Early grades for 8 big-name college football coaches with new teams
Christian Petersen / Getty Images Sport / Getty

With two games in the books for the majority of teams, here are our grades for eight marquee head coaches' performances so far with their new teams:

Herm Edwards, Arizona State (2-0)

Edwards' Sun Devils are rolling early in his tenure. Some people (this writer included) scoffed at Arizona State's reimagining of college football’s management structure. The concept was wise, but Edwards didn't seem like the right guy to piece it together.

Apparently, he is. Edwards has his team playing physical and hard - the football gospel he has so often preached. The team is 2-0, with a mighty impressive upset victory over Michigan State in Week 2.

Arizona State's talent has often been overlooked in the discussion surrounding its new coach. Renell Wren is one of the most physically gifted interior defensive linemen in the country, and QB Manny Wilkins, now a fifth-year senior, is making smarter decisions.

ASU is playing a tough, north-south brand of football. That was expected. They proved against the Spartans that they have the horses to compete along the line of scrimmage with an upper-echelon Big 10 side.

They head to San Diego State next week. Christian Chapman, the Aztecs' starting quarterback since 2015, will miss the game with a sprained MCL. A 3-0 record is in sight for Edwards and Co.

The Aztecs gave Stanford fits in Week 1. Chapman or not, SDSU is no walkover. Grab a third win, though, and Edwards will be staring down the barrel of a bowl year. Hands up if you predicted that before the season. No one? That's what I thought.

Grade: B+

Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M (1-1)

Jimbo almost got his Aggies tenure off to the most rollicking start possible Saturday, pushing Clemson to its limit at Kyle Field.

Fisher has made the most out of a young team. As you'd expect, the Aggies have star athletes all over the field. Forming them into a cohesive unit is the coach's greatest task.

Fortunately, he's found his quarterback. A&M has spent years trying to replace Johnny Manziel. Five-star recruit after five-star recruit arrived on campus and abruptly left.

Kellen Mond showed his bona fides on Saturday. Known as a great athlete, Mond's development into a more nuanced passer opens up a world of options for Fisher and his staff. He can use his legs to create explosive plays, but he's also shown a penchant for moving to throw, breaking the pocket and keeping his eyes downfield.

Aggies fans were treated to an early sign of the differences between Kevin Sumlin and Fisher against Clemson. Fisher opened up running his traditional game plan: a lot of gap-scheme and angled run concepts. Those involve a lot of moving parts.

Clemson's dominant front obliterated Jimbo's fancy designs. The Tigers' slew of down linemen were too agile and too strong. They spent the early goings living in the backfield.

The coach adjusted. (Yes, they do that sometimes, Aggie fans.) He ran more basic concepts and relied on his quarterback to create shot plays.

Fisher arrived at College Station with two goals: build a championship contender and knock off Alabama. It was never going to be easy, no matter the resources at hand. So far, he hasn't put a foot wrong. This young squad has a chance to capture a big scalp this season and build toward contention in 2019.

Grade: B+

Dan Mullen, Florida (1-1)

Mullen's rebuild at Florida was always going to be tougher than the popular narrative. Fix the quarterback, people said, and all of the Gators' problems will be solved.

They clearly weren't paying attention. Aside from its defensive backfield - built atop future Pro Bowl talent - Florida was a mess. Its offensive line was bad and small. Its defensive line was OK and small. And the linebacking corps was terrible and small - this time by design.

Mullen and defensive coordinator Todd Grantham haven't had enough time to clear up everything the defense struggled with under Jim McElwain. The gap discipline, size, and finer points of the defensive scheme still elude the team.

Losing to Kentucky was a major blow. The Wildcats ended their 31-year win streak thanks to all of the defensive difficulties listed above. The repercussions will be felt in recruiting, where Mullen isn't off to the hottest start.

The rebuild will take time, and there are signs on offense that Florida is trending in the right direction. Like many programs, the offense is a quarterback away. Feleipe Franks isn't the long-term guy. The defensive issues are more pervasive. It'll take a culture shift to fix them. It's unlikely we'll see another elite Gator defense until Mullen has had a full recruiting cycle.

Mullen's biggest task is shifting the feel around the program. He had done an excellent job up until last Saturday's stinker in Gainesville. The coaching staff will now be looking for that launchpad game where they can beat a big boy and show they're headed in the right direction.

Grade: B

Joe Moorhead, Mississippi State (2-0)

Moorhead didn't garner as much national acclaim as other candidates during last year's coaching cycle, but he may have been the best overall hire when you factor in the degree of difficulty for each school.

He's an offensive wizard, finding creative ways to displace defenders in the box and attack weaknesses. He's also one of the top play-calling sequencers in the nation, setting up a design early that has a "payoff" play later.

With Nick Fitzgerald at the helm, Mississippi State's offense will be one of the best in the SEC. Fitzgerald looked rusty in his first start of the year against K-State on Saturday, but the Bulldogs ground out the win with some solid drives and excellent defense.

