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 2021, Athlon asked coaches in the ACC 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.
ACC Coaches Talk Anonymously About Conference Foes for 2022
"The quarterback [Phil Jurkovec] coming back is obviously huge, but don't sleep on the defense. He's [Jeff Hafley] finally got some guys that look like they can play with the top half of the league."
"What they're doing developmentally is what Georgia Tech should've done: a former DC who recruits guys based on relationships; don't worry about outside attention or rankings, and be selective in the portal, and then develop them quietly."
"This defense will be good. The more time they get and the more they can cycle their guys in, they're going to be better than they've been. Year 3, you'll see more looks, more creative stuff. Watch out."
"The quarterback going out so early changed their entire season. He could be really, really special if he stays healthy this season, but he's got the tag now as a health concern. If he plays through a whole season, he could look like Kenny Pickett."
"I'd worry more about the turnover on the line than the new OC. He's got another former NFL guy in John McNulty, so I'm betting you're gonna see another two-tight end, pro-style attack. They turned over the entire offensive staff almost, but I don't think it's gonna change what Jeff wants to do at all. So they're gonna go focus on good tight ends like the kid [George Takacs] they just got from Notre Dame. Keep your linemen deep, hope you land on a good quarterback now and then and support your defense. His plan is easy to see, but it's the right one."
"I think losing Brent [Venables] is going to be really interesting. He was such a force there; it's more than losing a coordinator. He drove the whole thing on defense. The good thing for them is they have really good players on defense right now, and I think Wes [Goodwin] did a good job in the bowl game running the same scheme. He's really smart, but there are huge shoes to fill."
"The three defensive linemen are back, the linebacker, and the freshman safety is tremendous. There's a core there where they can keep it going and it'll look about the same this year."
"I don't think the QB is a great player. They thought he was when Trevor [Lawrence] was out against Notre Dame, and maybe that fooled them? It's not out of the question that they change guys. They're also not as good around him. They haven't evaluated as well at OL like other positions."
"The receivers have fallen off; when they were really rolling and winning nattys, that position flat-out scared you. Now they're league average, same as at running back."
"They're not recruiting like they have. There's also a giant difference between NIL in the ACC and the Big Ten and SEC. Are they beating Alabama and those guys from here on out? They're still the best program in this league, but they've never had as many questions moving forward. This is the start of the next era for them, and it's possible they're not a national title winner anymore."
"It's possible that Mike [Norvell] might have this thing turned around a little bit, but not to the level that fans are going to want right now. They've relied so much on transfers, especially on defense; you never really know what they've got out there, and I don't mean that as a compliment to their strategy. Some of those guys have hit, but you can't maintain that at Florida State. At some point you stop using band-aids."
"[Jordan] Travis is athletic and makes a bunch of plays, but he also seems hurt all the time. Can he function more as a primary thrower and dial down the runs? You have to think the coaches want that too. I don't think he moved around that much by design."
"The O-line looks like it will be better than these last few years — that's one place where they've been using the portal pretty well — and they always have talent at running back, so if they can match that on defense, they're going to be better overall for the first time in a long time. The UCF linebacker [Tatum Bethune] is going to help them out."
"They have almost all of those receivers back, but none of them really blow you away. They don't have a go-to guy in that unit."
"Is 7–5 enough? It should be. They could put pieces together this year that create a huge '23 season, and they're not in a place where they can really show off their high school recruiting. And yeah, we've all heard the talk about Deion [Sanders], so is 7–5 really enough?"
"It's win-now time. Other than Georgia Tech, this is the job that people think is going to come open in the league. You watch the coaching and player turnover stack up, and it seems like they've drifted from what made [Scott Satterfield] successful at Appalachian State."
"Offensively, he's still going to be calling plays, so I'm skeptical how different things are going to look with Lance [Taylor] as OC. They don't seem settled on what they want to do with Malik [Cunningham]. It's hard to figure out their identity, but it's also hard to see what they want it to be."
