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Wednesday, August 29, 2007
Updated: September 26, 7:37 AM ET
I-Formation breaks the huddle on the 2007 season

By Ivan Maisel
ESPN.com

The undefeated

They have been undefeated for their entire careers as head coaches. This week, they're going to screw that up by actually coaching in games.

Rookies on the sideline
Fourteen head coaches will lead Division I-A teams onto the field for the first time this weekend. Coaching's freshman class consists of:

• Robb Akey, Idaho
• David Bailiff, Rice
• Tim Brewster, Minnesota
• Stan Brock, Army
• Troy Calhoun, Air Force
• Neil Callaway, UAB
• Gene Chizik, Iowa State
• Mario Cristobal, Florida International
• Todd Dodge, North Texas
• Derek Dooley, Louisiana Tech
• Jim Harbaugh, Stanford
• Jeff Jagodzinski, Boston College
• Butch Jones, Central Michigan
• Randy Shannon, Miami

The 14 men who are Division I-A head coaches this season for the first time didn't get cushy jobs. Rarely do winning teams hire head coaches. Rarer still are the winning teams that hire head coaches who are new to the job. In the past decade, national powers Nebraska and Miami flouted tradition by hiring rookie head coaches. They have something else in common: They are no longer national powers.

This is what it's like to change coaches. The teams on this list that enjoyed the most success last season -- Boston College and Central Michigan -- now employ Jeff Jagodzinski and Butch Jones, respectively. They replace coaches who won 10 games and couldn't wait to leave.

The new group has won six national championship rings, three of which reside in the jewelry box of Miami's Randy Shannon. The rest will take their victories where they can find them.

Troy Calhoun will transform Air Force's offense into one moving the ball -- yes -- through the air.

Jim Harbaugh, who went to high school across the street from Stanford Stadium, then didn't get the chance to play in it, will get to coach in it (maybe he'll bring some fans into it, too).

As Idaho's third head coach in three seasons, Robb Akey will be cut some slack (and no matter what happens, after this week, Akey will never be as vilified as Idaho Sen. Larry Craig).

At North Texas, high school coaching legend Todd Dodge will try to make Mean Green fans forget his predecessor, Darrell Dickey -- and Gerry Faust.

They have been waiting for this week their entire lives. They might hope it never ends. Until it does, they're still undefeated.

Nagging question: How does a first-time coach feel?

Derek Dooley, the son of Hall of Fame coach Vince Dooley of Georgia, spent three years in law school and two years as a practicing attorney. In every other year of the 39 he has spent on this earth, game week has been a part of his life.

But as the first-year head coach at Louisiana Tech prepares his team to play Central Arkansas on Saturday, Dooley is immersed in the first game week of his life in which he is making all the decisions.

Growing up in Athens, Ga., Dooley remembered, "It was game week in your house. You didn't see your dad until later in the week. He wasn't always in the best of spirits. The paper was building it up. It's just something I've been doing my whole life."

As experienced as he might be with the rhythm of game week, the feelings this week are new. Dooley gave his team this past Friday and Saturday off without a second thought. "But then I opened up the paper and it said, 'Seven days to kickoff,' and I got sick to my stomach," Dooley said.

He has talked to his dad about his first game, Georgia's opener in 1964 against an Alabama team that would go on to win the national championship. The Crimson Tide won, 31-3.

"Dad said, 'I was just young enough and dumb enough to think we were going to beat the hell out of them,'" Dooley said. "I said, 'Tell me how to feel that way because I feel the exact opposite.'"

Dooley takes over a Louisiana Tech team that went 3-10 a year ago. He wonders whether he will continue to break headsets the way he did as an assistant at LSU and with the Miami Dolphins. When his anger gets the best of him, he slams them to the ground.

"Nobody knew who the hell I was on the sidelines at LSU," Dooley said. "I remember reading [Oklahoma coach] Bob Stoops saying that he was sitting there worrying about he acted on the sideline after he became head coach. Finally, he said, 'To hell with that. I got to be who I am.' You can only control yourself so much."

When Dooley broke a headset in practice this month, his equipment manager, Jeffrey Springer, reminded Dooley they had worked together at LSU. Now they don't.

"We got three backup headsets," Springer told him.

Vince Dooley, who retired as the athletic director at Georgia in 2004, will be in Ruston, La., to watch his son's head coaching debut. He will miss the Georgia opener for the first time since 1963. Even if your son has been in game weeks his whole life, it's only his first one as a head coach once.

Nagging question, sort of

As well as Dooley might think he knows his new team, his level of knowledge and his level of comfort with the players will rise exponentially Saturday. That's according to Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly, whose first season opener with the Bearcats is Thursday night against Southeast Missouri State.

Brian Kelly

Jay Gula/WireImage.com

Brian Kelly's tenure at Cincinnati got off to an early start.

