Every preseason, Athlon Sports puts together a wonderful piece that quotes active SEC coaches on their thoughts about in-conference teams completely off the record.

It’s all anonymous, which makes it all the more interesting. You don’t get your typical coach answers, but rather the truth.

So in order to get an accurate assessment of the SEC heading into the 2016 season, Athlon asked questions, and the coaches answered. Here are some of the more interesting quotes for each team, but make sure to head over and read the real thing:


“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.”

“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.”


“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.”

“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 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.”

“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.”


“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. …”

“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.”


“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.”

“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.”


“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.”

“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.”


“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.”

“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.”

Mississippi State

“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.”

“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.”


“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.”

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.”

“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.”

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.”

“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.”


“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.”

“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.”

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

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.”

“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.”

“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.”


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

“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.”