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Three-Point Stance: Mario Cristobal, Pressure Index, key SEC players

Rivals National Columnist Mike Farrell is here with a look at the excitement surrounding the Miami Hurricanes, a pressure check for each new Power Five coach and a list of offensive players who need to step up in the SEC.


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1. DID MIAMI FINALLY GET IT RIGHT?

Mario Cristobal
Mario Cristobal (USA Today Sports Images)

There is excitement surrounding the Miami Hurricanes football program — a lot of it. Of course, there’s been excitement before and there is always some level of hope surrounding new coaches. But this feeling around Mario Cristobal seems different.

When I started doing this job back in the late 1990s the ‘Canes were the gold standard in college football from on-field play to NFL development and recruiting. A Miami offer was a big deal, an official visit was epic and national titles were expected.

That all changed when Butch Davis left for the Cleveland Browns in 2001. Davis stepped away in February which led to very few great options for the Hurricanes, especially after Barry Alvarez and Dave Wannstedt turned down the job. Larry Coker, then the offensive coordinator, was a players coach and the players lobbied for his hire. Those efforts succeeded, and he ended up winning a national title in 2001 with an absolutely loaded team. The Hurricanes were a controversial pass interference call away from repeating as champs in 2002 and went 11-2 the following season with a top-five finish. But the aura of Miami began to die the day Davis left late and they were stuck with Coker.

In his final three seasons at Miami - incidentally the program's first three as members of the ACC - Coker went 25-12. He was fired and ex-Cane Randy Shannon took over and was supposed to re-focus Miami on South Florida after Coker took a national approach to recruiting.

It didn't matter. Shannon went 28-22 and was replaced by Al Golden, who was a fish-out-of-water as a New Jersey guy trying to restore Miami to its old glory. Golden didn't cut it, nor did Mark Richt or Manny Diaz.

Back in 2015, before Richt was hired I publicly called for Miami to hire Mario Cristobal who was then the offensive line coach at Alabama and was recruiting lights out in Florida for the Crimson Tide. Some laughed, others worried he didn’t have what it takes and of course Miami went on Richt instead. Now, seven years later, Cristobal is finally where he belongs with a passion for Miami football unlike anything we have seen since the successful Davis days.

Some of Cristobal's hires — coaches like Josh Gattis from Michigan, long-time defensive coordinator Kevin Steele and most recently former Louisville and Texas head coach Charlie Strong — have the ‘Canes the talk of the ACC. So how is this any different than the optimism that surrounded Diaz, Richt, Golden, Shannon and Coker you might ask? I’ve talked to a few college coaches here and there and they’ve said (sometimes reluctantly) that this is the hire needed for Miami and has been for awhile.

In fact, there is a bit of a concern among competing programs at how well Cristobal will be able to recruit with The U on his shirt. I agree with this sentiment as I feel that recruiting will be taken to a level not seen since Davis was in charge and that amount of talent can potentially overwhelm the ACC. Yes, I said overwhelm. Clemson is the only juggernaut in the conference and it’s much easier to build a consistent winner in South Florida.

It would be great for college football for Miami to have some of that old swagger back and I think they found the right guy for the job.

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2. PRESSURE INDEX FOR FIRST-YEAR COACHES

Lincoln Riley
Lincoln Riley (USA Today Sports Images)

I just laid a ton of pressure on Mario Cristobal, huh? Last week, I went through coaches on the Hot Seat and then reviewed others with the best job security in the sport. But what about first-year coaches? Here’s the Pressure Index for each new Power Five hire.

1. Brian Kelly, LSU

Pressure Level: Very High

Between dancing with recruits and putting on a fake southern accent, Brian Kelly is off to a, shall we say, interesting start in Baton Rouge. LSU was happy to fire Ed Orgeron less than two years after winning a national title, so you know the heat is on from Day 1 for the former Notre Dame head coach to win it all and soon.

2. Lincoln Riley, USC

Pressure Level: Very High

Anyone coaching at USC is going to be under a ton of pressure, not only because of the program's history but also because of a fanbase that demands excellence. But Lincoln Riley ratcheted it up when he raided the Oklahoma roster for some of its top talent. All eyes are going to be on the Trojans, and expectations are through the roof.

3. Billy Napier, Florida

Pressure Level: High

Dan Mullen was up and down in his four seasons for the Gators, so Napier comes in with the expectation that he will steady the ship and bring his creative offense to Gainesville. He'll need to maximize Anthony Richardson's ability on the ground if they're going to compete with Georgia in the East again but, most importantly, he has to take recruiting up a couple notches after some very average years.

4. Brent Venables, Oklahoma

Pressure Level: High

Oklahoma is one of the most storied programs in college football history so it's no surprise that whoever is coaching the program is going to have a lot of pressure on him. Venables has his work cut out for him after the Sooners lost their top two quarterbacks from last year's roster and as a defensive coach it will be a different feel for fans and that might not go well if the defense isn’t markedly better.

5. Marcus Freeman, Notre Dame

Pressure Level: High

It's Notre Dame. Expectations for the Golden Domers are always going to be very high, but Marcus Freeman already has a ton of goodwill among both the players and fans. However he is following a coach who led them to the title game as well as the playoff.

