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January 18, 2010

Monday with Mike: Right place, right time?

Derek Dooley's hiring at Tennessee was surprising, to say the least. He has a nice coaching pedigree - his dad won a national title at Georgia and Derek worked for Nick Saban at LSU and with the Miami Dolphins - but his time at Louisiana Tech was a mixed bag.

Dooley guided Louisiana Tech to a bowl win in 2008, but the Bulldogs were 4-8 this season - the worst mark of his three-season tenure. He had losing records in two of his three years.

He now takes over a Tennessee program at the crossroads. The good news for Dooley and the Vols is that most of the SEC East is at a crossroads as well.

Florida has the most talent - by far - in the division. But will Urban Meyer's leave of absence continue into next season? And if it does, what does that mean for the Gators in the future? In addition, Florida will have a new starting quarterback.

Georgia's Mark Richt is squarely on the hot seat going into the 2010 season. He has overhauled his defensive staff, and will be breaking in a new quarterback for the second season in a row.

South Carolina has been stuck in neutral for much of Steve Spurrier's coaching tenure. The Gamecocks generally look good early in the season, then fade. Another 7-5/6-6 season might mean Spurrier decides to hang it up for good.

Kentucky has a new coach in Joker Phillips. Can Phillips and a tweaked staff keep the Wildcats on the beam after a solid run by Rich Brooks?

As for Vanderbilt, if the Vols ever are scared of the Commodores, hell will have frozen over.

Thus, while Dooley faces a daunting task, it's not nearly as daunting as it could've been. He might actually be able to benefit from questions surrounding his division rivals. Tennessee recruits the same areas as its rivals, and we should have an idea of how well Dooley has adapted by February 2011 - the first signing day after he and his staff have a had a year to sell the Vols' "brand."

Meanwhile, the coaching situations at USC and Tennessee have meant that the hiring of Skip Holtz at USF has been overshadowed. That's too bad because Holtz's hiring could end up being far better than the hires made at USC and Tennessee.

Too often, Holtz's coaching ability is scoffed at because of his last name. That's a mistake. He did a superb job in rebuilding East Carolina, which has won the past two Conference USA titles. He built ECU into a defense-first team, which worked extremely well in Conference USA.

He's taking over a program on the rise at USF. Jim Leavitt did a phenomenal job building the Bulls from scratch. The recruiting base is a great one, and that's why it's an attractive job.

Plus, let's get serious: If you're Holtz and you're walking into the Big East, which coach scares you? Connecticut's Randy Edsall, sure, but can he ever truly sign the talent necessary to get to a BCS bowl? As for the others, Louisville's Charlie Strong is a first-time head coach. Syracuse's Doug Marrone is going into his second season, and it's at a school that has fallen a long way. Rutgers' Greg Schiano has done a great job getting the Scarlet Knights back among the living, but can they take the next step? Cincinnati's Butch Jones did a fine job at Central Michigan, but he now needs to prove he can lead a program in a Big Six league. Pittsburgh's Dave Wannstedt has made slow but steady progress in getting the Panthers turned around, but is he a guy who worries you when he's on the other sideline? West Virginia's Bill Stewart is an extremely nice guy, but the next time he outcoaches someone of note will be the first time.

If Holtz puts together the right staff, USF should become even better than it was under Leavitt.

No quarter(back) given
Last year at this time, prognosticators were looking ahead to the next season and wondering who would be the quarterback on the preseason All-America team. Would it be Heisman winners Sam Bradford or Tim Tebow, or would it be Colt McCoy who was coming off a season in which he was Heisman runner-up.

This year, prognosticators are looking ahead to next season and wondering about the quarterback on the preseason All-America team. But there's a different reason for the question this time. There were an abundance of riches last year; that's not the case this year.

Bradford, McCoy and Tebow are gone; so is Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen, who turned pro early. The ACC lost two of its leading passers; same with the Big 12. The Big East lost its top two quarterbacks. The Pac-10 lost its leading passer. The Big Ten lost its top three passers; so did the Mid-American. The Mountain West and Sun Belt lost their leading passers.

That talent drain is going to have an impact, to an extent.

Nine of the 10 teams who played in the BCS this season had returning starters at quarterback. And of the 68 teams that played in bowls, 47 had returning starters at the position, though some - whether they were injured or simply outplayed - lost their starting jobs during the season.

Thus, it's obvious that a returning starter at the position helps, and six of the 11 conference champs this season will have returning starters next season.

Of the 25 teams in the early, early Rivals.com preseason top 25, 19 will have returning starters; those that don't are Texas, Florida, Pittsburgh, Oregon State, Penn State and Cincinnati.

Still, before you become giddy at the thought of how good your team will be with its returning quarterback, remember this: The one team in the BCS that did not have a returning starter was Alabama - and the Tide won it all. So while a returning quarterback is important, it's not the be-all, end-all. As for the quarterback on the preseason All-America team, I would wager that Boise State's Kellen Moore, Houston's Case Keenum, Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor, Oregon's Jeremiah Masoli, Miami's Jacory Harris and Arkansas' Ryan Mallett will be the guys who will get the most preseason accolades.

Grid bits
If you're under the age of 35, it's probably hard for you to imagine how college football was covered before ESPN. Trust me: It's better now. I bring this up because too many current fans never knew about Dave Diles, who died earlier this month at the age of 78. To those of us of a certain age, Diles was the guy we eagerly awaited to hear each Saturday in the early and mid-1970s. Diles was host of the "Prudential College Football Scoreboard Show," which came on after the game of the week (yes, singular "game") on ABC. In those days, there were not frequent trips to the studio for in-game updates. Instead, you had to wait until Diles and the scoreboard show came on to get a rundown of all the finals and some details about the games.

Brian Johnson, whose Utah career ended in 2008, was named the Utes' quarterback coach last week. That means some of his former teammates now will be calling Johnson "Coach" next fall. Johnson was recruited to Utah by Urban Meyer and led the Utes to a perfect season as a quarterback in '08.

It was a good week for the Groh family. Al, the former coach at Virginia, was named defensive coordinator at Georgia Tech (gee, those future Tech-UVa games just became a lot more interesting). Al's son Mike, who used to work for Al, was named quarterback coach at Louisville. Mike was a grad assistant at Alabama this season.

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be heard on Rivals Radio every Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. ET and can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.

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