Commentary

Bear's shadow looms large in Tuscaloosa

From Alabama to Ohio State, Bruce Feldman lists the top 10 toughest places to coach when things are going bad.

Updated: September 10, 2007, 2:53 PM ET
By Bruce Feldman | ESPN The Magazine

Given the awful 0-2 starts for Michigan and Notre Dame, this week's list is the 10 toughest places to coach when things are going bad.

1. Alabama
Nick Saban
AP Photo/Mark HumphreyAlabama fans will be watching Nick Saban very closely.

The specter of the Bear always looms large. The Crimson Tide also have a rabid fan base (93,000 going to a spring game this year shows some of that) and some very tempestuous power brokers. Plus, there is the combustible element of not having a pro team to divert fans, and the Tide have to cope with having another hated powerhouse (Auburn) right across the way relishing the chance to capitalize on their misery.

2. Notre Dame
The most high-profile school in the country. The microscope is the size of a blimp, and because it's Notre Dame, everything gets overstated. The Irish are either touted to be much better than they probably are or they're said to be that much worse, and it all happens in record time because fans and the media can't wait to jump on it either way. On the plus side, the school does have a history of not having a quick hook, although don't try telling that to Ty Willingham.

3. Auburn
It's very much like Alabama, although it doesn't have the Bear Factor. Then again it does have Bobby Lowder, who -- as one colleague pointed out -- might just fire up his plane and go get a coaching replacement before the season is even over.

4. Miami
A fickle fan base that won't sell out even if the Hurricanes are in national title contention is one big issue. The UM coach also has to cope with the shadow of many high-profile former Canes, who are quick to weigh in on any struggles and prod the team that folks aren't playing with enough "swagger" or that they are dishonoring the legacy of the program.

5. Arkansas
Lloyd Carr would've been fired twice if he worked in Fayetteville. He also would've had his cell phone records FOIed by half the fans.

6. Georgia
Jim Donnan took over a program on probation, went 40-19 and was the first football coach in school history to lead Bulldogs teams to four consecutive bowl victories, but despite the wishes of AD Vince Dooley, he was dumped by the school president. A key factor here -- and one that relates well to SEC country in general -- is that two SEC rivals, Tennessee and Florida, won national titles during Donnan's tenure.

7. Michigan
Loads of tradition; a place where no one is used to anything worse than 8-4. Lloyd Carr did something Bo Schembechler never did (win a national title) yet has been on the hot seat in some people's minds for three years. The fan base, more than any other I hear from, is perpetually expecting the program to flop. The Wolverines have LSU type talent and Missouri expectations. It seems as though fans can't wait to gripe about this season's batch of underachievers.

8. Nebraska
The Cornhuskers have a classy fan base, but this is still the program that canned Frank Solich after he went 58-19. The school has been fairly patient with his replacement, Bill Callahan, although that could change as early as this weekend.

9. Florida
Gators fans have been conditioned to expect top-five teams, and the aura of Steve Spurrier is never that far away. The Gators also sit in possibly the most competitive recruiting area in the country with the rest of the SEC, FSU and even Clemson lurking to poach talent.

10. Ohio State
Jim Tressel (and to some extent Carr) has made a lot of people forget just how charged things were in Buckeyeland near the end of the John Cooper era. The old OSU coach proved just how vital it is to beat the archrival Wolverines. In 11 seasons at OSU, he was 111-43-4. The bad news: He was 2-10-1 against Michigan.

Bruce Feldman is a senior writer with ESPN The Magazine. His new book, "Meat Market: Inside the Smash-Mouth World of College Football Recruiting," is on sale now.