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Pac-12 Coaches Talk Anonymously About Conference Foes for 2016

Oregon Ducks

Oregon Ducks

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.

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In order to get an accurate assessment of teams heading into 2016, Athlon asked coaches in the Pac-12 to talk anonymously about their opponents.

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Note: These scouting reports come directly from coaching staffs and do not necessarily reflect the views of Athlon's editorial staff.

Pac-12 Coaches Anonymously Scout Conference Foes

North Division


“They’ll struggle, I think.”

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“They’ve got a proven offensive system, but the quarterback they lost was unbelievable. [Jared] Goff was their guy from Day 1, and they built everything around his skill set, so they have to start over. I think they lost pretty much everybody who caught a pass for them last year. There’s just a lot of questions about their personnel, but it’s Sonny Dykes’ offense, and he’s an innovative guy.”

“Their running game is mostly short passes and screens and then he’ll test you vertically, throw a bunch of sideline fades, let his receivers go make a play deep. But you’ve got to have a guy who can throw it, and I just don’t know what they’ve got coming back. I have to think they take a step back offensively unless one of those quarterbacks is ready for showtime.”

“Defensively, they haven’t been very good, but they were better last year because they got a little pass rush.”

“I don’t think they’re great against the run, and their linebackers are average at best, but they’ve got some guys back on defense that should help them.”

“As long as their offense can outscore people, they don’t have to be great.”

“I think they’ve still got some depth issues, but that’s a tough place to recruit right now because of their academic restrictions.”

“They’ve been digging out of a hole, and I thought they turned the corner last year early, but I think they got a little bit beat up toward the end of the year.”

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“That’ll be a fascinating situation because it’s another transfer quarterback [Dakota Prukop] who I don’t think is as good as the one they had last year. It’s amazing to me they can’t recruit a better quarterback there. Relying on transfers from (FCS) is a pretty glaring problem for a program that has been really successful. Like, really, you can’t get a big-time quarterback at Oregon?”

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“Their offense has gotten a little more limited since Marcus Mariota left and now they don’t have the same coordinator so I just think this is going to be a big, big season for them.”

“Their skill guys are legit. Royce Freeman is a tank, and they’ve always got a bunch of track stars at receiver; I just can’t get out of my mind how awful they looked when the quarterback got hurt last season. It’s pretty clear they don’t trust the backup at all [Jeff Lockie], so the guy from Montana State better be big-time because I don’t think they have anyone else.”

“Defensively they’ve never been better than average, but teams really beat them up last year with the deep ball.”

“They’ve been a 3-4 team the last few years, but Brady Hoke is going to run the 4-3 so that’ll be a difference.”

“[Torrodney] Prevot is the one guy coming back who can really make a difference with the pass rush, so it’ll be interesting to see where they put him because he’s kind of a hybrid and has the athleticism to play linebacker.”

“I don’t know if they accomplished anything by playing Charles Nelson both ways last year. He’s a guy you want with the ball in his hands.”

Oregon State

“They have to get it going back in the right direction, but there’s no doubt in my mind Gary Andersen can get the job done. There wasn’t a whole lot of talent on the roster when he got there, so I don’t think you could expect much his first year. But the first thing that comes to my mind is how much their offense struggled to throw the ball. Is the Utah State transfer [Darell Garretson] going to be the quarterback? Is he good enough to play at this level?”

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“I can’t really name a receiver who scares you. They’ve got a lot of holes to fill and they better go recruit some skill. Their running back group is decent, but teams put an extra guy in the box last year and just dared them to throw.”

“They might be a little bit better offensively, but I think you’ll see bigger strides from their defense. They’re pretty good on the back end, but their front seven struggled last year. They have some younger guys up front that I think will get better and better in time, but you can’t expect to win when you don’t stop the run.”

“Losing Kalani Sitake doesn’t help because he is a dang good defensive coach, but they want to build toward the kind of defense he had at Utah where they’re tough and physical and dominant up front. They’re a long way from that now, but it’s a process.”

“Oregon State is one of the tougher jobs in the league, but Gary will get it going just like he did at Utah State. He’s just a really good coach.”

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“Take the Pac 12 bias out of it — if you ask coaches around the country who should have won the Heisman last year I think the majority would say Christian McCaffrey. There’s just not a guy in college football who impacts the game in so many ways and can break an 80-yard play whether they line him up in the backfield or the slot or put him on special teams. As long as he’s out there, they’re the team to beat in the North as far as I’m concerned.”

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“The job they’ve done recruiting is unbelievable. They’re at the point now where they can lose a few key guys every year and not take a step back.”

“Offensive line is probably the biggest question mark because they lose those two All-Americans on the left side but the way they recruit and develop linemen, they’re a machine right now.”

“They’ll have a new quarterback, but I think it’s the same story because they’ve got some talented guys and they just have to figure out who fits.”

