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.
Note: These scouting reports come directly from coaching staffs and do not necessarily reflect the views of Athlon's editorial staff.
SEC Coaches Talk Anonymously About Conference Foes for 2017
“Until someone beats them, I’d say they’re the team to beat."
"They get whoever they want in recruiting — like, really, anybody they want."
"You’d love to see somebody else step up and do it, but what they do year-in and year-out is really remarkable in terms of reloading, resetting the mindset and continuing to win. Now, how do they transition it with a new offensive coordinator? I think it will be more pro style, back to what they used to do. What’s amazing about it is they run the same offense for the most part, it’s just different window dressing."
"Jalen Hurts obviously gives them an element similar to Blake Sims. He can run the system. He seems to be smart. They like him, but you could tell they didn’t totally trust him."
"Bo Scarbrough is a monster, and they can keep it pretty simple and play more ball control, but Hurts has to grow as a passer and be more precise getting the ball outside."
"I didn’t see a lot of changes on defense going from Kirby Smart to Jeremy Pruitt. Nick (Saban) is very involved — he’ll let the coordinator operate and do his thing, but he’s not going to let it go too far away, either."
"They’ve lost some depth up front, but they cause so many problems because they can get your quarterback on the ground without having to pressure. It just makes the game real hard unless you can pop enough explosive plays to stay in it."
"They played well enough offensively to beat Clemson last year, but they just wore down defensively toward the end of it, so you know Nick won’t let that happen again.”
“I think their offensive coordinator (Dan Enos) is awesome, just really, really good. For instance, everybody’s been chipping defensive ends the same way forever, where you put a guy in the backfield and he puts a shot in the outside ribs as he’s running by them. Well, Enos attached a tight end outside the tackle and widened the end out and the tight end released through the defensive end and got him a route runner. You watch that and the light comes on, like, that’s a really good way of doing that. There’s just a lot of little things you pick up watching them and go, ‘That’s a hell of an idea.’ I really like watching Arkansas and what those guys do."
"Bringing those RBs back plus the quarterback and their All-SEC center, they’re going to be potent."
"They do stuff no one else really does anymore in terms of lining up and playing smashmouth football. It’s hard to defend. They have elements of the spread, but they’ll shift, they’ll motion, they’ll speed motion. They make you play a way you’re not used to having to play, and in our league it’s really just them and maybe Georgia and Vanderbilt who play that way."
"I guess their defense struggling as much as it did last year is why they made a change (at coordinator). I don’t know how much background Paul Rhoads has as a 3-4 guy, but they’re going with it full bore because they just have such a hard time defending the spread. I think also people have an easier time finding outside linebacker bodies than defensive end bodies.”
“It’ll be fascinating to see what happens with Chip Lindsey coming in. I think Gus (Malzahn) is going to let him do what he wants. That’s the rumor, anyway. I think if that’s the case, their passing game will be more dynamic than you’ve seen in the past from them."
"I guess the QB from Baylor (Jarrett Stidham) is supposed to be pretty good, but we just haven’t watched him much. I’d guess they have a chance to be sneaky good this year."
"They’ve done a great job recruiting. You look at Carl Lawson, Montravius Adams, guys they’ve moved on to the NFL and think they may have a dip, but they started a freshman last year with Marlon Davidson, and they’ve got another wave of younger guys they were grooming. I think defensively they’ve done as good a job as anyone recruiting other than Alabama."
"They’re a little younger at linebacker, but they’re really good up front, and with Javaris Davis and Carlton Davis coming back in the secondary, they’ll have a chance to be one of the better defenses in the league."
"Why haven’t they been as good offensively? I wish I had an answer for that. I think it came down to inconsistency at quarterback. I thought Sean White did a better job of doing what they wanted, but he couldn’t stay healthy. John Franklin, they tried to make something out of nothing. Now they’re saying he’s going to play receiver and he’s quick, man, so maybe they’ll get some production out of him. But I think if Gus lets Chip do his thing, it’ll look a little more like Southern Miss a couple years ago, where they were throwing it around a lot.”
“They’re going to drop off on defense. It’s kind of an obvious thing to say, but they’re losing a lot of players who played a lot of football."
"They’ll have to invent some things to rush the passer this year, and I’m not sure if they can because Randy Shannon likes to keep things simple. It’s a lot of pieces to replace, and the biggest thing they won’t be able to do is just rush four every time. When we played them, I think they blitzed us three times, and they could do that because they could just whip you with the front four and they can’t do that anymore."
"The linebackers don’t scare you at all."
