How much can struggling first-year coaches blame their predecessors?

Pollak: Taggart's system not to blame for FSU struggles (1:51)

David Pollack says Florida State's problems need fixing quickly to compete, but Desmond Howard expects FSU to get through their growing pains. (1:51)

It's a lame excuse, a statement of fact or, most often, something in between. Yet when college football coaches struggle in their first seasons, you know it's coming.

Some coaches are blunt. Others are subtle and diplomatic. Some bite their tongue until they let it slip. But they're all thinking, or saying, the same thing.


"It's like a new generation of excuse," Ohio State coach Urban Meyer told CBS Sports in 2017 after Texas coach Tom Herman said he "can't rub pixie dust on this thing" after losing his debut to Maryland. In the same interview, Meyer said Will Muschamp "blamed us" for what Muschamp inherited from Meyer at Florida.

The start to the 2018 season has been especially rough for several high-profile, first-year coaches. Nebraska is 0-3 for the first time since 1945 under native son Scott Frost, after absorbing a historic 56-10 beating Saturday at Michigan Stadium. UCLA is also 0-3 -- its worst start in 47 years -- and has been outscored 113-52 under coach Chip Kelly. Willie Taggart's Florida State debut went about as poorly as it could have, and a 30-7 loss two weeks later at Syracuse didn't ease the angst. At Arkansas, it has been Eww Pig Sooie for Chad Morris, who is 1-3, with losses to North Texas and Colorado State and a lone win over FCS Eastern Illinois.

Not every new Power 5 coach is struggling. Mississippi State's Joe Moorhead and Florida's Dan Mullen both are 3-1, with losses to an improving Kentucky team. Mario Cristobal had Oregon positioned for a huge win over Stanford until a stunning collapse Saturday at Autzen Stadium. Texas A&M and Arizona State both are 2-2 but also have shown promise under Jimbo Fisher and Herm Edwards.

But many first-year coaches have the bare-cupboard excuse at their disposal.

Who is justified? Who has the ingredients to be doing better? Introducing the ESPN+ Bare-Cupboard Rundown, where I examine some of the struggling first-year coaches and what they inherited, and evaluate, by percentage, how justified they are in employing the bare-cupboard excuse.

Kevin Sumlin, Arizona

2018 record: 2-2 (1-2 against Power 5)

Arizona's 2017 record: 7-6

Returning starters (according to Phil Steele): 7 offense, 9 defense

ESPN recruiting-class rankings: 63rd in 2018, 45th in 2017, 47th in 2016, 39th in 2015

QB situation: Returned Khalil Tate, who became the starter during Pac-12 play in 2017 and became the first Pac-12 quarterback to rush for 1,000 yards when he had 1,411, including a single-game FBS quarterback rushing record 327 against Colorado. Brandon Dawkins, who opened the 2017 season as the starter before an injury, transferred in the spring.

Bare-cupboard validity: 20 percent. Sumlin didn't inherit a monster roster, but unlike many on this list, he had an electric quarterback whom Pac-12 defenses couldn't stop at all in 2017. Many thought Tate's transition to Sumlin's offense would equate to even more production and possibly a surprise surge in the wide-open Pac-12 South. But Arizona stumbled in its opening loss to BYU and then fell behind 38-0 at Houston the following week. There are personnel problems on defense that Sumlin can't remedy right away, but Arizona kept coordinator Marcel Yates on staff to maintain continuity. The Wildcats also brought back plenty of experience on defense. Arizona is hardly a recruiting juggernaut, as the national rankings underscore, but Sumlin had enough to work with to start his tenure a bit better than this.