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CFB hot seats: Coaches under the most pressure in 2024

Julian Catalfo / theScore

As we draw closer to Week 0 of the new college football season, speculation about which coaches are feeling the most pressure to perform begins in earnest. We'll look into some of the names to be heavily scrutinized if they don't produce favorable results.

Billy Napier, Florida

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Napier's first stint in a Power 5 coaching role hasn't gone as well as hoped. Having risen to prominence after establishing a 40-12 record over four seasons at Louisiana, it initially appeared Florida landed a rising star on the sideline. But Napier may find himself swimming in dangerous waters following a meager 11-14 mark (6-10 SEC) in two campaigns.

Napier punched back at detractors who critiqued him for not attracting elite talent to Gainesville. The additions of promising transfers in wide receiver Elijhah Badger and cornerback Cormani McClain should help the Gators immediately. Freshman quarterback DJ Lagway also has fans eagerly anticipating his in-season debut. However, dealing with a lawsuit filed by former signee Jaden Rashada, who happens to play for rival Georgia, doesn't help the 44-year-old's mission this season.

If that wasn't enough, Florida will face the country's most difficult strength of schedule. The Gators have a non-conference slate that includes in-state competitors Miami and UCF - both are more than formidable. November could decide Napier's fate with matchups against Georgia, Texas, LSU, and Ole Miss. The 2024 campaign concludes with a road game versus Florida State. Napier needs to author his best work if he hopes to remain in the Swamp for another year.

Dave Aranda, Baylor

It was a rough head coaching debut for Aranda in 2020, as Baylor earned just two wins. He turned his team's fortunes around the following season, with the Bears going 12-2 en route to winning the Big 12 title and the Sugar Bowl, fulfilling the potential bandied about when the program hired him. But the results have fallen far short of the mark over the past two years, including a woeful 3-9 record in 2023.

Despite the 47-year-old's underwhelming performance, Aranda convinced athletic director Mack Rhoades to give him another shot at turning Baylor around. The Bears poached offensive coordinator Jake Spavital away from Cal to improve a unit that finished last in the Big 12 with 23.1 points per game last season. Aranda's also taking a more hands-on approach, assuming defensive play-calling duties after surrendering a league-high 33.3 points per contest a year ago.

Even with Texas and Oklahoma no longer on the schedule, Baylor's 2024 slate poses challenges. A trip to Salt Lake City in the first week of September could set the tone for the rest of the season. Plenty of eyes will be on the Sept. 21 game versus Deion Sanders and Colorado. If the Bears go bowling this season, it should provide Aranda with a cooling reprieve from the intense heat of coaching in the Lone Star State.

Sam Pittman, Arkansas

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Pittman is facing pressure ahead of his fifth season in Fayetteville. The head Hog has established a 23-25 record through four seasons since his hire in December 2019. Following a disappointing 4-8 campaign, another sub-.500 year would reduce the 62-year-old's buyout at the end of the season and could lead to athletic director Hunter Yurachek searching for another John Calipari-caliber hire for his football program.

To secure his future, Pittman reached back into Arkansas' past, hiring former head coach Bobby Petrino as his offensive coordinator to fix a unit that finished ahead of only Vanderbilt in total offense (326.5 ypg) last year. Stars KJ Jefferson and Rocket Sanders opted to finish their collegiate careers elsewhere after the 2023 season. Boise State transfer quarterback Taylen Green appears to be the front-runner to lead a new-look offense when the campaign begins on Aug. 29 against Arkansas-Pine Bluff.

The Razorbacks will get their first real test after their opener, hitting the road to take on Oklahoma State. Arkansas closes September with its first two conference games against a talented Auburn squad and new-look Texas A&M at AT&T Stadium. But some of the Razorbacks' more difficult matchups - Tennessee, LSU, Ole Miss, and Texas - take place at home. Arkansas fans could call for more than just the Hogs at the end of the year if Pittman can't return the program to a bowl game.

Ryan Day, Ohio State

Unlike all the other names on this list, the pressure on Ohio State's head coach differs. With an impressive 56-8 record over six seasons, the Buckeyes have been perennial contenders for a national championship under Day. Boasting a 32.7 post-spring SP+, per ESPN, the Scarlet and Gray have a loaded roster that many project capable of contending for a national title.