"Marcell Harris (now out for the 2017 season) has turned into a good player. He’s long, physical, gets guys on the ground and he’s grown up a lot, but he doesn’t frighten you like Keanu Neal roaming in the back end."
"Duke Dawson played at nickel last year, and if you weren’t good in the slot, your slot’s not getting open against that guy, but are they going to have to move him outside to account for (Teez) Tabor and (Quincy) Wilson leaving?"
"They’ve recruited well on defense, but not great."
"This is a make-or-break year for them on offense. They need a QB and everybody knows it."
"Antonio Callaway is a damn good player, and he has had some issues. Their top three receivers are all really good players, and (C’yontai) Lewis and (DeAndre) Goolsby are good tight ends."
"The way they change their offense week to week and the number of formations is an issue. It’s hard to replicate during the week because you know you’ll see something you haven’t seen before.”
“I think they’re the big question mark in our league."
"Talent-wise they’re getting better than everybody in the East in very short order. Everybody knows what the blue-chip count relative to the rest of the division was in recruiting this year. Kirby (Smart) has done a really good job. He’s locked down the state, brought in a bunch of good players, and he basically signed everybody he’s supposed to sign."
"I respect what he does on defense, but I would say he’s not the most problematic of everyone we play. It will be a lot more interesting once he’s got two full springs and his kids know what’s going on."
"They tried to do a bunch of stuff the first couple games last year and Ole Miss just beat the crap out of them and they simplified some things. They didn’t do a bunch of screwy stuff later in the year, so I think they’ll be better."
"To be honest, I think (Jacob) Eason is a pretty average quarterback. I really don’t know how much he likes football. It’s hard to dispute his talent, and he can make every throw. But when you watch him, he’s not consistent at all. He’s as physically gifted as anybody around, but he doesn’t scare you."
"The tight ends they have, Isaac Nauta and the kid from Charlotte (Jeb Blazevich), those two are as good of a tight end tandem as there is in football. They’re just tough, physically gifted."
"(Jim) Chaney does a good job with the multiplicity of their run game and they always out-gap you on the perimeter. They have a staff of really good coaches and a roster of talented players.”
“They’re a little bit of a different animal in our league in the sense that for a long time they were almost exclusively a three-down front. They play a little more four-down now, but they will bring a lot of pressure from both sides, field and boundary, and they do a good job of disguising and moving pieces around."
"They’re a lot better at corner than anyone gives them credit for. They’re long. They’ve got 6'3" guys that can run, and teams in our league like Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee, they love to throw ‘Go’ balls, but Kentucky can give you some issues on the widest edges of the deal."
"I have a hard time seeing them being much better than they were last year on defense because people will start to figure them out. There’s some coordinator continuity now in the league and people will figure stuff out. We’ve had a couple cracks at them and it’s been a struggle, but we feel like now we know how to do it."
"I think you can still bully them, just get big and manhandle them a little bit. As good as their corners are, you don’t want to throw the ball out there all the time. You’d rather just pound them a bit. Florida really manhandled them, and any team that was worth their salt up front gave them issues."
"I think (offensive coordinator) Eddie Gran was a really good hire. You watch them on tape, they made things easy on that QB. The thing he did really well is he didn’t get away from stuff that was working."
"They lost Boom Williams, but the freshman they had (Benny Snell) is a good player.”
“I think Ed Orgeron will do a good job of letting his coaches coach."
"Matt Canada is pretty sharp, so he’ll be a good addition to their staff. He’s very creative, and if you watched him at Pitt — especially their game against Clemson last year — he did an awesome job. Even though they’re physical at the point of attack and they’re going to run the ball, there’s a lot of eye candy and misdirection built into his formations that takes a while to figure out. I think that really plays into their hands because in this league, people just kind of get passed around, and over time you get a book on people. When you hire someone from outside the conference, it takes the other staffs a year or so to get caught up. This will be a different style of offense, and he’s obviously getting to work with a caliber of athlete he didn’t have at Pitt."
"Even though Leonard Fournette got all the attention, I thought Derrius Guice was just as good of a back and was probably harder to scheme against because he wasn’t all downhill all the time."
"I still question the quarterback deal. Danny Etling doesn’t have much upside. He’s just OK."
"On defense they had some freaks last year. I think five of those guys will play in the NFL for a decade."
"Ed figured out he had to hire a great staff so he can be the energy guy, but I think the big question mark is why they missed on so many in-state kids in recruiting this year. You can’t lose three blue chip guys in the state to Alabama and expect to compete with them head to head.”
