Pac-12: Utah Utes

Gas up the family station wagon and hit the Holiday Road. The Ultimate Road Trip is back! Over the next couple of weeks we're going to look at each week during the 2014 season and pick the can't-miss game (and maybe for Thursday/Friday games, we'll work in two).

Start planning accordingly. The Ultimate Pac-12 Road Trip continues.

Welcome to Week 10.

Saturday, Nov. 1
  • Arizona at UCLA
  • Utah at Arizona State
  • USC at Washington State
  • Washington at Colorado
  • Stanford at Oregon
  • California at Oregon State
  • Byes: None
My choice: Stanford at Oregon

Why: Yes, Arizona at UCLA might be compelling. Yes, USC at Washington State is a rematch of last year’s shocking Coug win. No, neither are even close to the national attention Stanford’s trip to Autzen Stadium will receive.

This has blossomed into the game of the year in the Pac-12 the past three seasons and the results have justified the hype.

Then again, the curtain has already fallen on the Cardinal. Why bother showing up, Stanford? The Ducks, led by Marcus Mariota, have all but been anointed Pac-12 champs.

Ah, but isn’t this when Stanford is at its best? David Shaw works the us-versus-the-world angle better than any coach in the conference. He loves nothing more than to be told his team can’t do something. That’s what has made this rivalry so great. And I’m sure it’s what has made Stanford’s back-to-back conference titles that much more rewarding.

The 2012 showdown in Autzen is when this series took a decidedly different turn. Consider that the previous three games had been high-scoring affairs, with the winner scoring at least 50 points and the loser scoring at least 30. But 2012, and Stanford’s 17-14 win, changed all of that. And then a year later, the Cardinal nearly duplicated the defensive effort with a 26-20 victory in Palo Alto.

Stanford changed the tempo and the personality of this rivalry the past two years – in effect – changing the rules and thus the dynamic. It’s up to the Ducks to change them back if they hope to rid themselves of their Stanford problem.

Is the winner guaranteed the conference title? Of course not. We saw what happened last year when Stanford had the edge after beating Oregon, only to lose to USC, only to watch Oregon lose to Arizona. And then there is still the conference championship game to worry about.

Nothing is promised in this league.

But the winner certainly has a leg up in the quest for a conference crown and will surely receive a nice little bump in the national rankings. There is a strong possibility both teams could be ranked in the top 10 when this game rolls around, so the College Football Playoff selection committee will be very interested in this outcome.

So hunker down for this one. Because if recent history is any indication, this will/should be one of the best games in the all of college football in 2014.

You can see the rest of the road trip here.
In advance of media day last week, we told you what questions Pac-12 coaches would be asked and what they should be asked. Well, that sort of tied us in to asking those "should" questions.

So we did, at least some variety of the suggested inquiries, And here's what we got, starting with the South Division.

Arizona

How often at booster events this summer did you hear about being 0-2 versus Arizona State?

Rich Rodriguez: Oh, I hear about it everytime from somebody. They're like, “When are you going to beat ASU?” [I say] “When we're better than them.” That's the truth. When we are better than them, we will beat them. Because the chances of them playing poorly and giving us the game, that ain't going to happen. We played awful [this year but] two years ago we had our opportunites and screwed up in the fourth quarter. I don't worry about it. People say, ‘I think you should talk about your rivalry every day' and all that. Hell, I'm trying to get a first down against UNLV right now. I don't list goals. Is it important to us? Is it the most important game we play? Yes. Is it something I'm thinking about today? No.

Arizona State

You seem really comfortable at Arizona State. I know coaches don't think too far ahead, but is it possible that you could retire at Arizona State? Is that something you have considered?

Todd Graham: For me and our coaches, we are building it for the long haul. The kind of program that year in and year out is competing for championships. I absolultely love the community. I love living there. I've paid my house off. Absolutely. I'd love to have half the success [former ASU coach Frank Kush] had and have my name by his. I am thoroughly committed. I think we have a chance to build something special. Our goal, with Ray Anderson our athletic director and [ASU president Michael] Dr. Crow is to be a top-five program in the nation that wins and wins in the right way. Yes, I could see that. I'm very comfortable.

Colorado

What do you guys most need to improve?

