Each year we ask college football coaches to tell us what they really think about the other teams in their conference. But we don't want the cliche'd press conference platitudes, so we ask them to give us their quotes off-the-record and anonymously. Here are this year's quotes in alphabetical order for each team in the SEC.
What SEC Coaches Are Saying About: Alabama
"You have to give (Nick) Saban credit: Other than a stinker at South Carolina, they nearly ran the table again. LSU and Auburn were lucky to beat them, and Alabama finally put it all together in the bowl game, by just annihilating Michigan State."
"They only have to replace four starters on offense, but three of those have been so huge to the program’s success — quarterback Greg McElroy, running back Mark Ingram and wide receiver Julio Jones."
"I know Ingram won the Heisman and Jones had the capability of scoring every time he touched the football, but I think the one they’ll miss the most out of those three is McElroy. The kid was brilliant and just a flat-out winner. He might not have been the strongest, fastest or have the best arm, but he was such a tremendous leader."
"Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy will be just as productive, or more, than Ingram. Also Marquis Maze will fill in nicely for Jones."
"If the offense struggles, the defense should be able to bail them out. They return nearly everyone, including linebacker Dont’a Hightower."
"Their secondary could be one of the nation’s best units with the entire group back intact."
"Even with only 14 seniors, I still would not be surprised if them or LSU ends up playing for the national title."
"They have so much talent. Nick has done such a great job stockpiling talent there. It’s amazing how many good players they have."
What SEC Coaches Are Saying About: Arkansas
"Obviously the big guy, (Ryan) Mallett is gone on offense. Tyler Wilson is slated to be the replacement and was impressive in limited action last year. He had a monster game against Auburn (332 yards, four touchdowns), so he’s proven he’s quite capable of directing the offense. The schedule sets up nicely for him to build his confidence (opening with three home games against Missouri State, New Mexico and Troy) before a killer back-to-back stretch against Alabama and Texas A&M."
"They’ve had a lot of good backs in the past few years, but no one seized the job until Davis last year. He was great."
"The defense has slowly improved under (Bobby) Petrino and coordinator Willy Robinson and should be as strong or better this fall. It was a weakness a few years ago. Not so much anymore."
"Defensive end Jake Bequette is one of the best in the league, and tackle Byran Jones is a solid force up front."
"I think last year they responded very well to the pressure of being a dark horse to win the league, losing only to Alabama and Auburn. This year with the expectations not as high, I think the Razorbacks will jump up and surprise some people as long as Wilson can be consistent at quarterback.”
What SEC Coaches Are Saying About: Auburn
"No Cam Newton, no Nick Fairley and no chance for the Tigers to repeat as SEC or national champions. How far down the standings will the Tigers plummet?"
"Newton was obviously ‘the team’ last season and even with all the controversy surrounding him and (his father Cecil), he still carried that team on his back and never faltered even with a tremendous amount of pressure on him on and off the field. I think that, as much as his physical skills, are what Auburn will miss the most."
"It looks like they’re unsettled at quarterback, but one possibility could be a highly touted incoming freshman (Kiehl Frazier) from Arkansas. I don’t know how successful in this league you can be with a freshman quarterback, but Auburn might find out real quick."
"(Gus) Malzahn will always get his quarterback to play well, but no one will do what Newton did for them."
"Whoever replaces Newton better be elusive, because the right tackle (Brandon Mosley) is the only returning starter on the offensive line."
"Running back Michael Dyer gave a glimpse of his big-play ability in the BCS title game."
"Fairley will be a huge loss, but the Tigers also have several other holes to fill on defense."
"(Gene) Chizik shocked the world last year winning the national title. We’ll see how it works this time around."
"It will be interesting to see how they handle themselves this year. They are the defending national champs but expectations are low. Not a ton of pressure on them.”
What SEC Coaches Are Saying About: Florida
“Jeremy Foley is widely considered among the top ADs to work for in the nation, but the common theme among coaches I’ve talked to in the SEC wonders if Will Muschamp’s hiring will be a Billy Donovan hiring for Foley or a Ron Zook-type of hire? Muschamp is widely respected within the coaching ranks, but having his first head coaching job at a place like Florida is going to be tough."
"Charlie Weis’ hiring as offensive coordinator is interesting to say the least. He can X-and-O with anyone, but I don’t think Florida has the Jimmys and the Joes to win the SEC this year."
"Besides losing (Urban) Meyer, the Gators also lost 23 seniors. That will be tough to do in one season."
"(Quarterback) John Brantley should benefit most from Weis’ pro-style attack. He was horrendous last year, trying to run the spread. If he doesn’t perform, I’ve heard a lot of good things about early enrollee Jeff Driskel. He could get a shot back there as well, but it’s tough for a freshman in this league."
