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SEC Coaches Talk Anonymously About Conference Foes for 2016

Alabama Crimson Tide

Alabama Crimson Tide

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 SEC to talk anonymously about their opponents.

Related: SEC Predictions for 2016

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

SEC Coaches Anonymously Scout Conference Foes

East Division


“I don’t know if anyone has deserved SEC Coach of the Year more than Jim McElwain last year because they coached their everloving tail off on offense to get as close as they got (to a championship). They just didn’t have the same talent as anyone else on offense in that league. Their offensive line was extremely weak and losing the quarterback killed them, but let me tell you, they are tough schematically because of all the shifts and motions. We played them with Will Grier, and we just had so much trouble. Out of the first 44 snaps they gave me 38 formations, and he was really, really good. I never really felt like I could get a bead on what they were doing. …

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“They didn’t play as well once they lost their quarterback, and it looked like on film they didn’t do a great job of adapting to Treon Harris, but that was a good team with Grier.”

“I don’t know if they’re talented enough offensively, but McElwain has always done a great job of getting the ball in the hands of his best players.”

“They were unreal on defense last year, just a bunch of talented and freakish guys. They’re resting on the laurels of some pretty good recruiting classes Will Muschamp put together, but our offensive staff was really impressed with Geoff Collins.”

“They’re going to need some of their younger guys to step up because they lost some studs between Vernon Hargreaves and Keanu Neal, who is going to play in the NFL for a long, long time. But they do have Quincy Wilson coming back with Jalen Tabor so they’re going to be solid on the back end.”

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“I think the new staff has to count on the freshman [Jacob Eason] coming in to be the guy at quarterback because they don’t feel like they have anyone else on the roster to do what he does. I think he’s a can’t-miss prospect, but that’s a tough deal as a coach when you’ve got no choice but to put a true freshman out there. There’s going to be some inherent issues with that.”

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“They’re happy with their top two running backs, but I think they’re really worried about the depth offensively and the number of playmakers they inherited. It’s not like what it was in the past at Georgia. Obviously they need Nick Chubb to come back and be the same player he was, but who knows how he’ll respond after a pretty horrific injury.”

“They’re pretty solid at the No. 1s, but when you dig down the depth chart they don’t have the No. 2s or 3s like Kirby Smart and those guys are used to having at Alabama. The recruiting kind of fell off the last few years under Mark Richt.”

“On defense, Kirby isn’t walking into the same kind of talent he worked with at Alabama. Just one example: They don’t have a linebacker corps; I mean, they just simply don’t have any good linebackers. They’re player deficient right now. I think they’ll probably have some headaches early but Kirby will get it done. He’s really, really, really good, and bringing Mel Tucker with him was huge. Those guys can coach.”

“Jim Chaney is as good as anybody. They have a legitimate staff, so Georgia just needs to give those guys a little time.”


“It’s a big year for them. I mean, they fired everybody but the head coach so you know there’s a lot of pressure to make a bowl game. They have enough talent. They’ve done a really good job recruiting, but you don’t see a lot of cohesion to what they’re doing on either side of the ball.”

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“I thought Shannon Dawson was really good and I’m surprised they made a change there, to be honest. I don’t know what they’ll be, but Eddie Gran runs the same kind of system and likes to go fast.”

“They need to find a way to get Boom Williams more carries because I think he’s just a tremendous talent. I’m not sure why they don’t use him more — maybe a little bit injury prone or if he’s a bit of a head case, but he’s a guy who really worries you because he’s so explosive. I felt like he could go 80 just about any time, but they didn’t really play him that much. Between him and Jojo Kemp and bringing back their entire offensive line, they should be able to run the ball, but that system is really designed to pass first so I don’t know what adjustments they’re going to make.”

“Defensively, I assume they’ll still be that same seven-man front they’ve been in the last couple years, but they definitely haven’t been as good as you’d think given what Mark Stoops did as a coordinator.”

“They’re not that far from winning some of these games, but when you look at how they’ve finished the last couple years, you wonder if maybe they’re just a bit mentally fragile.”

