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Andy Wittry | NCAA.com | October 28, 2021

Here's how college football programs with first-year coaches are performing in 2021

College football rankings: Alabama jumps Oklahoma; Penn State dips

Nearly one out of seven FBS college football programs has a first-year head coach this season. That's 18 out of the 130 FBS programs.

It's now Week 9 of the 2021 season, which means we have more than half a season of data from which to analyze these programs under their new regimes. I analyzed each school that has a head coach who's in his first season in that role at his current school and I compared the team's 2021 performance so far to its performance last season in several statistical categories.

Note: The stats and rankings used in this story are current through Week 8 of the 2021 season.

Simple Rating System

According to Sports Reference, the Simple Rating System (SRS) "takes into account average point differential and strength of schedule," and it's one useful rating system that ranks every team in the sport. For margin of victory, there's a lower bound of seven points and an upper bound of 24 points.

Here's how every FBS program with a first-year coach compares this season to last season in terms of its national SRS ranking, listed in descending order. It's worth a reminder that COVID-19 significantly disrupted last season, from scheduling to player availability to practice restrictions due to health and safety protocols, so a team's 2020 season should be viewed through that lens.

The timing — and cause — of a recent coaching hire could also impact a team's 2021 SRS rating. Kansas hired former Buffalo coach Lance Leipold in late April, so then Buffalo was in the market for a new head coach and it hired Maurice Linguist in early May, which is months later than most of his fellow new hires.

On average, programs with a first-year head coach are ranked 4.7 spots worse in the SRS rating than they were in 2020.

School Coach 2021 SRS Ranking 2020 SRS Ranking Difference
Utah State Blake Anderson 74 123 +49
UL Monroe Terry Bowden 103 126 +23
Illinois Bret Bielema 70 92 +22
Tennessee Josh Heupel 35 52 +17
Boise State Andy Avalos 36 45 +9
South Alabama Kane Wommack 96 102 +6
Auburn Bryan Harsin 21 23 +2
South Carolina Shane Beamer 85 87 +2
Southern Miss Will Hall 121 116 -5
Texas Steve Sarkisian 24 17 -7
Vanderbilt Clark Lea 120 108 -12
Kansas Lance Leipold 125 112 -13
Arizona Jedd Fisch 128 113 -15
Marshall Charles Huff 64 46 -18
UCF Gus Malzahn 59 36 -23
Arkansas State Butch Jones 126 96 -30
Buffalo Maurice Linguist 93 5 -88

MORE: Highest scoring college football games across FBS, FCS, DII, and DIII

Total offense per game

Five of the 18 FBS programs with first-year head coaches have seen a difference of at least 100 yards per game, positive or negative, in a year-over-year change in total offense, and two of those changes are connected. Former UCF coach Josh Heupel was hired at Tennessee and since then, UCF's total yards of offense per game has dropped by 149 yards per game since last season, while Tennessee's total offense has climbed by 111 yards per game since 2020.

Here are the complete results.

School Coach 2021 Offense 2020 Offense Difference
Utah State Blake Anderson 466 275 +191
Marshall Charles Huff 509 391 +118
Tennessee Josh Heupel 457 346 +111
Kansas Lance Leipold 334 259 +75
Auburn Bryan Harsin 447 382 +65
South Alabama Kane Wommack 390 358 +32
Boise State Andy Avalos 363 349 +14
UL Monroe Terry Bowden 302 305 -3
Texas Steve Sarkisian 456 475 -19
Illinois Bret Bielema 328 349 -21
South Carolina Shane Beamer 327 355 -28
Arizona Jedd Fisch 337 369 -32
Vanderbilt Clark Lea 291 330 -39
Arkansas State Butch Jones 436 489 -53
Buffalo Maurice Linguist 410 478 -68
Southern Miss Will Hall 257 372 -115
UCF Gus Malzahn 419 568 -149

RANKINGS: See all the latest FBS polls

Total yards allowed per game

On average, schools with first-year head coaches are allowing roughly 23 fewer yards per game than last season, including seven programs that have made an improvement of at least 50 fewer yards allowed per game. UCF, under Gus Malzahn, is averaging 149 fewer yards per game of total offense, but the Knights are allowing 120 fewer yards per game than last season, which is the best year-over-year improvement of the 18 first-year head coaches.

