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 during the year. In order to get an accurate assessment of teams heading into 2012, Athlon asked coaches around each conference to talk anonymously about their opponents. Below is a collection of quotes from Athlon's conference-by-conference scouting for teams in Athlon's Top 25
College Football Coaches Talk Anonymously About Top 25 Teams
Opposing coaches size up the Trojans:
“I don’t know how many people I talked to that laughed, yes laughed, when Lane Kiffin got the USC job. Then they got a two-year bowl ban and it was only a matter of time before the program imploded on itself. Well, Kiffin proved everyone wrong. The Trojans made drastic improvement last season, posting 10 victories, probably should have been 11. They let the Stanford game get away. The only stinker was at Arizona State. And now here comes this year. Watch out. The Trojans are loaded. They are the clear-cut favorites in the Pac-12, and if anyone has a chance to dethrone the SEC as national champions, I’m going with the Trojans.
Call it East Coast bias, but (quarterback) Matt Barkley should have received more Heisman consideration last season. That won’t be a problem this year. He’s got Robert Woods and Marqise Lee back at receiver along with tailback Curtis McNeal. They are absolutely loaded at wide receiver. Those guys are really, really good.
Safety T.J. McDonald and cornerback Nickell Robey give the Trojans one of the nation’s top secondaries. It all will come down to Nov. 3 when Oregon visits USC. At this point I wouldn’t bet against Kiffin.”
Opposing coaches size up the Tigers:
“They have the best secondary in college football probably, even without Morris Claiborne. They did lose their secondary coach, Ron Cooper; he went to coach the Tampa Bay Bucs with Greg Schiano, and they brought the guy from Nebraska (Corey Raymond) in. I’m not sure losing Cooper is a big deal.
They are big and very, very good up front on defense. They have so many guys who can play.
Their performance in the national title game was disappointing. They should have played better. They were a better team than they showed that day.
One thing that is amazing about what they did last year — they scored nine non-offensive touchdowns. We used that as an example to our team throughout the spring. You can score points in so many other ways than just on offense.
I’ve heard good things about Zach Mettenberger. He’s a big kid who can make all of the throws. If he settles in, watch out. If that team gets really good play from the quarterback position, I’m not sure anyone can beat them.
John Chavis always does a good job. He’s well-respected. He has great players, but he is a very good coach.
They have so many good running backs it’s ridiculous. They can come at you with so many different looks. They will go five deep this year. They might not have the one All-American, but they have five who could start for 90 percent of the teams in the country.”
Opposing coaches size up the Crimson Tide:
“The dropoff from Trent Richardson to Eddie Lacy might not be as much as people think. Lacy is actually bigger, I think, and he had some runs against North Texas, when we were breaking them down, where he looked like a clone of Richardson. He is very, very capable of being an 1,100- or 1,200-yard rusher next year.
They are so big and strong on defense. They can cover so much ground. They might not be the fastest, but they are all really good. They are long. Their secondary is unbelievable. They do a great job of recognizing run vs. pass, and when it is run, the safeties were awesome. The corners were awesome. Their defensive line, they weren’t great at rushing the passer; they were more middle-rush type guys and read-and-react guys. But they got the job done. And they are so well-coached.
Defensively, the just don’t make many mistakes. It’s hard to drive the ball up the field on them, but it’s also so hard to hit them with a big play.
I thought (tight end) Brad Smelley was great for them last year. Very underrated. He will be missed.
The quarterback (AJ McCarron) was underrated. Their receivers were underrated. Those guys made plays for the quarterback when they needed to make plays.
Alabama had the best offensive line in the league. They just pummeled you. They were awesome. Getting Barrett Jones back is huge. That’s like signing the No. 1 recruit in the nation, getting him to return.”
Opposing coaches size up the Ducks:
“I was very surprised that Chip Kelly nearly bolted to the NFL. He has a great situation at Oregon, and for him to nearly leave that for the uncertainty of the Tampa Bay Bucs tells me one of two things: He was trying to get out of Dodge before the NCAA came calling, or he really has a strong desire to prove he could coach in the NFL. I’m honestly still not sure which one I believe.
Now that Kelly finally decided to stay, he has to find a way to fill some serious holes. Quarterback Darron Thomas left early to the NFL, and running back LaMichael James also is gone. Those are two huge key cogs in Oregon’s offense. I think James can easily be replaced. They’ve got Kenjon Barner and De’Anthony Thomas to plug in at running back. How well they replace (Darron) Thomas I think will determine if they win a fourth consecutive Pac-12 title. They like the guys they have there, but Thomas knew what he was doing in that offense.
