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 2017, Athlon asked coaches in the Pac-12 to talk anonymously about their opponents.
Related: Pac-12 Football 2017 Predictions
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
“How do they bounce back? Obviously they’ve had their struggles, but Rich Rod has been known to be a very, very diverse offensive coach so it will be interesting to see what he comes up with."
"It’s a big year for him. The word that’s been out there is he maybe wasn’t going as hard on the (recruiting) trail as he used to, but they were completely decimated by injuries last year. If you’re at Arizona and you’re playing your twos you’re barely going to keep your head above water in this league. If you’re playing your threes, you’re dead."
"It will help them tremendously to have basically their entire offensive line back, but I question whether they’re going to be good enough at quarterback. (Brandon) Dawkins is a good runner and has some tools, but he’s got to make more plays in the passing game and they’re just OK at receiver. Maybe it’s one of those deals where (Anu) Solomon leaving gives them some clarity at quarterback."
"I can assure you if Nick Wilson stays healthy, they’ll have a chance to be explosive in the running game, but he’s been banged up the last two years."
"I have a lot of respect for (defensive coordinator) Marcel Yates, but I’m not sure how much Rich Rod cares about defense.”
“I can’t get a read on that situation. They’re changing things up again with the coordinators, so it’s hard to know what they’ll look like."
"Obviously the quarterback transfer in Blake Barnett is going to be interesting coming from Alabama. He’s got ability but he’s more of a drop-back kind of guy, which isn’t really what they’ve done offensively. So what are you going to run with him? They brought in (offensive coordinator) Billy Napier with him from Alabama. I know he’s been in that system, but he’s run some different systems before so I’m just wondering what they’re going to run. Will it be more pro-style or are they going to go up tempo and run the spread?"
"Defensively, Graham likes to blitz you a lot, but last year it just seemed a little bit different. It was kind of like he was calling (blitzes), but they weren’t getting to us, so he got out of his comfort zone and backed off a little bit. I feel like if you can throw in a few wrinkles against their pressure and do a decent job running the ball, you can give them some issues. At the end of the day, Todd is going to do what Todd does. He’d bring pressure on every play if he could, but you just don’t know where it’s coming from.”
“I’m interested to see if they can make some strides on defense. It’s kind of a 180 to go from a head coach who didn’t care about defense at all to a staff with some guys who have a long track record being good defensive coaches".
"I think Tim (DeRuyter) is probably back in his comfort zone being a coordinator, and obviously (Justin) Wilcox has done a great job at a number of places. Wilcox is really a 3-4 guy, but if you look at some of the stops he’s made he’s been flexible adjusting to the pieces they have so it’ll be interesting to see how they make that transition with a group that has really struggled to stop people."
"It would be hard for me to identify any standouts defensively. I remember they were not very big up front and their linebackers struggled to play in space."
"On offense, they’ll have to find a quarterback. I don’t have a clue what they’re going to look like. Obviously their coordinator (Beau Baldwin) is a good football coach who’s going to bring a system he’s developed and won a bunch of games with in FCS."
"Demetris Robertson could have gone anywhere in the country and looked like he belonged from Day 1.”
“They caught people by surprise last year, but they may be even better offensively and they were already pretty good."
"Steven Montez opened some people’s eyes when Sefo (Liufau) got hurt and played very well in a difficult situation. It’s tough to come in as a backup when you’re not getting the first-team reps, and he was a redshirt freshman with no real experience so I think he’ll get better and better. He’ll turn it over a little bit, but he’ll make a ton of plays."
"Offensively, they run some unique sets, very multiple. They can use tempo in interesting ways, and they’ll throw in some motions, some bunches. They do some neat stuff."
"(Phillip) Lindsay isn’t a big guy at all, but he’s a war horse type guy. Just a very solid running back that they use in the quick passing game."
"Defensively, I think it hurts them to lose (coordinator) Jim Leavitt, especially to a team in the league, but D.J. Eliot is a really smart guy and will do a good job there."