Mike MacIntyre: Wow. I think we can improve in a lot of areas. Specifically on the football field, we need to play better on third downs. That's not got to be unbelievable. You've just got to improve three or four percent from what you were last year. You get two more first downs per game and all of the sudden you're in a drive, going into the red zone, getting into the end zone. One more time per game. Two more times per game. A field goal. That's a big, drastic change. It changes momentum. There are little things. Red zone is an emphasis we have, third-down areas, we have. We need to definitely improve in those areas.

UCLA

You've talked about your partnership with the administration at UCLA. What are some top things on the checklist that you need to improve the program, facilities-wise, logistical things that will make it easier for you to do your job?

Jim Mora: With facilities, we've moved down that path. That's happening. That's a given. There's no coming back from that. I meet with the architechs every couple of weeks. It's going to be an amazing, amazing facility. Really, just the continued support. Being able to keep coaches. Being able to provide the best environment for our student athletes to have success. We already have great academic support, so being able to continue down that path. I don't think we are lacking a whole lot at all. Once that facility is built, there will be no excuses. There are no excuses.

USC

What are some of the lessons you learned as a first-time head coach at Washington that you are applying at USC?

Steve Sarkisian: Patience. Patience. Patience. Having patience with your players. Having patience with recruits. Having patience with coaches. Really taking time and not having knee-jerk reactions to things. Of really being patient with everybody involved in the program. It's something that has shifted in me. That's the first piece. The second piece is when I first got to my last job it was: Wins, wins, wins. It took a year or two to understand the whole responsibility of being a head coach. Of developing our players in the classroom, community, as people, forging those relationships with them. To be the best developmental coach I could be as much as it was to win as many games as I could win. This time around, I'm a lot more aware of that. And quite honestly it probably have a better relationship with my players (at USC) than I had early on at Washington. I feel very connected to this team. Our staff is very connected to these players. To me, that goes a long way.

Utah

Have Utah fans underestimated how difficult it would be to move up from the Mountain West to the Pac-12?

Kyle Whittingham: I think some of the fans may have and some may not have. I can't give you an answer for that. I can tell you the fan support we've had has been phenomenal. Our season ticket renewal was 98 percent, which is where it has been the last four or five years. So the fans are excited about us being in the Pac-12 and are anxious to go to the games. [What the expectations were] as far as going to the Pac-12, I can't answer that. I know we had high aspirations. I think everybody has high aspirations regardless of the situation. We certainly are a better team this year than we were when we went into the Pac-12. The issue is how much better relative to how the league's gotten.

Whittingham earlier said this about the transition to the Pac-12 from the Mountain West: "The transition to the Pac-12 has been as expected. I don't think anything caught us by surprise. I can tell you what is very apparent is the Pac-12 now is far superior from top to bottom [than it was in 2011]. The progress this conference has made in the last three years is phenomenal. We've put ourselves in position where we're arguably among the top two conferences in the nation."

Pac-12's lunch links

July, 28, 2014
Jul 28
2:30
PM ET
When we were kids. We used to race our bikes down Cherry Hill every day after school. We raced every day and he always beat me, but one time, one time I beat him.
Media days are behind us and the road trip resumes!

Gas up the family station wagon and hit the Holiday Road. The Ultimate Road Trip is back! Over the next couple of weeks we're going to look at each week during the 2014 season and pick the can't-miss game (and maybe for Thursday/Friday games, we'll work in two).

Start planning accordingly. The Ultimate Pac-12 Road Trip continues.

Welcome to Week 8.

Thursday, Oct. 16
  • Utah at Oregon State
Saturday, Oct. 18
  • Stanford at Arizona State
  • Colorado at USC
  • UCLA at California
  • Washington at Oregon
  • BYES: Arizona, Washington State
My choice: Stanford Cardinal at Arizona State Sun Devils

Why: This is another one of those "tough one" weeks. I almost wish the Ducks and Huskies would be playing on Thursday night so we could get both games in. But alas, we have to choose one.

So why this game over the always frosty rivalry of Oregon-Washington? For starters, the Ducks have won 10 in a row over the Huskies -- all by at least 17 points. A decade, people! How many of you have gotten married, had kids, changed jobs in a decade?

