Last Updated: 2017-12-06
College football bowl games are a completely different set of handicaps. There are additional factors in play that are something that bettors generally don’t have to worry about. One of the most unique factors about the bowl season is that teams go through the prep period and then hit the field with an interim head coach.
The coaching carousel for college football rotates so fast nowadays that it will make your head spin. This season certainly seems to be more active than most, though a lot of the teams in search of new head coaches are not bowl-eligible. Still, those programs are hiring from successful Group of Five programs or are poaching coordinators from other Power Five programs. Once we get into our offseason prep work, we’ll take a deeper look at the new guys. For now, we’re going to look at the fill-ins.
Some interim head coaches are coordinators. Others are high-energy position coaches. Sometimes the AD just outright steps in (hi, Barry Alvarez!). Handicapping the coaching, and, by extension, the focus, is an essential element this time of year. Some teams will go longer than a month without playing. They have to be engaged to hit each other for several weeks and pay attention to film study while wrapping up the semester with finals and with the holiday breaks. Some players don’t want to be there anymore. Some players will sit out because they have NFL Draft prospects in the near future. Through it all, the interim head coach has to keep a handle on the program as best he can.
We may have more to add as we keep going towards the future. Keep in mind that Nebraska is allowing Scott Frost to stay with his UCF team in their quest for a regular perfect record. Josh Heupel has already been hired as his replacement. Todd Graham, inexplicably fired from Arizona State, will stay on as the head coach through the bowl game, which is always a strange situation. Will the players listen to him? Will he be focused while searching for another job? It is a lot to try and figure out.
As far as coordinators go, OC Jonathan Smith left Washington to take the Oregon State job, OC Joe Moorhead left Penn State for Mississippi State, and OC Josh Heupel left Missouri for UCF. We’ll probably see more coordinators on the move between now and the bowl games, but those are the threemost notable.
To date (December 6), there have been 20 FBS coaching changes over the course of the season. The bowl-eligible teams are Arizona State, Florida State, Mississippi State, Oregon, SMU, Texas A&M, UCF, and UCLA. As mentioned, UCF will retain Frost through the bowl game and Graham will awkwardly coach the Sun Devils. That means we have six interim head coaches thus far. Last season, we had five bowl-eligible teams roll into the postseason with interim head coaches. Those guys were 2-3 straight up and 2-3 against the spread. The games were 3-2 to the under.
Let’s take a look at the interim situations for this season and see if we can uncover any good betting angles:
Florida State – You can bet that the Seminoles will be fired up for interim head coach Odell Haggins. The defensive tackles coach has been in the program since 1994 and took up his position as the DT coach in 1996. Although it is on an interim basis, with Florida State likely to make a splashy hire, Haggins is the first African-American head coach in program history. Haggins is a high-energy, positive influence on the players and some players reportedly shed a tear when he was announced as the interim. The bowl streak may matter more than the game itself, but I would expect Florida State to come to play for Haggins and probably under the watchful eye of the new head coach. Florida State will play in the Walk-On’s Independence Bowl on December 27 in Shreveport against Southern Miss.
Mississippi State – Dan Mullen moved from the SEC West to the SEC East to become the head coach at Florida. It seemed like an amicable split, with Mullen having turned in nine quality seasons in Starkville. He was the OC and QB coach at Florida under Urban Meyer, so he certainly had a desire to go back to Gainesville. The interim will be Greg Knox, the running backs coach and special teams coordinator. Mullen took his top offensive assistants with him and defensive coordinator Todd Grantham also made the move to UF. Knox has never had a chance to be a head coach. The 54-year-old Texas native has been a coach since 1988 and with the Bulldogs since Mullen started in 2009. Mississippi State draws a tough customer in Louisville in the Taxslayer Bowl on December 30 in Jacksonville. Ex-defensive coordinator Todd Grantham was the DC at Louisville, so maybe he had some parting advice for the coaches.