"They’re going to be hurting up front a little bit with the guys they lost, so we’ll see how they reinvent themselves. They’ll definitely have to win games with their offense.”
“They’re gonna be better than people think."
"I don’t know if they lost their edge a little bit with the last staff or something was going on behind the scenes, but they didn’t compete well on either side of the ball, and the crazy thing is I don’t think their talent is bad."
"I thought the freshman quarterback (Justin Herbert) did a good job last year, didn’t turn it over, played well enough to give them a chance. He’s more athletic than you think for a kid his size."
"Getting Royce Freeman to come back is like signing a five-star recruit. He’s probably got something to prove coming off a somewhat lackluster year, and they’ve still got speed all over the field."
"I know they ran a spread offense at South Florida and there are probably some similarities to what the kids are used to, but there are always quirks with blocking schemes and terminology that take some time to learn."
"There may be some bumps in the road on defense because their best players are going to be young guys, but mark my words: (Jim) Leavitt is going to turn that around just like he did at Colorado. Just basic stuff like tackling, filling gaps, where they really struggled last year, he’ll get that straightened out.”
“I respect the way they’re trying to build it. It’s kind of the Utah model where they want to be big and physical up front and establish their identity from the line of scrimmage out. They’re hitting their niches in recruiting with some jucos and Polynesian kids. The talent level has gotten better, but it doesn’t happen overnight. The hard part for those guys is everybody else on our side (of the league) is getting better, and Oregon won’t stay down for long so it’s hard to make up ground."
"They were OK on defense. They’ll rotate in a bunch of guys up front and they’ve got a 330-pound tackle you’ve got to block (Elu Aydon), but they don’t have anybody who really stood out as a pass rusher."
"Offensively, it’s all about No. 34 (Ryan Nall). He’s a big weapon. I know every team they played came into the game saying the first, second and third job for their defense was to stop the running back, and he was still productive even though they couldn’t throw it at all. He’s just a big, strong kid that can get you dirty yards but has enough wiggle to get outside on you."
"It’s tough to be consistent on offense when you struggle at quarterback.”
“They’re good enough to beat anybody if they get good quarterback play, but I’m not sure if you can count on that every week. Just some inconsistency at that position has probably been the difference for them between being a top-10 team and getting into the playoff."
"They may have two or three games where they just struggle to move the football. But they’re always physical, always sound in what they do."
"There’s not a lot of mystery to it. They’re not trying to trick you or do anything gimmicky. They’ve just got really good players and they’re smart, really well-coached on both sides of the ball and they execute."
"I don’t think losing Christian McCaffrey changes what they do very much. They’re going to be elite on the offensive line with all those guys coming back, really good at tight end, and Bryce Love showed people last year he’s capable of being the primary back. I think the question marks are playmaking on the perimeter and whether the quarterback is healthy."
"Defensively, they’re not the biggest front we face but they play with great leverage, and they’re hard to block."
"(Quenton) Meeks is a physical corner, long arms, and he knows when he can get away with some stuff.”
“They’re always scary because, hey, they’re UCLA and they have players."
"When they play well, they look like they can beat anyone in the country."
"They really got after our quarterback last year and made it tough with their pass rush, which is probably the strength of their team."
"I’m not sold on (Josh) Rosen yet. (Jim) Mora came out a couple years ago and said he’s the No. 1 pick in the draft, but I don’t know if that’s true anymore. Does he have the potential to be a big-time player? No question because when he’s healthy, he makes throws the elite college players make, but he’s got to put it all together."
"It certainly doesn’t help that their offensive line play has been abysmal. What’s crazy about that is I know (Adrian) Klemm got a lot of the blame, but you have to have a philosophy of what you want to do offensively and stick with it, so I guess we’ll see with (new offensive coordinator) Jedd Fisch if it meshes better."
"They made some changes on the staff, and I think it’s kind of a make-or-break year."
"I do think they’re talented top to bottom, very talented at receiver, very good at running back. Their O-line doesn’t look terrible physically. We’ll just have to see.”