“You talk about good coaches — I know Dan Mullen rubs some people the wrong way, but those guys can flat out get the job done."
"They’re tough, they execute well, they don’t beat themselves. They’re blue collar."
"I think it’ll be interesting to see how they grow at QB. They bounced around a little bit and finally settled on Nick Fitzgerald down the stretch, but he was an option QB in high school, so how can they evolve with him? He ran for a ton of yards. He definitely got better, so we’ll see."
"They’re kind of boring schematically when you really watch them and break them down. They don’t do a whole lot that concerns you. Mullen does a good job — it’s just not particularly creative. You’d play (Steve) Spurrier back in the day and he’d see something he’d like in the NFL on Sunday and you’d see it with him the following weekend. With Mullen, he kind of has his things he likes and that’s what he does. There’s no newness there."
"They’re always just OK up front. They’re going to be physical, and that’s been their M.O. since he’s been there, but they’re not super talented."
"Dak Prescott — and we didn’t think he was great, but shoot, he’s been awesome in the NFL — he obviously made a lot of things right for them, and I don’t know if they have that right now with somebody else."
"They’re a developmental program and they brought in some juco kids to be stopgap this year, so we’ll see."
"I will say the culture Mullen has built there is awesome. You really have to respect what he does at a place where it’s hard to recruit.”
“You don’t look at them anywhere and go, these guys really frighten me, but they can give you problems when they get in that three-down defense, especially if you’re a spread team."
"Their corners are really bad. If you can’t run the ball on them, it didn’t matter because you could just chuck it."
"They’ve had some very good linebackers the last few years, and I don’t know if they’ve got a kid there now who can continuously make those kinds of plays. They need someone who can make tackles."
"The Terry Beckner kid at nose is a problem in first and second down, and if you’ve got him matched up on a center, good luck because he’s quick and big and can decide how he wants to play it. Now on third down — when they take him out of the game — they need someone else who can rush the passer."
"(Barry) Odom called the defense later in the season and there was a noticeable change in the packages and the way they presented themselves. He moves the pieces around on third down that makes ID difficult."
"Now, it may not matter what they’re like on defense because they’re the only team in our league running Baylor’s offense. They don’t throw it down the field as much as Baylor, which I don’t get because they have receivers who can fly. Drew Lock isn’t the most accurate down the field, but he can spin it."
"Their offense makes coordinators uncomfortable in this league. The splits they get at receiver, you have to make decisions.”
Related: SEC Football 2017 Predictions
“There’s so much stuff going on there — who knows what happens."
"Schematically, they’re pretty similar to Auburn but maybe even a little bit more creative. Gus (Malzahn) and Hugh were good buddies, and their offenses are very similar, which I think works to the advantage of teams in the West. When you break them down, we carried a lot of stuff that we did versus Auburn in practice because they’re just so similar."
"They lost a really, really good player with the tight end (Evan Engram), and Chad Kelly was a tough guy, very competitive. He was a liability off the field, but you’d love to have him on your team kind of guy."
"Patterson was very up and down at the end of last season when they had to pull the redshirt. It’s pretty important that they have a guy back there who can move around because they historically aren’t great up front."
"Defensively, they fell off a cliff and had to make a change. Dave Wommack was Hugh’s guy, so I don’t know what happened. Maybe they just ran out of juice."
"Top to bottom they’re just hard to evaluate because of all the stuff they’ve got going on with the NCAA. When you’re in that situation your guys are either going to make it an us-against-the-world thing or it’ll be tough to keep them together through the whole grind. They have a better handle on that than we do looking in from the outside, but I’m not sure they really know. You lose a couple games in a row and it could get ugly in a hurry. Just look at what happened last year in their last two games.”
“The quarterback (Jake Bentley) is really good, probably the best in the division coming back and not by just a little bit. Every other team in the East wishes they had him, and you saw when they turned him loose at the end of the year that he’s got a pretty high ceiling."
"They’re probably across the board the most talented offensively they’ve been in years."
"Hayden Hurst may be the best tight end in the country nobody knows about, but physically he’s a monster. He played minor league baseball, so he’s a pretty mature guy, and if you watched him against Tennessee last year he just whipped Derek Barnett, absolutely smoked him at the line of scrimmage."
"With their receivers, there’s a lot of ability there. Deebo Samuel, Bryan Edwards, those guys are as good as anybody in the league."
