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 2018, Athlon asked coaches in the Big 12 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.
Big 12 Coaches Talk Anonymously About Conference Foes for 2018
"You’ve got to feel for Matt (Rhule), a no-nonsense guy stuck in a program full of problems not of his making. He can turn that thing around if they give him time, but it’s not going to be a 2-3 year thing. They’ve got a long way to go."
"Art Briles got players to Baylor because it was the cool thing to play there. It was almost like Oregon with those crazy uniforms and that brand new stadium and facilities. Then they started winning, and everything steamrolled — both good and bad. Now here they are, right back to where they started. It’s a heavy lift, no doubt."
"I thought Charlie Brewer played really well last year all things considered. He can make the throws to win games, but if you can’t keep him off his backside, you’re not going to be in position for that to happen. They’ve got to get better play on the offensive line. Better run blocking, better pass protection. They’ve got some pretty good young receivers, too. Everyone in this conference has skill players; it’s what we do here. But you better be able to protect the most important player on your team if you’re going to use those skill guys."
"Under Art (Briles), those guys didn’t hit in practice. Art didn’t believe in it. He wanted to save his guys for the games. Matt loves to hit, they get after it in practice. He wants them to be a physical team and impose their will on people. Frankly, that’s what Art’s teams were all about. They came out and hit you in the mouth with that run game, then threw it over the top. But they also had much better players. Like I said, it’s going to take time. Players, culture, learning how to win again. A tough haul, man."
Related: Big 12 Football 2018 Predictions
"First time I met Matt Campbell I was blown away. He’s just such a sharp guy, he gets it. I say this knowing I have to coach against him every season and have to recruit against him. You can tell those kids love playing for him. Outside of Kansas and Baylor, they’re the least talented team in our conference — yet they could’ve beaten anyone in our conference last year. How are you not in awe of that?"
"It always seems like the programs where everyone is bought in — and you can tell everyone is bought into what Matt is selling — usually have the success stories you never would’ve dreamed of."
"Kyle Kempt, what a great story. He’s not an athlete that’s going to scare you, and he doesn’t have a cannon. He’s just a smart player who’s accurate with the ball, knows where it’s going and knows the value of ball security."
"David Montgomery is one of the hardest runners I’ve seen in a long time. Every time I looked up, he’s breaking tackles and running away from our guys. He got a lot of those yards after first and second and sometimes third contact. Their offensive line wasn’t that good last year as a run-block unit, and I don’t know how much better it’s going to be this year. They’re going to have to throw it a lot, because Montgomery can only absorb so many of those hits."
"They got so much better on defense last year, and a lot of that was because of (Joel) Lanning and how he settled things down over there. A lot of those guys are coming back, and that’s your first pole in the ground when you’re talking about taking another step as a program. Can we play defense when it matters? They proved last year they can."
"I wouldn’t take that Kansas job unless I was desperate, had never been a head coach and was offered a 10-year, guaranteed contract. David Beaty is truly one of the best guys in our business, and he wanted to be a head coach and he believed — like we all do — that you can win anywhere with the right combination of players and commitment. Here’s the problem with Kansas: It’s nearly impossible to get players, and the commitment from those running the show is hit and miss."
"That team wasn’t even close to winning a conference game, weren’t even competitive for the most part. That’s what’s scary. Believe me, David is a good coach. But that’s one of those programs that just beats you down."
"They’re just not that good at quarterback or deep at receiver, and that’s a problem considering the system they run. I really like the two skill guys outside the quarterback; those two guys (TB Khalil Herbert and WR Steven Sims Jr.) can play for anyone in our conference. They’re that good. But they’re lost without better play at quarterback, and Herbert is going to take too many blows behind a line that really struggles to run block. I’d love to see him run behind the Oklahoma line."
"They’re just not that good defensively. That’s being nice. No speed, no size in the front seven, no guys that can disrupt. No guys in the secondary who can break on the ball. I will say this: They played hard. They’re not that talented and they’re limited in what they can do. But they were fighting play after play. That’s a good sign that they believe in who is coaching them and how they’re prepared."
"It definitely feels like that program is just kind of there. It’s almost as if they’re all just waiting for a legend to say, 'I’m done.' Make no mistake, Bill has earned the right to go out his way. But until he does, it just kind of feels like a big bowl of vanilla ice cream. It’s good on a hot day, but for how long? And when do you start to crave strawberry?"
