Coaches dish on all 12 Pac-12 teams
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 2020, Athlon asked coaches in the Pac-12 to talk anonymously about their opponents.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Pac-12 canceled its 2020 college football fall season. While the teams are sidelined for now and hope to try and play in the spring, here's some interesting information Athlon Sports was provided by the coaches earlier this offseason.
Note: These scouting reports come directly from coaching staffs and do not necessarily reflect the views of Athlon's editorial staff.
Pac-12 Coaches Talk Anonymously About Conference Foes for 2020
"They're behind the 8-ball this season, no doubt about it."
"You look at the team on the field last year and their recruiting for this past year and next and you can't believe this is the (coaching) crew that beat Alabama and made all that noise in the SEC."
"It's a short list of positives, but the offense has a high ceiling, and they know how to run it. They're capable. They do a really good job from a scheme standpoint."
"(Quarterback Grant) Gunnell is a big talent. Can he save them by himself? He might have to."
"Defensively they were awful. (Paul) Rhoads is a meat and potatoes guy, a teacher. He's not going to be able to perform miracles, but you got the sense they were playing under their abilities because of communication and effort."
"They don't have the juice anymore. That was (Kevin) Sumlin's calling card, that ability to make waves in recruiting and get the kids fired up. That's not this program. They're flat, they don't have an identity and they're losing badly in marketing and recruiting to their in-state rivals."
"Recruiting wise, they can do well in Texas, but this league is built on California. They need to adjust their recruiting because they'll eventually die without making L.A. inroads."
"If they get injured early, especially at the skill positions, that's probably it for this staff."
"They're ultra-aggressive right now. That's the best way to describe them."
"So far the Herm (Edwards) experiment has really worked out for them. They've overhauled how they recruit and message their program. It's a minor-league NFL experience. Come here, come to this exciting city, and NFL coaches will get you ready for the league."
"They were really smart in how they used (Jayden) Daniels last year. He's not the biggest guy, so they were selective in how they put him out there. They protected him really well, and when he has a clean pocket, he can kill you. He has great vision. Ask Oregon."
"They're losing some guys, but the skill position turnover might be better for them. They've got some monsters coming in."
"(New offensive coordinator Zak) Hill needs to match with what Daniels can do. I think what people don't realize is that most Boise guys are about multiplicity and being flexible for your personnel. So none of what Boise ran really fits everything Daniels can do, but it's not going to be a carbon copy."
"Right now they still don't have the raw talent of a USC, but they're closing the gap. They're the most exciting team in an otherwise flat division."
"This is a sneaky-good team. A lot of people might be sleeping on them. They could be a dark horse behind Oregon in the division."
"The defensive scheme is really smart and simple and aggressive, and they run a lot of stuff by you on offense. That's still their weaker side, but (Chase) Garbers healthy makes them a really good team. They had nothing going without him."
"(Bill) Musgrave is going to clean a lot of that stuff up. They need to be simpler and find what works for them. The offense to this point looks like they've fit players into a scheme. It has to be the other way around."
"It's a cliche about Cal, but they recruit to be smart on the field. The defenders have good instincts, and they're always in the right place. Most of that defense is back."
"This could be a sneaky-good team if Garbers is healthy and they get the offense working. Most of those guys are back, so they won't have to worry too much about depth."
"When you look around the division, absent Oregon there are a lot of teams breaking in new offensive philosophies or struggling in that area. Cal is built to exploit that. The defense is consistent, and the offense has experience."
"They could go on a run this season, and with (Justin) Wilcox's name coming up more and more for other jobs, the window might not be this open again for a while."
"These guys got absolutely punched in the face by the coaching carousel."
"To have that much heat going after one year with Mel Tucker and have him leave so late in the cycle, and to hire a failed former conference coach? This is a massive setback for the program, and it's hard to see how they can rebound from this."
"Mel had just started to untangle some of their problems, but they were full speed ahead, especially in recruiting. We would ‘feel' them out in recruiting in places Colorado had never been."
"Their problem since they joined the Pac-12 is that they still want to build a roster in Texas and pick scraps in California. You're in the Pac-12 now; you have to reverse that. You don't have any brand identity in Texas."