Defensively, I think Nick Aliotti is vastly, vastly underrated. Oregon’s defense is better than most people give them credit for. He’s got a good nucleus back with six regulars returning. They will be good on that side of the ball.”
Opposing coaches size up the Sooners:
“Landry Jones decided to return for his senior year, and Mike Stoops is back in Norman. Good times indeed. Last year I thought Jones was the league’s best quarterback. (Oklahoma State’s) Brandon Weeden proved me wrong. I think Jones decision to come back will pay huge dividends for the Sooners.
Last year was a major disappointment in Norman. I know that. Everyone knows that. The preseason No. 1 team ending up in the Insight Bowl is not good. Ryan Broyles won’t be back, but Jones will be just fine. The Sooners offense will continue clicking. They’ve got some really good young receivers that will be a big part of the offense.
The biggest question marks are on the defense, but that’s where Mike Stoops comes into play. The Sooners lost some studs on that side of the ball. Guys like Travis Lewis, Frank Alexander and Ronnell Lewis. I still think Oklahoma is the most skilled team and most physical team in our conference. And I have a strong feeling after the bad taste in their mouth from last year, they’re going to prove it this year.
It will be interesting to see what happens with this team this year. They should be very, very hungry after what happened late last year. Their performance against Oklahoma State was not good. In a rivalry game? That surprised me.”
6. Ohio State
Opposing coaches size up the Buckeyes:
“Last season, they had to deal with the suspensions of Terrelle Pryor, DeVier Posey, Boom Herron and others to start the year. This time they have to deal with the realization that they are banned from playing in the postseason. Even with no hopes for a bowl game, Urban Meyer will quickly learn firsthand the expectations of coaching at Ohio State.
Meyer’s got most of the key contributors back from last season’s disappointing six-win team. Quarterback Braxton Miller is obviously the key to running Meyer’s spread attack. And Meyer’s got a good one. I have no doubt Miller will thrive in that system.
As promising as the offense looks with Miller at the controls, the defense could be even better. All but two starters return, led by defensive lineman John Simon and safety C.J. Barnett.
They are recruiting at a very high level. The first season might not be great, but they are set up to win at a high level in the next few years.
The schedule sets up very favorably for Meyer. Ohio State shouldn’t even be tested in its first four games before consecutive games against Michigan State and Nebraska. After that, the Buckeyes’ biggest challenge is their final two games against Wisconsin and Michigan. Ohio State should easily post eight wins under Meyer in his first season, and reaching double digits isn’t that much of a stretch.”
Opposing coaches size up the Wolverines:
“I wonder what Brady Hoke can do for an encore. It was not a bad Michigan debut for Hoke by winning 11 games, beating Ohio State and winning the Sugar Bowl. Although I’m sure Michigan fans would not list them in that order of importance. Now how can Hoke follow that up or improve on it? It won’t take long to find out as we’ll certainly get a good idea if Michigan can be a legitimate national title contender when they open the season against Alabama in Dallas.
Quarterback Denard Robinson is back, along with running back Fitzgerald Toussaint and wide receiver Roy Roundtree. Junior Hemingway, who was Robinson’s favorite and sometimes only target, is gone, as well as defensive stopper Mike Martin. There’s no way to overemphasize his importance to the Wolverines’ defense last season. Martin is one of three defensive line starters that are gone, but basically the rest of the defense returns. They made huge strides under first-year coordinator Greg Mattison, but it’s imperative that they are able to consistently stop the run, especially against Alabama in the first game of the season and in Big Ten play.
I think Michigan can be even better than last season, but now that they’re expected to be better, can they handle the added expectations? That is the key for them.”
Opposing coaches size up the Bulldogs:
“If you look up quarterback in the dictionary, you would find a picture of Aaron Murray. He has nice composure, good leadership and a good handle of what they want to do. They might not be as sophisticated on offense as a team like Arkansas, but Murray knows what they want. He is a winner and has all the intangibles. From their perspective, the one thing I think they would say is that he has to cut down on his interceptions. He had some bad interceptions last year.
Orson Charles and Aron White will be big losses at tight end. Charles had the unique ability to flex out and be a wide receiver and create mismatches. He improved his blocking ability, too. He was also a dominant special teams player. He covered kicks. He did so much for them that a lot of people didn’t see. He is a high-character guy, too, from what I’ve heard.
I think Malcolm Mitchell and Tavarres King are an underrated wide receiver duo. Those guys are pretty good. Nobody talks about them as being among the best in the league, but they are very good.
Defensively, they might be 3-4 from a personnel standpoint, but they do a lot of four-down linemen fronts, so it’s a little deceiving. They have the one guy (Jarvis Jones) who is considered a linebacker, but they like him rushing the passer a lot.