“They’re not at quite the same level defensively they were three or four years ago, but they know exactly what they’re doing — they’ve got hard-nosed guys who will tackle you violently and you can’t steal plays on them because they’re smart and well-coached.”

“[Blake] Martinez is a big loss because he’s one of those guys who sees the ball and then just runs to it like his hair’s on fire, but they’ve got a solid group of linebackers and their secondary is really good.”


“I think this is their year to break through.”

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“You look back at them last season, they struggled a little bit on offense, but they were good on defense and the quarterback [Jake Browning] kept getting better and better. I see a lot of similarities with him and the kid they had at Boise, Kellen Moore. He’s really accurate throwing the ball and he’s kind of got the ‘it’ factor.”

“I like the running back and if [John] Ross comes back healthy that gives them an explosive playmaker on the outside they didn’t have last year.”

“Their offensive line is experienced. They’ve got a lot of good young pieces and they’re going to have that thing rolling pretty soon. I’m telling you, watch out for them.”

“Their defensive staff did a great job last year. Everybody talked about the guys they lost to the draft, but they plugged in a bunch of new guys and didn’t look back. I think that speaks to the great job they’ve done in recruiting. They’re killing it in California, they came into Arizona and got Byron Murphy who is going to be a big-time corner. They’re getting the good players in the state to stay home so they’re back to where they used to be. The facilities there are good now.”

“[Chris Petersen] has done a really good job pulling everything back together. I think there were some personalities and culture issues they had to root out, so now they’ve gone through the growing pains. They may be a year away from winning the division, but I think they’re going to be a force.”

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Washington State

“I would predict they’re going to be a good team.”

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“Luke Falk is the real deal at quarterback, and they’ve got a ton of good receivers back. Getting Gabe Marks to come back was huge. He’s very productive, hard to cover with one guy.”

“Falk got hurt at the end of the year, and they weren’t the same, but if they can protect that quarterback and keep him healthy, they have a chance to win the division.”

“I just think Falk understands the offense — he’s smart, he’s got a good, quick release. He gets rid of the ball, and those receivers have been with him a couple years so they have good chemistry.”

“They’re always going to throw it a bunch, but they can run the ball when they need to and they’ve got a lot of weapons and different ways to get those guys the ball.”

“They’re underrated defensively. I know they lost a couple interior linemen, but their front seven was one of the best in the league last year and their secondary was really active, really aggressive trying to force turnovers and they didn’t give up very many big plays.”

“[Mike] Leach is a strange bird, but he’s getting it done. He sticks with his system and his system works and those kids have been in it now for a few years, so he just plugs guys in and now he’s got someone who can throw it. He’s got it going now like he did at Texas Tech where they’re not going to be the most talented team in the league, but he’s going to find guys who play with an edge and develop them and get the most out of them.”

South Division


“I think it’s going to be a down year for them.”

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“The quarterback is back, but defensively I just can’t see where they’re going to be good at all.”

“I didn’t understand firing Jeff Casteel. That’s a whole new deal to me. He got the most out of that talent in my opinion. They weren’t the most gifted team physically, but they were pretty solid and their scheme was good. Last year they struggled but they lose Scooby Wright in the first game and had a bunch of other injuries, so I don’t know what they expected. Now you’ve got a new system with a guy they hired from Boise. Are they going to be a big pressure team like he was there? Are they going to play four down? They’ve got some experienced guys back, but I just don’t know. They’re going to need some guys to step up at linebacker and cornerback because those were the weak links in my opinion.”

“[Anu] Solomon is pretty good when he’s healthy, but he’s been really banged up so that’s a big question mark. They keep saying it’s a wide-open competition but I don’t really believe that. There might be some mind games going on there because he’s been a little bit inconsistent.”

“They’ve got good backs and receivers, but I’m not sure they’ve got a star game-breaking type guy like they’ve had the last couple years. Nick Wilson has been injury-prone so they can’t count on him for 200 carries.”

“You know they’re going to score points, but I just don’t think they’ll be as good as they’ve been.”

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Arizona State

“They have four new offensive linemen and a new quarterback, so offensively I think they’re going to struggle a little bit.”

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“They have some weapons with Cameron Smith coming back at receiver and Demario Richard — those are guys who can be explosive, but you need to have a good quarterback to have a chance, and I just don’t know how good that offensive line is going to be.”

“They lost a lot. A guy like Christian Westerman is someone you can’t really replace, so with those changes up front, it could be a little bit tough for them.”

“I know they like their young quarterbacks, but it’s the first time in a while they’ve had to go into a season with an unknown quantity.”

“Scheme-wise, they’ll still go fast and try to get the ball to their skill guys with the jet sweeps and short passes. I don’t see much changing with the new coordinator.”

“Defensively, I think they’ll be really good, but secondary-wise I’m not sure.”

“They’re a team that can blitz you on any down and try to make the big play defensively, but I don’t think they’ll blitz as much this year to try to protect those guys on the back end a little bit.”

“The defensive line is probably the strength of their team. They have multiple guys who can rush the passer and disrupt you.”

