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2011 College Football Coaching Carousel: Neuheisel, Riley, Richt and More

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Surprisingly, we've managed to make it to another installment of the Countdown without adding a new name to the list of the departed. 

In fact, most of the coaches on our list have improved their position since last time around, or at the very least not done much to hurt themselves any more than they already were.  With a few key exceptions. 

One of those coaches we're welcoming back after prematurely issuing him a clean bill of health in our last edition.  And another has joined Houston Nutt among the ranks of... 

THE WALKING DEAD

RICK NEUHEISEL
2011 Record: 3-4
Next 2 Weeks: vs. California, vs. Arizona State
Neuheisel was successfully treading water for most of this season, but after that fiasco against Arizona, he's toast. Generally speaking, it's not good practice to lose to a team that's so bad they've already sacked their own coach. But it's especially poor form to get blown out by 36 points by said pitiful team. Take all that, and throw in an institution-embarrassing on-field fracas for good measure, and I'm honestly surprised he's going to be on the sideline for the Bruins this Saturday. Technically speaking, UCLA still has a legitimate shot at 6 wins (with games against Cal, Utah, and Colorado remaining), but last Thursday night in Tucson was his Rubicon. There's no coming back.
Chances for Survival: 10% (down from 30%)

HOUSTON NUTT
2011 Record: 2-5
Next 2 Weeks: @ Auburn, @ Kentucky
Two weeks ago, I said that there was nothing Nutt could do against Alabama and Arkansas that would get him fired before we reconvened the Countdown, and that has proven to be true. In fact, he actually managed to generate a tiny morsel of optimism for the rest of the season by putting a scare into the Razorbacks this past Saturday. Some Ole Miss fans might even be daring to believe they can beat Auburn this week. But whether the Rebels end their school record 10-game SEC losing streak this weekend or not, it doesn't matter. Nutt is done for, and it will be the outcome of the Battle of the Worst in Kentucky next week that determines if he gets to finish out the season before the Ole Miss administration finally puts him down.
Chances for Survival: 5% (no change)

CAROUSEL RECALL  

RON ZOOK
2011 Record: 6-2
Next 2 Weeks: @ Penn State, Bye
See, I just knew I was going to regret letting at least one of those 3 guys off the hook last time. And I am not at all surprised it was Zook. I think I even knew it when I was writing the column. Consider this little nugget from last time: "I'm sure they'll stink again next year once the pressure lets up a bit, because that is The Zook Way." I guess he couldn't wait till 2012. The guy is addicted to the hot seat. Losing to a down Ohio State team was a disappointment, but not a terrible offense. Everyone knew that winning streak had to end some time. But getting jumped by a bad Purdue team? That will change the vibe on campus in a hurry. Next up for Zook is a trip to Penn State. And while the Nittany Lions never make it look easy, they've found a way to beat everyone they've played except some team from Alabama. A loss there would send the Illini reeling into the bye week with tough games against Michigan and Wisconsin on the docket, potentially making their regular season finale at Minnesota a desperate struggle to avoid finishing 6-6. At this point, I still think Zook will be back next year, but no one has ever increased their job security by putting themselves in a position where their season boils down to a showdown with the mighty Golden Gophers. I guess I'm back on Zook watch.
Chances for Survival: 80% (down from 100%) 

MYSTERY IN CORVALLIS 

MIKE RILEY
2011 Record: 2-5
Next 2 Weeks: @ Utah, vs. Stanford
Last time on the Countdown, I said this regarding Oregon State's 3 remaining games in October: "...Riley can't afford to do worse than 2-1 in those games, and he REALLY can't afford to drop that game to Washington State in 2 weeks." The Beavers are thus far 1-1, and the win did indeed come against Washington State. This weekend's game at Utah will swing the rest of their season. Win, and a 6-6 record is still a possibility (though unlikely with 2 of the 4 remaining games against Stanford and Oregon). Lose, and the Beavers are almost guaranteed to finish worse than last year's 5-7 record. But despite the dire forecast, I have still yet to hear anyone loudly banging the drum for Riley's job. He's in serious trouble on the field, but I wonder if anyone in the administration building cares enough to do anything about it.
Chances for Survival: 60% (down from 70%) 

DARE TO BELIEVE 

MIKE SHERMAN
2011 Record: 5-2
Next 2 Weeks: vs. Missouri, @ Oklahoma
For the first time this season, we actually have good news for Sherman. Things could've gotten stormy for him if he had dropped that game to Baylor at home, but his Aggies emphatically slammed the door on them in the second half and rode that momentum to a solid win over a plucky Iowa State team. Suddenly, there's been this polar shift in sentiment among Aggie fans from a month ago when the mood was (understandably) of the gloom-and-doom variety. And with big games left against the surely due for a fall Kansas State and suddenly vulnerable Oklahoma, their Big 12 championship aspirations seem to be back on the table (even though they'll need help from Oklahoma State). Expectations are BACK in College Station. We'll see how Sherman handles them the second time around.
Chances for Survival: 70% (up from 60%)

MARK RICHT
2011 Record: 5-2
Next 2 Weeks: vs. Florida ("neutral"), vs. New Mexico State
Same song, new verse. Richt's Bulldogs have continued to do exactly what they need to do to save his job, winning 5 in a row since that 0-2 start. But it all comes down to this weekend against Florida. If he can prove that he has his program ahead of the Gators on the field, he'll be back next year. With a win here, he'd probably even survive a calamitous November with an upset against Auburn and/or a loss to Georgia Tech. But if he loses to a Florida team that's struggling just to keep it's head above water, that looks about as vulnerable as any UF team has been in years (or can be expected to be going forward)...well, he's likely finished, no matter what happens in November.
Chances for Survival: 70% (up from 60%)