School Coach 2021 defense 2020 defense Difference
UCF Gus Malzahn 371 491 +120
Arizona Jedd Fisch 357 473 +116
South Carolina Shane Beamer 346 451 +105
South Alabama Kane Wommack 334 436 +102
Auburn Bryan Harsin 341 406 +65
Illinois Bret Bielema 403 466 +63
Southern Miss Will Hall 351 401 +50
Utah State Blake Anderson 444 485 +41
Vanderbilt Clark Lea 457 487 +30
UL Monroe Terry Bowden 447 464 +17
Tennessee Josh Heupel 393 407 +14
Kansas Lance Leipold 471 459 -12
Texas Steve Sarkisian 433 406 -27
Boise State Andy Avalos 406 373 -33
Buffalo Maurice Linguist 404 360 -44
Arkansas State Butch Jones 578 470 -108
Marshall Charles Huff 391 279 -112

Penalty yards per game

Eleven of the 18 programs with a first-year head coach are plus or minus 10 penalty yards per game of their 2020 average, but a handful of programs have seen notable changes. Southern Miss has been penalized for more than 30 yards more per game this season compared to last, while Texas has experienced almost 30 fewer penalty yards per game in 2021 versus 2020.

School Coach 2021 penalty yards 2020 penalty  yards Difference
Texas Steve Sarkisian 47.4 77.0 -29.6
UCF Gus Malzahn 58.1 74.8 -16.7
Arkansas State Butch Jones 48.6 57.4 -8.8
Kansas Lance Leipold 39.1 46.4 -7.3
UL Monroe Terry Bowden 39.9 43.7 -3.8
Auburn Bryan Harsin 46.4 49.8 -3.4
Illinois Bret Bielema 47.5 50.8 -3.3
Boise State Andy Avalos 51.7 49.3 +2.4
Marshall Charles Huff 65.9 62.7 +3.2
Arizona Jedd Fisch 64.6 58.8 +5.8
Buffalo Maurice Linguist 57.4 50.6 +6.8
Vanderbilt Clark Lea 47.1 38.1 +9.0
Utah State Blake Anderson 56.6 47.3 +9.3
Tennessee Josh Heupel 61.9 50.2 +11.7
South Carolina Shane Beamer 61.8 43.7 +18.1
South Alabama Kane Wommack 53.1 34.9 +18.2
Southern Miss Will Hall 68.0 36.7 +31.3

Red zone efficiency

Most teams with a first-year head coach have improved upon their red zone efficiency — the percent of trips to the red zone in which they've scored — since last season. Remarkably, UL Monroe ranked 123rd last season in red zone efficiency and this season the Warhawks rank 13th through Week 8, thanks to an improvement of more than 27 percentage points.

School Coach 2021 percentage 2020 percentage Difference
UL Monroe Terry Bowden 93.3% 65.6% +27.7%
Tennessee Josh Heupel 90.9% 73.9% +17.0%
Arkansas State Butch Jones 88.0% 78.1% +9.9%
Auburn Bryan Harsin 90.9% 85.0% +5.9%
Texas Steve Sarkisian 91.2% 85.7% +5.5%
Buffalo Maurice Linguist 90.2% 86.2% +4.0%
South Alabama Kane Wommack 83.9% 80.0% +3.9%
Vanderbilt Clark Lea 73.7% 70.0% +3.7%
Illinois Bret Bielema 70.0% 69.2% +0.8%
Arizona Jedd Fisch 69.6% 69.2% +0.4%
Boise State Andy Avalos 90.6% 90.9% -0.3%
Marshall Charles Huff 81.6% 83.8% -2.2%
UCF Gus Malzahn 86.7% 89.1% -2.4%
Utah State Blake Anderson 69.2% 74.2% -5.0%
South Carolina Shane Beamer 76.0% 82.8% -6.8%
Kansas Lance Leipold 68.2% 77.8% -9.6%
Southern Miss Will Hall 69.2% 81.6% -12.4%

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