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“It’ll be interesting because Barry Odom has been an odd-front guy his whole career and they play a head-up nose and two guys in the B gaps and you’re just not running the ball against him. They’re simply not going to let you do it, and they’ll bring pressure different ways off that. What’s funny, though, is he hired a defensive coordinator from TCU where they do it totally differently. So I’m curious to see what they run and how they do it, but Odom is just tremendous. What he did at Memphis with that defense was so hard, and then he goes up there last year at Mizzou and darn near has to win games by himself because they just couldn’t score. But with him becoming the head coach, I think what kind of defense they actually run is one of the key questions for teams as they get ready for Mizzou because it totally changes the way you gameplan.”

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“Personnel-wise, they just crank out defensive linemen. They’ve got a ton of ‘em.”

“Charles Harris is just a terror on film, and if Harold Brantley comes back off the injuries, that’s going to give them that much more depth.”

“I think offensively they struggled last year because they weren’t real sure whose team it was at quarterback and maybe both of them were afraid to take charge, so it’ll probably help them now that they can focus on one guy.”

“Drew Lock is very talented physically and he’s got some game experience, so if he meshes well with Josh Heupel and the new system he’s got a chance to have a good year.”

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South Carolina

“I don’t believe they’re as bad as they looked last year, but I think the new staff realizes they’ve got a lot of work ahead of them and they’re going to have to go recruit some dudes to get South Carolina back to the level [Steve] Spurrier had it a few years ago.”

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“I do think they’ll be a tougher team than you saw on tape last year. Will Muschamp will help them get there because he’ll get those guys to buy in or they won’t stick around.”

“It’s hard to know who’s going to start at quarterback. Perry Orth was playing pretty well before he broke his collarbone and Brandon McIlwain has a lot of natural ability.”

“I think they’ve got some big questions up front.”

“Losing Mike Matulis and Brandon Shell will really hurt their depth.”

“Deebo Samuel is a special player, but they have to figure out how to get him the ball. He was overshadowed by Pharoh Cooper, but he’s the next guy for them who can play that role.”

“I just think overall their skill set depth isn’t great. I like what I’ve seen from David Williams at running back, and he’s physically durable enough to help them in their protection scheme.”

“Defensively, their scheme made no sense because it put their linebackers in coverage way more than they could handle. Muschamp will go in there and give their guys a plan they can actually execute, but you’ve got to have corners who can play man-to-man in his scheme to make it work. That will be key for them if those guys can step up and whether they can tackle better.”


“A lot of us thought they were on the brink of being really good. Like, really close.”

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“It’s probably a make-or-break year for Butch [Jones], especially with some of the off-the-field stuff they’ve been dealing with.”

“I would think the expectation for them should be to win the East, but they have to get over the mental hurdle of beating Florida. They don’t really have any excuses. They’ve been the better team the last two years and haven’t gotten it done.”

“Schematically, they do a good job of attacking you. They do some really unique stuff with their offensive line, pulling both guards opposite directions, stuff you don’t see week-in and week-out.” 

“I don’t know with [Joshua] Dobbs. In my mind, he’s the one question they have offensively. He’s probably not as good as people make him out to be, but he does a solid job in their system.”

“Jalen Hurd is terrific and the other guy, Alvin Kamara, I thought he was strong as well.”

“They’re just OK at wideout, nothing special, but they get a lot of production out of their tight ends.”

“The offensive line is schematically good but not as strong.”

“I think on defense they will move up significantly with Bob Shoop. He’s one of the best in the country, and he does such a great job teaching his system. They’ve got it down.”

“Getting Cam Sutton back was huge because he’s just so good in coverage; your guy really has to make a great throw to beat him.

“Their safeties have played a lot of football, so I think they’re as solid on the back end as anyone.”

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“I’m not exaggerating when I say this: Derek Mason is as good of a defensive coach as there is in the world.”

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“The fronts they give you are just wacky. They’ll play every front that exists. The way they get to their nickel package is unusual because they take out their nose guard instead of sliding their front. They play with really good width on the line of scrimmage, and they do a good job hemming your runs in. They play with four linebackers pretty much all the time, so guys drop into different spots and the pressures come from weird angles.”

“I just flat out don’t love playing them, especially if it’s early in the year when you don’t have them on tape to see what wrinkles they’ve added. And they just tackle really well. The two things they do fundamentally as good as anybody else — and it must be something they teach — is they tackle really well with two arms around two legs and wrap them up, and they are great at using their hands to get off blocks.”