Oregon – The Ducks are a late addition to this article with Willie Taggart taking the vacant job in Tallahassee. Mario Cristobal, who put the FIU program on the map earlier this decade, will be the interim HC. Per reports, the players are a huge fan of Cristobal and would like to see him named the full-fledged head coach. You have to think that if the job if still open on December 16 for the Las Vegas Bowl, those kids are going to give a tremendous effort for him in order to help his chances. If the job is filled by somebody else, Cristobal would be extremely unlikely to return, which means that we’ll be left wondering what kind of effort we’ll see from the favored Ducks. Taggart’s tenure started rather unceremoniously with Oregon strength coach Irele Odrinde suspended for three months for having workouts so intense in the offseason that players had to go to the hospital. Cristobal seems to have their attention, but for how long?
SMU – SMU is another late addition to this article. Chad Morris took the job at Arkansas, which means that SMU, bowling for the first time since 2012, will go with associate head coach and running backs coach Jeff Traylor. The players seem particularly invested in pushing for Traylor to get the “interim” tag removed, but SMU is a pretty attractive job with what Morris has built and with the fertile recruiting grounds. The athletic department can probably find somebody more established, but Traylor was a state championship HC three times over at Gilmer High School. Gilmer is 2.5 hours from where the DXL Frisco Bowl will be played, so this is a big opportunity for Traylor and you can bet that the players will appreciate that, even though this is his first season in the program.
Texas A&M – Assistant coach Jeff Banks will coach the team in Kevin Sumlin’s place. Banks runs the special teams, which is something that you’ll often see with interim head coaches because athletic departments don’t want to make life any harder on the offensive or defensive coaches. Generally, the coordinators have gone with the head coach, which means that position coaches have to share the responsibilities. Banks, a former punter at Washington State, also coaches the tight ends and has been in the program since 2013. It doesn’t seem like we’ll gain much of an edge with him at the helm as the Aggies prepare for the Belk Bowl against Wake Forest on December 29.
UCLA – Jedd Fisch took over for the last game of the season for UCLA, so he isn’t on the same level as some of the other names that we have focused on in this annual update. Fisch gave up the offensive coordinator job at Michigan to go to UCLA and now he’ll be looking for work with Chip Kelly hired and ready to handpick his own guy. The Bruins beat Cal to get bowl eligible, but only outgained the Golden Bears by four yards in the 30-27 win. Fisch does have an experienced DC in Tom Bradley to rely on, but the UCLA defense has been awful. He has a close relationship with Josh Rosen, which could be a good thing or a bad thing. As an advisor, he could very well tell Rosen to bypass the bowl game with the NFL Draft coming up. UCLA plays a Kansas State team that should be plenty coached up under Bill Snyder.
If any others are added, and they very well could be, we’ll update this article.
