Sports Illustrated took a unique approach to previewing the nation’s top 25 college football teams this season, and it’s produced some interesting results.
Instead of just lining up and breaking down each team, SI went to anonymous rival coaches for scouting reports on each team. With the Pac-12 featuring four teams in SI’s top 25, there’s plenty of intel to be gained from the opposition.
First up, it’s the Trojans.
No. 5 USC’s breakdown was, as expected, centered on America’s darling quarterback Sam Darnold.
“I think [sophomore quarterback Sam Darnold] is excellent,” an anonymous coach told SI. “He’s got a good arm. He’s accurate. That’s the biggest thing: Sometimes guys that have the good arm don’t have the accuracy that he has. The quarterback from UCLA that everybody talks about [junior Josh Rosen] took a step backward last year. If Darnold doesn’t take that type of step back, I would anticipate him dominating because they coach ’em pretty well on offense at USC.”
There was another interesting point about the nightmarish way USC started the 2016 campaign, and how it could actually benefit the Trojans going forward.
“I think the [52–6 Week 1 loss to Alabama] from last year was kinda good for them—obviously not how the game turned out, but it probably gave them the evidence of how they need to play,” the coach told SI.
One needs to travel just four places to find the next Pac-12 member in the rankings, No. 9 Washington. Fellow coaches recognize the foundation and subsequent construction Chris Petersen has contributed to the program.
“Washington may have lost John Ross at receiver, but [coach] Chris Petersen has built that program up and they bring back an elite quarterback, so they’ll be better than they were last year,” the anonymous coach told SI.
The coach also credited quarterback Jake Browning for his efficiency, saying the quarterback “doesn’t make mental mistakes.”
No. 15 Stanford wasn’t so lucky in its review of the quarterback position.
“Last year their O-line wasn’t anywhere near as good as it’s been, but I expect them to get a lot better because they’ve been recruiting well up front,” an anonymous coach told SI. “They struggled at quarterback. [Senior] Keller Chryst is a huge kid [6’ 5″, 234], but he struggles seeing coverages.”
The Cardinal rebounded in this coach’s assessment, earning credit for a secondary that has “no weaknesses.”
“They’re more athletic on the back end than people give them credit for,” the coach said. “Quenton Meeks [a 6’ 2″, 197-pound junior] is an excellent corner. I could see him as a first-round guy. Brandon Simmons, the free safety [who’s 6 feet, 199], is a really good player too.”
Last but not least, it’s No. 22 Washington State, which has earned a reputation for Mike Leach’s air attack.
“Preparing for that Air Raid offense is hard because you have to be ready for tempo, multiple formations, crossing routes,” a coach told SI. “Defenses can’t substitute. The scheme isn’t overcomplicated, but they give different looks. If they have a good quarterback, which they do this year [6’ 4″, 225-pound senior Luke Falk], and if they have receivers, which they do [led by junior Tavares Martin Jr., who had 64 catches in 2016] they’re tough to stop.”
We’re still weeks away from kickoff, but coaches rarely rest, especially when it comes to their most important opponents. SI’s look inside the meeting room sheds some light on what we might see from the conference’s programs this season. Buckle up, because the ride is about to begin.