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Tuesdays with Gorney: Reacting to anonymous comments from coaches

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Tuesdays with Gorney: Reacting to anonymous comments from coaches

The preseason college football magazines are out and in the Athlon Sports magazine there are some interesting, anonymous comments made by coaches about other teams.

In this week’s Tuesdays With Gorney, Rivals national recruiting director Adam Gorney breaks down 15 of those comments and whether he sees them as Fact or Fiction:

ARIZONA STATE

Kenny [Dillingham] is a perfect fit but the staff seems a little too Arizona-focused. It’s definitely a lot of his buddies. They’re going to be great in recruiting. They’re going all-in on in-state players to rebuild the core roster. … It’s one of the easiest places to recruit to in the country and one of the hardest to stay eligible as a football player.” – An opposing Pac-12 assistant coach

Gorney’s take: FICTION. One of the biggest criticisms of previous staffs was that they weren’t Arizona-focused enough, that if you look at the talent in the state (and it keeps getting better year by year) that not enough homegrown talent stayed there. I have no idea if Dillingham is going to have success keeping local players home despite his best efforts but the staff he’s put together has tremendous in-state connections, some have run the best high school programs in the state and whether coaches want to believe it or not, they all basically run the same stuff so if you have more athletic and faster guys doing it, you’re going to win more often.

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AUBURN

Hugh Freeze

Hugh Freeze (© Jake Crandall / USA TODAY NETWORK)

“He’s going to use the entire season as a recruiting platform like he did those first two years at Ole Miss because the offensive line and the receivers are bad and don’t know the system but Auburn is going to expect him to operate on a faster timeline. They’re so far behind Bama and Georgia; it’s maybe the biggest gap in decades.” – An opposing SEC assistant coach

Gorney’s take: FACT. The numbers are pretty daunting. Since 2008, Alabama has beaten Auburn 11 of 15 times. Georgia has won nine of the last 10 and 15 of the last 18 against the Tigers. Since losing the championship game in 2013, Auburn has one double-digit winning season. The Bryan Harsin era felt like a complete meltdown. But I had said from the beginning (and I’m not patting myself on the back) that Hugh Freeze was the right choice for the job and that he could build Auburn back into a national power. The transfer portal has been a big winner for the Tigers. The SEC is soul-crushing at times and relentless, sharks in the water when they see blood, but Auburn has been a winner and could be again – if the alumni base trusts in Freeze and gives him time. We’ll see if that happens.

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CLEMSON

“When you recruit against these guys all you hearing about is ‘family, family, family’ and him going outside of his group and making the change at offensive coordinator isn’t about family. That’s accepting the reality you’re just another football program and you have to do things like Alabama and Ohio State to stay relevant with those guys.” – An opposing ACC assistant coach

Gorney’s take: FICTION. Doing things unlike Alabama and Ohio State while also stockpiling talent has gotten Clemson to where it is today and while there might have been some slippage in recent years, the Tigers are still one of the best teams nationally that with some fixes can be back in the national title hunt. Trying to beat Alabama, Ohio State and Georgia at its own game is not smart for Clemson. Dabo Swinney has a winning formula and one outside-the-family coaching move doesn’t disprove that. Top Clemson recruits talk about what makes Clemson different, not what makes it like all the other schools recruiting them. The Tigers should keep their formula because it works.

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COLORADO

“It feels like a lose-lose for Colorado with [Deion Sanders]. Either he’s going to be really good really fast and leave for another gig, which, looking at that roster doesn’t seem possible. The alternative is that they’re going to be bad and they’ll end up firing him in a big circus. It’s all hard to tell. It’s hard to separate the hype from reality.” – An opposing Pac-12 assistant coach

Gorney’s take: FACT. This was honestly one of the more thoughtful and insightful takes from a coach while I was reading through all of them. Here’s the thing: Does anyone really believe Sanders is going to stay at Colorado for the long term and build a program from scratch in Boulder? That he would turn down higher-profile jobs back in the South if they come available? That would be a surprise to me. So if Sanders has success with the Buffaloes early, he could be a goner. If turning over nearly an entire roster with transfers doesn’t work for any number of reasons, it could be miserable there for him. Either way, it will be intriguing to watch.

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FLORIDA STATE

Mike Norvell

Mike Norvell (© Alicia Devine/Tallahassee Democrat / USA TODAY NETWORK)

“As a roster, they might be at their best since Jimbo Fisher’s title. You always get asked, ‘Are they back?’ Yeah, they might be. They’re not one of those top six or so teams nationally but they can win this league.” – An opposing ACC assistant coach

Gorney’s take: FACT. Best Florida State team in a decade? I don’t know about that because the year after Florida State won it all, the Seminoles were 13-1 again and went to the College Football Playoff. But the point is well taken. The Willie Taggart years were ugly and the early years for Mike Norvell was rebuilding a system that is now kicked into high gear. There is a ton of excitement about this team and rightfully so because it wouldn’t be shocking to see Florida State run the table. It also wouldn’t be a complete stunner to see the Seminoles lose to LSU and Clemson by the end of September, either.