I get that it's a big deal. I've been covering the conference long enough to recognize how passionate both of these fan bases are about this game. But at some point Washington needs to show up and make it a rivalry again. Maybe Chris Petersen is the guy to do it. Maybe not. But Washington needs to start being more competitive before we can once again elevate this game to must-see status.

The mailbag is open, Washington fans. Bring it (by the way, I'll be off for a couple of weeks, but I promise I won't ignore your letters of love and encouragement and agreement).

So, to the game at hand… It's a rematch of last year's Pac-12 championship game, which Stanford won 38-14. Of course, the Cardinal also won earlier in the year 42-28 in Palo Alto.

This game features some very intriguing matchups. You have the Cardinal, who are rebuilding their running game with a new committee of running backs and four new offensive linemen. Then you have the Sun Devils on the other side who are rebuilding their defense with nine new starters.

By the time we get to this point in the season, we'll have a better idea of what both of these teams are going to look like. But as of today, it's question mark vs. question mark.

Not a question, however, is the potent potential of ASU's passing attack vs. the Stanford secondary. The Cardinal return three starters in safety Jordan Richards and cornerbacks Wayne Lyons and Alex Carter. They'll be tested by an explosive ASU offense that features quarterback Taylor Kelly, wide receiver Jaelen Strong, running back D.J. Foster (who they also love to use as a slot receiver) and three of five starting linemen.

So you have experience vs. experience.

Is it possible this game ends in a blowout? Of course, there is always a chance. Is it possible that Washington beats Oregon and we got it wrong this week? Sure. But as far as storylines go, this one has a chance for more intrigue -- especially after the defending division champs are feeling a bit slighted after not being picked to repeat.

Media Days are here: Day 2

July, 24, 2014
Jul 24
8:00
AM ET
We're halfway through Pac-12 media days, which continue Thursday at the Studios at Paramount in Hollywood. Here's a look at who is on tap for Day 2:

Thursday's schedule: Leading off


The big "news" of the day was that Oregon was picked to win the Pac-12 conference in 2014. Predictions aren't always solid -- unless they come from the Pac-12 blog.

Still, it's noteworthy that 24 of 39 writers (including the #pac) all picked the Ducks to win -- especially since Stanford is the two-time defending champ. The Cardinal will be up Thursday, so no doubt coach David Shaw will be asked for a reaction.

More Levi's games?

During the Stanford nonconference primer, the Pac-12 blog lamented the fact the Cardinal and San Jose State put the Bill Walsh Legacy game on hold. Now it looks like talks have started again.

According to Jimmy Durkin of the San Jose Mercury News, initial conversations have started to reboot the game. Here's what San Jose State coach Ron Caragher had to say:

"There's some fringe talk about it," Caragher said. "Has anything been finalized? Not necessarily. But I think it'd be great."

The Pac-12 and Mountain West are already heavy scheduling partners. But for Bay Area fans, this game holds some special significance. Would be nice to see it up and running again.

Healthy and happy birthday

Cal safety Stefan McClure, oft injured in his career with the Bears, tells Sportswatch.com he's 100 percent healthy and ready to make his move from cornerback to safety. (He also plugs his birthday).

Cal obviously suffered through a bumpy 2013. A lot of that had to do with injuries on defense. So a healthy McClure is welcome news for the Bears.

Oregon storylines

Aaron Fentress of Comcast Sportsnet broke down his big three major storylines of media days. His thoughts:
  1. Oregon picked first
  2. Marcus Mariota in high demand
  3. Derrick Malone making improvements
Strike a pose

Just because the Cardinal weren't on the podium Wednesday, doesn't mean they (and the other five teams) didn't have media days responsibilities. You can see Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan doing his best Blue Steel here:

 
Landing spot for Bruggman

Former Washington State quarterback Tyler Bruggman is going to land at Louisville, according to InsidetheVille.com.

In case you missed it a week ago, Ted Miller broke down what that means for the Cougs.

Enjoy Day 2! We'll be tweeting again all day.

Media Days takeaways: Day 1

July, 23, 2014
Jul 23
8:57
PM ET
Some thoughts, observations and musings about Day 1 of Pac-12 media days from the Pac-12 blog's Kevin Gemmell, Kyle Bonagura and Chantel Jennings.

Biggest football-centric takeaway?