There's an asterisk there -- it's not Kelly's first game with Cincinnati. He left Central Michigan in December in time to coach the Bearcats' 27-24 victory over Western Michigan in the International Bowl. That made a big difference for him.

"Anytime you can get in the locker room with the kids before the game and after the game, it's a different kind of bond," Kelly said. "You don't get the same kind of a bond on the practice field."

At the outset, he said, his new players tested him.

"I felt like the substitute baby sitter, where the kids go, 'Hey, we can stay up until 3 in the morning!'" Kelly said. "There was a little bit of that."

Soon after, though, the players figured out that they wanted the same thing that Kelly did -- to win the bowl game. So they got in line behind him.

"You can look them in the eye and they know a little bit more about you, how you're gonna handle yourself on the sideline," Kelly said. "That definitely helps you. … You really get a connection of who your kids are that you can count on, and I think they know they've got strong leadership when they can see you in a gamelike setting. That helps you."

Killer note

As if the USC Trojans don't have enough advantages: When Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning traveled to Los Angeles this summer to appear in a commercial, he carved out time on one afternoon to work out with USC quarterback John David Booty, wide receiver Patrick Turner and others.

Booty might be a redshirt junior in your playbook and a senior on your campus, but the course work he got from Manning was strictly graduate level. Booty learned the difference between going out to throw and going out to work. The former, Booty said, is "really just wasting your time." For example:

John David Booty

Harry How/Getty Images

John David Booty picked up some pointers from Super Bowl MVP Peyton Manning this summer.

"We're throwing against air," Booty said. "He would think about throwing the ball against a certain coverage. … Throw the same route but throw it a little different against certain coverages or a different linebacker in a zone coverage. So many little things."

The lesson Booty learned is to make every practice look like a game in your head, even when it's a midweek afternoon in June and there are no defenders at all.

Turner compared the workout to a birthday present. Manning, he said, threw an "easy ball to catch. He put in on you every time. In stride. With his deep balls, coming out of your post routes, he put it right there as soon as you turn around."

Manning did that for Turner, but not before tweaking the Nashville native for spurning Manning's alma mater, Tennessee, to go west. Turner, in turn, informed his quarterback that the standards for passes are changing.

"I can tease Booty: 'Don't throw me no crap,'" Turner said.

The workout also taught the players about commitment, which might be the lesson Trojans coach Pete Carroll appreciates the most.

"From the first play to the last play," Booty said of Manning, "there was no letdown or anything about how hard he was working. On rollouts and everything, you'd think a guy like that might take it easy because he is the best in the world. That shows you why he is, because of the way he works."

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Ivan at ivan.maisel@espn3.com.


WEEK: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11

3-point stance

Justin Forsett Forsett

1. In the past two seasons, Cal tailback Justin Forsett rushed for 1,625 yards while sharing time with Marshawn Lynch. Now that Lynch is a first-round pick of Buffalo, Forsett "will get most of the work," Bears coach Jeff Tedford said Friday. But keep an eye on 5-10, 185-pound freshman tailback Jahvid Best, whom Forsett said he already has nicknamed "The Jet."

Chase Daniel Daniel

2. In Friday's Big 12 predictions, I raved about Nebraska's Sam Keller and didn't say a word about Chase Daniel of Missouri. Keller still might become the best quarterback in the league, but he'll have to play awfully well to overcome Daniel. In other words, my mouth once again outkicked its coverage.

3. Three true freshmen at Washington -- corner Vonzell McDowell (first team), free safety Nate Williams (second team) and inside linebacker Mason Foster (third team) -- made the defensive depth chart. But the new talent will be judged by the performance of 6-foot-3, 228-pound redshirt freshman quarterback Jake Locker. The guy trying to stop him in practice, defensive coordinator Kent Baer, is sold. "He really makes us better," Baer said. "If he's not the fastest guy on the team, he's in the top three."

Podcast: Beano and Ivan

Ready for the season to kickoff? Beano Cook and Ivan are. Listen in as our college football experts take an early look at the season. Listen

Forget the Heisman. Who's the MVP?

Mike Hart Hart

Michigan tailback Mike Hart has been healthy in two seasons, and the Wolverines finished both in the Rose Bowl. In 2005, when a hamstring injury limited Hart for most of the season, Michigan labored to reach the Alamo Bowl. In front of Hart are left tackle Jake Long and quarterback Chad Henne, fellow seniors and fellow three-year starters. But it's Hart who makes Michigan go.

What opener will reveal the most?

Colorado opens against cross-state rival Colorado State on Saturday. A year ago, the Buffaloes played better than their 2-10 record. They dominated Georgia on the road for 51 minutes; they played Oklahoma tough into the fourth quarter; and they routed Texas Tech, an eight-win team, 30-6. If the Buffs beat the Rams, they will get a boost of confidence before playing a September schedule that includes Arizona State (at Tempe), Florida State and Oklahoma.