"Defensively, they're very average at best. They don't pressure much; they don't have anyone up front who bothers you."
"Probably the thing that jumps out most is how much they've worked the portal in both directions and how different that is from what Scott came from at App. Even as a G5, they had a system of developing guys, building a very specific culture, and the last few years it seems like they're always scrambling to rebuild that roster and define themselves."
"I think the school and the head coach figured out they're not a great fit for each other a while ago, and there hasn't been a way to create a break yet. He's tried to get out and it didn't work, and there have been issues at the school that have probably bought him some time up until now. Unless they surprise a lot of people, this feels like the end."
"Last year might've been the proof of concept the staff has been trying to deliver since they got there. A lot of things clicked for them, and the Clemson win was bigger than the moment. They can take that out to the Carolinas and recruit with it. It's proof of concept for Dave [Doeren]."
"The quarterback [Devin Leary] is legit. He was a different guy when he was playing injured, but you got a much better idea of his talent last year. The one outside receiver [Emeka Emezie] was really good. They need to find that production with the other guys they have, but I don't think they're that caliber.
"The tackle [Ikem Ekwonu] is going to the league as a first-rounder; they need to replace him, but otherwise the line is pretty good. If they can swap in some new running backs, I expect them to keep on pace."
"Gibby [DC Tony Gibson] has really found himself at NC State. He runs a really effective system there, and I think his guys are totally bought in. They really played well, and they kept losing guys. I think if they're at full strength, it might be enough to swing a possession in that Wake game."
"Overall, they're a more talented team and a deeper one than probably any other time in their history with Doeren. The issue now is expectations. This program seems cursed when everyone pays attention. They're going to have eyes on them immediately. Leary could take them to a division title if he's healthy."
Related: ACC Predictions for 2022
"So they've changed over the offensive staff again. Three years ago they're Texas Air Raid, throwing it 50 times a game, which is a radical thing to see up there, and they can't sustain it because of the talent gap and because the defenses adapted. Then it's the former Mississippi State QB, and they're running it and it's almost option-ish, and they were maybe a little bit better because of the defense helping out. Now those guys are out and he has the Virginia offensive staff. Now it's like a version of the West Coast offense. How is the personnel going to respond? You can't maintain this kind of scheme change without hitting bust."
"Defensively, they're really well coached, give them credit too, because they're going out and finding guys that get overlooked and they develop them into some mean dudes. They're replacing some guys up front, but I think if [Tony] White was at another school, he would've been noticed right now. He's done a really good job running that 3-3."
"If they could find a long-term solution on offense, I think Dino Babers would probably get more credit than he does, because they've come a long way from what he was known for schematically when he took the job. He was smart enough to move on when the personnel didn't match, and they've found some solid kids in a hard place to recruit to."
"They're still gonna be really good. The list of places that could come and get [Dave] Clawson out of there is getting smaller and smaller. They're turning into a Kentucky-type of program for this league because they've got a really great system and a head coach that could probably be somewhere bigger that they've surrounded with enough to keep him in town."
"With [Sam] Hartman back, you can absolutely expect them to put up a lot of points in most games. They've got their flavor of RPO down to an exact science. It's not impossible to stop, but they can just absolutely rip against an undisciplined man defense."
"[New DC] Brad Lambert is a really good hire for them; he and the guys he's bringing over understand recruiting in that area. I think they'll scrap some of that stuff and change up their looks. They had a strange philosophy where they were a bend-don't-break scheme until they'd go zero blitz on you."
"They're never going to match up in terms of recruiting or the 'get off the bus' look, but they have a core with Hartman and those receivers, especially A.T. Perry. They lose Jaquarii Roberson, but they've got a lot of talent there, and I think the entire O-line is back. So, yeah, they're in a place now where they can compete with anybody in the league when they have the right quarterback who understands how to read in that system."