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MIAMI

“The idea is that Mario hired names instead of fits but that doesn’t make sense for a guy who knew the place he was going back to and who’s already coached at a high level.” – An opposing ACC assistant coach

Gorney’s take: FICTION. From the time Mario Cristobal was a teenager through his years playing at Miami, the Hurricanes were an elite program, one of the best in the nation. When he came back to his hometown to coach at Miami, the Canes were still a high-end program and capable of winning it all. While I’m sure he watched it closely from afar, in many ways Cristobal was coming back to a program that was completely foreign to him. No one can step into the Miami program and restart the national title contention from Day 1. Over nearly two decades, Miami has had one 10-win season. The best-of-the-best programs have routinely come into South Florida to steal talent. So while Josh Gattis didn’t work out as offensive coordinator – for numerous reasons – I don’t think Cristobal just hired big-name coaches to come in and turn this thing around. He hired “fit” guys and sometimes when assembling a staff it’s not going to work. But just like in the real world, cut losses quickly and move on. Admitting mistakes and learning from them is a strength, not a weakness.

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MISSOURI

Eli [Drinkwitz] has the five-star kid from St. Louis [Luther Burden] and nothing close to that caliber around him on offense. They’ve got to identify playmakers and get it going if this staff is going to make it.” – An opposing SEC assistant coach

Gorney’s take: FICTION. Burden could be a spectacular player for Missouri this season as losing leading receiver Dominic Lovett to Georgia hurts badly come there are players that could really make this Missouri offense special – and the defense was far better last season. Transfer QB Jake Garcia has a lot of ability – I saw it for years in the Southern California high school scene – and former five-star receiver Theo Wease can play. Mookie Cooper could be used more. Leading rusher Cody Schrader is back. This is a team that should be at least 3-1 heading into SEC play where they could steal some games. Four of six losses last season came by a touchdown or less. The Tigers need to learn how to finish those off with some wins but there are signs of hope here.

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NEBRASKA

Matt Rhule

Matt Rhule (© Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports)

Matt Rhule is a legitimately good college football head coach. Fans who are talking about the Carolina Panthers don’t get it. He changed the culture at places that were in really, really bad situations so he’s got an even better shot than an alumnus of waking up the sleeping giant.” – An opposing Big Ten assistant coach

Gorney’s take: FACT. Rhule has two losing seasons as a college football head coach – his first year at Temple and his first season at Baylor. He left Temple with back-to-back 10-win campaigns and he left Baylor after an 11-win season. Rhule knows culture, he knows how to build a winning roster that believes in itself and he knows how to turn around programs. I also agree with the coach who said he could do a better job than a former alumnus. Scott Frost was an unmitigated disaster at Nebraska and the history books will explain why but sometimes an outsider, who like Rhule has fostered the old ways with embracing his own vision, is the best thing for a place like Nebraska. Has college football become so Balkanized and regionalized that only Southeast teams – and maybe a few others – have a real shot? That’s up for debate but Rhule is the right man for the Huskers.

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OHIO STATE

“This could be a year where they’re out of the playoff race but course-correct and beat Michigan.” – An opposing Big Ten assistant coach

Gorney’s take: FICTION. Michigan has not beaten Ohio State in three-straight games since 1995-97 and I’m simply going to side with history here. There is some unreasonable and insane chatter that coach Ryan Day could be on the chopping block if he doesn’t beat the Wolverines this season which I’m going on the record to say should be dismissed as absurd as soon as possible. Ohio State’s defense should be better and while there are questions – quarterback and offensive line among them and whether Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh has a tell on Day that Ohio State can’t figure out – Ohio State is going nowhere and could absolutely be right back in the playoff picture.

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OKLAHOMA

“Probably the best way to explain last season is that they’ve got a head coach who hasn’t made all the hard decisions yet. They’re caught between eras, what they were – and also what was slipping – with Lincoln [Riley] and what they want to be heading into the SEC next year. I’m not sure Brent [Venables] understood the landscape of recruiting for OU coming from Clemson for so long and being able to win on guys easier. Norman, you have to work there.” – An opposing Big 12 assistant coach

Gorney’s take: FICTION. I don’t want to make excuses for Venables and there were a lot of inexcusable moments in Oklahoma’s first losing season since 1998 including losses to West Virginia (come on!) and just getting completely throttled by TCU and Texas but the comment above is a gross exaggeration. Slipping under Lincoln Riley? The Sooners were 55-10 under Riley, who then took a Heisman QB in Caleb Williams and a top WR in Mario Williams to USC among other departures and that’s what Venables had left in his lap the first season. Venables spent a major chunk of his coaching career in the Big 12 and in Norman, I doubt he didn’t understand the recruiting landscape there. Is he the long-term answer? No one knows. But I just don’t agree with major parts of the statement above.

