Year three, statistically speaking, is when it all starts to come together—when the no-longer-new coach’s recruits and systems settle into place, and the team reaches new heights. The records of college football’s current major-conference coaches bear this out: They had a .548 win percentage in years one and two combined, then a .627 mark in year three.
In recent years, several major turnarounds and championship seasons occurred during an administration’s third year. Two of college football’s last three national champions won it all during their head coach’s third season: LSU in 2007 and Alabama last season. Jim Harbaugh’s third season at Stanford last year produced a 34-point rout of USC and the Cardinal’s first winning season since 2001. The most stunning third-year leap was Illinois’s ascension from 2-10 in 2006 to 9-4 and the Rose Bowl in 2007.