Deion Sanders, Ryan Day among college football coaches facing the most pressure to win entering 2024 season

As college football continues to undergo dramatic changes, the pressure on coaches to win has reached unparalleled levels. With the transfer portal and immediate eligibility, every fanbase feels like they’re only one class away from reaching the top. Fail to win, and fans can quickly turn. 

Only one year ago, Auburn fired coach Bryan Harsin after 21 games. At Harsin’s previous stop, Boise State canned Andy Avalos 10 games into his third season … and the Broncos ended up winning the Mountain West title. Perhaps the headliner, Texas A&M raised more than $75 million to rid themselves of Jimbo Fisher. Without good seasons, many of the coaches on this list could soon be next. 

To be clear, not all of these coaches are on the proverbial hot seat; a handful have zero chance of getting fired in 2024, especially with contract situations. For various unique reasons, though, these coaches will be uniquely under the microscope this fall with the most pressure to win. 

No one else in college football even comes close to the level of pressure that Day faces in 2024. After hated rival Michigan won its first national championship of the BCS/College Football Playoff era, Day quickly flipped the page to assemble his best roster ever. The Buckeyes landed the No. 1 player in the both the transfer portal (safety Caleb Downs) and high school (wide receiver Jeremiah Smith), along with senior quarterback Will Howard and a host of other contributors. In every way, Day’s Buckeyes are title or bust. Perhaps more importantly, Ohio State needs to beat Michigan. 

The first two years of the Napier era have been a mess. The Gators barely made a bowl in Year 1 with a first-round pick (Anthony Richardson) at quarterback and missed the postseason altogether in Year 2. Napier bet hard on the Class of 2024, but some late defections pushed the Gators from the top-five range to No. 14. Napier has also faced intense scrutiny for refusing to give up play-calling duties on offense. 

All the surrounding chaos means that Florida needs to perform on the field in 2024. Napier is 11-14 overall in Gainesville and now faces one of the hardest schedules in college football, which features three nonconference games against in-state opponents from power conferences (Miami, UCF, Florida State). Finding a path to success will be brutal. 

Lincoln Riley, USC

While Riley is in little danger of getting fired this year – largely thanks to his exorbitant contract, reportedly worth more than $110 million – the honeymoon period is officially over at USC. Riley is coming off his worst season as a coach right as he turned 40, posting an 8-5 record in 2023 with all five losses coming in his final six Pac-12 games. Riley finally invested in the defense this offseason, stealing UCLA coordinator D’Anton Lynn to headline a stacked group of defensive assistants. At the same time, there aren’t obvious playmakers to stock his offense. Adding complication, the Trojans head to the Big Ten in 2024. Any softness in the program will be exposed as USC plays both LSU and Michigan in the first three weeks. 

All DeBoer did at Washington was go 25-3 with a Pac-12 championship and CFP National Championship appearance. And, yet, the first time Alabama loses at home, he will feel the wrath of Bryant-Denny Stadium. Such is life at the premier college football program after replacing the legendary Nick Saban. The Crimson Tide lost several key players from their SEC championship team to the transfer portal, including four of the top six rated players. Getting back to title caliber might take time, and Alabama isn’t known for patience. 

Mario Cristobal, Miami

During the 2022 calendar year, Miami paid nearly $23 million to get Cristobal from Oregon to Coral Gables, according to USA Today. That’s the largest single-year amount on record for an athletic department employee on a tax form. Needless to say, Cristobal’s first two seasons have not amounted to $23 million worth of value. The Hurricanes are 12-13 in two seasons under Cristobal, who is currently the only coach since the Carter Administration with a losing record at The U. Adding frustration, multiple losses have come directly at the hands of poor game management, headlined by a mind-boggling, last-minute loss to Georgia Tech. Miami hit the portal hard, adding dynamic quarterback Cameron Ward to the mix. If the ‘Canes can’t reach ACC contention — especially in a rebuilding league next year — things could quickly unravel. 

Dave Aranda, Baylor

Most expected Aranda gone after a horrendous 3-9 campaign in 2023, the worst season at Baylor since Matt Rhule’s 1-11 debut in 2017. Athletic director Mack Rhoades stuck his neck out to keep Aranda in town, but don’t expect much leeway. The Bears have revamped their coaching staff and NIL operation to bring in a strong transfer class — headlined by Toledo QB DeQuan Finn — but the only results that matter are on the field. Anything short of a return to the postseason and Aranda is likely gone. 

The excuse for Penn State has long been that the Nittany Lions’ College Football Playoff dreams are stuck behind Michigan and Ohio State. With an expanded 12-team field coming and Michigan rebuilding, however, there’s little excuse for Penn State to miss this year’s CFP. Adding pressure, the Nittany Lions’ prized 2022 recruiting class — which finished No. 6 in the country, with top prospects at quarterback (Drew Allar) and running back (Nick Singleton) — enters its third season. The top contributors, including Singleton and linebacker Abdul Carter, could be gone after 2024. The time to strike is now. 

“Coach Prime” took the Buffaloes mainstream during a 3-0 start to 2023, boasting two of the top five, and five of the top 15, most-watched regular-season broadcasts of the year. However, Colorado lost eight of its last nine games and finished last place in the Pac-12. Sanders hit the transfer portal hard, adding 25 transfers alongside No. 1 overall tackle recruit Jordan Seaton, but the Buffs are working against the clock. Quarterback Shedeur Sanders and cornerback Travis Hunter have been the faces of Sanders’ revamp at Colorado, and both could leave after the 2024 season for the NFL. If Colorado misses a bowl for the second straight season, the Buffaloes will be starting from scratch in 2025 without proof of concept to sell. 


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