While the names may seem the same, the overall presence and outlying atmosphere created by these coaches has certainly changed.
The Pac-10 faithful will be introduced to three new head coaches this season, two experiencing their first year at helm. How these coaches react to this backyard dog fight called “Pac-12 Conference Play” should be quite interesting.
Let's take a look at where each coach lands in my Pac-12's Coaches Preseason Power Rankings.
No. 1: Chip Kelly, Oregon
It is hard to place a coach coming off a National Championship appearance anywhere but No. 1.
Year-in and year-out, Chip Kelly proves that he can get his guys to work their butts off in his high-flying system. Even with the recent concerns with Cliff Harris, Kelly should be able to get rest of his Ducks to fly in formation, making Oregon a contender once again in 2011.
No. 2: Lane Kiffin, USC
Lane Kiffin makes No. 2 on this list because of his personality alone. The hoopla that surrounds him and the dead-pan, sarcastic answers that he gives the media makes it hard to completely love or loathe him.
Whichever way you feel about Kiffin, he does seems to have a decent thing going at USC (you know, despite the whole sanction thing). To Kiffin’s credit, players seem to respect him wherever he goes and now that he finally has a competitive squad, he has a chance to put up some impressive win totals.
No. 3: Kyle Whittingham, Utah
Kyle Whittingham’s past success in the Mountain West is hard to ignore. He has reached a bowl in every season as a head coach, plus he has already coached in two BCS bowls (more than any other Pac-12 coach).
The test thrust upon Whittingham this season is much steeper, though. His footing in this ranking is a bit soft at the moment, but the soil should become firmer after a few conference wins.
No. 4: Steve Sarkasian, Washington
Steve Sarkasian is a vibrant coach that brings a ton of energy and immeasurable love for the game to Seattle.
Sark’s attitude towards the Huskies programs easily rubs off on any passerby. Although they have lost a huge weapon in Jake Locker, he still has this team (and the city) believing that Washington can (and will) take the Pac-12 by surprise.
No. 5: Dennis Erickson, Arizona State
One might think that two National Championships would fast track a coach close to the top of any kind of coaches’ rankings.
However, Dennis Erickson has yet to prove that his previous winning ways are still a part of his current existential shell. While Erickson’s downward metamorphosis is quickly drawing questions, another disappointing season could send him back into retirement for good.
No. 6: David Shaw, Stanford
Jim Harbaugh left the table set for David Shaw. All Shaw has to do is serve the meal.
With Andrew Luck returning, Shaw has a big enough weapon to come out blazing in his first season. While there are definitely a few question marks on the Cardinal’s depth chart, how he matures these areas will be a telling sign of Stanford’s future.
No. 7: Mike Riley, Oregon State
Mike Riley has suffered only two seasons below .500 as Oregon State’s head coach. Unfortunately, last year was the most recent and that always draws a few concerns.
After Riley’s last sub-.500 record in Corvallis, he quickly turned things around with a 10-win season the following year. That win total might be difficult to mimic in 2011, especially with the questionable talent on his depth chart.
No. 8: Mike Stoops, Arizona
After seven seasons coaching Arizona, Mike Stoops has only finished with an above-.500 conference record twice. While this is not completely indicative of Stoops' tenure with the Wildcats, these conference woes has to be brewing some uncertainty within Arizona’s fan base.
Getting blown out in back-to-back bowls isn’t helping either. Arizona has a bevy of offensive weapons to contend in 2011, but their defense is worrisome. Although Stoops’ job isn’t necessarily on the line, it would not hurt to win a few more games against conference opponents.
No. 9: Jeff Tedford, California
Jeff Tedford finished the 2010 season with his worst record at California. Although he missed a bowl for only the second time as the Bears coach, for some reason people are anxious to walk him up to the guillotine.
Tedford has never been that popular in the Bay Area. However, his winning record kept his job firmly secure for the past several years. With Cal's new stadium set to open up in 2012, another lousy season could send him packing.
No. 10: Jon Embree, Colorado
Jon Embree breathes new energy into a stagnant Colorado program left in shambles by Dan Hawkins.
Embree doesn’t have a ton to work with, but he is making the best with what has been provided to him.
The Buffaloes offense seems to responding nicely to him this spring, which could go a long way in the Pac-12. While you shouldn’t expect Embree to move boulders his first season, he should be able to push the Buffs in the right direction.
No. 11: Rick Neuheisel, UCLA
It was a bit of surprise that UCLA did not fire Rick Neuheisel after last season.
The Bruins have finished 8th or worst in the Pac-10 under his commanded, winning only eight conference games during his three years in Westwood. Another year below .500 will definitely bring the ax, and depending on how the Bruins look after the first two months, the chop could even drop mid-season.
No. 12: Paul Wulff, Washington State
Paul Wulff fully believes that this is the season that his Cougars make a turnaround. With only two conference wins and five overall wins as Washington State head coach, things better start improving fast.
This is the year when all of Wulff’s recruits will take the field, putting even more pressure on his team to succeed. Wulff certainly won’t survive another season with a double digit number in the loss column.