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Michigan Wolverines’ Jim Harbaugh among college football coaches on hot seat

By RALPH D. RUSSO

AP College Football Writer

Last year around this time, the conventional wisdom was that a financial crunch brought on by the pandemic would discourage schools from laying out a multimillion-dollar buyout to fire a football coach.

Conventional wisdom was wrong.

Fifteen schools changed coaches, fewer than what has become a typical number across the Bowl Subdivision, but a lot more than what was initially expected.

Here’s the most vulnerable:

Clay Helton, USC

Might as well start in Los Angeles, where Helton is remarkably entering his seventh season as Trojans coach. Helton’s status has seemingly been tenuous for the last three seasons. His 45-23 record is good, but USC wants great and has invested in assistant coaches and staff to support the well-respected head coach. With only two more seasons left on his contract and a buyout that figures to be around $10 million, Helton is likely to have a high bar to clear in 2021 for No. 16 USC to keep him.

Jim Harbaugh, Michigan

Harbaugh took a big pay cut after Michigan went 2-4 last season. The former Michigan quarterback has not delivered success at the level expected when he returned to Ann Arbor. But not until last season did it look as if the program was regressing. Harbaugh will get another season with a revamped coaching staff to show he can change the trajectory, but incremental improvements in year seven might not be enough to get him to year eight.

Michigan and USC coming open at the same time could make for one wild coaching carousel, especially if Matt Campbell has another big season at Iowa State and becomes a top target.

Justin Fuente, Virginia Tech

The Hokies went to the Atlantic Coast Conference title game in Fuente’s first season as Frank Beamer’s replacement. He seemed like the perfect fit. Virginia Tech is 28-22 since. The Hokies went 5-6 last year and speculation about Fuente’s status was so intense that the announcement of a news conference with athletic director Whit Babcock the day before Fuente’s buyout was scheduled to drop in February caused the school to clarify that the coach was indeed coming back.

Herm Edwards, Arizona State

On the field, Edwards has done OK, 17-13 in three seasons. The is the season the 25th-ranked Sun Devils have been building toward. They look like legitimate Pac-12 contenders. Off the field, the program is being investigated by the NCAA for possible recruiting violations.

Dino Baber, Syracuse

The Orange won 10 games and finished No. 15 in the country in Babers’ third season. It now seems like a fluke. Syracuse is 14-33 in Babers’ other four seasons. This has become one the toughest jobs in the Power Five and Babers has two more years after this left on his contract.

Matt Wells, Texas Tech

Red Raiders fans are getting restless. Since Mike Leach was fired in 2009, Texas Tech has gone 11 straight seasons without a winning record in the Big 12. Wells has only been in Lubbock for two years, but is just 8-14. Compounding the problem for Wells, a school that has become synonymous with proficient offenses has been pedestrian on that side of the ball. It’s one thing to be bad. It’s another to be boring.