Coaches dish on all 14 ACC teams.
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 billboard 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 2017, Athlon asked coaches in the ACC to talk anonymously about their opponents.
Related: ACC Predictions for 2017
Note: These scouting reports come directly from coaching staffs and do not necessarily reflect the views of Athlon's editorial staff.
ACC Coaches Talk Anonymously About Conference Foes for 2017
“The thing with BC is they’re a pressure team defensively, and they’re going to just put constant pressure on you, take away the run game and dare you to beat them throwing the ball. If you can do that for 60 minutes, you can win. But if you miss, you may only get two possessions each quarter. So if you struggle on that first third down of the game, and then you don’t get the next third down, you can be in a little bit of hot water. They know exactly who they are defensively, and it matches up perfectly for their offense."
"They’ve had legitimate players on defense. The kid from North Carolina (defensive end Harold Landry) could play for anyone in the country. They can drop him in coverage or have him come off the edge."
"They don’t scare you much offensively. They try to get a couple play-action shots, get a jet sweep every once in a while. They just don’t have the same kind of skill players that other schools in the league have, but they’re very sound in what they do."
"They have to replace their quarterback, which will be interesting. (Patrick) Towles played well for them all things considered.”
“In my time in college football, I’ve played a lot of people, but that Clemson team last year, dadgum, they were so good, and their staff does a damn good job. They have creative ways to get people touches, and if you’re a good player, you will touch the ball. With (defensive coordinator Brent) Venables, you wonder how he gets it installed week to week because he changes so much and he morphs. They really copycat what stops you. So if somebody else gave you fits with something, you were going to see it when you play Clemson, and not a lot of people do that."
"Now they’ll steal your signals. People don’t want to talk about it, but the teams that gave them fits were NC State and Pitt because they huddled. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. It’s not a very well-kept secret, but it didn’t matter. They could have told us what was coming on every play and they would have whipped us."
"Their defensive front is a problem. They grow ‘em on trees, but they develop too. Dexter Lawrence, I hope he decides to take the next two years off."
"They’re alright in the secondary, but they grab better than anyone else.”
“Their talent may not be good enough on a given Saturday, but they usually don’t beat themselves."
"They have the quarterback (Daniel Jones) back. He’s more of a dual-threat guy, and they can give you a unique look with him offensively with the quarterback run game out of the pistol, which not a lot of people do in our league. It’s a little bit more of a downhill type of run game and not so much with the power reads. The OL coach (John Latina) retired (after the 2015 season), and I don’t know if that has anything to do with it or maybe they just had some young guys and needed time to come together, but we ate them alive up front."
"They had a lot of injuries last year, but I’ll tell you this much: They won’t just sit back and let a 4–8 record stand. They’ll do something. They have a sound system and that coaching staff is too good to do that again. What those guys have done is nothing short of amazing."
"Nobody at receiver really scared you, but I liked their tailbacks. No. 29 (Shaun Wilson) plays bigger than he is."
"On defense, they had a lot of experience up front. They play sort of a high-risk, high-reward scheme.”
Related: ACC Football Predictions for 2017
“They’re going to be really good."
"Getting Derwin James back off the injury solidifies their defense. The biggest limitation is at linebacker, but Matthew Thomas can be as good as there is in the country."
"Offensively, they’re very average up front, especially losing Rod Johnson early, which I know caught their staff by surprise. They’re not as good on the offensive line as they were a few years ago, and you saw that with how many times (QB Deondre Francois) got hit last year. He took a beating and he just kept getting up and showed tremendous courage. From an ability standpoint, he’s got the whole package. If you’re an NFL team, you probably wish he was 6'4", but his arm talent is tremendous. As tough as he is, they have to be concerned with keeping him healthy because their No. 2 QB is a big question mark."
"At running back, people are going to see they got a special guy in Cam Akers. I think he’s every bit as fast as Dalvin Cook, but he’s probably a more fluid athlete. Cook had that acceleration, but I think Akers in the long run can do more things, catching the ball out of the backfield, more natural fit for that offense. I think he can be good right off the bat.”
“When you play Georgia Tech, you have to be ready for a fistfight. They’re just a nasty bunch."
"Offensively, they’re trying to use an ability to hurt your defensive linemen, secondary, everybody, with their scheme and the way they block. They really push the edge of the rules. They figure you can’t call a high-low block every play, so they’ll do it 60 times. That’s the first thing you have to fight against, and they have a great plan and you have to just try to stay one step ahead of the plan until the end of the game."
