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SEC Coaches Talk Anonymously About Conference Foes for 2022

Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

It's not easy getting college football coaches to honestly comment on another coach, player or team. Most coaches don't want to give opposing teams bulletin board material, which is why there is a lot of coach speak or overused cliches used during the year.

In order to get an accurate assessment of teams heading into 2022, Athlon asked coaches in the SEC to talk anonymously about their opponents.

Note: These scouting reports come directly from coaching staffs and do not necessarily reflect the views of Athlon's editorial staff.

SEC Coaches Talk Anonymously About Conference Foes for 2022

SEC East

Florida

"Billy Napier was a great hire for these guys, but when you dig in and start looking at his history, it clashes with what we expect Florida to look like, and maybe with what their fans demand. Billy and [OC] Rob [Sale] didn't win on spread/tempo at Louisiana. Look at the tape. They're gonna come in and get big and mean and try to run first. They're creative and modern, but it's built on some really old-school stuff. How will that play when everyone wants Steve Spurrier?"

"In terms of pure talent, the roster is probably the fourth best in the East and lower than that in the West. But they didn't have much to start with at Louisiana, either. The really unique thing about Napier is that he's always unafraid to do the necessary, ugly football stuff that isn't exciting, but this is a higher platform than he's ever been on as a head coach."

"They're going to need a deep group at running back, and they're going to need a better, different level of play on the O-line for what they want to do."

"On defense, it's less about personnel and more about a culture change. They never lacked for talented guys with Todd Grantham; it was just that the scheme ended up hurting them more than the execution."

"No one thinks they're going suddenly right the ship and close that gap with Georgia. You should look for a more settled QB situation, better turnover ratio and winning ugly at first."

Related: Ranking the SEC Quarterbacks for 2022

Georgia

"They finally got over the hump and killed the narrative. Now what? Are they a one-off deal, or are they going to be the first SEC program that can really, truly hang and bang with Bama year in and year out? The expectations there aren't to win a one-off title and go back to nine and 10 wins."

"The quarterback is back, but one of the worst things that can happen after a successful season or a title run is when a good-but-not-great QB comes back. Everyone is expecting an advancement that might not be possible. Remember, there were times last season they won in spite of this offense."

"Losing [defensive coordinator Dan] Lanning isn't going to really hurt, but losing those NFL players on the front sure as hell will. [Will] Muschamp is best when he's got the one job, and he'll bring along the young guy [co-DC Glenn Schumann] because Will works so well with Kirby [Smart]. That won't be a problem."

"They're loaded with elite young guys coming in, but they aren't going to have the luxury of that defense from last season. So eventually, they're going to have to open the offense up and push Stetson Bennett. They won a national title in the most comfortable way possible for their head coach: The best defensive players in the country doing their thing, and then playing a safe offensive game. That will have to change some."

Related: Ranking All 131 College Football Teams for 2022

Kentucky

"What you saw with Liam Coen's offense was really impressive. At first, a lot of defenses in the league were caught off-guard, but honestly, even as it got to Weeks 9 and 10 and 11, you still saw them confusing teams. That was a system success. So all the pressure now is on the new guy to keep that pace. Because he's off the same NFL tree, no one thinks they'll be all that different looking. The problem is that they don't have Wan'Dale Robinson, and the offensive line lost a lot, so the odds are stacked against them. They need to figure out their go-to guys this summer and keep the scheme transition simple."

"Defensively, they're never nationally recognized or anything, but they're always effective. They do a good job keeping it in front of them in the passing game."

"They're approaching a dangerous area in terms of expectations. There's going to be a point in time where the money they're paying [Mark Stoops] is going to come with more than just being happy with a bowl bid. For a long time, everyone in the industry has said Stoops has the best job in college football, but that can't last forever. Can they build a division-winning program, or will he find another job before that time comes? They're also competing in a division that gets a little better each year. You can always look at their games against Tennessee, South Carolina and Missouri as a good measurement. All three of those programs are improving season by season."

Related: College Football Bowl Projections for 2022-23

Missouri

"They've got to find a quarterback as soon as possible or it's going to be an ugly year. [Connor] Bazelak leaving for Indiana was a hit, no doubt, but mostly we've heard really good things about their culture. He's made it a point to build recruiting excitement in the Missouri area, which you can't live off of in the SEC, but it's smart."