For now, here are the game-by-game results dating back to the 2003-04 season with interim head coaches:
Bo Pelini (Nebraska): W 17-3 (-3, u49.5)
Charlie Strong (Florida): L 3-17 (+4, u55)
Kent Baer (Notre Dame): L 21-38 (+4, o51.5)
Mike Hankwitz (Colorado): W 10-19 (+10.5, u48)
Joe Kines (Alabama): L 31-34 (+1.5, o49)
Frank Spaziani (BC): L 25-24 (-8, o48)
Brian Kelly (Cincy): L 27-24 (-7, o41.5)
Jeff Quinn (CMU): W 31-14 (-8, u51)
Gary Darnel (Texas A&M): L 17-24 (+5, u52)
Reggie Herring (Arkansas): L 7-38 (+3, u67.5)
Bill Stewart (WVU): W 48-28 (+8, o61)
Joe Tenuta (Georgia Tech): L 28-40 (-6, o54)
Dewayne Walker (UCLA): W 16-17 (+6.5, u46.5)
Chris Thurmond (Houston): L 13-20 (+6, u57.5)
Ken Niumatalolo (Navy): W 32-35 (+8, o63.5)
Dabo Swinney (Clemson): L 21-26 (-2.5, u55)
Stan Parrish (Ball State): L 13-45 (+2.5, u70.5)
Ruffin McNeill (Texas Tech): W 41-31 (-7.5, o59.5)
Jeff Quinn (Cincy): L 23-51 (+12.5, o59.5)
Rick Minter (Marshall): W 21-17 (+3, u49.5)
Steve Stripling (CMU): P 44-41 (-3, o63.5)
Jeff Stoutland (Miami-FL): L 17-33 (-2.5, o48)
Phil Bennett (Pitt): W 27-10 (-4.5, u51.5)
Tom Matukewicz (NIU): W 40-17 (-1.5, o56.5)
Lance Guidry (Miami-OH): W 35-21 (+2, o48.5)
Tim DeRuyter (Texas A&M): W 33-22 (-9, u68.5)
Tom Bradley (Penn State): L 14-30 (+7, u55.5)
Vic Koenning (Illinois): W 20-14 (-3, u44.5)
Keith Patterson (Pitt): L 6-28 (-3.5, u48.5)
Mike Johnson (UCLA): L 14-20 (+3, u44.5)
Tony Levine (Houston): W 30-14 (-7, u55.5)
Matt Campbell (Toledo): L 42-41 (-3.5, o69)
Barry Alvarez (Wisconsin): L 14-20 (+2, u46)
Patrick Higgins (Purdue): L 14-58 (+17, o68)
Chris Thomsen (Texas Tech): L 34-31 (-13, o55)
Dana Bible (NC State): L 24-38 (+7.5, o52.5)
Steve Stripling (Cincy): W 48-34 (-9, o62)
Kent Baer (San Jose St): W 29-20 (-7.5, o46)
Rod Carey (NIU): L 10-31 (+13.5, u58)
Lance Guidry (WKU): L 21-24 (-6, u55.5)
John Thompson (Arkansas State): W 17-13 (-3.5, u64)
Clay Helton (USC): W 45-20 (-6, p65)
Marques Tuiasosopo (Washington): W 31-16 (-3.5, u65)
Bob Gregory (Boise State): L 23-38 (+3, u66.5)
Adam Scheer (Bowling Green): L 27-30 (-6.5, o49.5)
John Thompson (Arkansas State): W 23-20 (+7, u65)
DJ Durkin (Florida): W 28-20 (-7, u53.5)
Barry Alvarez (Wisconsin): W 34-31 (+6.5, p65)
Barry Cotton (Nebraska): W 42-45 (+7, o63)
Joe Rudolph (Pitt): L 34-35 (-3.5, o54)
David Gibbs (Houston): W 35-34 (+3.5, o54)
Dave Baldwin (Colorado State): L 10-45 (+2.5, u57)
Brian McClendon (UGA) W 24-17 (-6, u44)
Larry Scott (Miami) L 13-20 (+3, u62)
Darrell Dickey (Memphis) L 10-31, (+3, u64.5)
Jason Candle (Toledo) W 23-17 (+2, u49.5)
Brian Ward (Bowling Green) L 27-58 (-7, o63)
Dell McGee (Georgia Southern) W 58-27 (+7, o63)
Major Applewhite (Houston) L 10-34 (-4.5, u51)
Tom Allen (Indiana) W 24-26 (+3.5, u54)
TJ Weist (South Florida) L 46-39 (-10.5, o58.5)
Ed Foley (Temple) L 26-34 (-10.5, o41.5)
Nick Holt (WKU) W 51-31 (-6.5, o79)
Odell Haggins (Florida State) vs. Southern Miss – Independence Bowl
Greg Knox (Mississippi State) vs. Louisville – Taxslayer Bowl
Mario Cristobal (Oregon) vs. Boise State – Las Vegas Bowl
Jeff Traylor (SMU) vs. Louisiana Tech – Frisco Bowl
Jeff Banks (Texas A&M) vs. Wake Forest – Belk Bowl
Jedd Fisch (UCLA) vs. Kansas State – Cactus Bowl
ATS: 29-33-1 (47.37%)