“They’re the team to beat in the division."
"They’re loaded athletically, and they have one of the best quarterbacks in college football. (Sam) Darnold showed that last year in the Rose Bowl and how he played against teams down the stretch."
"They’re a force to be reckoned with, no question about that. Yeah, they lose some talented skill guys, and maybe you can pick them apart a little bit with their depth on the offensive line, but let’s be honest, they’re USC. They just reload."
"They’ll be solid in the run game. They’re probably looking for a couple guys to step up at receiver. I’m not sure anyone jumps off the page as a guy that’s going to draw the same kind of attention as (JuJu) Smith-Schuster."
"They’ll probably be a little young at corner, but you’ve got (Iman) Marshall back, who’s probably their top guy, and (Jack) Jones played a bunch as a freshman. They’ve got guys waiting in the wings."
"I don’t really see them changing much from a philosophy standpoint on defense. They like to play a six-man box and see if you can beat them because they feel like they’re going to have enough speed to cover your guys and not let you get to the third level if you try to run the ball.”
“I think they’re going to be good."
"Defensively, they can play man-to-man. They bring pressures in interesting ways. Most of what they’re trying to do is force you to throw the ball and see if your quarterback can beat them on the outside. If you can make a couple big plays, maybe that forces them to change some things and can tilt the momentum of the game."
"Everyone talks about how good they are up front (on defense), but I thought we had a harder time playing against some other teams in the league."
"They try to take away what you do best, and they’re very, very mentally tough."
"I think Coach (Kyle) Whittingham does an unbelievable job getting them ready to play every Saturday. You can tell they’re tough kids who are coached hard, and I respect a coach like that."
"Offensively, I suspect they’re going to be improved with (Troy Taylor) coming over from Eastern Washington, but there is some risk bringing in a guy whose background is totally different from what they’re used to doing there. How much are they really going to open things up, and do they have a QB who can run his system? And then, if they’re playing at a different pace offensively, does that impact their defense?”
“I know people talked about the Pac-12 being down last year, but in my mind those guys showed against Alabama they were the real deal on defense. They gave up the one big play that killed ’em, but they were right there. Common sense says they’ll take a step back because of how many guys they lose, but I wouldn’t bet against that staff. They’ll figure some things out and get their guys where they need to be by the end of the year."
"They were a little bit like USC last year in that they were so dominant up front they didn’t put extra guys in the box. The big nose tackle (Vita Vea) eats up a lot of space in the 3-4 and their linebackers are very good. In passing situations, they’re not afraid to drop everybody into coverage and see if their guys can win one-on-one matchups. We’ll see if they change it up a little bit this year to try to help their young guys on the back end."
"They don’t blow you away offensively, but the quarterback doesn’t make a lot of mistakes and they don’t give him more than he can handle. He was playing with a dinged-up shoulder at the end of last season, but he’s very accurate with the ball and he’s only going to get better coming into his junior year.”
Related: Pac-12 Football Predictions for 2017
“They’ll be right in the mix again."
"They get so much attention for the Air Raid stuff, they’re probably a little bit underrated for how well they run the ball. A couple years ago (Mike) Leach started putting in those wide splits up front, which really opened up the outside zone play for them and they do a really good job blocking it."
"It’s a pretty complete offense. It’s hard to pressure them because they’ll get the ball out quick and tunnel screen you to death, and if you’re playing zone those receivers will recognize it and try to get underneath somewhere they can get five or six yards. It’s beautiful in its simplicity, but they execute because the quarterback (Luke Falk) is able to orchestrate everything at the line of scrimmage and deliver the ball where it needs to go. We were hoping he’d turn pro, obviously, but he probably made a good decision to come back."
"They’ve continued to make strides defensively. They’re solid across the board, good linebackers, good safeties. They’re not quite as strong on their defensive front outside of Hercules (Mata’afa), and I think there’s a big drop-off between their ones and twos, but it’s not like a few years ago where their offense had to put up 45 points to win.”