Dan Mullen left Moorhead with a cupboard full of talent. The Bulldogs have one of the best defensive fronts in the nation. Jeffery Simmons and Montez Sweat are future top-15 NFL draft picks along the defensive line. Leo Lewis and Willie Gay are ballers, buzzing around at the second level and cleaning up anything the defensive line doesn't demolish in an instant.

MSU is 2-0 with Louisiana-Lafayette, Kentucky, and Florida on the horizon. They get the Gators at home. Going 6-0 isn't just a possibility, it's the expectation.

Grade: A

Chad Morris, Arkansas (1-1)

Chad Morris' Arkansas revolution was expected to take some time. The Razorbacks blew the doors off an FCS opponent in Week 1 before falling to Colorado State in a one-score game last week.

Morris will get this thing right. I'd argue he runs the most creative, off-the-wall, wrinkliest offense in the country. He fashions its design week to week, giving every opponent a new look - sometimes things they've never seen before.

He's unafraid to install a brand-new package if he thinks it can take advantage of an opponent's weakness. Getting comfortable with the pace of his offense and the level of communication will take time for his players. It'll also take new players.

Arkansas has talent, no doubt, and Morris is one of the rare coaches who genuinely offers a team a schematic advantage.

The next four games (vs. North Texas, at Auburn, vs. Texas A&M, vs. Alabama) will be tough, and a 1-3 outcome is on the cards. That would drop the Razorbacks to 2-4 on the season. Some losses could look ugly, too.

Don't panic, though. Six of Arkansas' last seven games are winnable. Morris just has to get his guys through the tricky patch and keep them engaged. I expect Arkansas to finish the season strong and become a media and fan darling.

Grade: B

Willie Taggart, Florida State (1-1)

It's been a brutal start for Willie Taggart. FSU was blown out on the road by Virginia Tech in Week 1, then Samford - yes, SAMford - gave the Seminoles all they could handle in Week 2.


FSU has back-to-back favorable games coming up at Syracuse and home to Northern Illinois. But does anybody have confidence in this team? I don't.

Jimbo Fisher didn't leave a barren roster. But there's a feeling about the team that's still lingering from the Fisher days. The offensive line is terrible, sinking almost anything the team tries to do on offense. Defensively, though, FSU has lots of potential. Taggart is unlikely to return to his early ball-control ways, but it might help him eke out wins as he establishes his program.

Taggart isn't in any kind of trouble. He's in a similar spot to Mullen. The problem isn't raw talent, it's changing the culture. That takes time. It takes a full recruiting cycle. Don't judge him until he gets at least that.

Grade: C-

Kevin Sumlin, Arizona (0-2)

Sumlin had a bunch of offers before he plumped for the Arizona job. He took a seven-day trip to Europe to contemplate which program best suited his style and where he could win big, and quickly.

A coaching vacancy open due to off-the-field actions, not on-field performance? Check. Talent on both sides of the ball? Check. A young team with room to grow? Check. A star at quarterback? Check. Arizona it is.

Gulp. You think he'd like a do-over?

Arizona hasn't just lost in back-to-back weeks. It has embarrassed itself. The team looked unprepared against BYU. Linebackers were aligning in the wrong spots, and the offensive staff didn't seem to realize it had the most dynamic quarterback in the country in its backfield.

Then Houston blew its doors off in a 45-18 rout. The score doesn't quite do the disparity in quality justice. The Wildcats looked unprepared for the second straight week. I know they're young, but these are fundamental mistakes. It didn't even look like they had the athletes to match Houston in space.

Arizona now faces an uphill battle to be bowl eligible. In the preseason, it was easy to see a path to seven or eight wins. Not now. The Wildcats aren't even the top team in their state.

Grade: D

Chip Kelly, UCLA (0-2)

If you thought Kelly would arrive in Los Angeles and sprinkle magic dust on the Bruins, you were sadly mistaken.

It'll take time to shift the team from Jim Mora's old, cantankerous style to Kelly's pace-and-space system. Being an uptempo program isn't just about going fast on game days, it's a philosophical overhaul that impacts the entire program.

Kelly's start has been a little rough. He lost transfer quarterback Wilton Speight to an injury, and while true freshman quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson has flashed potential, he isn't quite ready for the big time.

The same is true all over the Bruins' roster. There's potential, but not many finished products. Give Kelly time to bring in more springy Angelinos who fit his style.

Remember, also, that he's evolving. He's shown more formational diversity in two weeks - including an increased use of the pistol and rhythm concepts from under center - than he did in his entire Oregon reign.

He'll get this thing turned around. Whether UCLA will ever challenge for the College Football Playoff is an open question. Give him two years, not two weeks.

Grade: B

(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)

Early grades for 8 big-name college football coaches with new teams
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