"Get [WR] Luther Burden III involved. Make it big, plug him in and let his play recruit other guys like that. With so much transition this year on offense, they don't have anything to lose. If you want to make a habit of landing guys like that, you have to show proof of concept."

"They've got new defensive coaches and a lot of transfers on that side of the ball. That's going to determine if they can go back to a bowl game. They weren't impressive on that side of the ball last year, and they're going to have to get better against the pass. You could run steady on them and hit the big ones passing. It was easy to get them off-balance."

"Eli [Drinkwitz] comes off as this kind of nerdy guy, but he's really, really sharp. He has vision, and he's thinking long term there."

"This program might really benefit from expansion because the league will almost certainly go to a pod system and get these guys out of the East. This staff could do very well if they played regular games in Texas and more on the West side. They've really been hampered by division play.”

South Carolina

"This is the team to start paying attention to. Shane [Beamer] knows what he's doing, and now he has a quarterback he's familiar with. They're going to be much better than people think in the long run. The question really is how long will that take, and where the ceiling is at with the level of competition they're against in the league and Clemson. But this is a guy who's acting a lot like his Dad did when he built Virginia Tech out of nothing. They don't talk about the challenge; they're looking for those four or five things that can work for them and not wasting time on the things they can't do."

"The kid [Spencer Rattler] has a lot of raw talent, and I don't think Oklahoma was as crisp as we usually expect on offense last year, but it's hard to just blame his environment or just blame him. We'll find out pretty fast."

"They don't have a lot of identifiable playmakers on offense, but the bigger concern is the defense. That's what's keeping them back right now; that's what could swing those few conference games and get them to eight or nine wins they can turn into recruiting momentum."

"There's a chance in this new portal era where Spencer blows up, they work the portal to get some big-time guys in for next year, and all of a sudden they're really taking off."

Related: College Football All-America Team for 2022

Tennessee

"This seems like the team that everyone's in love with, at least after one season. Any time Tennessee does well, even if it's clearly because of a one-off situation, there's an immediate pressure to ramp back up to the Phillip Fulmer national title days."

"They're pretty easy to break down because that offense is pretty easy to break down: You're a six-win team if your quarterback is decent, and you've got a two- or three-game ceiling if he can make plays. Having [Joe] Milton as the backup is a big luxury; you don't want to be rotating them at all, but if you have an injury, you've got a guy with game reps in the system, which is rare in the portal era."

"Overall, the defense is average at best for that division, but that's a luxury Josh Heupel's system offers because it can hide them a little bit."

"They're missing a really dynamic playmaker right now. Finding that at receiver with one of the signees could be huge for them."

"When this staff came in, there was a pretty strong criticism of the simplicity they used at UCF. They did a good job adjusting in some games, but it will be interesting to watch how they advance and wrinkle their stuff as defenses get more and more tape on them."

"Give them credit — they've got an identity for the first time in years, and the scheme has kept them in games against teams with way more talent, especially at places where it matters most in this league, like the line of scrimmage."

Related: Ranking the SEC Quarterbacks for 2022

Vanderbilt

"You'll probably see more improvement on defense this season; the offense still has way more questions and personnel issues. There's some talent on defense, namely some of the upperclassmen in the secondary."

"Offensively, they need an identity. They need to plant a flag on something. They don't have a true starting quarterback right now. They're returning the two guys, but I don't know if either is a long-term solution. And they don't have a true playmaker type at any skill position where they could build around them. They're pretty bad up front and lost some guys to transfer they could've built the line around." 

"They've got some great young coaches on that staff, but they're fighting the future with one hand tied behind their back, and not just in the SEC. Right now, I think you'd be hard-pressed to find a program that's more exposed by NIL and by the portal than this one. It wasn't easy to coach here before; now it could be a lot harder. We haven't seen how they can use either of those to their advantage, but you can definitely see a future where players come in, get coached up and developed and transfer out. Look at Tyler Steen. He was starting there, and now he's at Bama. And the bigger problem is, you can't just take a kid from the MAC in the portal, either, because of the academics."