“You’ve got to watch them on special teams. The kicker is really good and they always have a fast guy who can return kicks; they really emphasize using the kicking game to get good field position.”


“I think they’ll surprise some people, especially at home. They’ll struggle on the road, but they can beat some people in Boulder because that’s a tough place to play with the altitude, and this is the year that [Mike MacIntyre] sort of circled because their schedule is a little more favorable.”

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“It’s still tough to break through when you haven’t been able to get over the hump, but they’re getting closer.”

“They bring back a lot of guys on defense, but I’m predicating everything on [Sefo Liufau] coming back from that foot injury. He can throw it pretty well and has been really productive for them, so if he can’t play that’s a game-changer.”

“They do a good job with their offensive scheme. It’s like a spread offense, similar to what they do at Arizona State, and they’ll go fast at times. There’s a little more of a drop-back passing game because that kid can throw it pretty well. But they need to get better up front. They didn’t run the ball very well and struggled in pass protection, and they’re in a division where everybody’s got good defensive linemen, so that’s a big challenge for them to figure out.”

“Jim Leavitt made a big difference coming in to run the defense. They did a lot of blitzing, a lot of stunting and put a big focus on stopping the run, so they were totally different. I think they’ll build on that with just about everybody coming back. That will give them a chance to be in some games, but they’re still fighting uphill from a talent standpoint so it’s crucial they stay healthy.”

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“They lost a bunch of dudes early, but I think they’re the team to beat in the South.”

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“The quarterback is the best guy out there, and I mean the best guy in the country right now. That’s what we thought, anyway. Man, he is the real deal and we’ve got to deal with him for two more years. He didn’t play like a freshman. I think sometimes he made mistakes trying to do a little too much, but they want him to be aggressive and use his arm because he’s got the confidence and ability to put the ball where he wants it. He’ll learn when to pull it back with time, but there’s no doubt he’s going to be a big-time pro.” 

“They were just OK on the offensive line, but the left tackle [Conor McDermott] was the one guy they had who could’ve turned pro but didn’t, so that helps.”

“On defense I think they’ll be really good. Tom Bradley is a good football coach and they’ve done a really nice job recruiting the last few years.”

“You saw them last year when Myles Jack gets hurt they bring in another kid who can really play and they’ve got another guy behind him. They’re loaded with talent.”

“The key for them up front will be Eddie Vanderdoes coming off the injury, but I love their linebackers, and they’ve got some really athletic tweener guys they can line up at defensive end and just shoot off the edge. Injuries killed them last year in the front seven, but that got a bunch of younger guys onto the field, which should pay off now.”


“They’re very talented, but they need to get back to physical football and the running game and just say, ‘This is who we are.’ If [Clay] Helton goes in there and sticks to running the football, I think they’ll be a really good team. All those running backs they’ve got are really, really good and they’re stout up front. Ronald Jones is big-time with the ball in his hands. You feel like any time he gets outside it could be a house call.”

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“Formation-wise, they do some stuff that hurts you. But if they get to throwing it around a bunch, I think it’s going to be the same old deal. It’ll be interesting to see at quarterback if they go ahead and start their young guy who redshirted last year [Sam Darnold] or let it play out and see if the other guy [Max Browne] can’t get it done, but I think he’ll play by the end.”

“Defensively, they’re going to be new in the front seven, but they’ve always got guys who look the part. Sark recruited well. I thought their scheme was too conservative. Clancy Pendergast is going to build it around their speed and let those guys fly around.”

“They lose a lot of talent, but we thought Cameron Smith was as smart of a freshman linebacker as we’ve seen in awhile. The guy never took himself out of a play. I think the secondary is the strength of their defense. Their safeties are really good and [Adoree’] Jackson is probably the most dynamic athlete in their program. They can put him on offense, defense, special teams, whatever and he’s going to make plays that impact the game.”

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“I think it’s probably a little bit of a rebuilding year for them.”

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“They’re always going to be good on defense and they’re one of the toughest teams in the league, but offensively it could be a little tougher without [Devontae] Booker and the quarterback. Booker was a special player who was hard to get on the ground. I agree that [Travis] Wilson wasn’t great and was prone to making mistakes, but it’s sort of the old devil-you-know situation. He had a lot of experience, and I just think they’ll struggle to score this year unless they are better at quarterback and running back than I think they are.”

“They were playing great football the first half of last year, but the depth issue probably caught up to them a little bit. I think that’s something they still struggle with in making the transition to this league. But they’re so dang good and physical on defense, it just makes them tough to play against and I’m sure that won’t change.”

“Gionni Paul is a big loss because he just ran around like a maniac and made plays all over the field, but they’re rock solid from a personnel standpoint, and they’re just big and mean and nasty up front.”

“I know it sounds crazy, but the punter may be one of their hardest guys to replace. He was incredible. The way they play, field position is critical and he was really good at flipping the field if they went 3-and-out and not putting their defense in a bad spot.”