[+] EnlargeRich Rodriguez
Kelvin Kuo/USA TODAY SportsRich Rodriguez said on Wednesday that he hasn't determined who will start at QB for Arizona this fall.
Kevin Gemmell: Arizona still doesn’t have a quarterback. Not that that’s shocking. We knew it was going to take awhile for Rich Rodriguez to find the right guy to run things in 2014. But with a really talented stable of wide receivers ready to break out and get all freaky on secondaries, you’d think he’d be at least a little bit closer to whittling down his pecking order. You’d be wrong: “Even if I knew who the starter was, I wouldn’t tell you all. Why would I tell you and tell our opponents? I really don’t know who not just No. 1 is, but I don’t know who No. 1, 2 or 3 is.” Maybe it’s a lot of coachspeak and he knows exactly what the offense will look like. Maybe he really doesn’t know. Feel like we’ve been here before …

Chantel Jennings: I knew there was a high interest in USC this year, but I guess I didn’t realize how high. The reporter crowd around Steve Sarkisian was about three times as large as for any other coach who attended today (including Mark Helfrich, whose team is the favorite for the Pac-12 title). Obviously, it’s USC and by nature, people will care. But with the program being back on track, a new coach, some exciting players and a new offensive scheme, the Trojans are going to be in a complete pressure cooker. Quarterback Cody Kessler talked about how last year -- and the amount of change and adversity they faced -- will help them this season. Yes, certainly the whole “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” argument is valid. But how much stronger is USC? And are the Trojans strong enough to put up a fight in the South? Are they strong enough to handle the growing pains under a first-year coach? Are they strong enough to handle the increasingly high expectations of the public?

Kyle Bonagura: When it comes to quarterback play, believe the hype. And while, by nature, these types of events exist almost primarily to generate hype, everyone seemed to be in agreement that the quarterbacks have a chance to be considered one of the best conference groups in college football history. That’s not hyperbole, either. There have been comparable years if you take a look at the top five or six, maybe, but to have 10 returning quarterbacks — and so many decorated players among that group — might be unmatched.

Biggest nonfootball takeaway

Gemmell: Oregon and Washington fans might not like this, but the chances their bitter rivalry will grow frostier are slim. When asked about his relationship with new Washington coach Chris Petersen, Oregon coach Mark Helfrich offered this: “My relationship with Pete will be great forever. I’m going to hate him on certain days and some days he’ll hate me, whether it’s recruiting or on game day. But the guy is a lifelong friend of mine and that won’t change. I know that’s going to make both of our fan bases very unhappy.” But it’s oh-so bromantic.

Jennings: The event today had a few different activities set up for the players, including a game of corn hole (for you non-Midwesterners, you’ll know this as "the game with the angled boards with holes in them that you try to get bean bags in"). I, myself, am a connoisseur of the sport and will challenge anyone. However, I wasn’t too impressed with some of the guys and coaches playing today. Especially some of the QBs. You can throw a football 60 yards, but you can't toss a bean bag 20 feet? C’mon.

Bonagura: The conference’s new buzzword is “innovation.” Commissioner Larry Scott used it nine times in his lengthy opening remarks to begin the day and seems focused on using the conference’s home near Silicon Valley to help aid the use of technology in as many ways as possible. He specifically referred to a partnership with AT&T, Sporting Innovations and Stanford that includes the development of an app that will supposedly make more information — videos, stats, etc. — more accessible to fans while in attendance. I’ll take a wait-and-see approach on how innovative this innovation ends up being, but long term it’s not a bad thing.

Best quote of the day

Gemmell: Had a nice little chat with WSU linebacker Darryl Monroe about the fallout from the bowl game and what he thinks when he hears someone use the expression, "Coug’d it": “For me, Coug’d should mean you just went out there and dominated. I don’t understand where this impression of 'Coug’d it' means you did something in a negative light. Maybe the Urban Dictionary should think about rewriting that definition to 'Coug’d it means completely dominated your opponent.'”

Jennings: Can we just insert Mike Leach’s news conference transcript here? (Follow up: Can we just give Mike Leach a reality TV show?) But really, to give you the full experience … I walked up to the media scrum midway through Leach’s news conference. This is the exact moment I walked in. Enjoy.