What did Phil Fulmer learn from JoePa?

The big donors always weigh in when it comes time to decide whether a coach stays or goes. When Penn State president Graham Spanier broached the subject with one the Nittany Lions' big donors a few years ago, the donor -- Joe Paterno -- decided the coach should stay.

On Tuesday, Phil and Vicky Fulmer announced a $1 million donation to Tennessee.

The Volunteers rebounded from a 5-6 season in 2005 to go 9-4 last season. But the Vols also haven't won the Southeastern Conference since their national championship season of 1998. If the Vols lose traction and the big donors gather to consider Fulmer's fate, Fulmer just bought a seat at the table.

Behind the numbers

Here's what we know about Arkansas junior Darren McFadden: He finished second in the Heisman Trophy race last season, rushed for 1,647 yards, has one of best fullbacks in the nation in front of him in Peyton Hillis and has Felix Jones to spell him when he needs a breather.

But before anyone buys McFadden a nonrefundable ticket to New York for the Dec. 8 Heisman ceremony, it's worth pointing out that the Razorbacks have only two returning starters on the offensive line.

Granted, center Jonathan Luigs made the All-SEC team last season. But Luigs can't play center and the left side. Left tackle Tony Ugoh played well enough that Indianapolis picked him in the second round and has entrusted him with protecting quarterback Peyton Manning's blind side. The departed left guard, Stephen Parker, is a free agent who made it through the first cut of the Miami Dolphins' camp.

As well as that left side of the line performed last season, Arkansas coach Houston Nutt believes his running game remained balanced. (Oddly enough, Florida prepared for Arkansas to run more to the right side last season. The Razorbacks rushed for 132 yards against the Gators, but lost the SEC Championship Game, 38-28.) This season, that might not be as easy to do.

"When Shawn Andrews and Mark Bokermann were here [2003], we were really right-handed," Nutt said, before switching his focus back to last season. "… It is a concern. The right side is more experienced. If we had to, we will lean that way."

Nutt said his running game usually uses a power play on one side of the line and a counter on the other, both in search of balance and to keep it simple enough in limited practice time that the offense gets enough repetitions of both plays. Zone-blocking rushes, he added, keep the defense honest.

Ugoh and Parker will be replaced by juniors Jose Valdez and Mitch Petrus, respectively. Valdez averaged 11 snaps a game last season and filled in well for Ugoh when Ugoh got hurt in the Capital One Bowl. Petrus is a beefed-up former fullback.

"Valdez has done a good job so far," Nutt said. "He had a good camp. We need to go play somebody and see how we're going to do in front of people."

McFadden, Nutt said, has never been more ready.

"Oh my gosh," Nutt said. "He's in great, great shape. Everybody was wilting during two-a-days. Not him and the skill-position guys. If we can keep him healthy …"

And if the left side of the line develops, McFadden will get to his second consecutive Heisman ceremony.

Gridiron Lit

My colleague Pat Forde gave you three new books about college football. Here are my five favorite old books:

1. "Saturday's America," by Dan Jenkins (Little, Brown, 1970) The book that first explained the national obsession with college football, by the award-winning sportswriter and current historian of the National Football Foundation. Amazon.com had copies available for $15 on Tuesday.

2. "The Anatomy of a Game" by David M. Nelson (University of Delaware Press, 1994) The longtime Delaware coach and secretary of the NCAA Football Rules Committee lays out the evolution of the game through the annual minutes of the aforementioned committee. It's not dry: Nelson, who died in 1991, explained not only the rules but also the personalities and petty battles behind them. It's an indispensable resource. Don't take my word for it: The three copies available on Amazon are going for $120 apiece.

3."Bear: The Hard Life and Good Times of Alabama's Coach Bryant," by Paul Bryant and John Underwood (Little, Brown, 1974) Bryant talked openly of the fear of failure that drove him from a dirt-poor childhood to become the sport's winningest coach. And since it's on paper, you don't have to worry about his famous mumble. A new edition was published this summer at $24.95, but you can find old paperbacks on Amazon for much less.

4. "Bo," by Bo Schembechler and Mitch Albom (Warner Books, 1989) Albom captured Schembechler's voice, minus the gravel. In this book, published the year he retired as the Wolverines' coach, Schembechler began to pull back the curtain to reveal the man his players loved, the man who remained beloved until his death this past November. Grab it on Amazon for pocket change.

5. "You Have to Pay the Price," by Earl "Red" Blaik and Tim Cohane (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1960) The taciturn man who steered Army from its great postwar success through the 1951 cheating scandal -- a scandal that snared his son Bob, the starting quarterback -- and built them up again to a magical 8-0-1 season in 1958 proved, in the hands of Cohane, to be an eloquent storyteller. There's a copy on Amazon for $8.