"Check back in with these guys down the road. It's going to be bad for a bit, but Mike Elko is a really smart hire for this program. He hired a really sharp staff, picked off the guy from Wake, and they're going to overhaul the talent evaluation and strip everything down."
"The way things ended for Cut [David Cutcliffe] was really rough, but when the problem is your signature area, the quarterback play and the offense, you can't really explain that away. It got to a point where a lot of us thought he was just tired. Defenses were able to call out plays before the snap because they were so tendency heavy that they ran only one or two things out of a particular formation."
"This compares a little bit to [Jeff] Hafley at BC coming from Ohio State: Don't think about Elko as the A&M guy coming to Duke; think of him as the guy who can sign, develop and scheme. Duke is a lot closer to Notre Dame than A&M in that way. He's going to build a system, and he doesn't have to take any shortcuts because of the deal they gave him. They want a long-term solution, and he wants to be there for the haul."
"This year, they're going to be bad, and they have space to figure out what works and what doesn't."
"Kevin Johns is a good OC; it's possible they'll look better at the end of this season than they did at the end of last year. But this is a talent-deficient roster with very little depth. It's going to take some time."
"Honestly, it's almost impossible to see a way in which Geoff Collins survives this season. Every good player on defense is gone or in the portal. The best player they've recruited is going to be starting at Alabama. They have a conference schedule that's tough on its own and a non-conference slate that looks like it was designed to get this guy fired."
"Three years in, coaches are beginning to question what the plan was on offense. The transfer quarterback will be a better fit for the new scheme. Chip [Long] knows what he's doing, but it's a really bare cupboard. The problem is, you can still see the transition out of the triple option on their tape from the end of last year."
"They've recruited a bunch of guys that other staffs think are overrated. That's fine, you have differences in evaluations, but they aren't a development program either."
"They had one of the worst secondaries I've ever seen last year, and all those guys are gone, so maybe that's a positive move? The bigger problem is that the guys up front who could help are gone, too, so they're going to need multiple unknowns to step up if they're going to do anything."
"The failure here has been recruiting. It's been the exact thing he made such a big deal about in the first place, recruiting Atlanta talent to stay in Atlanta. They're as much of a non-factor on legit talent now as they were under Paul Johnson."
"Obviously, there's a lot of attention here. This move felt like it had nothing to do with football, at least with what Manny Diaz was doing towards the end. Go back and look at the tape; they're really close in the Virginia and UNC games, and if they go the other way, Miami wins 10."
"The old staff had finally figured out a plan on offense, and [OC] Rhett Lashlee had it going at the very end. They probably gambled too much on D'Eriq King's health, and that killed them. If they had gone with Tyler Van Dyke from the jump, they'd still be there. That kid is the absolute real deal. He's a future first-rounder, and he's going to be the most talented QB in this league by the end of the '22 season. The receivers around him are solid-to-good, and the back is good. The line is finally decent, so they've got a really solid core to build on."
"The Kevin Steele hire is interesting. I think Mario Cristobal wanted a veteran guy with a lot of SEC evaluation experience who could come in and clean up a lot of the small stuff. And also, hiring Kevin sends a particular kind of message — 'Hey, we're going to go four-down; we're going to go after those kind of playmaker linemen and ends you remember Miami having.'
"This is not a rebuild, and Mario won't be evaluated like it is. Some big pieces fell into place very late in Diaz's time, and there's a way they can pivot to immediate success."
"Everything about this program changed last season. Now it feels like we're looking at them differently. OK, you weren't a top-10 team, but your head coach had everyone pumped up to believe that. Was he doing the hard sell, or did he believe it too? And if he did, that's scary, because the problems were easy to spot."
"They put everything on Sam [Howell] coming back, and it didn't happen. Now they're down an NFL QB, they've lost three NFL running backs in three years, they're turning over the line and basically they've got a few pieces at receiver. It could get ugly fast."