“The gnats rarely got too hot, I guess. And then finally this one high school coach, as I'm recruiting there, he says, 'Try this.' Now I have big, old fat lips, so it didn't work very good. But he could fire up a little pucker, kind of blow the gnats off, then they had Skin So Soft [lotion], which is big. And I don't know what that is, but evidently gnats don't like it. They rub that all over [their faces]. But it looked kind of oily, you know? What I think is the gnats don't care about it, but it probably puts a little sheet of oil on there so it's harder to bite you. You don't feel the bite. That's just one guy's theory. I'm sure I'm wrong.”

Bonagura: “We've got a brand-new facility that's great, but everybody's got new stuff. Oregon changes it out like Porta-Potties. Like every four or five years like we need a new this, and they go do it.” -- Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez on the facilities arms race in the conference

A couple of things to address here: (1) He’s right. As a whole, the conference has done a great job upgrading its facilities across the board. It’s nearly impossible to get a sense of how each construction project has helped each individual school — mainly from a recruiting standpoint — because it’s about keeping up with the Joneses as much as anything. (2) Who knew RichRod had a working knowledge of Porta-Potty lifespans?

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Kelvin Kuo/USA TODAY SportsMarcus Mariota, a topflight NFL prospect, said he isn't sure if he will turn pro after this season.
Best lie of the day

Jennings: Marcus Mariota said he hasn’t made his mind up on whether or not he’d leave for the NFL after this season. Now, I will say that this is a hard case because it’s a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation. If he came in and said, “Yep, no matter what happens, I’m out,” then he’d be criticized. So I’m not necessarily criticizing him for this -- he’s saying what he needed to say and that’s the right thing to do. But the moment it came out of his mouth, all the reporters silently went, “Riiiiiiiiiiiight.”

Bonagura: Agree wholeheartedly with Jennings. When asked if this will be his final year at Oregon, Mariota simply replied: “I’m not sure.” He sounded sincere, too, but it’s tough to envision a scenario in which he’s not beginning training camp with an NFL team at this time next year. Seeing one of the best talents in college football pass up potentially becoming the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft back-to-back seasons doesn’t happen.

Gemmell: Have to agree with my colleagues. It was nice for Mariota to say there is a chance he could come back for another season. And everyone in emerald land just got all giddy at the prospect of maybe seeing Mariota rocking the "O" beyond 2014. But I think we all know it ain't going to happen. He took out an insurance policy for a reason. Enjoy him while you can for now, Oregon fans. Because he's as good as gone.

Which player made a good impression on you?

Gemmell: I’ve long been a fan of Connor Halliday’s play. Is he reckless sometimes? Sure. Does he throw too many interceptions? Yeah. But I also like a guy who will throw a pick and then on the next drive make the exact same throw for a 60-yard touchdown. I like the moxie. And I thought that confidence came through during his podium session. He fielded all of the questions about turnovers and bowl games and still had time to crack wise about his head coach. You need poise to play for Mike Leach. And Halliday showed me a little of that today.

Jennings: Utah WR Dres Anderson isn’t a guy who has had a ton of media training or been in too many situations in which he’s crowded by the media. But even so, he handled it very gracefully. He was energetic, funny and engaging without seeming disingenuous (which some players do when they’re so over-the-top). He told anecdotes without needed to be asked, “OK, do you have any examples of that?” by reporters. He was a player who it seemed was really just having a bunch of good conversations with strangers.

Bonagura: Cal quarterback Jared Goff was in a tough spot last year getting thrown into the fire as a true freshman on a historically bad team, but you wouldn’t have known that based on his demeanor today. Goff was polished, personable and said all the things you’d want your team’s starting quarterback to say. If there were any doubts about how well he’d evolve into a leadership role, there shouldn’t be. With 10 returning starters at the position, Goff might fly under the radar in the conference, but he’s as talented a young quarterback as there is in the country and has a chance to compete statistically with the nation’s best.

And of course, no recap would be right without a series of Leach tweets:

Considering its long history of Polynesian influence, it should come as no surprise that the Pac-12 led the way with 15 players named to the preseason watch list for the inaugural Polynesian College Football Player of the Year Award.

Headlining the list is Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, USC safety Su'a Cravens, Oregon State center Isaac Seumalo, Washington linebacker Hau'oli Kikaha and BYU linebacker Alani Fua.

