What’s the key to stopping Alabama’s offense? Is LSU’s offense going to be too one-dimensional? How much better can Florida’s defense get? And are Nick Chubb and Sony Michel really just another SEC running back duo?
Sports Illustrated has helped give us some answers to these questions, not from analysts or former coaches and players, but from current coaches of these teams’ rivals. SI granted anonymity to various college football coaches in return for their honest breakdown of the teams ranked in its preseason Top 25.
We can infer that for the ranked SEC teams, most of the scouting reports likely came from fellow SEC coaches and possibly some inter-conference crossover rivals.
The reports on SI’s top-ranked Alabama were essentially we know what we want to do, but that might not really matter in the end. “We wanted Hurts to beat us throwing the football,” one coach said. “He has a strong arm and he can get hot, but he isn’t consistent. But he drove them down the field to win the national championship.” As for the Tide’s defense: “You don’t have to be talented to be a technician, but when you add the talent to being a technician, that’s when you get elite,” another coach said. “You beat them by making contested catches one-on-one against those long corners.”
No. 10 Auburn received plenty of praise on both sides of the ball from the coaches who broke down the Tigers. “To tackle in space” is the key to stopping coach Gus Malzahn’s offense, but if you get too caught up in the run game, he can beat you deep. On defense, one coach sees a a physical front with lots of playmakers and good matchups on the back end.
LSU, who SI ranks 13th, and its running back Derrius Guice, who one rival coach “loves,” has concerns outside of their star tailback. “People talk about how their O-line is supposed to be so good,” a coach said. “I don’t see it. They’re pretty average, and I don’t see any early-round NFL talent. Their wideouts look good, but they’re inconsistent.” But it seems as though that same coach thinks very highly of new Tigers OC Matt Canada as someone who can make the offense dynamic.
Rival coaches touted SI’s 16th-ranked Georgia team mostly as average, which is about what the Bulldogs were as a whole last season. But with two fully healthy running backs coming back for their senior seasons, this opinion from one coach stood out: “I think seniors Nick Chubb and Sony Michel are both quality SEC backs. They’re not the premier backs in the league, but they’re good players.” Interesting that a RB approaching SEC rushing records isn’t premier in the league, but injury-free Chubb and Michel could change that coach’s mind this season.
No. 18 Florida got a big boost from transfer QB Malik Zaire this summer, something one rival coach sees as giving the Gators “an element that they didn’t have… a guy who can make plays with his arm and his feet.” And on an already incredibly fast and stingy defense, another coach believes the Gators can be even “a little better at getting after the quarterback.”
The praise for Texas A&M from a couple coaches might indicate that SI has the Aggies too low at No. 25. “Talentwise, top-to-bottom, they can line up with anybody in the country and play ball,” a rival coach said. And further to go along with all the speed and athleticism on the outside, another coach made sure to note the Aggies’ prowess on the offensive line. “Any program that can keep putting out first-rounders at the offensive line position—that’s hard to do.”