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PENN STATE

James Franklin

James Franklin (© Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports)

“When recruiting is clicking, their roster looks close to Michigan or Ohio State but they don’t punch you back the same way those guys do. They’re poised to have a really special season with that roster but if you’re a coach, you’re excited about how they’re playing as much as who is playing.” – An opposing Big Ten assistant coach

Gorney’s take: FACT. Penn State has some really nice pieces but I would hardly say I get that roster confused with Ohio State and all the elite firepower all over the field for the Buckeyes. The Nittany Lions are more on par with Michigan right now and getting stronger. Four of the last six full football seasons (not counting the COVID year) Penn State has won 11 games and this could be James Franklin’s best year of all. Who beats the Nittany Lions heading into an Oct. 21 showdown at Ohio State? Probably nobody. Then Michigan visits Happy Valley in mid-November. If Penn State can clear some hurdles and not stumble against Iowa or choke at Michigan State, this could be an incredibly special season.

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PITT

“This is maybe the most slept-on staff for recruiting because they’re not hauling in five-stars but they’re always recruiting very well to fit their needs and culture. They’re good evaluators. The secret here is that they adopt [Pat Narduzzi’s] mentality or they get run off.” – An opposing ACC assistant coach

Gorney’s take: FACT. Whichever coach said this has his finger on the pulse of the Pitt program and could not be more right. So much so that I often look back at Pitt’s recruiting class to wonder if some players are ranked too low, if the coaches are seeing something whether it’s about size or determination or sheer will to be successful that we’re missing. Calijah Kancey was definitely not elite in high school – Pitt turned him into a first-rounder. Even though it was before Narduzzi’s time there, Aaron Donald was a three-star, one of the biggest misses in Rivals history. Narduzzi understands his own DNA and the DNA of the city and it exudes through his players.

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TEXAS

“They could get scary good if Quinn [Ewers] plays the way he’s capable of. They’re really close to connecting it all on offense and playing up to that standard of a Sark team.” – An opposing Big 12 assistant coach

Gorney’s take: FACT. I’m not entirely sure what this coach means “up to that standard of a Sark team” since he’s never won 10 games as a head coach and is 59-47 overall so in some ways his reputation exceeds his output but this should be his best team yet and it’s time for the Longhorns to finally turn that corner and become a real contender. Oklahoma is a little on the ropes, TCU had a magical year and probably can’t repeat it with all the losses so Kansas State could be the biggest roadblock along with the Sooners. At Alabama in the second week does get difficult but after that there’s no reason to believe the Longhorns can’t win every other game.

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TEXAS TECH

Joey McGuire

Joey McGuire (© Annie Rice/Avalanche-Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK)

“For all of the Texas high school coaching hires, I think this one is still an experiment. It’s still hard to tell. That’s not on Joey [McGuire] – he’s done a really solid job there so far – it’s just that they’re still not a high-end Big 12 roster. They’re still in the middle of the road and you can see it getting off the bus.” – An opposing Big 12 assistant coach

Gorney’s take: FICTION. Maybe Texas Tech doesn’t look like an elite team yet but there is a ton to build off of including an 8-win season, the Red Raiders’ first since 2013 so everyone in Lubbock should be thrilled with the way things are going in the program. Not only did Texas Tech beat a ranked Houston team, it beat Texas, it won at Iowa State, beat Oklahoma and took out Ole Miss in the bowl game. On top of that, from a recruiting standpoint, no one has better connections throughout the state than McGuire and he’s surrounded himself with elite recruiters. Every hire is an experiment in one way or another – and this one seems to be working incredibly well so far.

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WISCONSIN

“The strangest hire of the entire cycle was Phil Longo coming to Wisconsin. It’s like Luke Fickell knows something no one else does or he’s about to make a major mistake. This is the anti-Wisconsin offense. It’s going to take a minute for everyone to adjust to it, certainly that roster but opposing coaches, too. Just weird.” – An opposing Big Ten assistant coach

Gorney’s take: FICTION. I completely disagree with the above statement. Wisconsin needed a refresh, a rejuvenated offensive system and they’re getting it by hiring Luke Fickell and, in turn, Fickell bringing in Phil Longo. From Day 1, the Badgers aren’t going to run Air Raid or the Run-N-Shoot offense but they’re going to advance Wisconsin from this stale, painful offense to watch into something that can compete for Big Ten championships again. Fickell knows how to run a program, Longo is crafty enough to work his offense through the personnel in Madison and just look at recruiting – the portal additions are filled with quarterbacks and wide receivers and the top-end QB committed, Mabrey Mettauer, also ran for 600 yards and seven touchdowns last season. The Badgers have won 10 games once in the last four full football seasons. In the four previous years, they won at least 10 in all of them. A change was needed and this was a great one.

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