"You look at South Carolina and they really haven’t had a complete package of offensive players since Connor Shaw. I’m not sure they’ll have just one dominant guy emerge, but they’ve got enough playmakers that you’d think one or two will assert themselves now in Year 2 of the system."
"They’re probably a little light at running back, but Rico Dowdle is a guy you can win with."
"Up front they’re just OK, but I think with their skill guys they’ll make a huge leap offensively just being a year older and better because they can beat people on the outside."
"On defense, they’re bringing in a lot of help on the back end. Rashad Fenton, if he can put it together, is a millionaire walking. Having Skai Moore back will help.”
“That’s an interesting deal. I don’t think anybody outside of the building can speak to what’s going on inside, but there’s obviously some turmoil."
"That’s a talented team that should win more games than it does."
"Nobody knows who their quarterback is going to be. The (Jarrett) Guarantano kid physically, I think, can do it. I haven’t seen him play in person, but he’s got the physical tools."
"My question is, what are they trying to be on offense? I really don’t know. (Offensive coordinator) Larry Scott was at Miami under Al Golden, so will they be more pro style, or are they still going to be in the gun? A lot of questions on that."
"They lose Josh Malone, and that kid was special; just really, really good even though they didn’t have a quarterback who could throw him the ball consistently."
"I don’t know how they’ll be on defense. As everybody over there got hurt, they got really bad, and you can sit there and say it’s the coaches’ fault, but when you’re playing with second- and third-stringers in our league you’ll get gashed, especially on the back end. Vanderbilt hung (45) on them and it’s not like Tennessee doesn’t know what they’re doing."
"They lose Cam Sutton, who is a really good player, but the safety Nigel Warrior is going to get a lot of buzz and it’s well deserved."
"Their linebackers are really bad relative to the rest of the division, so it’ll be interesting to see if that gets exposed."
"They’ll be salty up front if they can find somebody to replace Derek Barnett’s production.”
“Kevin Sumlin bounced back a little bit last year, but it still feels like he might be on shaky ground depending on what happens this year."
"They’re as talented as anybody, but for whatever reason they don’t put it together very often."
"I thought they continued to improve on defense, but losing Myles Garrett is definitely something we’re happy about."
"(Defensive coordinator) John Chavis gets his guys ready to play and they’ll always be tough on defense, extremely tough-minded. I think those guys make really good adjustments in-game. We had a great plan against them last year because he’s pretty predictable on defense, but he just sits back and watches and over the course of the game they tinkered with things here and there and made it really tough. He just knows what he’s doing."
"There are a lot of people who have a lot of opinions on what’s going on there and why that team isn’t winning championships, but at the end of the day you have to win your one-on-one battles with guys, and as stacked as they are, they just don’t get it done."
"I thought (offensive coordinator) Noel Mazzone did a nice job last year. He’s been good forever and hasn’t changed much. He gets touches for his best players and lets them make plays."
"Last time we played down there was the first time I’d been in that stadium, and I didn’t feel like it was hard to play there for our guys at all. For all the stuff you heard about it being crazy and wild, it really wasn’t one of the more intimidating atmospheres in the league.”
“I think the obvious stuff for them is everybody knows that losing Zach Cunningham is huge, but Oren Burks is a really, really good player. They lose a couple other pieces on defense, including some linemen, but as long as Derek Mason is there they’ll have a good defense. They’re varied, and they give you some problems — just in the sense that they’re very multiple with their fronts. They make it hard to throw the ball on the outside because they kind of catch and grab your receivers out there, so teaching your quarterbacks to have patience when you play them can be a challenge."
"It’s going to be hard for them to be as good on defense as they have been because talent ultimately prevails and you only go as far as your players get you, but the coaching is really good."
"The corners, 31 (Tre Herndon) is a good player who comes back; he’s a lot more fluid in his coverage skills than 5 (Torren McGaster), who was a bit of a gambler. They’ve got some talented older players in the secondary, and I think they’ll always be salty on defense, but people are what makes the difference plain and simple."
"Having Ralph Webb back is a big deal. Their offensive line was much improved last year, and I think they’ll continue to head that direction, trying to be a little bit different than the rest of the league and try to smash you up front."
"I think they finally found a little bit of continuity at quarterback and having continuity at coordinator has been really big. You get a lot of growth between the first and second year, so they’ll be better on offense."
"The problem is yeah, they beat Tennessee, but South Carolina’s going to be better, Georgia’s going to be better. Maybe they can take a swing at Florida, but Kentucky’s not an easy out anymore. Their window in the division isn’t as big, and they’ll have to fight regardless of how much they improve.”