"They got hot in the second half of last season, or I’m not sure Bill would’ve made it past last year. The good news is Bill has Alex Delton. He’s not the thrower that Skylar Thompson is, but the offense there has always been most dangerous when there’s a dynamic quarterback in the run game. Delton looks like a tailback. They may as well run single wing. He’s a big dude who can run you over and make you miss. If he sharpens what he can do in the passing game, they’ve got a chance to make some noise. Whoever wins that starting job, they’ve lost a lot in the receiving corps. Went from a strength to a big question with one guy leaving early (Byron Pringle) and another (Dominique Heath) transferring."
"The big difference between now and when K-State was playing for conference titles and in the national title hunt is the defense. There were times when they would have two or three or more players who were NFL guys. Now, you’re just not seeing that consistently. You better believe that matters. There’s only so much you can do with guys who are overmatched physically but play their ass off. That fuel runs out eventually, and then what are you left with? Guys that get beat in individual battles more times than not."
"Boy, what a job Lincoln Riley did last year. You can say Bob (Stoops) left the cupboard full — and he did — but believe me when I say you’re dealing with a lot of personalities out there. A lot of guys who might think they can do things another way with a new coach. That team never fractured."
"Lincoln is going to have to make a decision on defense. They just don’t look like they consistently improve under Mike (Stoops). That’s a tough situation for Lincoln. Mike’s brother basically got him that job, set him up. Do you run off Bob’s brother because the defense makes way too many mistakes, or do you hope he figures it out? They were just so hit and miss on defense last year, and have been that way now for years."
"We’ve been watching tape on Kyler Murray from when he was at Texas A&M. There’s going to be a drop-off there. Kyler will be very good in the quarterback run game, but he has a long way to go as a thrower. You might say it was his freshman season (at Texas A&M), but you see Baker Mayfield’s freshman season at Texas Tech, and you could tell he was going to throw it all over the yard at Oklahoma. I’m not seeing that with Murray. Lincoln will coach him up and have him ready, but there will be a drop-off in the passing game."
"The last thing I want to do is minimize what Baker did last year, but when you’ve got a guy like (Rodney) Anderson in the backfield, it makes things a whole lot easier. That’s a grown man back there. Everyone saw what he could do in the Playoff, and he’s only going to get better."
Related: Big 12 Football Predictions for 2018
"The best thing you can possibly have for a new quarterback is the ability to run the ball with power and dictate tempo. That’s what the Cowboys have with Justice Hill and (J.D.) King. They’re going to come at you. They started leaning on the run game more last year. I’m not saying they’re getting away from the pass, but you better respect that run because they’ve got a few guys that can bring a load."
"Who knows who wins that quarterback job. I don’t think Mike (Gundy) has had this much unknown at that position in a long time. Even when he was playing a new guy, that guy usually had at least some time back there. The guy (Taylor Cornelius) who looks like the leader in the clubhouse now barely even threw the ball last year. They were all Mason Rudolph all the time last year, and that might end up hurting them this season. You’ve got to get a backup some reps when you’ve got a senior, and that just didn’t happen last year. Rudolph must have thrown 500 passes last year."
"I know why (Cornelius) didn’t get many reps last year: They weren’t good on defense. That’s why you hire a new guy to run the unit this year. They’ve never really been strong defensively. They’ve had a couple of NFL guys here and there, but mostly they’re a supplement to what happens on offense. And if they’re creating turnovers and getting the offense more plays, that’s the bonus. When they’ve been really good as a team, the defense creates turnovers. That’s really what Mike wants more than anything: more plays for his offense."
"They’re going to a 4-2-5 scheme, but that’s pretty much what you have to run in this conference."
"Those guys are really doing some fun things on offense, and I can’t even imagine the heartburn it’s giving Gary (Patterson). The more creative they get on offense, the more chances they’re taking. Gary knew they had to join the offensive crowd in this conference to win big and they have. But that doesn’t mean he has to like it — especially the outscoring the other guy in the 40s part."
"Everybody runs a form of the (Mike) Leach offense in this conference, and TCU is no different. It’s just that (offensive coordinator) Sonny (Cumbie) seems to get more creative in how he runs the ball and how they spread you out to throw it year after year."
"My guess is Shawn Robinson will be the guy at quarterback. Gary’s not one to just throw a brand new guy in there early, and I know they have a big recruit (Justin Rogers) they signed this year. But they lost a lot on the offensive line, and they’re going to struggle there early. Do you really want a freshman out there behind that line?"
"The good news? There’s always that defense. No one in our conference, heck, not many in our game, do it better than Gary. He hasn’t been happy with the way they’ve played the last couple of years, and they’re going to have a lot of new faces on that side of the ball. But that’s when Gary is his most dangerous. He’s not afraid to play young guys in the secondary in this pass-happy conference, and he’s always reacting and adjusting to what offenses do. He has always been a risk/reward type coach, and he’s not afraid to play guys who, in the long run, will benefit you more even if it means they will have their share of struggles. A lot of other coaches would rather play older guys who may not be as dynamic and make big plays, but won’t get beat as often. Gary wants the reward, and can teach through the risk."