"Defensively, [Gene] Chizik is getting a lot more talent than the offense has. That core already took all their bumps; they're good up front, the DL is probably their most talented unit now and they should play better as an overall defense. Chizik will want to simplify everything and attack a lot."
"What is the long-term plan here? It's something recruits ask other coaching staffs, so they have to figure it out soon. Is Chizik taking over? You get the feeling that Mack Brown thought Howell and that offense had them in position to win the league with Clemson down, and when it fell apart, no one knew how to handle what came next."
Related: ACC Predictions for 2022
"The obvious thing is that losing Kenny Pickett is going to hurt them a lot. That's not the caliber of quarterback you turn around and replace at a program like that. But the under-the-radar thing, at least to a lot of us, is losing [OC Mark] Whipple. It was no secret he didn't really jibe with Pat [Narduzzi], but that's not a bad thing all the time. I think he was the first offensive coach to come in there and really push back and call his own shots, and it really worked. They had a talented QB and they could attack defenses really well."
"The interesting thing will be Kedon Slovis. He's a different style player than Kenny. I think [new OC] Frank Cignetti Jr. is going to bring that Boston College offense over and try to play a little bit more ball control, but they need to run the ball better."
"The defense is going to be what you're used to at this point. They play like Pat wants; they match his personality. This is a tough team. They embrace physicality. They're Pat, for better or worse: maul you or get too aggressive and go to zero coverage and get torched. They're not really deep, either, and they lack high-end talent."
"The floor for this program is floating around a bowl. No one really knows what the expectation for this staff is now. Did Pat earn a little security? He's certainly no charmer. They're almost certainly going to fall back into the pack this year."
"This is a very hard situation to get a bead on. Tony [Elliott] is a really sharp guy and a good coach. It seems like he interviewed for so many head jobs over the years, and he lands on this one? That's either crazy smart or crazy. We'll find out."
"They lost most of the offensive line in the portal, and that was maybe their strongest position group. The last staff did a pretty good job of shopping the portal; both of their really good tight ends came from there. I'm not sure how Tony plans to use that."
"They had a nice plan going with their defense, and it ended up biting them in the end, switching from what they had to that 3-3 stuff. I think they were trying a lot of stuff from Iowa State."
"Bottom line was, Bronco [Mendenhall] didn't want to make concessions with his staff, and that's why he's gone. The move to get Tony makes sense on the Virginia side. They're going to shift in the direction of chasing talent a bit more, but at a place like UVA, you're not going to beat Clemson or FSU and out-talent teams. You have to develop. That's going to make or break this staff."
"They're going to graduate a lot of the players that didn't transfer out, so they need to be able to get a lot out of a core of Bronco's guys right away before it gets really thin the next season."
"The program did real damage to itself keeping Justin Fuente for that extra year. Maybe even the last two."
"I think Brent Pry identifies as a Bud Foster guy and wants to commit long term. Other coaches saw the condition of that roster and figured out pretty quick that they have years of work ahead of them."
"It's bleak on offense. Schematically, they were a train wreck in '21. I don't think they have an ACC-caliber QB on the roster. Those guys are average at best. The offensive line was the strength for the offense, and now they're gone."
"It's not a stretch to say the offense doesn't have a top-half-of-the-league-level skill player at any position. They haven't signed a single player in the last two years that a high-level ACC program wanted."
"I think Pry's plan is to do what [Jeff] Hafley did at Boston College and bring in an NFL guy like [new OC] Tyler Bowen, then run a lot of ball control, two-tight end stuff to try to shorten the game."
"Pry is a great DC, except now he's going to have to face the reality he can't focus on this defense the way he has his entire career. It's always interesting to watch a career coordinator in their first head-coaching year and how much they're stuck on acting like their old job."
"This is a really solid staff, they're football smart, but you can't just outcoach every team every week in the Power 5. It took Frank Beamer a long time to get it going, and it might take the same amount of time to fix this."