“They’re not the most talented team, but in terms of defensive fundamentals, he does it the way you wish everybody would. I have a lot of respect for him and he’s got it headed in the right direction, but honestly their personnel isn’t going to be as good as the teams they play. You know going in their defense is going to be good enough to keep them in the game.”

“Maybe in the second year of the offensive system they’ll get a little more production out of their quarterback, but you don’t see any gamebreakers on offense.”

West Division


“I think everybody on the outside looking in will say the biggest thing to replace is the defensive linemen they lost, but people will be surprised. Dalvin Tomlinson is going to be really good, and Jonathan Allen coming back is huge. They won’t lose as much as people think. They have plenty of pass rushers. Obviously the depth may not be quite what it was last year, but the tank isn’t empty by any means. They’re still dang good, and Da’Ron Payne at nose tackle has a chance to be as good as any of them. He was the strongest kid on their team as a freshman.”

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“I don’t think there will be much fall-off at linebacker, even losing Reggie Ragland, because they’ll have Reuben Foster playing a bigger role, and I’ve heard their coaches say Shaun Dion Hamilton is probably the smartest linebacker on their team.”

“The hardest guy to replace for them will be Cyrus Jones, but they have some good young talent at corner.”

“I think it’s going to be a complete tossup at quarterback again. Honestly, they were doing everything they could not to start Jake Coker last year. You watch him throw, you think you’re watching Tom Brady, but he had some really big deficiencies and struggled making decisions. They really simplified things offensively. The future is probably Blake Barnett, but Cooper Bateman was ahead of him at the end of the season and does some things athletically that they can work with. They’re looking for somebody to step up.”

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“Bret Bielema is following the Wisconsin model. His first priority is the offensive line, which is unique, and being really good at tailback.”

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“You can see the culture starting to take hold there, and there was a lot of culture rebuild he had to do. Those kids are really believing in what Bret’s doing, and they have one of if not the best strength coach in the league, so all the pieces fit, and his coordinators are still with him so there’s some stability. Now it’s just a matter of whether they’re talented enough to break through in the toughest division in football.”

“They lost their stud tight end, the running back and the quarterback, so they’ll be hard to replace.”

“Brandon Allen really played well, but in my opinion he was just a guy from a talent standpoint. If they ever got a big-time quarterback, they could be scary good.”

“They have some schematic advantages because of how they play. They’re one of the harder teams to defend now because the league has changed so much. It’s become more of a Texas A&M, Ole Miss offense-type league so it’s hard to prepare for Arkansas. They still run two-back trap, still line up in two tight ends so you have to change the way you practice.”

“They seem to get stronger as the year goes on because of how they play. When you’re wearing out a little bit physically in November, that’s the last team you want to see because they’re not going to stop pounding it and they’re just huge up front. If you can catch them early in the year when you’re at full strength you have a better chance.”


“They still don’t have the quarterback issue settled. That’s the most apparent thing.”

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“I think they’re better on the offensive line than what they’re given credit for. It will be interesting to see how the new guy does because J.B. Grimes was pretty well respected in the league as a good offensive line coach. He might have gotten more out of those guys than they were capable of. You watched them play Alabama, and they got movement on the interior where generally that never happened against that front. But they didn’t get some of the credit they deserved up front because they were so bad at quarterback.”

“I was really shocked that you never saw anybody step up for their offense. Sean White, he probably had a chance to develop if he wasn’t hurt for most of the second half. He probably got thrown into the fire too early because Jeremy Johnson wasn’t a player at all. The juco kid [John Franklin III] they’re bringing in might be more of a Nick Marshall-type, but I think you saw last year how underrated he was. You can talk about system all you want, but you’ve got to have a trigger man.”

“They were better defensively and played harder for Will Muschamp, but now they’ve got a third coordinator in three years, so how does that play out?”


“I think the biggest misconception about LSU is that their problems have all been about the quarterback. Don’t get me wrong, that’s been an issue, but I look at their defensive line too. You look at them the last few years and then you look at Alabama and it’s like, wow, they don’t even compare anymore. They haven’t had the grown men up there like they used to have. Maybe that’ll start to change now that Ed Orgeron is there. Getting some of that element back would be huge for them because that’s the difference in beating Alabama like they were doing four, five years ago even when they were average at quarterback.”