"The previous staff started to turn that around. It was basically as wide a net as they could cast. They had offers out on everyone."
"How are you going to sell Karl Dorrell? How does that work? He had an unsuccessful run at UCLA. Every coach in the league is going to use that against them."
"With the shortened offseason, I think they should stick with as much of what was working for them with Mel. He kept three or four of Mel's guys on staff for that reason."
"They'll try to get through this year with more or less the same systems and then make his changes in the next offseason."
"This is the best and most complete team in the conference."
"They were a national title contender last year, and even losing their quarterback, they might be a better all-around roster this season."
"The Joe Moorhead hire was fantastic. He's really going to click with Mario (Cristobal). If he'd been there last year, they would've gone to the postseason undefeated."
"All the backs and receivers are basically back, and the talent behind them is maybe even better."
"The line lost some guys, but they've recruited really well on both sides. They're starting to reach for that Pete Carroll USC quality of offensive and defensive linemen. Oregon is the first Pac-12 team to look like that. They aren't there yet, though."
"The defense is going to be scary good, led by the secondary."
"What can you say about Kayvon (Thibodeaux)? I'm not sure I've seen a single defensive player change the course of a game quite like he did against Utah. That was ridiculous. (Andy) Avalos has a lineup of killers."
"They're an SEC-level recruiting program. You could see some of those freshman five-stars come in and dominate right away."
"They're just a quarterback away. Moorhead excels in these situations, and whoever gets the job won't be tasked with winning so much as just distributing. This team is good enough for the new QB to just not lose it for them."
"They're going to be a surprise team very soon. Maybe not this season, but everything they're doing is interesting, and it really works for them."
"They were so awful a few seasons back, and now they're really quietly building a quality roster. The best way to describe it is that they're becoming the Pac-12's Kansas State."
"(Jonathan Smith) is a good coach and a quality human. He really values that community and wants to build something for the long term."
"The scheme is still (Chris Petersen's) Washington stuff; it goes back to Boise. Formations and shifts get everyone open. They'll have to find a quarterback late in camp; that could really hold them back in a shortened offseason."
"The defense is quietly better. They get a lot out of their linebackers, but they've been pretty bad against the run. They still have to get really creative here to compensate."
"This is feeling like a program in decline. They need something to pull them out of the rut they've been in the last few years."
"I think it's really come down to the absence of bringing in game-changers at the big positions. It's been a while since they've had an Andrew Luck or a Christian McCaffrey, or even a Kevin Hogan."
"They haven't run the ball at all like themselves. The line was banged up and they didn't have a next guy up to replace (Bryce) Love. If you want to fix one thing, that's probably the most important. They have some talent at receiver, but they gotta run the ball better or none of it matters."
"Defensively they just aren't the same. They're missing that level of talent at linebacker and on the line where they could get after you and shorten drives."
"The transfer portal stuff is really alarming. That's supposed to be a positive, solid culture. The kids there are always a little bit more mature, a little bit more self-starters than the typical program. To have that many people leave is really telling."
"David (Shaw) is a fantastic coach, and most of us figured he'd be in the NFL by now."
"The systems they use are really simple. Man to man, can you beat me? Who's stronger, who's smarter with their technique?"
"It's fair to give this staff the benefit of the doubt, but this year they have to get back to winning."
"A lot of warning flags around this program."
"With the setbacks USC has had and the Clay Helton firing saga, this was their time to step up and make a name for themselves in Los Angeles."
"They beat USC in Chip (Kelly)'s first year and they've been flat ever since."
"Offensively, Chip is a schematic genius. You aren't going to find a brighter football mind. But so much of their success at Oregon was about generating excitement on Saturday you could take to the recruits on Sunday. They're stuck right now because they can't really show proof of concept."
"One big alarm is that Chip didn't do the logical thing and make a change at DC. They're terrible right now and it's costing them games. Jerry (Azzinaro) is a close friend of Chip's, and when you stop making the hard business decisions, you end up fired."
"(Demetric) Felton is a dynamic Chip Kelly player. He's the closest thing they have to an Oregon-era showstopper. There's no one else on that roster like that, though."
"Everyone assumed Chip would come in and take over Southern California recruiting. It's really been the opposite."