"That whole Texas isn’t tough thing is way overrated. It has nothing to do with tough, it’s a lack of winning — and losing every way possible. That eats away at a team’s confidence, at a program’s core. That’s why Texas has struggled since the last couple years under Mack (Brown) and through Charlie (Strong) and into (Tom) Herman’s first year. If you’ve lost like they have, anything bad snowballs quickly. That’s Herman’s biggest job there: Getting those kids to believe bad things aren’t the be-all, end-all. You can overcome it."
"Let’s be honest here, too. Texas has struggled because Texas has been average at best at quarterback. You can’t play in this conference and be average at quarterback and win big. The quarterback is everything at every school in college football, but even more so in this conference. It’s the lifeblood."
"Sam Ehlinger is a tough kid, a battler. I could see him developing into a guy they can win with. But he has to be smarter. He made some really poor decisions last year that cost them games. Not field position or possession — I’m talking games. His ball security was a big issue. He’s young. He’ll learn."
"You want to talk about Texas tough? That team can’t run the ball. We were more concerned with Ehlinger running the ball than anyone else. When you can’t run the ball, a majority of the time it’s because you can’t get a push up front. I can’t remember the last time the Texas offensive line scared us. They’re not pushing anyone around. That’s where is has to start for them."
"They got better on defense as the year went on. They were nothing like the year before. They were in position, played smart and were aggressive under Todd Orlando. They’re replacing a lot of guys on that side of the ball, and that’s where Herman’s recruiting has to start kicking in. It’s time to develop those guys to really change that program."
"It’s the quarterback. It’s always all about the quarterback there. There might be someone waiting in the wings and set to play, but don’t ever think Kliff (Kingsbury) won’t play the guy he thinks gives him the best chance. He’s not just playing a guy because he’s next in line and knows the offense. He’ll teach enough of the offense to a young guy and get him ready to play if the upside is greater."
"He does some strange personnel things at that position, and most of the time, it pays off. People thought he was crazy to run off Baker (Mayfield), and in hindsight, maybe he was. But he wound up with an NFL talent (Pat Mahomes) who did some really nice things there. Bottom line: I’d trust Kliff at that position. Now, the other side of the ball is a different story."
"I just think you have to be committed to playing strong, fundamental defense. And I don’t think Texas Tech is committed to doing that — in the way they recruit, in the way they coach on game day on both sides of the ball. You can’t keep taking unnecessary chances and put your defense in bad position. If your unit is getting bombarded by constantly protecting short fields, eventually, they’re going to break."
"I keep hearing how the defense will be a strength this year. Read somewhere that the defense will have to pick up the slack for the offense early on. You’ve got to be kidding me. Two things: Nothing is picking up Texas Tech other than the offense, and that defense isn’t nearly at the level of carrying a team early in the season."
"I absolutely think it’s fair to question where the program is headed. Look, we all know the business we’re in, and simply winning more than you lose doesn’t cut it anymore. Anywhere. So does 6–6 cut it this time around?"
Related: Big 12 Football 2018 Predictions
"How about that early Christmas present for Dana (Holgorsen)? Will Grier says he’s coming back, and David Sills says he is, too. They’re loaded on offense, and I can’t even imagine how good Grier will be after one full spin in this conference. They’re going to be good, and potentially, really good. If that defense can fill some holes, they’re going to be playing games that matter in November."
"Grier throws the deep ball as well as anyone I’ve seen in our game. And he has a guy like Sills who can high-point that ball as good as anyone. That’s lethal. They’re going to score a lot of points."
"They weren’t good on defense last year. They couldn’t rush the passer, couldn’t stop the run and had problems covering in man situations. How’s that for covering the gamut of issues? To me it was surprising because I really respect (defensive coordinator) Tony Gibson and what he accomplished everywhere he has been. They have a few transfers that could help out, and it has to be better than what they showed last year."
"They’ve been in this conference long enough now, they’ve recruited to this conference long enough. It’s time to start playing better on defense. Nothing should be surprising right now. I was shocked at the step backward that they took last year."
"Heck, they might just have to outscore everyone. They won’t be the first team in this conference to try to do that and win a title."
"They lost some guys in the secondary, which might not be a bad thing."
"I think they got away from the run too much last year. Dana knew he had some elite ability in the passing game, and they might have leaned on it too much. Dana’s offenses at West Virginia and Oklahoma State have always been good at changing the pace of a game, and taking control of a game late. That’s a confidence thing, and they didn’t run with confidence last year."