When you take the magnifying glass to the Buckeyes, there aren't many flaws in the program, save for one. Day clearly has a Michigan problem, with "That Team Up North" scuttling Ohio State's grand ambitions in each of the past three seasons. A fourth consecutive defeat would send Buckeye Nation into a feeding frenzy, especially against a Wolverines squad that lost its head coach and plenty of talent to the NFL.

Following a disappointing showing in the Cotton Bowl, Ohio State convinced its brightest stars to hold off turning pro to make one more run at avenging losses to Michigan and fulfilling their ambitions of winning the program's ninth national title. Expectations around Columbus have taken an exponential leap since the final whistle of the Cotton Bowl. On top of several notable holdovers from last year's 11-2 team, the Buckeyes added talented additions in Will Howard, Caleb Downs, and Quinshon Judkins and hired Chip Kelly to take over the offense.

Ohio State hasn't received much pushback from the rest of the Big Ten in recent years, but that could change following the latest round of expansion. Sizeable matchups on the road against Oregon and Penn State will test the Buckeyes' mettle. Of course, the season, and perhaps Day's tenure, will come down to what happens on Nov. 30 in Columbus in the 120th edition of "The Game."

Scott Satterfield, Cincinnati

A single season doesn't define a coach or his program. Yet, Satterfield may be hard-pressed to change the fortunes of Cincinnati after a dismal Big 12 debut. The school finished with a porous 3-9 mark in 2023, including a 1-8 record in conference play. And after he left Louisville following a middling four-year tenure, the 51-year-old needs to orchestrate a major bounce back in Year 2 with the Bearcats.

Cincinnati's leaning on several additions from the transfer portal to help Satterfield turn the program around. The Bearcats open the season with a generous slate against several teams that didn't play in a bowl game last year, which could help Cincinnati make some inroads. Satterfield's buyout might also be his saving grace in the short term. Cincinnati would be on the hook for 100% of the coach's salary if it fired him prior to Dec. 31, 2025, per The Athletic's Justin Williams. That figure apparently drops to 70% if the school dismisses him in 2026.

The Bearcats took a step back in 2023 and can't afford to fall behind in an expanding Big 12 conference. Three seasons ago, Cincinnati became the first non-Power 5 program to qualify for the College Football Playoff. Something needs to change in Nippert Stadium. It could be who's on the sideline if the next campaign mirrors 2023's results.

Pat Narduzzi, Pitt

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Pitt has enjoyed sustained success for most of its tenure under Narduzzi's steady hand. But the Panthers posted their worst finish (3-9, 2-6 ACC) in 2023, leaving some to wonder whether last year was a blip or the start of a backslide.

Narduzzi seemed remorseful regarding his comments following a 58-7 thrashing versus Notre Dame, and his squad appeared to accept his apology. However, Pitt went 1-5 in its final six contests.

Ahead of his 10th season on Pitt's sideline, Narduzzi is three years removed from producing an ACC championship team. Still, the Panthers have attended a bowl game in six of their last nine seasons. They also have a manageable 2024 schedule and see West Virginia and Clemson visit Acrisure Stadium.

Narduzzi inked an extension in 2022 that would make him the school's longest-serving coach if he reaches the end of the deal in 2030. Although it's unlikely another down year would result in the 58-year-old's exit, it could lead to the school's brass reconsidering the program's direction.

Mario Cristobal, Miami

The time for Miami to parlay offseason wins into on-field production has arrived. Under Cristobal, the Hurricanes have become notorious for their big splash additions, whether through the transfer portal or traditional recruiting. Yet, Miami hasn't found the formula to correlate its offseason successes into additional wins.

The Canes have a 12-13 record over the past two seasons since Cristobal took over at his alma mater. It doesn't help his case to see his former employer, Oregon, thriving. But Cristobal has excelled at selling his vision for Miami on the recruiting trail. Cam Ward, Damien Martinez, and Tyler Baron are a few of the notable additions "The U" has made since its final game last year.

Cristobal desperately needs to stockpile wins following a 7-6 record last season, which included the unforgettable lowlight of an epic collapse against Georgia Tech. A season-opening matchup against Florida will be a measuring-stick contest between two in-state rivals. Miami will also seek to avenge a loss to Louisville on the road before renewing hostilities with FSU at Hard Rock Stadium on Oct. 26.

The Canes' successes in the portal and recruiting won't be enough to provide job security for Cristobal if the program doesn't establish itself as a contender in the ACC title picture in 2024.

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