The Pac-12 held its Media Day on Tuesday in Universal City, Calif., and it kicked off with the announcement that the media picked USC to win the conference championship. The annual poll has the Trojans claiming the league title along with the South division, while Oregon was picked to win the North division.
Here is how the Pac-12 media sees the conference breaking down this fall:
As we get closer to the start of the season, I will of course release my predictions for the six BCS conferences as well as the non-BCS leagues.
But for now, here are some of my notes from Pac-12 Media Day:
ICONJim L. Mora has yet to make a decision on the UCLA quarterback situation.
UCLA head coach Jim L. Mora on the quarterback situation: "We were looking for someone to jump out of the pack [this spring]. But that didn’t happen because the whole pack elevated. Wait two weeks into summer camp then we’ll make a decision and move forward. Whoever we go with, it will be the right decision. We’re going to put a heck of a team around whoever the quarterback is."
I have advocated for Mora to hand the reins of the offense over to redshirt freshman Brett Hundley, and I still believe that Hundley will ultimately win the job. However, Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut have the experience. Whoever has the strongest first two weeks of camp will likely get the nod, but it's hard to imagine Bruin fans not seeing all three signal-callers take the field at some point this fall.
USC head coach Lane Kiffin wasn't in the mood to talk Penn State: Kiffin said that "there is no way you can compare what happened at USC compared to Penn State." And he's right. He also would not comment on the reported interest in Penn State running back Silas Redd or how he would deal with the NCAA-mandated 75 scholarship count if the Trojans added a Nittany Lions transfer. 'SC or any other team could go over the limit for this season, but it would affect their 2013 scholarship count. What we do know is that Kiffin is concerned about the team's depth in the backfield. Stay tuned.
Oregon head coach Chip Kelly on losing LaMichael James to the NFL: Kelly, who almost bolted Eugene for the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers, said that the roles of De'Anthony Thomas and Kenjon Barner will increase with James no longer in Eugene. He expects even bigger things from Thomas in 2012. "The only thing we won't do is let him throw...you'll see him a little bit more in the kick return game, maybe punt return," Kelly said of Thomas. Asked to define Thomas' position as a running back or receiver, Kelly simply said: "I don't know what he is. He's a special player." He certainly is one of the most dynamic players in the nation, and what he did against Wisconsin in last year's Rose Bowl was just plain silly.
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Stanford head coach David Shaw tries to temper QB expectations: Shaw enters his second season as the head man in Palo Alto and is stressing to quarterbacks Brett Nottingham and Josh Nunes that they should not try to live up to the high standard set by 2012 top NFL draft pick Andrew Luck "because they can't." Whoever is the starter, which I feel will be Nottingham, will simply need to rely on a strong running game as well as a good tight end duo in Levine Toilolo and Zach Ertz. Coby Fleener will be missed, but keep an eye on wide receiver Ty Montgomery. The 6-2, 205-pounder is primed for a breakout year after being mostly a nonfactor in 2011. However, he had a major impact in the team's biggest contests: against USC, Notre Dame and Oklahoma State last fall, when the true sophomore logged most of his 24 catches for 350 yards and 2 touchdowns. He's a physical receiver with deceiving quickness, and he will bring a new aspect to the Cardinal passing attack.
ICONSteve Sarkisian believes the Washington defense can improve quickly under new coordinator Justin Wilcox.
Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian believes in new defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox: The Huskies were able to lure Wilcox from Tennessee after dismissing Nick Holt, whose unit bottomed out last year in Seattle, especially in the team's Alamo Bowl game against Baylor. But Sark believes that the Huskies can improve on defense — and quickly. "I think [the defensive improvement] it can be dramatic...I don't think this will be a long and drawn out process. This thing can get turned around and turned around quickly." Sark says that the team will employ a hybrid 3-4 and 4-3, depending on the matchups.
Cal head coach Jeff Tedford is excited about Year 2 with quarterback Zach Maynard: Tedford is confident that Maynard will be able to take a big step forward in his second season as the starting quarterback. “I think the early struggles [last season] were really just about game management and that comes with experience and knowledge of what we’re doing...we expect big things out of him this year.”
Washington State head coach Mike Leach has arrived in the Pac-12: In each of his seasons as Texas Tech head coach, Mike Leach took the Red Raiders bowling. Can he repeat the feat with Wazzu? Offensively, former head coach Paul Wulff did not leave the cupboard bare. Quarterback Jeff Tuel is excited about the offense and was surprised at how easy it was to grasp. And Leach's personality should be able to draw enough players for his scheme. The key will be to not overlook the defensive side of the ball. Culturally, Leach should fit in well in Pullman, which is a unique college town just like Lubbock. Leach says that once people get to Pullman, they love it because there is an "electricity" that exists in the town. But he admitted that the key is getting recruits to come there.
Can Oregon State bounce back from a couple of rough seasons?: Beavers head coach Mike Riley says that he has a good vibe about this team, and some OSU fans are excited because there are some national prognosticators who believe this team is ready to rebound in the deep, competitive Pac-12. But for a bounceback year to occur in Corvallis, the offensive line needs to better protect quarterback Sean Mannion, a strong running game needs to be established and ends Scott Crichton and Dylan Wynn need to lead a strong pass rush to complement what should be a pretty good secondary.
New starts in Arizona: The Wildcats and Sun Devils both have new faces of the program, as Rich Rodriguez and Todd Graham will be roaming the sidelines in Tucson and Tempe, respectively. Rodriguez was able to land defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel from West Virginia to run the 3-3-5, and quarterback Matt Scott is excited to run the spread-option, a scheme he ran in high school. "It's like a dream come true," Scott said. Meanwhile, Graham is excited about running back Cameron Marshall, who is coming back from ankle surgery. And the Sun Devils' new 3-4/hybrid defense, led by suspended linebacker/end Junior Onyeali (who remains on track to rejoin the team) should give Pac-12 offenses fits if ASU gets enough sound play inside at the tackle position.
Utah and Colorado begin their second seasons in the Pac-12: While Jon Embree continues his uphill climb rebuilding the Buffaloes, the Utes continue to go a bit under the radar in this league. If quarterback Jordan Wynn stayed healthy last season, Utah could have won the South division in its debut year in its new league.
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