What tops the to-do list in the newly formed Pac-12 this offseason? Read on.
Hey, why are there 12 teams here? Hey, it's because the Pac-10, the conference we've known since 1978, is now the Pac-12, with two new teams -- Utah and Colorado -- and North and South divisions and a conference championship game. It will take some getting used to. For one, goodbye nine-game, round-robin schedule; hello conference misses. And hello this debate: "The North rules!" "No way, man, the South is where it's at!" In any event, the dynamic will be different, and you can count on coaches thinking about how it will be -- in recruiting and on the field -- over the coming months.
Solving the QB intrigue: Arizona, Oregon, Oregon State, USC, Utah and Washington State are set at quarterback. Oh, and Stanford, too. But five schools have varying degrees of intrigue (and even Arizona needs to figure out what to do with capable backup Matt Scott). Arizona State needs to establish a pecking order between Brock Osweiler and Steven Threet. At Colorado, Tyler Hansen returns from an injury and will try to fight off a challenge from junior college transfer Brent Burnette this spring. California has a wide-open competition with a bunch of names and no clear favorite (transfer Zach Maynard?). Is true freshman Brett Hundley ready to take over at UCLA, or are Kevin Prince or Richard Brehaut going to prevail? (And will Prince be ready to compete this spring after knee surgery?). And Washington is a battle between Keith Price and Nick Montana.
Tending to the hot seats: No Pac-10 coach was fired this year, though newcomer Colorado dispatched Dan Hawkins. But that might not be the case after the 2011 season, seeing that a couple of seats range from steamy to warm. Topping the hot-seat list are UCLA's Rick Neuheisel and Washington State's Paul Wulff. Both need to win this season to survive. Neuheisel, coming off his second 4-8 season in three years, probably needs seven or eight wins. Wulff probably needs to get his team to a bowl game. Arizona State is expected to be a top-25 team. If it's not, Dennis Erickson could be in trouble. Arizona coach Mike Stoops and California coach Jeff Tedford might not be on hot seats, per se, but their seats aren't as comfortably chilled as they once were.
Hello, my name is Coach New Guy: Two Pac-12 teams welcome new coaches: Jon Embree at Colorado and David Shaw at Stanford. Shaw will need no introduction to his players; he was the Cardinal's offensive coordinator under Jim Harbaugh, who bolted to the San Francisco 49ers. (I'm concerned I will suffer some sort of Harbaugh withdrawal this spring.) But he's rebuilding an outstanding coaching staff that suffered a major brain drain on both sides of the ball, including Greg Roman (offense) and Vic Fangio (defense). Embree has stocked his staff with plenty of familiar names and faces and lots of impressive NFL pedigree, which will appeal to recruits. Still, both are first-time head coaches so it will be interesting to see how they adjust to their big corner offices.
Where's the beef? Most Pac-12 teams take significant hits on their offensive or defensive lines -- or both, in the case of Arizona, Oregon and Stanford. Colorado loses just one lineman, but that's left tackle Nate Solder, a likely first-round NFL draft pick. Arizona, Oregon, Stanford, UCLA and USC must replace at least three offensive line starters. Arizona, Arizona State, California, Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford, Utah and Washington State need to replace at least two on the D-line. If you watched the conference's two BCS bowls -- Stanford in the Discover Orange and Oregon in the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game -- you saw what happened when you win the battle in the trenches.