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May 24, 2007

The Last Three and the Next Three

Today, we have profiled three of the college football programs that have been built or re-built in recent decades: Rutgers, Louisville and Boise State.

Other programs helped inspire the latest rebuilding jobs with their ability to rise from the rubble in the 1980s and 90s.

These programs won't be alone, either.

Here is a look at the last three successful rebuilding jobs and a look ahead at what could be the next group.

The Last Three
Miami Hurricanes
Before 1979, there was talk that Miami officials were thinking of dropping football. Attendance had fallen to a new low. In state, Florida beat Miami seven consecutive times from 1971-77. Florida State was building its powerhouse under Bobby Bowden. Miami, though, brought in former Alabama assistant Howard Schnellenberger to turn things around in South Florida. He brought a no-nonsense, winning attitude while establishing Miami's recruiting plan for years to come. As South Florida's population boomed, so did its population of top football recruits. The State of Miami included all of South Florida and then expanded into Orlando and Tampa. Schnellenberger led Miami to its first national championship in 1983. The Hurricanes won four more in the next 18 seasons: in 1987 under Jimmy Johnson, in 1989 and '91 under Dennis Erickson and in 2001 under Larry Coker.
Kansas State Wildcats
When Kansas State hired Bill Snyder from Hayden Fry's staff at Iowa in 1989, the Wildcats had won a total of three games in the previous four seasons. In the first year under Snyder, K-State was 1-10. But Snyder righted the ship by taking advantage of the abundance of junior college players in Kansas - while also putting together much weaker out-of-conference schedules. From 1990-97, Kansas State went 30-5 against nonconference foes. The smaller wins turned into bigger ones, and the Wildcats finished in the AP top 10 five times in seven seasons from 1997-2003. Along the way, Kansas State went to 11 consecutive bowl games and three Big 12 championship games. In a 1998 issue of Sports Illustrated, former Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer called Snyder the "coach of the century" for not only putting Kansas State on the map, but putting the Wildcats into national championship contention.
Wisconsin Badgers
In the four seasons before the arrival of Barry Alvarez in 1990, Wisconsin had gone 9-36 under two coaches. The attendance was dropping and the athletic department's budget was rising. Alvarez, who like Snyder was a former Fry assistant at Iowa, established the tough, hard-nosed culture in Madison that would lead the Badgers to success in the 1990s. Alvarez took Wisconsin to the Rose Bowl in his fourth season as coach. With wins in the Rose Bowl in 1998-99, Alvarez became the first Big Ten coach to win back-to-back Rose Bowls. Bruising running back Ron Dayne would become college football's all-time leading rusher in 1999 with 6,397 career yards.
The Next Three
South Florida Bulls
All signs are pointing for a breakout season for the Bulls in 2007 - the 10th year of the program. In many ways, USF has similar characteristics to Rutgers, the oldest program in college football. Both are Big East teams coming off the first consecutive bowl trips in school history. Like Rutgers, USF has stability in its leadership – Jim Leavitt is the only head coach in the program's history. USF has a strong recruiting base in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area of Florida. The move to the Big East vaulted USF ahead of in-state rival Central Florida, and now the Bulls have their sights set on turning the Big Three of Florida, Florida State and Miami into a Big Four. A Sept. 8 game at Auburn will be a measuring stick for USF, which returns 16 offensive and defensive starters.
Hawaii Warriors
If South Florida is something of a parallel to Rutgers, then Hawaii reflects Boise State with its prolific offense and local bowl game. Boise State has lost only one WAC game since 2002, but Hawaii could end that streak when Boise leaves the mainland on Nov. 23. Quarterback Colt Brennan is a Heisman contender and could put up a second-consecutive double-digit win season. Holding Hawaii back from a BCS bowl could be the Warriors scheduling troubles with the Lower 48. Hawaii made a road trip to Alabama last year (and lost 25-17), but has no such trip this year. Brennan put the pressure on the administration to address facilities woes when he publicly criticized Hawaii's locker rooms in May.
Arizona Wildcats
Arizona, which last played in a bowl in 1998, seems to be labeled a Pac-10 sleeper each year. This season is as good a time as any to break out and meet that expectation. Wildcats coach Mike Stoops comes from a long lineage of coaches who have revived or built programs in the past. Stoops comes out of the Hayden Fry/Bill Snyder coaching tree. It's branches also include Mike Stoops' brother Bob, Barry Alvarez, Bret Bielema, Jim Leavitt and Kirk Ferentz. Quarterback Willie Tuitama is a third-year starter, but he will play for offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes, who brings his pass-oriented offense from Texas Tech. With Dennis Erickson now at Arizona State, the pressure should be on fifth-year coach Stoops to make his move.

David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com.

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