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College football hot seat watch, Week 11: Mulling over Will Muschamp

Is Mississippi State looking around? How bad was Bo Pelini's week? And is Will Muschamp really in trouble?

Sam Greenwood

Hot seat rating: Muy caliente

Mike London, Virginia

Last week: Lost 59-10 to Clemson
Record: 2-7 (0-5 ACC)
Years: 4
Overall record: 42-33
School record: 18-28
Three-year record: 14-20
Salary: $2,556,460
Three-year dollars per win: $547,813
Buyout: $8 million
Football ratio: 21.3%
Subsidy: 16.2%

Virginia picks up its seventh loss of the season, a seven-touchdown defeat at home before 15,000 empty seats. With the loss goes any hope of bowl eligibility, leaving the Cavaliers at home for the holidays for the third time in London's four years in charge. All of these things cost the Virginia athletics department money -- the unused tickets for the Clemson game alone cost the university more than $700,000 -- and money is certainly an issue for a department drawing 16 percent of its budget from the state government. This comes a week after an embarrassing sequence at the end of the first half of a loss to Georgia Tech left the Cavaliers standing on the one-yard line, watching the clock expire.

Despite all of that, athletic director Craig Littlepage is doubling down from his vote of confidence two weeks ago, pointing out the youth on the current roster (Virginia has just eight seniors this year) and praising the incoming recruiting class. If Littlepage is truly willing to take another year of financial losses in the hopes of some victories on the field, he is different than the vast majority of the nation's athletic directors. It could be that a couple of five-star recruits and a foreboding $11 million worth of buyouts for London and his assistants is enough to save London's job, but with 2-10 looking increasingly likely, that is particularly hard to believe.

Hot seat rating: Spicy

Dan Mullen, Mississippi State

Last week: Lost 34-16 at South Carolina
Record: 4-4 (1-3 SEC)
Years: 5
Overall record: 33-26
School record: 33-26
Three-year record: 19-15
Salary: $2,650,000
Three-year dollars per win: $418,421
Buyout: $675,000
Football ratio: 38.3%
Subsidy: 8.2%

Short-term: Dan Mullen's team imploded on a drive late in the first half against South Carolina Saturday. The Bulldogs were down seven points but driving into South Carolina territory in the final minute before halftime. I'll let Scott Coleman explain it from there:

[W]ith 30 seconds left, MSU had the football on South Carolina's 30-yard line. Dak Prescott was unable to escape pressure and was called for intentional grounding, bringing the ball back to the 41. With 13 seconds still on the clock, Dan Mullen called his second timeout. At the very least a field goal attempt seemed possible.

As the Bulldogs came back on the field, Prescott inexplicably didn't get the snap off and forced the coaching staff to take yet another timeout, which was their final one of the half. Then, instead of throwing something towards the sidelines to stop the clock, Prescott threw a 7-yard slant pass.

The clock ran out and Mullen went nuts, screaming at just about everyone on the sidelines. For a guy who may be coaching with his job on the line, it's not hard to blame him. South Carolina leads 17-10 at halftime.

That small disaster brought reactions like the following:

So, yeah, there's that.

Long-term: It looks increasingly likely that the Bulldogs' bid for a fourth consecutive bowl will require wins over Arkansas and Ole Miss in the season's final two games. Mullen's offense, his calling card when he took the job five seasons ago, has looked rather pedestrian this season. Mississippi State ranks ninth in the conference in total yardage and tenth in scoring; if those rankings hold, it would be the worst Mullen offense relative to the rest of the conference since his first season in Starkville. His 2014 recruiting class -- as important to SEC fans as their team's spot in the AP Poll -- is ranked 39th nationally and 13th in the conference, ahead of only Missouri; again, both rankings would be career lows.

Mullen still has an excellent record for Mississippi State. Even if he lost the last four games of the season, he would have the most wins in any five-year stretch at Mississippi State since the heyday of Jackie Sherrill in the late 1990s, and his winning percentage would be higher than any Bulldogs head coach since Bob Tyler left in 1978 (and most of Tyler's wins were later vacated). Sly Croom got five years in Starkville despite going 21-38, a mark Mullen has obliterated. The Mississippi State fanbase's greatest fears are well-founded:

[M]y biggest concern about the potential of firing Mullen is bringing in a coach that is not the right fit, or is just not a good coach, and he destroys the program. We are not a rock solid program like some others. A bad hire could set us back for a while assuming he's here for 3-4 years. And I don't necessarily trust Stricklin to find a coach that is better than Mullen. He may be able to do that, but I wouldn't place my money on it. Sorry, Strick, you're a good A.D., but I don't think hiring folks is your strong suit.

The question, then, is whether Mississippi State fans accept that place in history or expect something better. There are no immediate signs of a quick fix or an obvious source of Mullen's struggles beyond playing in the nation's most difficult division, and there is little sign of help on the recruiting front. With a small buyout and big problems, MSU might decide it's time for something else.

