Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here's a look at the Big 12's new coaches, Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads and Kansas State coach Bill Snyder, and their chances of turning around their struggling programs.
Coach: Paul Rhoads
Previous school and position: Auburn, defensive coordinator
Head-coaching experience: None
Iowa State's 2008 record: 2-10, 0-8 in Big 12
Returning players: Offense 9, defense 6
What he brings: Rhoads is familiar with the challenges of trying to win at Iowa State after serving as an assistant there under Dan McCarney from 1996 through '99. He later cut his teeth as a defensive coordinator at Pittsburgh from 2000 to 2007 and at Auburn last season and is one of the most respected defensive minds in college football. Rhoads, from nearby Ankeny, fits with the Cyclones' fan base and their expectations. In fact, his upbeat nature is reminiscent of McCarney, whom some Cyclones fans might want back after their five bowl trips in a six-season span from 2000 to 2005. They haven't been back since.
Challenges he faces: It seems hard to believe that the Cyclones were challenging for the North title as recently as 2005. The program dropped as McCarney was let go and continued its tumble under Gene Chizik. Rhoads will be challenged to orchestrate a quick turnaround. He inherits the framework of an offense with nine returning starters include tough and productive (but streaky) quarterback Austen Arnaud and running back Alexander Robinson. The big problem will be on defense where the Cyclones were the worst tackling team in the Big 12 last season, ranked 110th nationally in scoring defense, 112th in total defense, 116th in pass defense and 117th in pass efficiency defense. Their development won't come overnight. Rhoads has cobbled together a strong staff including offensive coordinator Tom Herman and wily veteran defensive coordinator Wally Burnham. But it will be a big challenge considering the talent they will inherit.
Likelihood of pulling off a winning season: Slim. Most are picking the Cyclones for the North Division cellar with good reason. The defense will struggle against the Big 12's potent offenses. They will be able to move the ball and score, but likely not enough to compensate for their defensive struggles. The Cyclones will be facing a challenging nonconference schedule with an underrated opener against North Dakota State -- a program that has won at Ball State and Minnesota in the last three seasons. With games against Iowa, at Kent State and Army, the Cyclones likely will be pushed to notch a winning record in nonconference play. And their Big 12 action starts with a game that could decide the Big 12 cellar in Kansas City against Kansas State -- a game that was set to be played in Ames before it was moved. After that, the Cyclones will face a tough road stretch with games at Kansas, Nebraska and Texas A&M sandwiched around a homecoming game against Baylor. They then will finish the season with home games against Oklahoma State and Colorado and a road game against Missouri. All three of those late-season opponents likely will have bowl hopes riding on the game. Don't look for that to happen with the Cyclones -- yet.
My prediction: 3-9, 1-7 in Big 12
Coach: Bill Snyder
Previous coaching position: Kansas State, head coach (retired for last three seasons)
Head-coaching experience: Kansas State, 136-68-1 during previous stint there from 1989-2005
Kansas State's 2008 record: 5-7, 2-6 in Big 12
Returning players: Offense 6, defense 8
What he brings: Snyder earned a likely position in College Football's Hall of Fame during his first coaching stint at KSU. The Wildcats were on the cusp of the BCS title game in 1998 and claimed their only Big 12 football title in 2003. The program has tumbled badly since that championship and it will take all of Snyder's legendary drive and determination to get the Wildcats back into contention again. He returns with a staff stacked with assistants who have worked with him in the past and are familiar with the challenges of winning at KSU. His knack of making something out of nothing and unearthing recruiting gems from the junior college ranks will be vital in helping get them back into bowl contention.
Challenges he faces: The talent has dropped from the level Snyder was familiar back in his coaching days and the Big 12 might be even tougher. Nearby programs Kansas and Missouri have climbed into title contention since he left. And old coaching nemesis Bo Pelini has Nebraska pointed in the right direction. Snyder will have to settle on a starting quarterback after Carson Coffman won the job this spring, but will be challenged by Grant Gregory and junior college transfer Daniel Thomas during the summer. He'll also need to cobble together a running game and find some productive linebackers in his new 4-2-5 defense. But he has an underrated group of productive performers like wide receiver Brandon Banks, cornerback Joshua Moore, defensive end Brandon Harold and defensive tackle Jeff Fitzgerald.
Likelihood of pulling off a winning season: It might be better than you think. First, the North Division is going to be relatively even without a dominant team. A surprise team might be able to remain in contention if healthy.
KSU's nonconference schedule isn't too taxing with a trip to visit a rebuilding UCLA team that might be winnable with a few breaks. There are also home games against Massachusetts and Tennessee Tech and a road game at Louisiana-Lafayette. The conference schedule starts off with the Iowa State game in Kansas City, a road game at reloading Texas Tech and home games with Texas A&M and Colorado. Their conference schedule toughens later in the season with road games at Oklahoma and Nebraska, but the Wildcats might surprise people if they get some consistent quarterback play and can keep an underrated defense healthy.
Snyder's coaching acumen might help them win a game or two that might be considered surprises. One major national publication is already p
icking KSU to tie for second in the North Division. They do have the most favorable conference schedule in the Big 12 with only one road game in a North opponent's home stadium.
The Wildcats should be competitive among North Division teams. Snyder is a legendary builder and his team appears to have already gravitated to his coaching philosophy. They will play hard and shouldn't have the late-season collapse that marked the program in each of the last two seasons under Ron Prince. It might add up to a bowl trip in Snyder's first season back.
My prediction: 6-6, 3-5 in Big 12