"It will be interesting to see if they can finally run the ball with Weis in charge. They did a lot of great things under Meyer, but run the ball with a more traditional running back wasn’t one of them."
"They weren’t very good last year, but still had a chance to win the (SEC) East if they could have beaten South Carolina. But they couldn’t get it done."
What SEC Coaches Are Saying About: Georgia
“While it was unfortunate, I really think the whole fiasco with A.J. Green’s suspension for selling his jersey took the wind out of Georgia. He sat those first four games and before they knew it they started 1–4. They did manage to put together a few wins to get bowl-eligible, but another loss to rival Florida and to UCF in the Liberty Bowl is not good for Mark Richt’s job security."
"Incoming freshman running back Isaiah Crowell is a stud, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in the mix for playing time."
"I really like Aaron Murray at quarterback, and he’ll be even better with another year of experience."
"Murray will have to find another go-to receiver. In addition to Green, they also lose Kris Durham. I’d expect him to look for (tight end) Orson Charles more this year."
"Defensively, I think they were a work in process with a new defensive staff in place. Having had a year to adjust to defensive coordinator Todd Grantham’s 3-4, the Bulldogs should be somewhat improved, but I don’t think they have enough to compete for the SEC East title, and Georgia alums are not going to like to hear that."
What SEC Coaches Are Saying About: Kentucky
"Joker (Phillips) did a nice job in his first season as head coach, getting Kentucky to a bowl game. His second season might be somewhat tougher, especially since he has to replace Randall Cobb and Derrick Locke. Cobb was one of the nation’s top wideouts and just a spectacular all-around threat. I, for one, am glad that I don’t have to face him again. People don’t understand how good that guy was."
"The quarterback (Mike Hartline) also is gone, so I don’t know where they’re going to get their offense from. Hartline really came on last year. He wasn’t very good early in his career, but he was pretty solid as a senior. "The good news is they are strong up front (returning four offensive line starters). Guards Larry Warford and Stuart Hines are the anchors on that unit."
"The defense is loaded and returns virtually intact. Linebacker Danny Trevathan and safety Winston Guy are as good as anyone in the SEC. They could play for anyone."
"Rick Minter, the former Cincinnati coach, was named co-defensive coordinator. Word is he’ll look to implement a 3-4 defense."
"The key for Kentucky is a three-game stretch against Florida, LSU and South Carolina. If they could steal one of those games, I think they could have a special season. If not, they could be fighting to get to a bowl."
"They need some skill guys to emerge. They have had playmakers over the past few years, but I don’t see anyone who really scares you — at least not yet."
What SEC Coaches Are Saying About: LSU
"Les (Miles) is loaded this year. He’s got the majority of his team back, and I think either LSU or Alabama, whoever survives the SEC West, will play for the national title and make it six national championships in a row for our league. Whether it’s LSU or not may depend on what happens at quarterback. Jordan Jefferson certainly has had his moments, but Miles has opened it up and made his quarterback derby a three-man competition between Jefferson, Jarrett Lee and Zach Mettenberger. Mettenberger is the most intriguing. That kid is a hoss."
"(Cornerback and return specialist) Patrick Peterson is gone, but they have so many athletes back there he won’t be missed a great deal — and yes, I know how strange that sounds."
"Miles has been, let’s just say, very fortunate in the past, such as against Florida with the bounce-pass fake field goal and against Alabama with some late trick plays. Somehow, someway everything always seems to go Miles’ way. If that continues I don’t see many people stopping the Tigers."
"They are loaded. Everyone knows that. But they still scare me because Jefferson is inconsistent at quarterback. Now, he played well down the stretch, but if he is the guy, do you trust him to win you a national title?"
What SEC Coaches Are Saying About: Mississippi State
"I thought they were one of the nation’s most underrated teams last season. Just look at their four losses — Auburn, LSU, Alabama and Arkansas. And they probably should have beaten Auburn. Then the way they ended the season by simply destroying Michigan (52–14) in the Gator Bowl. Wow. I was very, very impressed with Dan Mullen’s second season to say the least and how much progress they made from his 2009 debut. And the scary thing is: This year might be even better."
"Chris Relf is back at quarterback and Vick Ballard at running back. Those two seniors will provide tremendous leadership."
"Relf has really turned into a good player. I was not impressed with him a few years ago. It looked they wanted to go with (Tyler Russell), but Relf just played too well."
"The one unknown is how the team will respond to the departure of defensive coordinator Manny Diaz to Texas. Chris Wilson and Geoff Collins will share the duties, and they’ll enjoy coaching defensive tackles Fletcher Cox and Josh Boyd."
"(Receiver) Chad Bumphis is a good player. They don’t throw the ball a ton, so we don’t see a lot of him, but the guy can make plays."
