We are getting into the most interesting stretch of the college football season - both in terms of the hunt for titles and the hunt for coaching salvation. Teams that are struggling are getting ready to make a coaching change. Lower-tier teams with hot coaches, meanwhile, are faced with the reality that they too could be on the verge of a coaching change they wish they didn't have to make. Whatever the situation, these teams can face major distractions down the stretch - and that has the potential to affect their ability to cover spreads. That, in turn, can create opportunities for bettors.
Here's a look at some of the more interesting coaching situations out there right now.
Soon to be out of a job
Jim Mora Jr., UCLA: Mora has done a truly awful job with the Bruins, and this year is going far worse than even the most pessimistic could have expected. If the Bruins keep him around then it's a clear signal that they just don't care about football anymore. The season is already completely lost for the team, though, so his instability is not a significant concern - or at least not a new one. For the Bruins, though, the job has to be to finally hire a good coach - they have got it wrong far too many times in a row now.
Mark Helfrich, Oregon: Chip Kelly handed him a program on a silver platter, and Helfrich has driven it into the ground. He can't recruit quarterbacks, his defense has been a disgrace, and the offense is a shadow of what they were. The money is basically limitless in Eugene, so there is no excuse for this. Helfrich is gone. Like UCLA, though, this season is already lost, so the inevitability of the departure won't add to what is already a really bad situation.
Jim Grobe, Baylor: Grobe faced an impossible task taking over from Art Briles on an interim basis on short notice and inheriting the Briles coaching staff. For a while he looked like a miracle worker. The loss two weeks back was rough, though, and last week at home against TCU was as disgusting a non-effort as you can see from a team. Everything is broken with this team and the staff right now, and Grobe is powerless to change that. He wasn't getting the job anyway, but now a change has to be dramatic, and attracting someone will be tough. Grobe's inevitable departure is just one of many reasons to really doubt this team down the stretch.
Brian Kelly, Notre Dame: The Irish have been a truly massive disappointment this year, and it could be the end of the line for Kelly. I'd fire him if I were in charge, but I'm not sure a significant improvement could be lured there - it's a job with a lot of baggage. Kelly's instability won't help things, but this team is a total mess despite that.
Charlie Strong, Texas: Strong is scrambling hard to save his job, and the last couple of weeks have been promising. It remains to be seen if he has done enough, though, or if the guys in charge will risk losing Tom Herman. My gut tells me Strong is gone - even this pretty good stretch isn't anywhere close to where Texas wants and needs to be, and the path forward isn't clear under Strong. The team has been dealing with this uncertainty all year, though, so little will change barring a decisive development one way or the other.
Clay Helton, USC: Helton could have saved his job with this five-game winning streak, but there is still plenty of time for him to crash back to earth. His hire was a lousy idea at the time, and new AD Lynn Swann didn't hire him. He has a hefty contract that could lead to him getting another year, but if Swann feels like he could lure a big name he would be tempted. The ceiling for Helton is not very high. If the Trojans were to get humiliated by Washington this week then speculation could mount and could really affect the team. If they upset the Huskies, though, then he's not going anywhere.
Butch Jones, Tennessee: Things started with massive promise this year, but the wheels have fallen off. They lost three conference games in a row, and turmoil followed. Star running back Jalen Hurd quit the team. Other players expressed their discontent. Jones yelled at fans. Things are ugly, and it may be time for a change. His job status will be a distraction, but it is far from the only one the team has right now. Their remaining schedule is very soft, so if they lose again he'll be in a rough spot.
Ed Orgeron, LSU: Orgeron took over the interim job when Les Miles was fired. He wants the full-time gig, and a lot of people seem to want that, too. The offense is just ugly, though, and that could be a problem for Orgeron. LSU is a prime enough job that they can attract big names - like perhaps Jimbo Fisher. If it becomes clear that Orgeron isn't returning then this could be an issue for the team the rest of the way.
Tom Herman, Houston: Herman has been the big prize since before the season started, and the Big 12 decision not to expand makes it likely he will take the best job he can get. The team has already had some disappointments, and the looming loss of Herman sure isn't going to help.
P.J. Fleck, Western Michigan: Fleck is doing spectacular work at Western Michigan, and an unbeaten season is his to lose. I don't expect him to lose it. He is a spectacular young coach, and second to Herman he is a prize. I don't expect that to have an effect on his team this season, though - they are dialed in and focused, and no one in their right mind would expect to keep a guy as good as Fleck around a program like this for too long.
Bryan Harsin, Boise State: Chris Petersen has proven how potent a Boise State coach can be in a new job. Harsin is doing very good things in Idaho and could do more on a bigger stage. He's not a first choice anywhere at this point, so the distractions shouldn't be significant.
Jimbo Fisher, Florida State: Fisher is in the midst of a very disappointing season. He won't get fired by any means, but he could be tempted by the opportunity to prove himself on the bigger stage of the SEC. LSU would be a certain temptation - a mutual one if the job comes open - and maybe Tennessee could be as well. The Seminoles could struggle down the stretch, but that has to do with more things than Fisher's potential job flirtations.
Chip Kelly, San Francisco 49ers: Kelly has already been forced to let it be known that he isn't returning to college. That is an obvious indication that he is tempted to return to college. And so he should be. The NFL wasn't a fit for him in Philadelphia, and San Francisco is proving to be a disaster. He could return home to Oregon or takeover at USC, UCLA, Notre Dame or pretty much wherever else he wants. The Niners aren't going to cover a lot of spreads anyway, but if this story gains momentum it's going to make it even harder for him to gain any momentum.
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