puts his stamp on the offense. It will be interesting to see what direction the offense takes this season now that Blake Anderson is at Utah State but the OC remains.
Sark looks to join Lane Kiffin as former USC head coaches who have resurrected their careers following a stint at the Nick Saban Coaching Rehab. His innovative play calling helped to scheme open Heisman Trophy winning wideout Devonta Smith with Alabama averaging a staggering 541 total yards and 48.5 points per game over an exclusively SEC schedule en route to the national championship. He brings along fellow Saban disciple in Bama offensive line coach Kyle Flood to serve as OC, but Sarkisian will retain play calling responsibilities.
Before his run as OC at Alabama, Sarkisian helmed Washington from 2009-2013, posting a 34-29 record with the Huskies. In Sark’s final season at UW, QB Keith Price completed 66 percent of his passes with a 21-to-6 ratio and five rushing touchdowns. RB1 Bishop Sankey was given an incredible 327 carries for 1870 yards, 5.7 YPC and 20 touchdowns, while also reeling in 28 receptions for 304 yards and a touchdown in the passing game. His quarterback the following season with USC, Cody Kessler, completed 70 percent of his passes for 3,826 yards, 9.7 yards per attempt and a 39-to-5 ratio.
His arrival bodes well for projected starting QB Casey Thompson, who took over the Alamo Bowl going 8-for-10 for 170 yards and four touchdowns in a 55-23 victory over Colorado. With sophomore RB Keaontay Ingram entering the transfer portal, the path is clear for five-star RB Bijan Robinson to receive a Najee/Sankey-esque workload this season. Though deep threat Brennan Eagles departs, WR Joshua Moore and his 30 receptions, 472 yards and nine touchdowns returns on the outside to serve as a proven target for Thompson. Troy Omeire is poised to fill Eagles’ X-WR role opposite Moore while Jake Smith and Jordan Whittington operate out of the slot. Sarkisian's arrival puts the Texas offense on the high priority list for CFF drafts.
Jeff Grimes - Baylor OC
Grimes leaves behind an impressive resume as the OC of BYU, as the Cougars scored the third most points per game in the nation with 43.5 PPG along with 522 total yards per game, good for sixth most. The third year OC was named as a 2020 Broyles Award Finalist while leading a BYU offense that led the nation with 7.84 yards per play and sported four offensive players who received All-America recognition.
He inherits a Baylor offense that averaged the 10th least total yards in the country last season with 310 YPG in addition to a meager 23 points per game. Multi-year starting QB Charlie Brewer and RB John Lovett transfer and the QB position will likely be helmed by Jacob Zeno or Gerry Bohanon. Last year the position posted just 1,979 passing yards and 6.0 yards per attempt. Those numbers are A far cry from the 3,692 passing yards and 11.0 YPA from BYU QB Zach Wilson this season, so Grimes will try to boost a passing game that cratered under OC Larry Fedora.
Trestan Ebner is an excellent return man and passing down running back, but his 60.8 rush grade from PFF reveals his limitations. RB Craig Williams could get a shot at the job as well, as the redshirt sophomore averaged 7.4 YPC in 26 carries this year. RJ Sneed will lead the wide receiver room and stands to gain the most from an improved passing volume, as he caught 40-of-63 targets for 504 yards and three touchdowns while dropping only two passes. Defense-minded HC Dave Aranda will need Grimes to turn around the offense if the Bears want to challenge for the Big-12 title.
Sonny Cumbie - Texas Tech OC
The Red Raiders bring back former quarterback and coach Sonny Cumbie who returns to Lubbock to take over play calling duties from deposed OC David Yost who led TT to 29.1 PPG last season. Not bad, but you have to score at least 30 PPG to be successful in the high-flying Big-12. Too often Yost’s offenses were predictable, as QB Alan Bowman got into trouble early in the season by locking onto his first read and firing the ball as soon as the snap reached his hands. The quick-throw oriented passing attack led opposing defenses to jump the passing lanes and ultimately to Bowman being replaced for a few weeks by Utah State transfer Henry Colombi before reclaiming the job at the end of the year. Bowman returns and will likely be challenged by four-star incoming freshman quarterback Behren Morton. Keep in mind, Cumbie improved TCU’s offensive output in his first season by 188 total yards per game while also breaking the Big-12 record, improving by 21.4 PPG from the previous season. The Horned Frogs have the second best record in the conference since his arrival on campus seven years ago.