"I think another bowl game is a certainty for the Bulldogs. If people sleep on them, they’re going to be in for a rude awakening."
What SEC Coaches Are Saying About: Ole Miss
"There was so much hype and hope with the addition of (quarterback) Jeremiah Masoli — and then that first game happened. I really think that overtime loss to Jacksonville State in the season-opener just killed their season. Maybe they were never going to be better than 4–8, but they had no big-time victories."
"Their best player is running back Brandon Bolden. I also like (Jeff) Scott. He was really good last year as a freshman. He’s fast. Good player."
"Who replaces Masoli at quarterback is a big unknown, but Houston Nutt brought in Dolphins assistant David Lee as offensive coordinator and Oklahoma State assistant Gunter Brewer (as passing game coordinator). That should give the offense a boost from last season. I’d expect to see more Wildcat this year."
"It sounds like Randall Mackey was the guy in the spring. That will be a tough decision for the staff."
"The defense remains a question mark. They were just good enough to get you beat last season. Losing (D.T.) Shackelford (to a torn ACL) is a tough blow. He’s a hard-nosed player."
"What’s in store this season? They could improve slightly, but it looks like another sub.-500 season."
"Who are they going to be better than in the SEC West? No one. They have some talent, but the West is so good now."
What SEC Coaches Are Saying About: South Carolina
"The soap opera that is Stephen Garcia’s career took another turn (when he was suspended in the spring). I know (Steve) Spurrier has got to be fuming about this latest episode. It will be interesting to see if this causes a distraction within the team."
"Connor Shaw is a capable backup and has pushed Garcia in the past. The offense should be just fine with tailback Marcus Lattimore and wide receiver Alshon Jeffery. Both of those guys are among the best in the country. Lattimore is such a beast and Jeffery is a spectacular talent."
"As much as turnovers killed them last year, the defense got lit up in their losses. They need to be more consistent on that side of the ball and should be this fall."
"They were good last year, but it wasn’t a great year for the division. They picked a good year to be good. They were in the middle of the pack statistically (seventh in total offense and seventh in total defense). Again, don’t want to take anything away from them, because it’s hard to get to Atlanta, but they weren’t a great team."
"The secondary is solid with several starters back."
"The biggest question is how will they deal with these huge expectations and also will Garcia be there to lead the way?"
What SEC Coaches Are Saying About: Tennessee
"Well, you can say one thing about Derek Dooley’s debut season with Tennessee: It certainly wasn’t boring. I thought he did a tremendous job, and if not for some wacky endings against LSU and North Carolina, the Volunteers would have had a solid eight-win season. To be able to rebound strong from a dismal 2–6 start showed a lot of character from the Vols. Although I can understand some people attributing their last four-game winning streak (against Memphis, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt and Kentucky) to an easy schedule, but it still was an impressive turnaround."
"Quarterback Tyler Bray keyed the strong finish as a freshman and should improve from last season. Tauren Poole is a serviceable option at tailback, and the Vols’ offensive line should be better. They have a lot of guys back."
"They’ve got some really good young receivers. Justin Hunter is a stud. They will miss Denarius Moore and Gerald Jones, but with guys like Hunter and Da’Rick Rogers, they still have plenty of weapons for Bray."
"The defensive front seven has to be rebuilt, but the secondary returns three starters (cornerbacks Marsalis Teague and Prentiss Waggner and safety Brent Brewer so they’ve got a decent chance to return to a bowl game."
"They are getting better, but still not ready to challenge the top teams in the division. Maybe in 2012. But not yet."
"Keeping (defensive coordinator) Justin Wilcox was big. You need to keep continuity with your coordinators."
What SEC Coaches Are Saying About: Vanderbilt
"James Franklin steps into a great position in his first year as coach. No matter what he does should be a big improvement, and the Commodores should be improved. They have nearly their entire team back, and Franklin has infused the program with a winning attitude. That may sound funny at Vanderbilt, but from what I’ve heard their kids are buying into it."
"Franklin comes in with a reputation as a good recruiter, and he did a good job with his first class. Got some pretty good players, especially at the quarterback position."
"They have some pretty good players on defense. The linebacker (Chris Marve) is really good. Been around forever. And the cornerback (Casey) Hayward is outstanding. Been a starter since his sophomore year and really locks people up. I like Sean Richardson, the big safety, too."
"Vanderbilt will never out-talent anyone in the SEC, but I think you’ll see some real progress this fall and even next year. They’ve got a young bunch. They’re not going to challenge for the SEC East title, but they might jump up and surprise someone."
"The running backs are pretty good, especially Warren Norman, but they don’t have anybody on the outside who scares you. That makes them much easier to play against."
Other Candid Coaches' Quotes: