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Big 12 Coaches Talk Anonymously About Conference Foes for 2022

Bijan Robinson, Texas Longhorns Football

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 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 2022


"They're a top program and they're going to contend nationally under Dave Aranda. To see the offense evolve from where it started, Jeff Grimes really did an amazing job of taking those pieces they had and hammering out an identity. He turned a decent line into an amazing one. They ran the crap out of outside zone; you knew it was coming. That became their identity — outside zone, boots, nakeds. They had the highest third-down run average in the league and would set themselves up to go for manageable fourth downs. They did a great job developing their QB last year, getting him to a place where they didn't beat themselves, but when he was challenged to make plays and put the game on him, he had the throws."

"They improved defensively; that's all Dave. They added that DT from LSU [Apu Ika], and everything changed. That one 300-pound-plus piece let them be more flexible on three- and four-down looks. It started right there for them, and they could be big and athletic up front. Their linebackers were great, and they really challenged the idea of defense in this league."

"They have to replenish some guys, but Aranda should be considered a capable head coach. I think he turned down some bigger jobs than people realize, and that kind of buzz gets out and helps recruiting. They're going to be a force for a while."

Related: Big 12 Predictions for 2022

Iowa State

"This is a program that screams identity. They show, don't tell. You see it on the film; you see it from individual guys. The real success of Matt Campbell's time there is that they've embraced who they are, found an identity that works for them in scheme and recruiting and the whole package, and made it successful."

"All that aside, this is a huge year for them. Maybe the biggest ever. They're losing so much. It's crazy."

"[Brock] Purdy is gone, Breece [Hall] is gone, that really good tight end [Charlie Kolar] is gone, [Mike] Rose on defense is gone."

"Defensively, they're trendsetters. [DC Jon] Heacock does a really good job. They're stout, they're mean and they do a really good job of setting themselves up for good situations on third downs. Look at their second-half stats. They actually get better as the game goes on, and they're very comfortable in close games."

"Last season, I think they had a hiccup in their culture. They weren't as hard-nosed as they'd been before. Some games, they didn't show up as consistently, especially on defense. At first they surprised the league; then they'd out-tough you. Now we're curious what they can do next."

"They're going to struggle early getting so many new guys game experience, but it wouldn't be surprising if they catch on down the stretch. They're not as talented going into this season, but no one thinks they can push them around."

Related: Big 12 Football Predictions for 2022


"This was one of the best coaching jobs in college football last year. Think about it — the guy shows up at that program after spring practice, then you get the back leaving, the receivers leaving, and then fast-forward a few months and they're beating Texas. It's incredible."

"They're still in a long-term rebuild; you see that on the defensive side. The defensive line was bad, and they couldn't do anything about it. Just a personnel issue. They've been aggressive in the portal, and they've been able to plug some Buffalo guys in, but that speaks to how bad the situation was before he got there."

"If you're looking for a bright spot, I think it's the QB. The quarterback play got better as the season went on. [Jalon] Daniels is really raw, but he was creating sparks. When you're in a situation like Kansas, you're looking for the rally point, the way to make guys believe. He can do that because he had the offense in a better state after a few games. They're bringing in some transfer backs behind him that will probably start right away."

"It's way too early still, honestly, but I think that staff is doing a better job than the previous one. Eventually, they'll have to solve their recruiting problems and start finding a way to connect to four-year talent at the high school level, but they're at least another season away from not relying on the portal."

Related: Ranking the Big 12 Quarterbacks for 2022

Kansas State

"They've evolved into a consistent seven- or eight-win team that looks exactly like a seven- or eight-win team. That's a credit to their staff for the stability, but they're never going to blow you away. Chris [Klieman] has done a good job overall. We aren't sure why they made some of the staffing changes they did; everything seems to be functional looking from the outside and from what we hear."

"Deuce Vaughn is a legit threat and one of the most explosive players in the entire league. He might be the best player in the Big 12 when the ball's in his hands."

"The defense is switching up; that's probably going to be a good change for them. They were your traditional four-down, and now that's it's three-down, it seems like that will fit the personnel better."

"I don't know why they got away from the OC [Courtney Messingham]; the scheme didn't really seem like a problem. That's a move that surprised a lot of people because they were really close."

"We look at them as a climbing program. They're the steadiest team going, and they're capable of a better year because Vaughn is the best player this staff has had in Manhattan. It's how they use him. Ultimately, you can measure a normal, good year and something better by the defense and the quarterback play. If they improve in those places, they can make more of a jump to get noticed nationally."

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"The best and most talented program in our league year in and year out, and now they're dealing with more change than they've seen in 20-some odd years. The good news is that most of that is gonna be limited to coaches, not players."

"Brent Venables is going to bring in a lot of new stuff, new looks and get wild, but he's going to start with what they do well already. They had a great defensive line, the linebackers were fast and we thought the secondary improved. It's odd — they actually did more DL movement to create big plays last year than any year before, which is something that looks like Brent's stuff. Expect them to get more exotic and aggressive schematically as they settle in."

"They have plenty of pieces on offense, even with the quarterback changes. [OC Jeff] Lebby is going to do a great job here. His specialty is putting a defense in stress. The biggest issue is whether or not he can find a quarterback who can follow that. That offense takes risks and expects the QB to absorb hits, the trade-off being they can blow you away with big shots. So can [Dillon] Gabriel stay healthy? That offense should work very quickly."

"The definition of OU ball is that no matter what they're doing schematically, they're mean. They're harder than the other team. That's what Brent loves to do. His identity fits perfectly. They just need to play ball and ignore the noise about their old coach."