Cumbie employed a strict committee backfield approach at TCU, as three running backs rushed for between 388 and 428 yards this season. That could foretell a shared workload for Sa’Rodorick Thompson and Xavier White. The former Red Raider gunslinger will have a strong number one wide receiver to work with, as Erik Ezukanma caught 46-of-72 passes for 748 yards, 16.3 YPC and six touchdowns in ten games this year. TJ Vasher and KeSean Carter are gone, so the depth chart behind Ez-E will be fluid. It should be noted that four-star 2021 wide receiver from DeSoto, TX Jerand Bradley should challenge for playing time immediately. Trevone Boykin and Kenny Hill led pass-first Cumbie offenses before the dual-threat Max Duggan opened up the playbook to more run plays. There is plenty of potential for TT to drastically improve upon their 266 passing yards per game of 2020.
Mike Yurcich - Penn State OC
Former Minnesota OC Kirk Ciarrocca was brought in to replace Ricky Rahne who bolted to take over Old Dominion. Happy Valley had plenty of reason for optimism heading into 2020, as the Nittany Lions were ranked eighth heading into the season. However an opening week heartbreaking loss to Indiana followed by subsequent losses to Maryland, Nebraska, OSU and Iowa led to a catastrophic 0-5 start for PSU. The offense averaged a pedestrian 3.9 yards per carry amidst a pair of season-ending injuries to running backs Journey Brown and Noah Cain while Devyn Ford and Keavontre Lee also battled assorted ailments. Sean Clifford was a turnover machine who regressed to 17 touchdowns and nine interceptions and ceded rushing work to Will Levis at different points in the campaign. PSU Penn State rebounded to win their final four games and score a respectable 29.8 PPG to somewhat salvage the season. The strong finish was not enough to save Ciarrocca’s job who was jettisoned in favor of well established OC Mike Yurcich, who was let go by Texas when UT hired Steve Sarkisian to replace Tom Herman as their new HC.
Yurchich didn’t stay on the unemployment line for long, as the former Oklahoma State, Ohio State and Texas OC Mike Yurcich, who only spent one season at UT and was a casualty of regime change rather than poor performance. Texas averaged 42.7 PPG and 475 total YPG, as Yurcich led the Longhorns to the seventh highest point per game average in the country. He registered a pristine 38 PPG and 478 YPG over the six years he ran Mike Gundy’s offense at Oklahoma State, while leading the nation in passing with 390 passing yards per game in 2018. Simply put, Yurcich is as accomplished an OC hire as you can ask for.
A notable characteristic of Yurcich’s offenses is he favors one Alpha outside wide receiver that dominates the target shares. That role will likely be filled by Jahan Dotson who has shown flashes of star potential, catching 52-of-84 targets for 884 yards and eight touchdowns while also averaging an excellent 7.2 yards after catch. Parker Washington and KeAndre Lambert will lock horns to see who becomes the lead dog after Dotson departs, with Washington being the favorite. Noah Cain will likely start but Ford and Lambert will command touches as well, watering down the potential of this backfield. The overall effectiveness of the Nittany Lion attack comes down to whether Sean Clifford can take a step and be the pilot this offense needs.
Zack Kittley - Western Kentucky OC
Once known for their prolific aerial offense led by CFF legend Brandon Doughty, the Hilltoppers’ once proud offensive attack managed to accrue only 290 yards and 19 points per game last season, both marks in the bottom ten nationally. Something had to be done, and the response was to hire Houston Baptist’s hot-shot OC, Zack Kittley, and sign their prolific transfer quarterback Bailey Zappe, to revive their offense.
Kittley burst on the scene this year by calling plays for a Houston Baptist squad that hung 31 points on North Texas, 37 on Louisiana Tech and lost a 35-33 squeaker to Texas Tech despite having far less heralded recruits to work with. In four games this season, Kittley conducted an HBU air attack that racked up 1,833 passing yards and a 15-to-1 ratio in only four games this season with Zappe under center.
The dynamic duo takes their show on the road to WKU, and the direct beneficiary will likely be leading wide receiver Mitchell Tinsley, who secured 43-of-65 passes, a 66 percent catch rate, for 377 yards and four touchdowns and looks to be primed to handle WR1 duties under the new pass heavy regime. TE Joshua Simon, new transfers Jerreth and Josh Sterns, and Dayton Wade will also factor into the offense now that Xavier Lane is in the transfer portal. Speaking of transfers, starting RB Gaej Walker is headed out of town with C.J. Jones and Jakari Moses currently poised to take over the lead back role. Not that rushing is much of a priority for Kittley, as HBU was outgained 963-to-427 rushing yards while averaging 3.4 YPC in four games this season.
Look for Western Kentucky to be active in the transfer market and make sure you are fully apprised of the Hilltopper depth chart developments leading up to college fantasy signing day.