Big names at big schools face must-win seasons

Building a head of steam in March and April is not exclusive to players at this time of year. In fact, a handful of head coaches are just as eager to put poor finishes behind them and gather up some much-needed momentum for the 2010 season.

Now, that's not to suggest that all are facing do-or-die situations. Steve Spurrier and Tom O'Brien, for instance, would probably need a mild meltdown to be out of work a year from now. However, that doesn't mollify the urgency to exceed last season's uninspired efforts. It all begins in the spring, where the seeds of next year and improved job security are about to be planted.

10. Tom O'Brien, NC State

Although no one banked on an overnight turnaround in Raleigh and few doubt O'Brien can coach, the results just haven't been there for the Pack. Three seasons should be long enough to at least show some progress, yet it remains one of the ACC's least consistent or competitive programs. O'Brien's trademarks in the past were a solid D, a power running game, and a rugged offensive line, all of which have eluded him on this stop of the career path. State has lost seven games in each of the last three seasons and is 9-15 in conference play; the administration did not lure O'Brien away from Boston College for that level of mediocrity.

9. Steve Spurrier, South Carolina

Admit it. When Spurrier was hired at the end of 2004, you figured he'd have won an SEC title by now. How about the East Division? A 10-win season? Instead, over five seasons, the coach has been marginal, going 35-28, slumping below .500 in league games, and never finishing higher than No. 2 in the division. South Carolina is a decent program these days that can be counted on for a perennial second-tier bowl invite, but is that commensurate with the expectations or the salary? There could be an opening in 2010 for South Carolina. Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee are a little less potent, and the Gamecocks have plenty of returning talent. Then again, this is the same school that went AWOL in last month's Bowl with Connecticut, so it can use some momentum in April.

8. Paul Wulff, Washington State

There's bad and then there's the level of futility that Wazzu has reached in Wulff's first two seasons. Easily the worst of the BCS conference programs over that time, it went 3-22 and allowed more than 1,000 points. Out of 120 schools, last year's edition was 119th in scoring offense and 118th in scoring defense, falling further behind in a deep Pac-10. While no one expects the Cougars to compete for a bowl game anytime soon, they've got to start making some strides if Wulff is to get a fourth year. He's employed a lot of young players who must use this spring as an opportunity to grow up real fast.

7. Mike Sherman, Texas A&M

This hire appeared to be a strange fit when it was made a couple of years ago. To most, it still looks that way today. The Aggies have gone 10-15 in Sherman's two seasons, finishing in fifth place in the Big 12 South both years. Plus, the program has slipped further behind Texas, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, and Oklahoma State in the pecking order, and is in danger of being caught by Baylor. He's shaken up his staff of assistants in the offseason, which can only mean one thing -- if the situation doesn't improve in College Station in 2010, he could be the next one out the door. There are enough high-profile returners, such as QB Jerrod Johnson, WR Jeff Fuller, and DE Von Miller, to spike expectations for the upcoming season.

6. Bill Lynch, Indiana

Boy, this story began with so much promise and such a feel-good vibe. That, however, was two years ago, when Lynch led Indiana to a rare bowl game in the aftermath of Terry Hoeppner's passing. Since that point, the Hoosiers have been unable to sustain the momentum, winning just seven games and going 2-14 in Big Ten play. Although absolutely everyone understands how tough it is to win in Bloomington, that alone won't cut Lynch much slack in his fourth season as the head guy. His offense has a lot of promise, but that defense needs a ton of work, which means it's going to be the focal point when the team gets together in the spring.

5. Dennis Erickson, Arizona State

Wow, does this have all the signs of a bait-and-switch or what? Erickson was fantastic in his Sun Devil debut, winning 10 games and finishing near the top 10, but that feels like about eight years ago. Actually, it was only 2007. Over the past two seasons, Arizona State has won just nine of 24 games and slumped toward the bottom of the Pac-10. And it will not be an easy climb back up the ladder, especially if the coach can't locate a few solutions on offense. Erickson has done just fine on the recruiting trail, which is raising even more questions about his ability to turn that talent into a winning product on the field.

4. Ralph Friedgen, Maryland

It's only a matter of time before James Franklin officially takes over as the head coach, but Terrapin fans remain hopeful that Friedgen has one more big year left in him. It's going to take quite a shift in direction for that to happen. Maryland slipped to new depths in 2009 with a 2-10 campaign that landed it in the ACC cellar. It was a shocking contrast from the early part of the decade when the Terps had reeled off three consecutive 10-win seasons and Top 25 finishes. The staff, however, appears to have run out of magic, compiling a 35-38 mark and sinking below .500 in four of the last six years. Far more than trying to preserve a sketchy future, Friedgen is hoping to salvage what's left of his legacy in College Park.

3. Ron Zook, Illinois

Was it really only two years ago that the Illini was playing in the Rose Bowl? Zook peaked with the program in 2007, but was just 4-19 in the two years prior than that and 8-16 since. Plus, he hardly maximized the talent in Gainesville in three seasons, so it's obvious that this is a make-or-break year in Champaign. Hey, no matter what happens in 2010, Zook is not a very good head coach, and like an Ed Orgeron, has more value to a staff as an assistant. Still, if he can somehow catch lightning in a bottle and milk seven or eight wins from an average collection of players, it could be enough to buy him a reprieve for another year.

2. Dan Hawkins, Colorado

It has been four very strange and painful years in Boulder. What appeared to be a real nice marriage of the untapped program and the hotshot young coach has been an unbridled disappointment since day one. A wunderkind at Boise State, Hawkins is still searching for his first winning season with the Buffs, and was rather fortunate to even get a fifth crack at it in 2010. He's a miserable 16-33 at Colorado, trending backwards in each of the last two seasons. Winning is the only thing that's going to pacify a situation that's become predictably testy with the media and alumni over the past few months. Anything short of a seven or eight-win season will make it impossible to bring Hawkins back in 2011.

1. Rich Rodriguez, Michigan

No matter the circumstances, the Wolverines weren't going to have a long leash with Rodriguez when he was hired to replace Lloyd Carr two years ago. After going a historically feeble 8-16 and 3-13 in the Big Ten, the coach has zero wiggle room heading into 2010. He has to make Michigan relevant again this fall, or else the pressure to cut him loose will have an angry mob feel to it by November. After having a couple of recruiting classes to get his players in place on offense, there won't be any acceptable excuses if the unit can't produce. It's Michigan. Rodriguez knows full well that the time has arrived for the program to start acting like it.