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Media day questions for the Pac-12 North

The Pac-12’s media days kick off Thursday, and there will be questions. Lots and lots and lots of questions. Some good, some bad. Each Pac-12 team has a Captain Obvious-esque question. Those will be asked. But looking beyond the obvious, what’s the bigger-picture question that should be asked for each team in the Pac-12 North?

California

What'll be asked?

How does Cal replace QB Jared Goff, the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft? No doubt, Goff was a game-changer for the Bears. He broke records, elevated the team back to bowl status and was rewarded with his own Los Angeles franchise to resurrect.

What should be asked?

How does Cal replace Goff's wide receiving corps? Goff and Kenny Lawler teamed up for 27 touchdowns in their careers. Only Matt Barkley-to-Robert Woods (31) and Nick Foles-to-Juron Criner (28) were more prolific. But it’s not just Lawler. It’s Lawler and five more of their top receivers. Freshmen Melquise Stovall and Demetris Robertson come in with plenty of hype. But it’s a lot to ask for youngsters to carry the corps.

Oregon

What’ll be asked?

How will the FCS transfer du jour make the transition to Power 5 football? Yes, we know Oregon went to the FCS well for the second straight year with Montana State transfer Dakota Prukop. Yes, the QB is obviously important in this offense. But history has shown that Oregon’s attack can be functionally dangerous when it’s running back-driven. If Prukop can play clean football, the skill position guys will take care of the rest.

What should be asked?

Will you be opting to play defense this season? Following a 2015 that saw the Ducks surrender a Pac-12-worst 37.5 points per game, head coach Mark Helfrich made one of the biggest hiring splashes in the country by bringing in former Michigan head coach Brady Hoke. It’s one of those proverbial “it can’t get any worse” situations. Right? Say this for Hoke: He knows defense and he knows D-line play. He’ll work on retooling a unit that allowed 35 touchdowns through the air -- which was tied with Arizona State for worst in the league.

Oregon State

What’ll be asked?

Any reaction to being picked last in the media poll? I’m just projecting here (and yes, I picked the Beavers last ... just as I’m sure most people who cover the conference did). Head coach Gary Andersen isn’t dumb. In fact, in almost all of my interactions with him, he’s been extremely realistic about what he has to work with. The fact is that Year 2 is going to resemble Year 1 in the sense that, once again, he’s dealing with two new coordinators and a new quarterback. Loaded dice for any coach.

What should be asked?

What in your mind, Coach, would constitute a successful season? It’s unlikely the Beavers are going bowling. Their odds of making it out of nonconference play with more than one win (Idaho State) aren’t great. The Pac-12 North is only getting better. Again, Andersen is a realist and knows what he’s up against. And I’ll ask this question to him, because I’m genuinely curious what would be a “win” for his team in 2016.

Stanford

What’ll be asked?

How’s the quarterback competition shaping up? OK, sometimes the most obvious question is the right one. And that’s the case with Stanford ... mostly (see below). When Stanford’s quarterback play is peaking, the Cardinal are peaking. When it’s down, they are cleaning house in the Foster Farms Bowl. Head coach David Shaw is going to deflect attention from the QB competition between Keller Chryst and Ryan Burns. He’ll instead turn to other position battles -- chiefly across the offensive line and on the defensive front seven. And he’s right to, because in this case they are equally important. Which leads us to ...

What should be asked?

Can the players around running back Christian McCaffrey do enough? Much of McCaffrey’s record-setting 2015 can and should be attributed to a veteran line, a veteran quarterback and a veteran tight end. All of these did their part to make the McCaffrey machine go. But the Cardinal suffered major offensive attrition. And while there’s no question that McCaffrey is the most dynamic player in the country, whether he can duplicate his 2015 production will be directly tied to the progress of those around him.

Washington

What’ll be asked?

How is your team handling the preseason hype? The Huskies are preseason darlings, with many pundits picking them not just to win the North, but the whole conference. That’s a lot of pressure for a team that is still heavy on sophomores and juniors -- experienced sophomores and juniors -- but sophomores and juniors nevertheless. (Note: Head coach Chris Petersen will pooh-pooh the question, as it has no real impact on the season).

What should be asked?

Is the preseason hype deserved? Much of the hype is built on Washington’s returning key players -- QB Jake Browning, RB Myles Gaskin and a slew of defensive standouts -- along with a deep respect of what Petersen has accomplished in his career. That said, Washington is still 2-8 against Top 25 teams under Petersen. It is 0-4 against Oregon and Stanford. I like Washington. But I like Washington a lot better in 2017 than I do in 2016. (Note: Petersen will pooh-pooh this question, as it has no real impact on the season).

Washington State

What’ll be asked?

Can the Cougars win the North? The division is as “up for grabs” as it’s ever been since league expansion. Only Stanford and Oregon have won the league, but Washington State and Washington are surging, which is going to make for an extremely competitive season. We’ll know a lot more in early October when the Cougars play back-to-back against Oregon and at Stanford.

What should be asked?

Can the Cougars string together consecutive successful seasons? It’s a fair question. Recall, coming off of a bowl berth in 2013, the Cougars sputtered in 2014 and struggled to a 3-9 finish, losing six of their last seven. Mike Leach’s system has elevated the offense. And his hiring of Alex Grinch to run the defense last season proved brilliant. With experience and stability on both sides of the ball (not to mention a really talented running back corps), WSU seems poised for another successful year. But recent history says it’s OK for expectations to be tempered until proved otherwise.