The award was established by the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame, which inducted its first class of members in January. That group of seven included Kurt Gouveia (BYU), Olin Kreutz (Washington), Kevin Mawae (LSU), Junior Seau (USC), Jack Thompson (Washington State), Herman Wedemeyer (Saint Mary's College) and Ken Niumatalolo (Navy/Hawaii).

The full breakdown of players on the watch list by conference is as follows: Pac-12 (15), Mountain West (12), Independents (4), American Athletic (1), Big 12 (1) and Sun Belt (1).

Here is the complete list (34 total):
Five finalists will be announced on Nov. 20 with the winner set to be named on Dec. 9.

Media days are here: Day 1

July, 23, 2014
Jul 23
8:00
AM ET
Welcome to Day 1 of Pac-12 media days! The Pac-12 blog will be updating you throughout the day on all of the fun happenings, tidbits and tweet-worthy sound bites -- and probably a few that aren’t tweet-worthy, but we will tweet them anyway.

Here is the schedule of events for today (all times PT):
Thursday's schedule: Who are those guys?

Salem, Oregon, was in the news after Baylor coach Art Briles made a suggestion that people at Dairy Queens in Salem have now heard of quarterback Bryce Petty, whom Briles is peddling for the Heisman. Jake Trotter broke it down, along with an Instagram video from Petty, who boasted that Baylor has the most explosive offense in the country.

He’s right, by the way. The Bears scored 52.4 points per game last season, and Oregon was fourth nationally with 45.5.

Our own Chantel Jennings took a swing at calling Dairy Queens in Waco to see if they knew who Marcus Mariota was. She went oh-fer.

Perhaps it is the wrong venue. Besides Mariota, the Pac-12 has another Heisman hopeful quarterback in UCLA's Brett Hundley. And we most closely associate Southern California with In-N-Out. So the Pac-12 blog called the In-N-Out in Waco to see if anyone had heard of Hundley. Oh wait, there isn’t one. SoCal 1, Waco 0. (But one is coming soon to Killeen!)

No doubt Mariota and Hundley will be asked about the Heisman, and wacky media days questions are the norm. We are just wondering if Mariota or Hundley will send an Instagram or tweet back to Waco. Your move, fellas.

Stiff-arm predictions

Speaking of the Heisman, Athlon released its list of 10 Pac-12 players who should get consideration. Five on their list (Mariota, Hundley, Taylor Kelly, Sean Mannion and Connor Halliday) will be in attendance at media days.

Washington linebacker Shaq Thompson is the lone defensive player on the list, but the story also includes five defensive players who should be in the mix but won’t be. One of them is UCLA’s Myles Jack. Don't get us wrong. We love Jack. But as the Pac-12 blog has already noted, we know who the real leader of the UCLA defense is.

Rock the vote

One of the big storylines today will be the release of the preseason prediction. Pac-12 media members are invited to cast their vote on what they think will happen at the end of the season. You can see how the #4Pac voted. (Yeah, that is what we're calling ourselves now. Thoughts?)

A few more ballots from other media members:
A lot of folks are thinking we’re going to see Oregon-UCLA in the Pac-12 championship game. The Pac-12 blog agrees.

Graham confident

Anyone want to take a guess at the over/under for times Todd Graham is asked about his defense at media days? Probably the same number of times Rich Rodriguez will be asked about quarterbacks.

But just because the Sun Devils lose nine starters on that side of the ball doesn’t mean Graham isn’t confident, as he tells Doug Haller.

The Sun Devils ranked seventh in the conference last season in scoring defense, yielding 26.6 points per game.

National view

Finally, Tim Sullivan of the (Louisville) Courier-Journal offered some thoughts on the impact of paying college athletes, in light of Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby’s comments Monday. Looking forward to what Larry Scott has to say on the subject.
Pac-12 media days start Wednesday at Paramount Studios in Hollywood, California, and your entire Pac-12 gang -- we're going by either #4pac or #pac4, we haven't decided yet -- will be there soaking in the evasive and clichéd quotes while plumbing for revealing and interesting nuggets to share with you.

There are plenty of topics to cover, from the perhaps unprecedented quality and experience at quarterback, to two new coaches who have familiar faces, to the new four-team College Football Playoff.