"The system stays the same. They need a guy at quarterback that can make good decisions and is a tough runner and then throw it over the top every once in a while, and they’ll have to find that guy with (Justin) Thomas leaving. Their backup last year (Matthew Jordan) was a bigger guy they used in goal-line stuff, but he wasn’t as much of an open-field threat, so it’ll be interesting to see what direction they go."
"They had a freshman back (Dedrick Mills) that is going to be pretty good, but other than that, their personnel is probably towards the bottom of our league.”
“It’s always hard to project Louisville because they’re kind of a hodgepodge collection of people and they go get four or five juco kids nobody knows about, but it all goes back to Lamar (Jackson)."
"I think the thing that really showed up is people initially thought, ‘We can’t blitz Lamar because of his feet,’ but at the end of the day the blitz is what wrecked his world. I think you go back and look very closely at what Todd Orlando did for Houston against them on that Thursday night, it just absolutely blew them up."
"They had issues up front, and people finally figured out how you had to play them. Recipe-wise, if you sit back and play zone and you just worry about rush lanes, that’s just playing right into his hands. People will play them differently out of the gates this year, and it’s going to put a lot of stress on their offensive line to protect him better."
"Tempo really hurt them on defense, so we’ll see how they adjust. (New defensive coordinator Peter) Sirmon is from that Justin Wilcox tree, but he really got blasted by a couple guys in the SEC (while at Mississippi State) that I didn’t think were very good on offense.”
“They lost their quarterback, their best receiver and a big-time tailback, but they’re still probably the most talented team in the division."
"They didn’t expect (Brad) Kaaya to go to the draft, and he kind of blindsided them so, ok, who’s up next? It’ll be a little bit of a wait-and-see thing with the quarterback position."
"Outside of quarterback, they bring back more experience than anybody in the division, so that will be the key. They played a bunch of freshmen last year all over the field, so they’ve got some guys who can step in, and they’re recruiting well."
"Toward the end of the season they were playing good fundamental football and it really showed in the bowl game. I think it will help those guys to be in the second year of the system."
"Manny (Diaz) does a nice job defensively, but he’s a total gimmick guy. He wants to try to prove to people that he’s brilliant. He’s got some really nice pieces, but they’re too gimmicky for my taste."
"They have good young pass rushers. That’s probably the strongest part of their team. The (Demetrius) Jackson kid is special. (Shaquille) Quarterman was really good for a freshman.”
“Dave Doeren is a solid ball coach, but they’re so nondescript."
" Jaylen Samuels was an honorable mention all-conference guy, and he’s played a lot of minutes. He’s dynamic with the ball in his hands. They’ll move him around a lot to get him touches. He’s a really good player."
"At the end of the day it’ll come down to the quarterback and how much better he plays in conference. Ryan Finley was good in the non-conference, but they had a four-game slide and he struggled with man-to-man defense against better competition. He played solid but just didn’t do enough to help them win games, so if he can make that jump there’s a chance they’ll be good. If not, their staff will probably be looking for jobs. It’s a big year for them."
"Defensively, there might not be a better front four out there in the league aside from Clemson. They’ve got six guys who could start just about anywhere in the ACC, and they’re going to be good at stopping the run."
"Bradley Chubb coming back is huge for them. We thought he was going to turn pro. Big-time pass rusher. They’ve got NFL-caliber players on defense.”
“They had a great signal caller last year and the year before, so chances are they’ll have somebody pretty good this year. I don’t know who it’s going to be. You can say it’s a product of the system, but I think they do a heck of a job identifying the skill sets that will work for them, and they’ve done a really nice job staying true to that system."
"Their offensive line was as good as we faced all year long, and they had two really good tailbacks and one of the best receivers in the league in (Ryan) Switzer, and they lose all those skill guys."
"They’re going to be missing some key parts from teams that won a lot of games, and that’s going to be the challenge for their staff."
"I think you look at what they were defensively before Coach (Gene) Chizik and how much they improved when he was there, I would have some concerns about him leaving."
"They could win the division or finish toward the bottom, but they’ll score points. That system has withstood the test of time, and they’re very comfortable with what they want to do and who they want to recruit. But if their defense falls off, they’ll be average.”
“They’re going to run the ball first and foremost."
"The word I heard is they’re going to run the same system or at least very similar to what they had, but they lost their coordinator, their tailback, their quarterback and a couple of the really good linemen they had. I thought their line was one of the best we faced, so that’ll be interesting to see how that develops."