6. Mario Cristobal, Miami

Pressure Level: High

The prodigal son returns to Coral Gables, and those around the program are already screaming that the U is back. A notorious recruiter, his first goal is to keep the top talent in Dade and Broward counties home and build the program back to the levels it was in the 80s and 90s. He’s lower than some others however because he’ll get a lot of time to get it right.

7. Dan Lanning, Oregon

Pressure Level: Medium

Lanning is coming off of a season where he led one of the best defenses we've ever seen at Georgia, and he's replacing Mario Cristobal who won two conference titles and a Rose Bowl in four years in Eugene. There's talent there on the defensive side to be a very strong unit, but he's going to need to get Bo Nix up to speed quickly if their offense is going to be up to snuff.

8. Brent Prye, Virginia Tech

Pressure Level: Medium

Hokies fans want the Frank Beamer days back and Prye has ties to that old regime so hope is in the air. But the days of Virginia Tech competing for national titles could be gone and with that expectations nationally are lower.

9. Sonny Dykes, TCU

Pressure Level: Medium

It's always tough to follow a legend, even if that legend started to wane a bit in his last few years. Dykes was a bit of a curious hire after he struggled at times at SMU, but his offensive acumen is excellent but the shoes left by Gary Patterson are large.

10. Kalen DeBoer, Washington

Pressure Level: Medium

DeBoer was one of the more sought-after coaches on the west coast after he led Fresno State's offense to new heights in the past couple of seasons. And after the failed Jimmy Lake experiment, fans are itching to get back to the top of the Pac 12 North.

11. Joey McGuire, Texas Tech

Pressure Level: Low

McGuire is one of the most respected coaches in the state of Texas, especially among high school coaches, which should help quickly boost recruiting. It's been a minute since the Red Raiders were true contenders in the Big 12, but all signs point to the administration really being behind him. The Red Raiders a sleeper to become a contender within the next couple of years but still under the national radar.

12. Tony Elliott, Virginia

Pressure Level: Low

UVA does not have the same history and pedigree that its in-state rival Virginia Tech does, so the former Clemson offensive coordinator will have a chance to build up the program without a ton of scrutiny in his first couple of seasons. He's got an outstanding quarterback in Brennan Armstrong already on the roster, so don't be surprised if they ascend sooner rather than later.

13. Jake Dickert, Washington State

Pressure Level: Low

After the absolute dumpster fire that was the Nick Rolovich era, Dickert stepped up mid-season and nearly brought the Cougars to the Pac-12 title game. He's a steadying presence who was already an up-and-coming defensive coordinator, so there's already some expectations that he'll have Washington State back in contention sooner rather than later. But let’s be real — it’s still Washington State.

14. Mike Elko, Duke

Pressure Level: Low

Let's face it, Duke is about as low-pressure an environment as you're going to find in the Power Five, so expect Elko to have a long leash. It's a massive rebuild and expectations are very low, so he can slowly build the program as he sees fit.

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3. KEY OFFENSIVE PLAYERS IN THE SEC FOR 2022

Kendall Milton
Kendall Milton (USA Today Sports Images)

I continue my ranking of the key offensive players to take the next step for each Power Five conference program with the SEC today. Oh, and to make it more difficult I’m not including quarterbacks or first-year transfers.

Alabama: WR Agiye Hall — Everyone knows the Tide need some players to step up at wide receiver and Hall has the best chance to be a pure No. 1 from those on the roster.

Arkansas: WR Warren Thompson — No transfers means in this cycle so Thompson is eligible and he needs to step up to help replace the attention Treylon Burks attracted.

Auburn: WR Shedrick Jackson — The Tigers lost so much at wide receiver it’s silly. Jackson needs to take things to a new level or even two to help this offense.

Florida: OL Josh Braun — He was moved around a bit last year and was up and down in a run-heavy offense. Now he needs to show consistency as a run and pass blocker.

Georgia: RB Kendall Milton — UGA replaces Zamir White and James Cook so the former five-star gets his chance to show off those high school talents.

Kentucky: OL Kenneth Horsey — The offensive line is a concern and Horsey needs to step in and make sure there isn’t a huge drop off from Darian Kinnard.

LSU: RB John Emery — Will Emery be back? Noah Cain comes in but the Tigers really need Emery to get back on the field and show the potential we saw years ago.

Mississippi State: WR Lideatrick Griffin — Others have more production but no one else is as exciting and the fans want to see this guy touch the ball more.

Missouri: RB Elijah Young — There are many transfers as well as an elite freshman coming in but on the roster Young has the best chance to help replace Tyler Badie.

Ole Miss: WR Dannis Jackson — Lots of production is gone at wide receiver but Jackson has a chance to be the next great one for Ole Miss.

South Carolina: WR Dakereon Joyner — He’s the heart and soul of the team in many ways but he now has to become a reliable target for Spencer Rattler.

Tennessee: WR Jalin Hyatt — No receiver on the Vols' roster has more upside than Hyatt. He has the potential to be great in Josh Heupel’s offense.

Texas A&M: TE Baylor Cupp Jalen Wydermyer is gone and Cupp has a chance to stay healthy and show how much upside he has. He’s going to be key to the offense.

Vanderbilt: WR Will Sheppard — The Commodores need so many players to step up but arguably none more than Sheppard with the losses at wide receiver.