"The good news is that there's no urgency to fix things quickly. They've got time to figure it out."

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SEC West

Alabama

"If you're sick of Bama, buckle up, because it's going to be the longest season of your life. Right now, they project to have the best offensive and defensive player in the country and have the deepest roster in the best conference in the nation. They're a de facto pick to win the SEC and the national championship."

"Nick Saban loves a losing year, even in the national title, because it kills whatever assumption that current group might have about their value. He's a genius because he can reduce all that success from last season into a lesson about failure, and they'll have to buy into the work ethic. It's amazing."

"The roster, at this point, is just a joke to talk about. Pick a position. We don't scout them based on what they've lost. No other place in the country is like this. They aren't new faces so much as players who haven't beat you yet."

"They have a receiving corps any roster in the country would swap for, and you can make the argument that was the position group that cost them the title game, and only because of multiple injuries."

"If Bryce Young doesn't win the Heisman back-to-back, it could be because of Jahmyr Gibbs. He already looks like he belongs there, and they could be ridiculous with that combination."

"The more you look at the roster, the more anticlimactic the 2022 season looks. They were banged up against a once-in-a-generation defense they'd already beaten; otherwise they'd be set for a repeat run this season."

Related: Ranking All 131 College Football Teams for 2022

Arkansas

"Don't take this as a knock on the head coach, but maybe the greatest coaching hire since Joe Brady went to LSU is Barry Odom to Arkansas. It's not even close. He's completely changed that culture, and they are absolutely playing above their talent level. They shouldn't be as effective as they are."

"Sam [Pittman] is a great face for the program, a great leader, and has really brought home a lot of the cultural stuff that [Bret] Bielema wanted to install both in the program and with the fans and boosters but didn't have the right personality to do it."

"The biggest change is that they're recruiting night and day better than the last staff, and the portal has helped them kind of shake off the Chad Morris era. Pittman knows talent; he was a grinder at Georgia. They're smart and they know how to evaluate, and they've done a nice job with the portal."

"The offense gets a lot of headlines, but they need to take that next step in a lot of areas. Talent-wise, they're still not league quality at every position. The quarterback [KJ Jefferson] could be a really special player if [OC] Kendal [Briles] can build on last season and keep him healthy."

"The floor has been permanently raised. They're going to be a huge pain in the ass for the elite teams for a long time. They embrace physical play, and they're hellbent to run on you. That's always gonna work."

Auburn

"Does anyone remember that if the running back doesn't go out of bounds that they beat Alabama? Does anyone remember that they led most of the game? Nobody turns down SEC coaching jobs, but that place is absolutely schizophrenic."

"As far as the football, they need a quarterback, they need a much better offensive line, they need to replace a ton of guys in the secondary and receiving corps, and they've bled a lot of Gus Malzahn's guys in the portal because of all the off-field stuff. Is it a lost cause? Maybe not. They're creative on offense."

"[Derek] Mason leaving let Bryan Harsin promote another one of his guys up to DC. Not sure if that helps or hurts, but it probably gives him more peace of mind."

"They won't settle on a starting quarterback until the very end. That's how he runs it. They'll have a wide-open race all through the summer and keep everyone involved as much as possible; then they'll lock in and try not to swap them once the season starts, unless someone's injured."

"You could argue a lot of the wounds they're nursing are self-inflicted by both the head coach and the people around the program. It certainly drove coaches and players out of the program, and it absolutely made it easier to recruit against them."

"The upside is that you can't say Hars doesn't understand the league anymore. If he survives this, it will be the greatest trial by fire ever."

Related: SEC Football Predictions for 2022

LSU

"There's still a good bit of talent on that roster from Ed [Orgeron], and there's no reason they can't put together a nice season right away. Everyone's talking about the culture fit with Brian [Kelly], but that'll all die down when there's actual games to play."

"What are they going to do on offense with that personnel? It seems like they want to go dual threat and run with their QB, but that's really just [Jayden] Daniels, not the other guys. They've got some playmakers on the perimeter, and they need to have an effective downfield passing offense with that personnel. I think you might see them rotate QBs, which could be a different set of problems."