"A lot coaches feel like this thing could implode this season. The amount of money UCLA has invested might be the thing that saves Chip, but they have to show something more consistent immediately. They're nothing like his Oregon program in any way."
"It's been a mess; we all know that. They've had instability and scandals, and everyone in the league thought Clay (Helton) was fired by November of last year. Everyone did. And yet you might see them win the entire conference this year. They're definitely contenders to win the division."
"Making the switch to (Graham Harrell's) offense saved them because they're so insanely deep at wide receiver. It makes even more sense looking back."
"They made the change at DC to a guy who was fired from a similar situation. (Todd) Orlando was the victim of a lot of injuries at Texas, but he risks coming in and overcomplicating things. They need to be smart but simple. This is still an athletic defense."
"Neither line looks like they should. It's USC. Where is the size and physicality? That's the one area where they still look like something is really wrong."
"How many wins will it take to keep Clay? Could they win the division and keep him?"
"The only Pac-12 team that's inarguably more talented and athletic than them is Oregon."
"This is a program that completely understands its identity, how to recruit their guys and build them up. Their problem this year is replacing all those guys they lost last season. As consistent as they've been, you have to expect a step back. I wouldn't use 'rebuild,' just maybe 'step back and reload.'"
"Because they're so consistent, you still know what you're getting from them even with the new faces. They want to maul you. They're the most physical team in the league. They want you in their place, at night, and they're gonna lay the wood."
"(Rice-Eccles Stadium) is one of the most underrated atmospheres in all of college football. You show up and it's loud as hell and cold and they're doing a haka before the game on the field."
"All five of their starters in the secondary are gone. That's the real test for the program and the coaching staff. If you've been as good as we think at development, you'll be able to plug those holes."
"The best way to beat them is get them out of their comfort zone. They're very specific and deliberate, especially their offense."
"(South Carolina transfer QB) Jake Bentley could work really well in Andy Ludwig's system. If that clicks, it will go a long way towards keeping them at the top of the division."
"They're going to be fine, but there are too many question marks on the depth chart to consider them a repeat favorite in the South."
"This program is undergoing a drastic change behind the scenes."
"Jimmy Lake is technically a staff promotion, but this is not a move for continuity. It's night-and-day difference to where this is basically an outside hire. There's no Boise stuff left."
"They want to go out and sell a high-swagger, defensive team with a brand-new offense."
"No one is exactly sure what (offensive coordinator John) Donovan is going to install. One of his attributes at Vanderbilt and Penn State was that he could be really multiple. They're not going tempo, for sure. They want to serve the defense."
"Lake is opening up their recruiting, which is probably a good thing. If you look at UW's personnel during (Chris Petersen's) time, their best team was that playoff roster where he had a mixture of his guys and (Steve Sarkisian's) guys who had a harder edge to them, but it was his culture."
"The knock on UW, and I think this is how Lake landed the job, was that they became choir boys. They didn't play as mean. He wants to put all that attitude back in there, but the current roster won't jibe with all that. Does he turn the roster over, play a lot of newcomers? That could sink them for a while."
"This is the job every coach in the West is talking about. Everyone seems to think Jimmy's gonna blow this up big time; they're just not sure which direction."
"It's really hard to replace the intangibles that Mike Leach's system gives to a challenged program like Wazzu. The circumstances were just so right for Leach to be his weird self and be left alone to run his offense."
"(Nick Rolovich) doesn't have to be Mike Leach, but that's the blueprint for this program. It's the only thing that's going to keep them competitive. You walk out in pregame and it's this hodgepodge mess of dudes that don't look anything like a P5 team, and then the game starts and they're running free all over you because of how he schemed it."
"Rolo's offense is going to be TBD, especially with them losing spring camp. What got him the job is the work he did at Hawaii, constantly changing and adjusting their scheme to fit that roster."
"I don't think you're gonna see them line up in the I and try to rush for 400 yards. The concepts won't be Mike's but we're preparing for them to stress our secondary."
"It's a really inspired move by Pat Chun, the A.D. You have to assume they knew Leach would push hard for a job in the South, and they evaluated for a guy who might end up being his equal in abstract thinking."
"This is a hard job and it always will be. It's far from anything. Creative thinking is how you survive."