We're not quite at the midpoint of the college football season and some seats are heating up while others are cooling down, but the fact is that job security is no longer conjecture. It's strengthening and weakening in real time every week.
For some coaches, decision day is coming this year. Others are still a year away from win-or-go-home scenarios. But among all the coaches with restless fans and/or athletic departments, there are a fortunate few that have an ace in their pocket, a savior to bail them out of trouble. Here are a few of those saviors.
Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M
Possible savior -- Quarterback Kellen Mond: Off to a typical fast start at 4-1, Sumlin is breathing new life into a seemingly doomed coaching tenure every week. But with clearly defined expectations that 8-5 won't cut it, Sumlin is still walking a tight rope as we enter October. For Sumlin, there's good news and bad news at the quarterback position. The bad news is that Alabama, Auburn and Mississippi State are awaiting the Aggies, who start a true freshman quarterback that is very raw as a passer. The good news is that Mond is a true freshman quarterback that already looks much improved from his 3-of-17 passing outing against UCLA. If Sumlin can get A&M back to 9-3 or even a competitive 8-4 with a rapidly improving true freshman under center, that could be enough of a spring board to reignite some enthusiasm among the decision makers.
Butch Jones, Tennessee
Possible savior -- The rest of the SEC East: Everything has been ugly this year for Jones. He won ugly against Georgia Tech while giving up 700 yards of offense, he lost ugly to Florida on the final play of a poorly-played contest, and he won ugly against a Massachusetts team that's as bad as anyone in FBS. That all culminated in a 41-0 loss to Georgia that was -- ugly. After all that, the talk isn't if Jones gets fired but when. The only reason that talk may be premature is that the rest of the SEC -- particularly the SEC East -- is ugly, too.
Look at Tennessee's remaining schedule: South Carolina, Kentucky, Southern Miss, Missouri, Vanderbilt, LSU and Alabama. There's a guaranteed loss in there to the Crimson Tide, but beyond that, who can even this Tennessee team not beat. Do I expect them to go 6-1 or 5-2 the rest of the way? No. But it's still a viable scenario, and it's hard to fire a coach with a team that closes the year strong.
Ed Orgeron, LSU
Possible savior -- Offensive coordinator Matt Canada: Orgeron is not getting fired this year. It's just not happening. But after losing to Troy and getting embarrassed by Mississippi State, it looks increasingly possible that Coach O enters Year 2 at his dream job with serious job security issues. One way or the other, Canada will impact that security.
Orgeron's blueprint in his first year at LSU involved Lane Kiffin as his offensive coordinator. When Kiffin took the head job at FAU, Canada was Plan B. As the architect of one of the most explosive offenses in college football at Pittsburgh, the hire seemed like a home run for Orgeron, but the spark has yet to translate this fall. The season is young and things may start clicking. If they do, Canada could effectively soothe Orgeron's bosses. If they don't, Orgeron may be tempted to move in a different direction at offensive coordinator and earn himself some more rope with a new offense in year two.
Rich Rodriguez, Arizona
Possible savior -- The Wildcats' freshman class: In the last three seasons, Arizona has regressed from 10 wins to seven to three, and if the improvement isn't dramatic in 2017, Rodriguez will have a heck of a presentation ready for why you should be encouraged. The focus of that presentation will be the freshman class. Arizona's roster is loaded with true freshmen not just playing but providing meaningful contributions. Four of Arizona's top five tacklers on defense are freshmen and three of them, including leading tackler Tony Fields, are true freshmen. Arizona starts five freshmen on defense and two more on offense. This is a team that looks improved from last year, and yet, it is one of the youngest in college football. Rodriguez doesn't have to pitch his decorated past, he can point to a promising future in Tuscon.
Most true freshmen played in FBS— Illini Stats & Notes (@IlliniStats) September 18, 2017
Jim McElwain, Florida
Possible savior -- Feleipe Franks: Following two SEC East titles, McEwlain doesn't need to worry about his job security. But fans are restless as the Gators continue to struggle offensively and are now plummeting on defense for the first time in decades. Should the bottom fall out this season, 2018 could turn into a critical year for McElwain. It took him a while to get to this point, but he should be putting all of his resources behind the development of Franks to color that 2018 effort.
Despite incoming transfer of Malik Zaire and the insertion of and subsequent injury to Luke Del Rio, Franks always made the most sense this fall as the Gators' signal caller. From this point forward, it's about progress. Florida isn't going to win out, but Franks needs to make progress and that progress needs to continue into next season. If the 6-foot-6, cannon-armed former Army All-American can take incremental steps forward over the next season and a half, Florida could be heading into 2019 with its best quarterback situation since Urban Meyer's days in The Swamp.