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 2021, Athlon asked coaches in the Pac-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.
Pac-12 Coaches Talk Anonymously About Conference Foes for 2022
"There's no reason this program should be as lopsided as they've been under the last two head coaches. Sonny [Dykes] was all offense; now they're literally all defense. Justin [Wilcox] is a great guy and has a great rep, but the OC hire didn't make any sense at the time, and it's come back to bite them. Plenty of really smart coaches have failed at head jobs because they couldn't get the other side of the ball right."
"They've been really good early on and then they get more and more inconsistent as the year goes on. They're really really sound and solid on defense. That part is working great. They respond to whatever you want to throw at them, they can maintain the ability to adjust and dress things up without losing that edge, that ability to get after it."
"Offensively, it's vanilla. I think the intention there was to run a risk-mitigation offense to keep the defense fresh, but it hasn't kept up with the times. I don't think it's personnel so much as culture and scheme. They need new ideas."
"When you talk about the issues with the league, this is a program a lot of coaches point to. Wilcox was in on the Oregon job, and not just because he's an alum. He's a really good coach. So what's the problem here? The administration and the city did them no favors with the strict pandemic policy, that's for sure. But you need the average-level program like this to be better than what they've been."
Related: Pac-12 Football Predictions for 2022
"With Mario [Cristobal] and Willie [Taggart], the blueprint was obvious. They wanted to try to be a Northwest SEC program. With both of those guys leaving, you have to wonder if Oregon regrets going all-in on national candidates with no PNW ties."
"I think they've struggled against elite teams because they've shuffled so many offensive identities. What's Kenny [Dillingham] going to do? Bo Nix is a solid game-manager who's been beat up; where's his head at?"
"They've been extremely active in the portal and NIL. They're going to have to be to stay in front and fight for that perception they're a national brand. With Nike behind them, they should be leading NIL."
"No one knows what [Dan] Lanning's long-term plan is going to be for personnel. In the [Chip] Kelly era, they did a really good job in California and Texas and the PNW. This staff needs to double-down on working the West Coast if they want to stay consistent in the portal era. It's going to get harder and harder to keep guys from three time zones away in Eugene if they're getting national attention. Also, recruiting and developing guys from Georgia is way different than California and Oregon. Is Lanning ready for that? The fan base and the administration can't deal with another guy who gets hot and leaves town. They need a long-term plan to renew a lot of faith. It's not that Lanning can't do that; it's that no one's seen it yet."
"They're quietly doing a really great job with this rebuild. [Jonathan] Smith has recruited the right kind of kids."
"There's a sort of connection to Mike Riley there, too, at least on the field with that multiple use of tight ends and the run game. And there's a lot of that [Chris] Petersen shift and motion, too."
"They're not impressive in any way; they're just competent and competitive. You have to respect how they've done it among all the turnover. They're like Utah in that they stay steady, they don't chase headlines, they just go to work."
"With so many questions in this division, they could be poised to take a jump for a year or two. But I think internally, they'd admit that this isn't a program that sustains a nine-plus win record year after year. Historically, they're four, five, seven, 10 wins, then repeat. They have to sign, redshirt and develop, and that blueprint could be threatened by the portal. The advantage of having Smith is that he knows everything about that program and that culture in the region. You gotta recruit workers who want to stay around."
"One thing that they've done a nice job is working Oregon and Washington better than the other three schools, honestly. They're more occupied with regional and national identities, and Oregon State has benefited by working really hard locally."
"They're going to continue to improve right now. He's a legit program builder."
"This program is really starting to show its age, and they're out of buzz right now. There's been so much coaching talent on that staff the last 15 years, and they've all left for NFL jobs or HC jobs."
"Last year, they were really, really big, but just as slow. We noticed that right away and adjusted to it."
"They're always going to have good offensive and defensive linemen, and they're going to have good tight ends, and now you expect them to be average or below-average at the skill positions. That's the biggest change from the [Andrew] Luck and [Kevin] Hogan eras. Have those positions dropped off because of scheme? It's worth asking because they don't innovate. It's shift and motion and deception to leverage your fronts, but they've been doing that for 15 years now."
"They played a lot of underclassmen last year, which is a bonus now, provided some of those guys become standouts."
"Don't put a ton of stock into that recruiting class; USC is in transition, and most of the programs in the league are dipping more into the portal. Stanford can't do that. They've got to work the national net on high school recruiting and then develop guys. That's going to get harder and harder in the portal era."