Their secondary was outstanding last year. Made a lot of plays for them.”
Opposing coaches size up the Seminoles:
“Expectations again will be sky-high for (Jimbo) Fisher. Can the Seminoles finally live up to them this year? I’d hate to have those expectations to have to compete for a national title or bust every season, but I guess it’s better than the alternative.
If quarterback EJ Manuel can stay healthy this year, I think this is the year the Seminoles break through and make a national title run. Manuel is a very good quarterback in a league with a lot of nice quarterbacks.
The reason I like the Seminoles a lot this year is because of all the talent they return — nearly their entire offensive and defensive starting units are back.
What’s scary is that the defense can be even better than last season when they were dominating at times. After their midseason hiccup in consecutive losses to Oklahoma, Clemson and Wake Forest, they didn’t allow more than 19 points in their final eight games.
Defensive end Brandon Jenkins could have left early for the NFL, but instead returned for his senior season. That’s huge for them.
If FSU is ever going to live up to the lofty expectations, this is the year. They’ve got the talent. But we’ve heard that before.”
Opposing coaches size up the Gamecocks:
“When you play South Carolina, you have to stop 21 (Marcus Lattimore). Their gameplan was to turn and hand the ball to him. So from a scheme perspective, they weren’t that hard to defend.
I have the utmost respect for them. They won with a different formula last season. They had an outstanding defense. They found unique ways to move the football. It wasn’t the pass-happy teams that we saw from Steve Spurrier at Florida in the ’90s. They utilized the strengths that Connor Shaw has, which are his feet and his mobility.
From an offensive standpoint, South Carolina was the most difficult team to prepare for. They were just so good up front. They can play guys that are defensive ends and put them in as tackles and that can really screw up your plan. You don’t know where they are going to be, so it’s hard to get a double-team on them.
(Defensive end) Jadeveon Clowney was very good. He is long, and he is athletic off the edge, and if he doesn’t get a rush he can knock a lot of balls down. He can beat you in so many ways.
I’m not so sure how much they will miss Alshon Jeffrey. The Alshon Jeffrey from 2010 was a great player. The Jeffrey from 2011, I’m not sure how much they will miss him. I thought he got a little bit out of shape. From what people tell me, (freshman) Shaq Roland will be a guy who can step in and produce.”
Opposing coaches size up the Longhorns:
“You see all that talent, all those resources, all that money and wonder why in the hell they aren’t winning big every year? The past two years Texas has been basically a .500 team. They haven’t been that physical, which surprises you, and they have some issues trying to find a quarterback.
Last year (Mack) Brown figured he had to shake things up, bringing in Bryan Harsin and Manny Diaz as his new coordinators. Texas was a little bit improved last year with those guys, but I don’t think the natives are going to settle for 7–5 regular seasons for any extended amount of time. While they had so much talent, a lot of it has been green.
I think they could make a big jump this season if a quarterback can take control and command of the team. David Ash and Case McCoy will battle it out. They both have their bright spots and limitations. … Running back Malcolm Brown is going to be a good one. He’s scary. He had a super freshman season.
For the most part the defense played well last year. They were fairly consistent, but were on the field a lot because of the inconsistency of the offense.”
12. West Virginia
Opposing coaches size up the Mountaineers:
“Well, I guess that head coach-in-waiting arrangement worked out after all for (Dana) Holgorsen. He was thrown into the head coaching position a year early after West Virginia fired Bill Stewart. For a guy who had never been a head coach and didn’t have the year-long transition that he expected, I thought he did an exceptional job. Everyone knows he can run an offense, but taking control of an entire team is another matter.
Bad news for Big 12 defensive coordinators is that the Mountaineers return plenty of talent from last season in quarterback Geno Smith and wide receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. They’ve also had a year to experience Holgorsen’s system so they’re only going to be that much more efficient.
The biggest thing I’m interested to see is how the Mountaineers adjust to life in the Big 12 instead of the Big East. It will be a big difference facing teams like Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas each week as opposed to the Big East teams. I think what will help Holgorsen is his time in the league as Oklahoma State’s offensive coordinator. That will help with his familiarity with the league, but it’s still going to be a big adjustment making the upgrade in leagues and playing a much more difficult schedule. It will be a matter of will the Big 12 adjust to West Virginia or will West Virginia have to adjust to the Big 12.”
Opposing coaches size up the Razorbacks:
“They have a great scheme and great personnel. Losing Coach (Bobby) Petrino is a tough blow. He is a unique playcaller, has a great feel for the game and a good command of the game. They still have the players, but his loss will be felt.