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“They made a great hire in Dave Aranda. He was really tough to figure out at Wisconsin because he was so multiple and exotic in giving an offense different looks, and now he’s got much better players to work with. If he can get them to buy into the discipline it takes to run that scheme, they could be really tough.”

“They’re certainly talented across the board, but they need to get Brandon Harris or somebody else to give them more consistent quarterback play. Like, we just begged them to throw it. We loaded the box on Leonard Fournette, and they really struggled. It’s not like some big secret. If you don’t have a quarterback in this league, good luck.”

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Mississippi State

“Obviously they have to replace one of the best quarterbacks in the league and a guy who was really perfect for that system, so it’ll be interesting to see if they can keep their momentum going”.

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“The really tall, really young kid [Nick Fitzgerald] played a little bit last year and there was another guy [Elijah Staley] behind him they’re high on, but it’s hard to know what to expect. From everything we know, it’s going to be an open competition.”

“Schematically, though, they’re one of the teams that you really admire. They have some good stuff in the playbook. Dan Mullen, some of the stuff he does on offense is just really well-respected from the standpoint of figuring out what defense you’re going to be in and figuring out how they can beat you. They do some stuff to attack you and put your weak link in conflict on the edge.”

“The really big wideout (De’Runnya Wilson) wasn’t a natural pass catcher, but he was a big, strong body who made a lot of plays, so between him and Dak Prescott that’s a lot of offensive skill they have to replace.”

“They do bring back the rest of their receiving corps and a lot of their offensive line. They did some things offensively that helped mask their lack of physicality up front, but how much of that was Dak? That group has to get a lot better.”

“Defensively, they’ve probably done as good a job as anyone of developing depth up front. They always seem to have five or six guys who can really rush the passer. Third straight year with a new coordinator isn’t the ideal situation.”

Ole Miss

“They’re a force in recruiting, and it shows when you go to those big bowl games in back-to-back years. They don’t have the depth of an Alabama, but individually they have some of the most talented players in the country.”

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“I definitely think the strength of that team is their defense, but they’ll always be good enough on offense to win games. Their wideout group was the best we played all year. You watched their guys match up with some of the best corners in the league, and they were always open.”

“I think Chad Kelly is a little more sporadic and not as refined as many people think, but as a team they were really, really skilled.”

“Obviously Laquon Treadwell was a difference-maker, so it’s going to be hard to replace him, but their No. 2 and No. 3 guys were pretty darn good, too.”

“They’re just average on the offensive line, and they got exposed a little bit when [Laremy] Tunsil was out, so I’m sure that tackle position is somewhat of a concern to have to plug in a freshman there.”

“My guess is they’ll probably be as good as Chad Kelly is. He’ll have another year under his belt, but he was feast-or-famine, sort of a Johnny Manziel-type guy. I think he’s extremely immature, and his history speaks to that, but he’s got a big arm and a lot of natural ability.”

“In the backfield, they’re just average. They don’t really run it, and they do a lot of that run/pass option stuff; kind of what the league has become. If their wideouts are anything like last year, those guys give you a chance.”

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Texas A&M

“I don’t know much about their quarterback situation, but obviously they’ve had turmoil there with all the transfers. Maybe going back to one guy and removing some of the ego from that situation will help from a chemistry standpoint.”

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“Schematically, they’re real simple. They play fast to try to get you off-kilter, but they’re simple. They changed coordinators, but they hired the exact same offense in my opinion with Noel Mazzone. He’s not overly complicated either. I just don’t know if they’ll be better at QB.”

“Maybe they’ll play two backs more with Mazzone; knowing him from when he was at UCLA, he had some split back-type stuff. But at the end of the day, they’ll probably do a lot of the same stuff, just with a different guy calling the plays and a new QB.”

“Offensive line-wise, we thought they were weak, but in that offense they don’t do a whole lot of complicated blocking schemes. They’re just not as talented as they were in Kevin Sumlin’s first couple years. They don’t have a Jake Matthews or Luke Joeckel or some of those linemen they had in the past. I don’t know if they missed in recruiting or what.”

“They’re really good on the defensive line obviously, and a guy to keep an eye on is the Daylon Mack kid. He’s a really special talent. Our offense was as worried about him being disruptive as they were about Myles Garrett.”

“Clearly John Chavis had a big impact in the way they played last year, but if they don’t figure out the quarterback situation, it’ll be tough to beat the better teams in the West.”