"Defensively, this will be the weakest secondary LSU has had in decades. It's because of the changeover and losing guys to Arkansas and Alabama, but they're going to feel it. Firing your coach in October creates these issues, right or wrong."

"Call this a rebuilding year with urgency. The lines are a mess, especially on offense, and they have as many questions as they do talented players. They'll be really interesting to watch down the stretch this season. It's possible they'll figure it out as they go."

"The bigger thing to watch will be recruiting this season and next. Kelly has to prove it here; he's at a top brand that can battle for anyone nationally, but it's not an automatic, and going to war for those five stars against your own division is nothing like Notre Dame."

Mississippi State

"The good news is that they have the quarterback [Will Rogers] back, and he does a lot of what Mike Leach likes. Historically, that means his numbers will jump, he'll make better decisions and have less turnovers and they'll be a more consistent scoring offense. They lose the really good tackle [Charles Cross]; that hurts."

"It helps that some of those receivers are back, too, but they don't have a threat you have to work around. What would really help them is having the one dynamic guy you have to cheat to double. That's when they can kill you."

"The interesting story for these guys is on defense. [DC Zach] Arnett is a rising star and a really sharp mind, and that defensive staff has some really sharp guys. But part of what makes him good is that he knows when to dial it up and take a risk, and when you're aggressive on defense opposite a Leach offense, it can be a disaster sometimes."

"The question shouldn't be if Mike can coach in the SEC. That's stupid; he can. The question is how can they advance what they're doing? That's the same for every offensive coach in this league. Right now, if you've got a disciplined secondary with good eyes who can play zone, you can slow them down. The feeling around the league right now is that everyone knows what they're going to do. That doesn't mean you can always stop them, but it's not good either. This is the SEC; we've all got analysts eating tape. You have to stay fresh."

Ole Miss

"You can reduce them down to the quarterback. If Jaxson Dart is a dude, they're gonna be lethal on offense and can win as many games as last year. If he's not, it's gonna be a really long, bad season. This program is going to live and die with quarterbacks as long as Lane Kiffin's there, so … low floor, high ceiling."

"[OC Jeff] Lebby leaving is going to be a bigger hit behind the scenes of the program than the play-calling or development. He was de facto head coach for a lot of stuff Lane wasn't around for and put out a lot of fires."

"They're relying on transfers for both starting roles and quality depth at almost every skill position on offense. That's a big gamble. The TCU back [Zach Evans] is good, the transfers at receiver are good, but that's risky. Culture is a real thing, and with new OCs, there's so much uncertainty."

"The defense still looks like they're shaking off the probation years, but they aren't as bad as they were. D.J. Durkin got them turned around in the bigger areas, but he's gone, and they're not really deep. With all the changes on offense, they'll need to be at least as good as they were last year."

"Let's see how Lane is maturing. Almost all of the pieces he had on staff and on the roster that made last season special are gone. He's starting almost from scratch, and it's going to take a different kind of head coach than he's been in Oxford to continue the momentum they had in '21."

Related: Ranking the SEC Quarterbacks for 2022

Texas A&M

"Jimbo Fisher might be a mad genius when it comes to media because they get talked about alongside Georgia and Alabama, and they're every bit an 8–4 program. He knows it, too, but I think that's part of the plan."

"Their rep is that once they lose that one big game, they're not the same. When it's not all on the line, you don't ever really get their best."

"What's the QB situation going to be? They took a lot of sacks last year, but they didn't really turn the ball over much, so they stayed in games. If you take Kellen [Mond] out, Jimbo's history with picking QBs isn't as great as people think. He has a huge decision here; the guy they might not want to play, Max Johnson, is probably the one with the most experience. But they didn't spend all the money on Conner Weigman to keep him on the sidelines, did they? 

"The NIL culture is like a science experiment here. How's it going to work with the rest of the locker room?"

"[Mike] Elko is a big loss because he did such a tremendous job as DC opposite that offense; they really complemented each other."

"They have a really good offensive line. I think you're going to see them get big and simple at first while they settle in on a quarterback because the expectations are mounting. They beat Bama, but they lost to Ole Miss. If you do that again this year, you become Ole Miss, and you're being paid to be Bama."

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