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Which first-year CFB coaches will have most success in 2015?

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Jim Harbaugh is charged with helping Michigan bounce back from a 5-7 season.

The Golden State Warriors' NBA championship meant that Steve Kerr became the first NBA coach since Pat Riley in 1982 to win the title in his initial season with a team.


» 12 best performances by first-year CFB head coaches


While no first-year college coach is going to win a national-title ring, it's conceivable -- though unlikely -- that one could win some conference-title hardware. There are 15 new head coaches in the FBS ranks this season, and these are the five we expect to have the best seasons. Note that this is not how we think the coaches will fare long-term.

15 for '15:
CFB 24/7 counts down the best of what college football has to offer in varying categories for 2015.

5. Jim Harbaugh, Michigan

Arrived from: Had been head coach of the San Francisco 49ers
Skinny: Even if you have a family member or friend who knows nothing about college football -- or even hates football in general -- that person knows that Harbaugh is at Michigan. Harbaugh, 51, has done a masterful job in the past six months of keeping Michigan football in the news, which is impressive considering how mediocre the program has been for most of the past decade (the Wolverines have lost at least four games seven times in the past eight seasons and at least six games five times). He's taking over a team that not only is way behind in the talent race vs. archrival Ohio State, it's also behind in the talent race against in-state rival Michigan State. Still, Harbaugh will have Michigan overachieving this fall. There are some nice pieces in place at each level of the defense, and the offensive line should go from weakness to team strength. There is an alarming lack of playmakers, and that is something Harbaugh has to fix soon. Don't expect miracles this fall -- but do expect a bowl bid and as many as seven or eight wins.

4. Pat Narduzzi, Pittsburgh

Arrived from: Had been defensive coordinator at Michigan State
Skinny: Narduzzi, 49, had been one of the best defensive coordinators in the nation, but the best thing he will have going for him this season is his offense, which will feature one of the best running back-wide receiver duos in the nation in James Conner and Tyler Boyd. The offensive line returns three starters, and they should help QB Chad Voytik play with more consistency. The defense will benefit from Narduzzi's arrival. There is zero proven star power on that side of the ball, but the pieces appear to be in place for Narduzzi and his staff to work some magic. The front four could end up being quite good, and you can expect the cornerback play to noticeably improve. Pitt is not going to challenge for the ACC title, but an eight-win season is a possibility.

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3. Mike Riley, Nebraska

Arrived from: Had been head coach at Oregon State
Skinny: Going from Bo Pelini to Riley, 61, is like going from a teacher who doesn't like it if you even smile in class to a teacher who expects you to laugh out loud four or five times per hour. Plus, Riley and his staff will improve the offense. Pelini won at least nine games in each of his seven seasons, so it's not as if Riley is taking over for someone who was incompetent. And Riley faces far more pressure than he ever faced at Oregon State. But he should be able to get it done. While consistent quarterback play is going to be an issue, the line looks good, there are some intriguing receivers and the tailbacks should be fine even with the departure of Ameer Abdullah. The defense struggled at times the past few seasons, but there is some good talent on that side of the ball, particularly in the front seven. As it was last season, the Big Ten West is wide open, and Nebraska should be in the hunt. October will tell the tale; if the Huskers can go 3-1 in league play during the month, they'll have a chance to win the division.

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2. Paul Chryst, Wisconsin

Arrived from: Had been head coach at Pittsburgh
Skinny: Wisconsin has won at least eight games in 16 of the past 19 seasons, including each of the past six; the Badgers look good for at least eight or nine wins this fall. Chryst, 49, is a former Badgers assistant who likes to win games the Barry Alvarez/Bret Bielema way -- with a punishing ground attack and a solid defense. The pieces remain in place for him to do just that this fall. Stud TB Melvin Gordon is gone, as are three starting offensive linemen and two starting linebackers. But Corey Clement is going to be just fine at tailback, and the line -- as it is every season -- will be one of the best in the Big Ten. And because defensive coordinator Dave Aranda remained in Madison, the defense will be solid again. Wisconsin will be in the thick of the Big Ten West Division race.

1. Tom Herman, Houston

Arrived from: Had been offensive coordinator at Ohio State
Skinny: Houston won eight games last season, including a bowl win over Pitt, but still underachieved relative to its talent level. Thus, the firing of Tony Levine and the hiring of Herman, 40, who also did good work as coordinator at Rice and Iowa State. Herman has a history in the state of Texas and should do well on the recruiting trail. He also should do well on the field this season; QB Greg Ward, Jr., has the skill set to thrive in Herman's version of the spread. There is a nice group of running backs, and the secondary could be the strongest in the AAC. Houston and Memphis will battle for the AAC West Division title. While there should be immediate success, Herman's long-term future at Houston is cloudy. But that's only because he seems likely to be hired away relatively soon, as Art Briles was after five seasons with the Cougars and Kevin Sumlin was after four seasons.

Mike Huguenin can be reached at mike.huguenin@nfl.com. You also can follow him on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.

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