DANNY HOPE
2011 Record: 4-3
Next 2 Weeks: @ Michigan, @ Wisconsin
Up until last week, Hope had charted a course similar to Rick Neuheisel: he mostly won the games he was expected to win and lost the games he was expected to lose. But whereas UCLA finally went into meltdown last week, Hope's Boilermakers had a breakthrough against Illinois. They still have a tough road to travel, especially these next two weeks, but positive momentum is on their side for the first time this season, and they've put themselves in good position to make the first bowl of Hope's tenure.
Chances for Survival: 50% (up from 40%) 

SITTING TIGHT 

GREG SCHIANO
2011 Record: 5-2
Next 2 Weeks: vs. West Virginia, vs. South Florida
The good news for Schiano is that his Scarlet Knights are still very much in the mix for the Big East championship and are in outstanding position to blow past 6 wins and return to a bowl game after a year on the outside looking in. The bad news is Rutgers finally started showing the chinks in their armor the past two weeks, having to come from behind and block a late FG to beat the worst Navy team in years and then putting forth a very Kentucky-like effort in a loss to horrible Louisville. It would take an epic collapse to get Schiano ousted at this point, but I wouldn't rule it out just yet.
Chances for Survival: 80% (up from 75%)

TOM O'BRIEN
2011 Record: 4-3
Next 2 Weeks: @ Florida State, vs. North Carolina
Not much new to report here. It would have helped O'Brien more to come off NC State's bye week and make an impressive statement against Virginia, but it was nonetheless a very solid win on the road against a team that had knocked off ranked Georgia Tech the week before. The 6-win threshold remains attainable for the Wolfpack with games against Boston College and Maryland still to be played, and it would be extremely helpful to O'Brien's cause if they could steal a victory from puzzling Florida State this weekend. But pay attention to that North Carolina game next week. NC State has never lost to the Tar Heels under O'Brien's watch. This would be a bad time to start. A loss there would be another key sign of regression that could weigh heavily against him at the end of the year.
Chances for Survival: 60% (up from 55%)

JOKER PHILLIPS
2011 Record: 3-4
Next 2 Weeks: vs. Mississippi State, vs. Ole Miss
At the very least, Phillips didn't struggle with Jacksonville State (or get upset by JSU, as many were predicting). But now we've reached the point in the season when his fate will be decided. The next 3 weeks, he plays 3 of the other worst teams in the SEC: Mississippi State, Ole Miss, and then on the road at Vanderbilt. If he wins them all, UK is going to a bowl and of course, he's safe. If he wins 2 out of 3, that's still probably good enough to bring him back in 2012, regardless of what happens the rest of the year. Anything less than that, and it starts to get dicey, with his peril growing with each loss.
Chances for Survival: 60% (no change)

FRANK SPAZIANI
2011 Record: 1-6
Next 2 Weeks: @ Maryland, vs. Florida State
Spaziani hasn't really had an opportunity to hurt himself anymore since we last checked in on him. Boston College took a much needed bye two weeks ago and then got smothered in the second half by Virginia Tech in a game that nobody expected them to win. If he has any hope at all, this weekend's trip to Maryland is a must-win. We've known for weeks that the Eagles had no realistic shot at making a bowl, but a loss there would cost them the opportunity to even flirt with the prospect while keeping up the slightest appearance of a competitive football team.
Chances for Survival: 25% (no change)

PAUL WULFF
2011 Record: 3-4
Next 2 Weeks: @ Oregon, @ California
The progress Wulff has made at Washington State has been well documented here already. He's done some good things. But he missed a golden opportunity to make a serious push for bowl eligibility when his team laid an egg against Oregon State last week. And how badly must that 3-point loss to UCLA earlier in the month sting now? I've said from the start that Wulff needed to flirt with a bowl game to keep his job, and he's running out of opportunities. The upcoming road trip to Cal looks to be his next best shot. A loss there is probably the beginning of the end.
Chances for Survival: 25% (no change)

EXPRESS CHECK-IN

TURNER GILL
2011 Record: 2-5
Next 2 Weeks: @ Texas, @ Iowa State
Like I said last time when I added Joker Phillips to the Countdown, I'm generally loathe to include 2nd year coaches because I think it's ridiculous to get rid of a coach after only two years, barring some scandal. I considered Phillips an exception since he was held over from the successful previous regime in hopes of continuing that success and, thus, easier to toss away if he didn't live up to that expectation. This week I've decided to finally include Turner Gill because, well, his Kansas team is exceptionally bad. Not only are they losing at a pace that could put them at double-digit losses, they're losing in spectacular fashion, giving up an FBS-worst 50 points per game. Everyone understood that Mangino left the cupboard bare when he was ousted, and no one really expected Gill to field a consistent winner any time soon. But he has done nothing in his second season to give anyone the slightest bit of hope that this team is ever going to get better under his watch. And considering the weakness of and general apathy toward Jayhawk football is a big reason why Kansas University is being roundly ignored in the midst of these megabucks conference realignment deals, it's not a good time to be a losing coach in Lawrence.
Chances for Survival: 50%

See you back in two weeks...