"On defense, they’re going to stop the run and make you throw it. Last year, people threw for 400 yards on them regularly. It’s just a matter of how good you are throwing the football. When (Pat) Narduzzi was in the Big Ten, that style, people couldn’t handle it. With Pitt in the ACC, it’s a quarterback-driven league. You’ve got corners they’re putting on an island. He will pressure, but their corners are matched up outside and the safeties are extra hitters in the box. They’re sort of getting nine in the box at all times. If their corners improve and they can get away with it, they’ll be fine. At Michigan State, those corners were getting drafted, and it’s cold and windy in the Big Ten in a league that runs the ball. This league isn’t like that.”
Related: ACC Football Predictions for 2017
“Being Year 2 in that system, I think they can be dangerous."
"It’s not easy to pick up that offense in a short period of time, not so much from the schematics but really the tempo of it. (Dino) Babers is used to having a track team at that position when he was at Baylor, and I don’t see that kind of speed there. They had two good veteran receivers who graduated (Amba Etta-Tawo and Brisly Estime), and they can’t run that system without some guys who can beat you vertically."
"They’re still going to play Eric Dungey at quarterback. He’s got some ability, you know, but he gets hurt all the time."
"Their O-line was atrocious last year."
"Syracuse is the kind team you kind of don’t want to play, particularly up there. It’s a bad environment, and if your guys don’t go in there with their mind right, they can beat you. That’s what happened when they beat Virginia Tech."
"Obviously their defense struggled, but it’s so easy to point at that. In reality, their offense put them in a bind quite a bit. They’ll turn the ball over or go quick three-and-out or put their defense in bad situations.”
“They’re not particularly fast."
"The best player on the team was the tailback (Smoke Mizzell), and he’s gone, so how do they adapt what they were doing?"
"The coaches there have won a lot of games over the years and they know what they’re doing, but they need to adapt what they do to the kids on their team."
"I think they’ll take a step forward and play people tough, but I don’t think they’ll be talented enough to blow anyone out."
"That’s just such a cultural change with Bronco (Mendenhall). I think he’s a heck of a coach and knows exactly what his vision is and how to get it done. His staff is aligned with it, it’s just a matter of how quick he can turn that ship. It’ll be one of those things that all of a sudden it turns and it’ll be beautiful if they give him enough time. His message isn’t for everybody. BYU was so different because his message has religious overtones, like, we’re changing the world. For BYU that fits perfect. For a kid out of Virginia Beach? I don’t know. That’s not what recruits in the South even remotely are thinking about. They’re thinking, ‘We’re going pro.’ But he’s a really good coach and his staff on both sides of the ball is tremendous.”
“(Justin) Fuente has a really diverse offense that is very hard to defend. They’ll throw more formations, more plays at you than you see against most teams, and they’ll try to do things that people did to you on film that they thought worked and you haven’t prepared for. He has that ability to put in new stuff every week to keep you off-balance."
"I was surprised the quarterback (Jerod Evans) went to the draft. He could have been really good coming back in that system, so I’m not sure what they’ll look like offensively."
"They lose most of their high-end skill guys, so we’ll see. I hope it takes them a year or two to reload. I know they signed a junior college quarterback for this year and a high school guy that enrolled mid-year, so I’m sure he’s going to have a similar plan and try to keep the QB run game involved."
"Defensively, they’re always one of the most aggressive schemes we see. They’re losing everyone up front, so that will be a different deal."
"They have a great atmosphere there. I’ve coached in a lot of leagues, and they probably have as good a home-field advantage as you’ll find just about anywhere outside the SEC.”
“We felt like they may have been as good of a defense as we faced in the ACC, particularly from a schematic standpoint."
"Mike Elko was just very sound, thoughtful, had answers but nothing crazy. With limited ability he got guys in the right place, and I’ve just got great respect for that guy. I know it was a tremendous hire for Notre Dame because I was more concerned about their coordinator than his freaking players. They did hire a good guy from Minnesota (Jay Sawvel), and I think they’ll be a pretty solid football team again."
"They had nobody who threatened you vertically on offense. Like, really nobody at all."
"Their quarterback (John Wolford) has played a lot of football. Not many teams have a four-year starter, so that’s an advantage. But they might go with (Kendall Hinton). He’s a better athlete."
"It’s probably the toughest job in the league, but Dave Clawson has done a good job trying to play sound football and limit mistakes and build it the right way. I have a lot of respect for that guy, but Wake is Wake."
"They’re good enough to beat a couple people and you just have to hope your kids show up ready to play.”