Arizona, California, USC, Oregon, Washington State and Utah will appear on Wednesday, while Arizona State, Oregon State, UCLA, Washington, Stanford and Colorado follow up on Thursday. You can see the players on hand and the schedule here. This is the first time the Pac-12 has spread out its preseason media event over two days.

The preseason media poll will be released Wednesday, and the Pac-12 blog is going out on no limb guaranteeing you that Oregon will be picked to win the North and UCLA will be picked to win the South.

As a public service, we've provided you with a cheat sheet so you can contemplate the world as a reporter might. Below are questions for each of the conference's 12 teams that are sure to be asked, less warm-and-fuzzy questions that should be asked, and idle bits of whimsy that the Pac-12 blog wishes would be part of the proceedings.

(Unless otherwise noted, the questions are intended for the head coach.)

Arizona Wildcats, coach Rich Rodriguez
What will be asked: Can you give us an idea of your pecking order at quarterback?
What should be asked: What did Wildcats fans say to you this summer about being 0-2 against Arizona State?
Whimsical interlude: If Todd Graham and Donald Sterling were being attacked by wolves, whom would you save?

Arizona State Sun Devils, coach Todd Graham
What will be asked: Who will step up on your rebuilding defense?
What should be asked: You turn 50 in December: Do you expect to retire as the Sun Devils' coach?
Whimsical interlude: If Rich Rodriguez and Justin Bieber were being attacked by wolves, whom would you save?

California Golden Bears, coach Sonny Dykes
What will be asked: What's your team's attitude after going 1-11 in your first season?
What should be asked: What are specific mistakes you made last season that contributed to your team's struggles?
Whimsical interlude: Compare and contrast your hometowns of Big Spring and Lubbock, Texas, to Berkeley.

Colorado Buffaloes, coach Mike MacIntyre
What will be asked: Is your team ready to take the next step in the Pac-12?
What should be asked: What is your program's chief deficiency, and how are you addressing that in recruiting?
Whimsical interlude: Just thinking out loud here, but -- Ralphie, are you certain she has no remaining eligibility?

Oregon Ducks, coach Mark Helfrich
What will be asked: How will quarterback Marcus Mariota be better this season than last?
What should be asked: What were some of the challenges and transitional pains you've learned from after replacing a larger-than-life coach in Chip Kelly?
Whimsical interlude: Marcus, here are five loaves and two fishes. There are a lot of hungry reporters here. So, you know, do your thing.

Oregon State Beavers, coach Mike Riley
What will be asked: How does the offense change without wide receiver Brandin Cooks?
What should be asked: Is it possible for the Beavers to catch up to Oregon without the kind of support the Ducks get from Nike founder Phil Knight?
Whimsical interlude: Sean Mannion, please re-create for us the worst temper tantrum you've ever seen Coach Riley throw.

Stanford Cardinal, coach David Shaw
What will be asked: Who will step up to lead your rebuilding defense?
What should be asked: The media have again picked Oregon, the two-time defending Pac-12 North champions, to eclipse you. Is that a slight to your program, and if not, how do you interpret it?
Whimsical interlude: Jordan Richards, you are a public policy major. Please compare and contrast the deontological perspectives of Kant, Mill and Rawls.

UCLA Bruins, coach Jim Mora
What will be asked: How do you manage all the hype and high expectations that surround your team and quarterback Brett Hundley?
What should be asked: What do you need from the UCLA administration to maintain and build on your present advantage in your rivalry with USC?
Whimsical interlude: Jim, what does your dad think of the new college football PLAYOFFS?

USC Trojans, coach Steve Sarkisian
What will be asked: How will your up-tempo offense work while you have depth issues due to scholarship limitations?
What should be asked: What mistakes did you make at Washington that you'll avoid at USC?
Whimsical interlude: Steve, what would be the most interesting revelation if you, Pete Carroll, Jim Mora and Lane Kiffin went out for drinks?

Utah Utes, coach Kyle Whittingham
What will be asked: Explain how your quarterback situation sets up with Travis Wilson and transfer Kendal Thompson and how each fits in new coordinator Dave Christensen's offense.
What should be asked: Have Utah fans underestimated how difficult it would be to move up from the Mountain West to the Pac-12?
Whimsical interlude: You've had six offensive coordinators in six years. Please match each with one of Snow White's seven dwarfs, assuming that this stupid question automatically makes you Grumpy.