Related: Ranking All 131 College Football Teams for 2022

Oklahoma State

"If [DC Jim] Knowles hadn't left, we'd expect them to be right where they were last season. They're a more consistent program these last few years than in previous seasons."

"It feels like year in, year out, they always find a really good, top-end running back, and the offensive line is good no matter who they just lost. Mike Gundy's touch is that they don't really beat themselves on offense. They don't do stupid things."

"Spencer Sanders is sneaky good right now, but he could take that next step this year. That's the thing to watch. You can see him playing undisciplined or just too hot on film, but it seems like he found a good groove later on last season."

"They work the portal really well, complementing what they do with their core."

"Defensively, they lose their coach, but they're turning over a lot too. Honestly, that scheme they were running was flat out too complicated for a lot of teams in this league. That freshman DE [Collin Oliver] was a beast last year; he's definitely one to watch."

"We consider the offense a known quantity, so we're just focused on the defense. How different will it be? This is the team that throws lots of fronts on you. They'd zero blitz, take big gambles and knock you around. Are they still going to come at you like that? Can they even pull it off with so much personnel change? If the defense is on par, they can win the league."

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"They've always been the team that's been hardest to read in the preseason. Maybe that will change now that Gary [Patterson] is gone. Some years when they're down, you turn the tape on a five-win team and you can't figure out why they didn't win nine or 10. I think the last few years they've lost one or two games and, boom, they're playing like they're out of it."

"They've recruited really well, and Sonny Dykes' knowledge base of the roster and obviously in Texas is going to help them adjust quick. They have good backs, a good OL and they have decent overall speed. They have to settle on a quarterback."

"The biggest change will be the schematic overhaul from Gary to the Tulsa DC [Joe Gillespie]. That's a classic case of Sonny having fits against that guy in the American and bringing him with him to the P5."

"They're going to look more like other teams in the league on defense, which means more three down. They need talent on that side of the ball; they lost their best pass rusher to the portal. Portal culture probably hurt this program more than others. The truth is that you can look at the tape, and those kids played harder when Gary was gone. I think those kids' joy got stolen in the later years with him, and Sonny's gonna be the absolute polar opposite of that. He's gonna wanna let them get loose, change the attitude to something more positive and still play with an edge."


"When they get off the bus, nobody in college football looks better. Then they play you, and it all comes back down to earth. Bottom line, there's no dressing it up — they didn't play hard defensively last season. I don't know if it's because they didn't have all the pieces they needed or there was a cultural issue transitioning from the last staff, but they either chose not to play hard or didn't know how to. Either one is possible. Culturally, not enough has changed there. You look at Red River tape and they're on fire, or they're trying to be. Watch them after three losses, and they're over it."

"In terms of talent, it's there, because it always is, but they were especially weak in the secondary. I know they're trying to fix that in the portal. Otherwise, if you're going ones on ones with your roster, you can't find the problem. Lines looks good, tight ends, running backs, all that."

"The offense is interesting. It's smart. You know it's Sark's [Steve Sarkisian's]. You flip it on and you see the ideas he's working on. Coaches like to watch Texas' offense because he's so smart and creative. … You have to assume they're going to be much better pairing Bijan [Robinson] with [Quinn] Ewers."

"It's been said a lot, but if Sark really is bringing an 'Alabama culture' to Austin, the second-year roster will improve tremendously when the expectations and ideas set in."

Related: College Football Bowl Projections for 2022-23

Texas Tech

"You aren't going to find a lot of coaches who liked the way the administration went about their business. They bailed on [Matt] Wells early, in-season, and fired him with a winning record. The schedule was back-loaded, but still, he was doing about what was expected of him at that point. And we know they made that change specifically to bring Joey [McGuire] over from Baylor. So how much patience are they going to have with a guy they hand-picked for a program that was already winning? It will come down to QB play for them. [Tyler] Shough can play really well; that broken collarbone came at a really bad time. How will he pair with [offensive coordinator Zach] Kittley? They're going to throw it a lot. It's going to be closer to the Kliff Kingsbury stuff there. The skill is there at wide receiver. That's probably one of the most consistent position groups in the league. They always look like a basketball team out there. Defensively, they ran a 3-3 stack last year; I think Tim [DeRuyter] will keep it somewhat similar at first."

"I think the hires have a lot more to do with the networking sides and how they can get a better hold on recruiting. That could really help their defense in the long run."

"How much are they expecting in that first season? Is seven wins a disappointment? It's going to be really interesting."

Related: Big 12 Football 2022 All-Conference Team

West Virginia

"Defensively, they're going to be fine. They're going to stand out in the [Big 12] by being different, and they do a pretty good job of it. It's the same four- and three-down stuff, but they structure it to where other teams in the league don't see it week to week, stuff like light boxes that can still stop the run. The movement up front helps them a lot."

"The overall strengths will be both lines, and usually when you have good play there you're going to be good, or at least reliable. They've been rebuilding that OL from the ground up since they got there, and there's some more transfers coming in. They actually might have one of the best receiving corps in the Big 12 even with the transfers out, but they have to find the right quarterback situation."

"It all comes down to JT Daniels at quarterback, and Graham [Harrell] has shown at USC he can get a lot out of his guys. Also, they've got a strong OL core and good receivers, so that helps."

"It's really the Neal Brown program now. I don't know if there are two more different coaches and culture than him and Dana Holgorsen, and it's hard to make that transition when players expect one totally different experience and get another. This will be the first year where they can potentially make a big enough statement on the field to build some momentum off of it."

Podcast: Pac-12 vs. Big 12 continues. Is a 16-team playoff coming? What would the CFB Playoff look like if it had a 12-team format in 2022?