Bo Pelini, Nebraska

Last week: Defeated Northwestern 27-24
Record: 6-2 (3-1 B1G)
Years: 6
Overall record: 55-22
School record: 55-22
Three-year record: 25-10
Salary: $2,875,000
Three-year dollars per win: $345,000
Buyout: $4.5 million
Football ratio: 65.4%
Subsidy: None

What a week for Bo Pelini. His Cornhuskers lose at Minnesota last weekend, setting off a round of soul-searching among the fan base. His brother and former defensive coordinator is fired at Florida Atlantic for using cocaine and marijuana. He is four seconds from a second consecutive Big Ten loss, a defeat to a 4-4 team that would be even more unforgivable to Nebraska fans that last week's, when his third-string quarterback throws a Hail Mary to a redshirt freshman to win.

Nebraska needs a win at Michigan next week, and a victory over Michigan State the following week, to keep its Big Ten title hopes alive. It's a tall order, especially given how dominant Sparty's defense has become. But a play like that can not only save a season; it can kick-start a sluggish team. The Northwestern win -- and the way it happened -- could be the thing that saves Pelini's job.

Mack Brown, Texas

Last week: Defeated Kansas 35-13
Record: 6-2 (5-0 Big 12)
Years: 16
Overall record: 242-119
School record: 152-45
Three-year record: 23-11
Salary: $5,353,750
Three-year dollars per win: $698,315
Buyout: $2.75 million
Football ratio: 63.7%
Subsidy: None

Mack Brown might just pull this off.

Since a 44-23 loss to Ole Miss, the Longhorns have won five straight games, including a 16-point thumping of rival Oklahoma and a 23-point pounding of TCU in Fort Worth. The Longhorns have scored 30 or more points in every conference game, despite losing quarterback David Ash. More surprisingly, Brown's decision to fire defensive coordinator Manny Diaz and replace him with the much-maligned Greg Robinson seems to be working. Texas' defense is allowing just 18.2 points per game in conference play, a far cry from the 44 posted by Ole Miss and 40 from BYU in September.

Back when it looked like all was lost, Brown said his team would focus on winning the Big 12. The Longhorns have one more low hurdle -- a trip to Morgantown next Saturday -- before a stretch of three games against their only remaining competition for that title: home games against Oklahoma State and Texas Tech, and a trip to Baylor. Those three games could well decide Brown's fate. Even with a new athletic director coming to Austin in December, firing a longtime head coach who won a national championship for your program and just won your conference is a risky proposition.

Ron English, Eastern Michigan

Last week: Lost 55-16 at Toledo
Record: 1-8 (0-5 MAC)
Years: 5
Overall record: 11-46
School record: 11-46
Three-year record: 9-24
Salary: $360,517
Three-year dollars per win: $120,172
Buyout: $524,906
Football ratio: 23.9%
Subsidy: 83.6%

It really has to annoy English, a former Cal safety and Michigan defensive coordinator, that his defense is so horrible. The Eagles gave up 50 points for the fourth consecutive game Saturday and fifth time in their last six contests, falling to 1-8 in the process (that win was against Howard, which is 3-6 in FCS). The Eagles are 125th out of 126 FBS squads in scoring defense.

Most embarassing of all: ESPN's David Pollack telling the world on College GameDay that EMU is an undefeated team in the Football Championship Subdivision.

EMU has three games remaining, two of which look like lost causes. Saturday's game against rival Western Michigan is English's last best chance at a win. But even with a loss, EMU won't -- and shouldn't -- fire English before the end of the season. The circumstances surrounding the death of wide receiver Demarius Reed are tragic, and English has handled them as well as anyone could hope. He deserves to see the season through.

Norm Chow, Hawaii

Last week: Lost 47-10 at Utah State
Record: 0-8 (0-6 MWC)
Years: 2
Overall record: 3-17
School record: 3-17
Three-year record: 3-17
Salary: $550,000
Three-year dollars per win: $366,667
Buyout: $1.3 million
Football ratio: 20.9%
Subsidy: 32.6%

"I don't know. I'm too old for this. I'm way too old for this," he said with a wry smile.

"I had fun as an assistant. I don't know about all this stuff."

We usually are focused on whether a coach is going to be fired. But with that quote from Chow after his Rainbow Warriors were dismantled by Utah State Saturday -- a loss which included a 99-yard interception return for the Aggies -- we have to seriously ask whether Chow will simply quit at the end of the season.

Not that anyone would blame him after this week. Hawaii got caught in LAX in the aftermath of Friday's shooting, arrived in Logan at 2 a.m. Saturday, and lost 16 hours of prep time as a result. After Saturday's game, they travel to Annapolis, Md. to play Navy, which is coached by former Rainbow Warrior player and assistant Ken Niumatalolo. The Navy coach's name is being floated as a potential replacement for Chow.

The longtime college and pro offensive coordinator is 66 years old, coaching at a program where the logistics alone are exhausting. Hawaii, desperate for a move into a power conference, could think it's time. Chow could agree.