"The biggest success they could have this year is bringing on that younger group of starters and showing something that's specific to this season. Just anything different."
"What happened to Jimmy Lake is still a mystery to a lot of us. The guy you saw in the media last year wasn't the Jimmy a lot of us knew. That [head coaching] chair changes you, and I think the expectations and reality at UW have always been way out of alignment."
"There's a disconnect at UW that they're Notre Dame or Michigan. They aren't. They never have been. Take a guy like [Chris] Petersen — they didn't recruit like 'an academic' or an SEC team. They won on development, scheme and culture. That got sideways when he left."
"The new staff is the polar opposite of what Lake was doing publicly. Very salt of the earth. Just pure ball coaching."
"Everything is in place to be successful if they're given enough time. I think you'll see a big jump on offense right away, in part because that last offensive scheme was a huge mess. [Michael] Penix coming in will be good for the entire QB room, and that staff schemes really well. There's talent at the skill positions; they just need a refresh."
"Defensively, they're going to look very different, and they've got a lot of position turnover."
"Give them time and they're going to score points. The rest of it will be under construction this year."
"Kalen [DeBoer] isn't going to care about making national noise like Oregon or USC. They're going to scrap all that hype and just coach ball."
"It's impressive what they were able to manage with everything that went on off the field."
"Agree with him or not, Rolo [Nick Rolovich] was a huge program culture guy. He loved those guys, and they loved him back, and when he was fired they played their asses off."
"How will the UIW QB [Cameron Ward] do? They're going to need him to play like a star right away. They're switching to 11 personnel, and they don't really have the tight ends to do that. The defense up front isn't good; the secondary is just OK."
"The interim-to-head-coach situation is always a risk. There was so much emotion in what was going on last year, and sometimes that makes the administration stop thinking about the long term, especially in a situation where you're getting beat up publicly."
"This is a program that needs to be prepared to deal with the downside of the portal on a consistent basis. Pullman is next to nothing, and if there's a standout lineman or receiver, WSU could easily lose them to a more glamorous place. You can't keep kids on a roster no matter what anymore, and so the entire philosophy of the [Mike] Leach era is dead. You're going to be recruiting all the time at a school like this. That's why it's more important to have a player culture than any scheme."
"Jake Dickert won this job because of the kids on the roster. They'll determine whether or not he keeps it."
"This is the program that's going to slowly build and stay out of the spotlight, but they could be one of those schools that benefits from the league being down and major schools being in transition."
"They're doing a good job in recruiting, but some of that might be overblown when you consider what an average Pac-12 class actually means right now."
"But compared to where [Kevin] Sumlin left it, they've definitely upgraded the roster, and you can clearly see what they want to do, even in the places where they can't do it yet because of the personnel."
"Jedd [Fisch] is such a seasoned veteran in the industry; he's going to thrive in this phase where he can manage the boosters and the players and play the game."
"They've got the Wazzu QB [Jayden de Laura], and he'll bring a lot of toughness in immediately. He's a competitive, physical player."
"They're starting to build out a name, image and likeness plan, and if there's something different or unique there, that could really help them."
"Overall, it's gonna be another season of taking their lumps. This was and is a total from-scratch rebuild with less assets than most Pac-12 schools, but you'd still rather be here than at the other Arizona school. There's no pressure, and they have no attention on them. They could be bowling in two years."
Related: Pac-12 Football Predictions for 2022
"This is the biggest dumpster fire in college football. It is absolutely mind blowing that Herm [Edwards] is still employed, at least in the mind of the college coaching community. Everyone knows it's a ticking time bomb, but no one knows if it's going off in a month or a year from now. They look like a mid-level SEC program when they get off the bus, and you start to see what they've been recruiting. Then you finish the game, and it's like playing a MWC team. They're wildly inconsistent, they turn the ball over, they make mental errors, it's all stuff that screams no stability. We've played them when they're locked in and physical, and we've played them when they're just not interested in being there."
"The Herm plan isn't terrible: Bring in the CEO head coach to work externally, and let talented assistants coach. But they didn't follow any of the rules. That model has to be adjusted from the NFL to college because there's way more ways to screw up here."
"It's embarrassing he still has a job when some of those assistants are unemployed and bearing the brunt of things he directed."
"This program has the best chance of a total implosion midseason because there's no consistency anywhere: not in the coaches, the head coach, or the roster. It's a waste. This program is always good on paper but fails to every really win consistently, and this another example of it."
