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Hot Seat Week 2: Clay Helton, Mike Norvell on shaky ground at powerhouse programs living in the past

With the prestige of a big program comes pressure to perform. These coaches are not inspiring confidence after Week 2.

Head coach of the USC Trojans Clay Helton, cheers on his team during warm up before the game against the Stanford Cardinal at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on September 11, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

If Week 1 had pivotal moments, Week 2 had monumental ones. The college football world experienced big shocks to the system, with Oregon upsetting Ohio State in Columbus and Iowa grounding Iowa State in Ames headlining the biggest results of the day. Here’s a look at which coaches are feeling the heat heading into Week 3 and beyond.

Clay Helton, USC

When we decided to write this column each week this season, we thought about calling it the race for the Clay Helton Weekly Memorial Award. To be given to the coach who seems to be the closest to being fired at any time.

And after looking quite competent in Week 1 with a 30-7 win over San Jose State, maybe the Clay-os would finally to ebb .. ha, just kidding. It’s Tinseltown, and the scriptwriters keep churning out their best work around Heritage Hall.

USC was firebombed 42-28 in a game that was not that close, outplayed in all three phases by 17.5-point underdog Stanford, and the manic swings of the Helton Era continue. Will he last the week, much less the season? The easy answer is to say no, but we’ve been down this road literally every season since 2015. Clay Helton is WWE’s The Undertaker gif in human form.

Until they actually pack his office and wish him the best in his future endeavors, we’ll believe it when we see it.

Mike Norvell, Florida State

Things just aren’t happening at Florida State. Jimbo Fisher left the program in a poor state and Willie Taggart was supposed to fix it. Taggart arguably left the program in an even worse state and Norvell was supposed to fix it. So far, Norvell’s ride has been incredibly bumpy.

He went 3-6 last season, with an average margin of defeat of 22.16 points. In 2021, Norvell has once again lost the first two games of the season but this time that record includes a defeat to FCS school Jacksonville State on a Hail Mary. There doesn’t appear to be much relief on the horizon as the Seminoles face Wake Forest and Louisville in their next two games.

Dino Babers, Syracuse

Remember when Babers won 10 games at Syracuse? Or when he beat Clemson at home and nearly repeated the trick in Death Valley a year later? Don’t worry, nobody else does either.

The Orange were never supposed to be a powerhouse program under Babers, but they were expected to contend every so often while maintaining six to seven wins per year. Babers went 5-7 after his 10-win campaign before going 1-10 in 2020. A 17-7 loss to Rutgers is not a good way to keep the fan base confident, especially when the previous fastest offense in college football has 62 plays for 268 yards.

There’s a high chance this relationship continues to go south. And his offensive coordinator hire before the 2020 season might be part of the reason.

Jimmy Lake, Washington

It’s going from bad to worse very quickly for Lake. After getting thoroughly beaten by FCS opponent Montana in Week 1, Lake’s Huskies got trampled by Michigan. The Wolverines rushed for 343 yards with two running backs surpassing 150 yards each. It was the first time since 1940 Michigan had two rushers with 150+ yards in the same game.

Lake took over as Washington’s head coach after rising through the team’s defensive ranks. He won the Pac-12 North last season due to COVID outbreaks taking out a large part of the conference’s schedule. However, there was reason to believe the team would parlay that small success into a strong 2021 season which led to Washington being ranked to start the season. After two weeks, there’s not much to hold onto.

Steve Sarkisian, Texas

Asking if Texas is back is the most casually-used meme in the entire sport. And every year, there’s a game people circle to signal the Longhorns’ return to “glory”. And for the past five years spanning three coaches, Texas has lost that game. It was Cal in 2016 under Charlie Strong. It was Maryland two years in a row to start Tom Herman’s tenure before a narrow loss to LSU. And this time, it’s Arkansas.

To make matters worse, Texas is eventually joining the SEC with Oklahoma. The brand is still incredibly strong, but the results have been subpar at best by Texas standards. Sarkisian’s seat certainly isn’t hot, but someone might have placed a birthday candle on the floor below it after losing to what many consider one of the worst teams in the SEC West.

Honorable mentions

  • Miami’s Manny Diaz remains on notice after appearing here last week. Even the #HardRockCat almost wasn’t able to rescue him in a 25-23 win over Appalachian State.
  • Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy had a scare himself in a 28-23 win over Tulsa. Gundy has historically used openings elsewhere to get more money at Oklahoma State, but Cowboys fans have to wonder if it’s ever going to pay off.
  • Dave Doeren has done well at NC State, but the contest Saturday against Mississippi State was a chance to signal his program was taking the next step. The Wolfpack lost 24-10.