Hot Seat Rating: Medium

Ron Turner, Florida International

Last week: Lost 34-13 to East Carolina
Record: 1-7 (1-3 CUSA)
Years: 1
Overall record: 43-68
School record: 1-7
Three-year record: 1-7
Salary: $500,000
Three-year dollars per win: $500,000
Buyout: $2.5 million
Football ratio: 30.3%
Subsidy: 80.3%

Not much new on the Ron Turner front: another week, another Conference USA loss. His athletic director is still trigger-happy. His buyout is still massive. His program is still a mess.

The only thing that could change the calculus on Turner this week is the termination of Carl Pelini at Florida Atlantic. If the Owls land a big-name head coach, Pete Garcia's neverending desire to keep up with the Joneses could mean a premature end to Turner's tenure. Otherwise, there are four games left, none of which look particularly winnable.

Charley Molnar, UMass

Last week: Lost 63-19 to Northern Illinois
Record: 1-8 (1-4 MAC)
Years: 2
Overall record: 2-19
School record: 2-19
Three-year record: 2-19
Salary: $400,625
Three-year dollars per win: $400,625
Buyout: $1 million
Football ratio: Unknown
Subsidy: 81.9%

As expected, Molnar's Minutemen were annihilated by Northern Illinois this weekend, falling behind 49-13 before the Huskies took their foot off the gas. UMass completed just 10 of 25 pass attempts, totaled just 324 yards, and turned the ball over three times. Most damning of all: Just 10,000 fans came to see it in a stadium that seats almost 69,000.

Molnar desperately needs a win over Akron next week. It looks like the last potential win on the UMass schedule.

Hot Seat Rating: Mild

Will Muschamp, Florida

Last week: Lost 23-20 to Georgia
Record: 4-4 (3-3 SEC)
Years: 3
Overall record: 22-12
School record: 22-12
Three-year record: 22-12
Salary: $2,928,000
Three-year dollars per win: $399,272
Buyout: $8 million
Football ratio: 58.9%
Subsidy: 3.5%

Muschamp took Florida to the Sugar Bowl last year, but January now seems so far away. The Gators have lost three straight since beating Arkansas on October 5. They lost to in-state rival Miami and border rival Georgia, with Florida State lying in wait at the end of the calendar. They would need a miracle to win a jumbled SEC East that should be ripe for the picking. The Gators offense is nearly unwatchable: Florida is last in the SEC in total offense, last in passing offense, 13th in scoring, 13th in rushing, and among the worst in the nation in all four categories. Florida's flaccid start against Georgia had fans running for the exits. Things are not good.

With that said, the administration likes Muschamp enough that it gave him two new contracts last year, and his 2012 record -- 11 wins against the nation's toughest regular season schedule, including a blowout of then-No. 7 South Carolina and a thumping of Florida State in Tallahassee -- should buy him some time. As Andy Hutchins wrote at Alligator Army this week, he has some other attributes prized by Florida's administration and fans:

I firmly believe that Muschamp's not going anywhere after 2013, not unless Florida falls apart dramatically and flames out to finish the season. Foley staked a lot on the hiring of Muschamp, and doesn't want to pull the ripcord on him early like he did on Zook - and though that was ultimately proved to be a damn good decision, it didn't leave a good taste in the mouths of anyone but the boosters who had figurative torches and pitchforks at the ready - and there's a tremendous amount of respect within Florida's program for Muschamp as a coach, a teacher, and a person. It would be foolish to discount how much Florida enjoys having a folksy son of Gainesville who is the spitting image of this generation's archetypal golden boy coach - Eric Taylor, Dillon's finest, is fictional, but that doesn't make him any less an aspirational figure - after Meyer, a more mercenary figure, produced spectacular highs and detestable lows for the program.

Andy's right: Barring a complete implosion, Muschamp probably will not be fired this year. But if 2014 goes the same way, he's entering Ron Zook territory, and he leaves that decision to Florida at his own peril.

Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia

Last week: Beat TCU 30-27
Record: 4-5 (2-4 Big 12)
Years: 3
Overall record: 21-14
School record: 21-14
Three-year record: 21-14
Salary: $2,500,000
Three-year dollars per win: $357,143
Buyout: $11.3 million
Football ratio: 33.0%
Subsidy: 7.2%

Holgorsen's place on the hot seat has less to do with his on-field performance than his boss' current situation. West Virginia AD Oliver Luck is at the top of the list for the soon-to-be-vacant athletic director position at Texas. If Luck goes, Holgorsen's biggest ally at West Virginia is gone, and the palace intrigue that previously led to Holgorsen's installation can begin again in earnest.

Even if his job is in jeopardy due to outside events, it's not as if Holgorsen is doing much to make himself indespensable. Since a win at No. 11 Texas last season took his Mountaineers to 5-0, Holgorsen's team is 6-11, with just one of those six wins -- this season's upset victory over Oklahoma State -- coming against an FBS opponent with a winning record. The buyout might be the only thing that can save Holgo at this point, but with his history of off-field shenanigans, a new athletic director who wants him out is going to be watching for any reason to fire him for cause.

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  • USC
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