"It will be interesting to see how they look this year. What was the real [Karl] Dorrell product? The quick wins in the pandemic season, or what came after? They're definitely still transitioning, and some of that is because of the time of year [Mel] Tucker left and the inability to hire out from a full pool of assistants, but the trick with Colorado is that from the outside, the expectations are unclear. Coaches talk in this league, and there's a rep out that they're not interested in pressing to be great again, that they're just going to be focused on academics."
"They have a lot of unknowns with their personnel, but they're trying to recruit more aggressively and sell the campus, sell the culture. It's a great place to recruit to."
"They have a good offensive line, better than you think, and they have some really good offensive coaches now. The issues are going to be if the portal departures were because of good new culture or bad new culture. Anytime you see that movement, you wonder who's at fault there."
"Since they've joined the league, they've underperformed relative to their potential, if you believe in Colorado as a brand, because they could recruit and develop like a Utah if they had the right guys in there."
"Dorrell is a veteran coach. There's a chance he can play this right and let his guys recruit their asses off and surprise some people in a year or two. Until then, you look at this program and think about what could be."
"A very hard program to read from the outside. Is everyone involved at the school really committed to being elite in football? You hear stories that they're always half-in, or they're not on the same page."
"The problem with Chip [Kelly] is that everyone does what Chip did to become a famous innovator, at least on the field. But where he really shined, what made him different was all the stuff behind the scenes. Sleep studies and practice structures and when to go light, and how to coach speed. Are they innovating like that?"
"DTR [Dorian Thompson-Robinson] is a hell of a talent. He's been unfairly maligned at times. But he's got a hell of a high ceiling. When he's got a hot hand, they can run with anyone and light it up."
"A lot of coaches have noticed how UCLA has sat back a lot in recruiting. It's almost as if Chip brought more of an NFL scouting mentality back to college recruiting, and that just won't work. They still have holes on their roster, and it's because they're not as aggressive as they need to be."
"They've missed the window on making significant steps in L.A. now that USC has hired a new staff."
"We've all been waiting for Chip to unveil some kind of Version 2.0, some kind of new thing that changes the game as much as they did at Oregon, and maybe that's not going to happen. Maybe they're just a good program with a reasonable expectation for wins. But that's not how they sold it when he got there."
"They're going to be a powerhouse. The question is how long it's going to take and what they're going to look like when it happens."
"Lincoln [Riley] is a great coach. I would describe him as having elite emotional intelligence. He's gonna recruit his ass off, and he'll make the USC brand cool again. Even with the portal, it will take him two years to get the talent they need to be nationally relevant and ahead of Utah in the South, but eventually they're going to do it."
"The problem for the rest of us in the league is that it's a brand-new everything. They're the most unknown program in the league top to bottom. So many guys have left; so many have come in. Last year's film won't really give you anything."
"Caleb [Williams] is a really talented kid. He's going to thrive when they get everyone on the same page. How physical are they going to be? The style OU played was a physical Air Raid, moreso than the usual Big 12 teams. If you go back and look through their entire history, when USC plays physical, they win titles. When they're not, they just put up stats. It''s really that simple. The physicality means they're getting those elite guys on both lines. It means they're developing NFL dudes, and they're a mile ahead of the league. At this point, I think it would be good to have them back on top for a while, for just about everyone except for Oregon and UCLA, maybe."
Related: Pac-12 QB Rankings for 2022
"This is the best program in the Pac-12. I don't think you'll find anyone who would name another team. They could beat Florida to open the season and help the league out tremendously."
"They do a fantastic job recruiting to their culture, and they always have. They have cornered the market on what 'physical football' looks like, and coaches from other conferences will tell you that, too. Look at the Oregon games — Mario Cristobal made it a mission to make Oregon more physical on the lines, and the Utes just blew them up twice. It's a testament to the fact it's not easy to do what they do out there."
"They do a really good job making Utah a recruiting priority and then complementing with California and Texas. It's a good mix of players, and the success they had last year has helped them push forward on higher-profile talent. I think they could brand themselves better in the portal if they wanted to."
"They're schematically simple but fundamentally sound on defense, which is common when you're trying to lead with your physicality. Don't muck it up; let them make contact."
"Offensively, they run power with the right wrinkles. You can't get too comfortable with it because they'll slip into some RPO stuff and kill you."
"They're going to get lapped by USC eventually, but not right now. As long as that staff is in place, they're going to win games and compete for Rose Bowls."