Washington Huskies, coach Chris Petersen
What will be asked: What was it about Washington that lured you away from Boise State?
What should be asked: What did quarterback Cyler Miles tell you about his role in two separate fights that occurred after the Super Bowl?
Whimsical interlude: OT Ben Riva: You are the only offensive lineman here. There are eight quarterbacks, three receivers and a bunch of defensive guys. First, what's the worst prima donna behavior you have witnessed? And second, is this pretty much an offensive lineman's seventh level of hell?

Washington State Cougars, coach Mike Leach
What will be asked: With a veteran quarterback and a deep corps of receivers, what are your expectations for your offense this fall?
What should be asked: Did your job get more difficult or easier with the hiring of Chris Petersen at Washington?
Whimsical interlude: Connor Halliday and Darryl Monroe: Here is a 10-question quiz on your coach's book about Geronimo, which I'm sure you've read. You have two minutes. Go!
Gas up the family station wagon and hit the Holiday Road. The Ultimate Road Trip is back! Over the next couple of weeks we’re going to look at each week during the 2014 season and pick the can’t-miss game (and maybe for Thursday/Friday games, we’ll work in two).

Start planning accordingly. The Ultimate Pac-12 Road Trip continues.

Welcome to Week 7. (And FYI, the road trip will go on hiatus for a couple of days in lieu of media days coverage).

Friday, Oct. 10
  • Washington State at Stanford
Saturday, Oct. 11
  • USC at Arizona
  • Oregon at UCLA
  • Washington at California
  • Byes: Arizona State, Colorado, Oregon State, Utah
My choice: Oregon at UCLA

Why: This one is a no-brainer -- even with an enticing showdown of USC going to Arizona.

For starters, there is a very strong possibility that at least one of these teams will be ranked in the top five and there’s a good chance that both will be ranked in the top 10. That means there will be huge national interest in this game. Second, when the preseason media poll is released tomorrow, here’s guessing that Oregon will be the preseason favorite in the North and UCLA in the South. Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean that’s how it’s going to play out. But projecting from July, you have what are perceived to be the two teams that will play in the Pac-12 championship game squaring off in Pasadena the second week in October.

And the other major storyline, of course, is the quarterbacks. Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley have already received considerable preseason Heisman hype. And that’s only going to increase as the season wears on and as they (presumably) put up monster dual-threat numbers. Of course, there’s really nothing either of them can do while the other one is on the field. But this will still be billed as a matchup of Heisman hopefuls and likely top 10 draft picks.

For the Bruins, this is a big one. If they want to be considered an elite Pac-12 team, these are the kinds of games they are going to have to start winning. For as great of a job as Jim Mora has done since coming in, he hasn’t beaten Stanford or Oregon -- the two best teams in the league. If UCLA wants to announce itself to the rest of the country, beating Oregon is a nice way to do it.

On the flip side, Mark Helfrich has a team that many believe is equipped to make a run at the College Football Playoff and beyond. A win sets the stage for another classic showdown with Stanford a couple of weeks later and puts them in the driver’s seat for tops in the conference. A loss, however, could put the Ducks and Helfrich on uneven footing.

Long story short, the winner of this game takes a commanding lead atop the Power Rankings with showdowns against Stanford yet to come.

You can see the rest of the road trip here.

Pac-12 lunch links

July, 21, 2014
Jul 21
2:30
PM ET
Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.

Our Pac-12 media poll ballots

July, 21, 2014
Jul 21
1:00
PM ET
Every year, the Pac-12 polls media members on how they predict the season will turn out. Sometimes there is a pretty strong consensus. Sometimes there is not. The Pac-12 blog expects there to be strong unanimity this go-around, as our four ballots suggest.

All four of us picked Oregon and UCLA to win their respective divisions. All of us picked Oregon as the Pac-12 champion. Kevin's and Ted's ballots are exactly the same, which might be a good thing for Ted, considering that Kevin's 2013 ballot correctly predicted the finish of all 12 teams.

By the way, Kevin has never, ever, ever brought that up since the end of the 2013 season, notwithstanding his voicemail celebrating that fact, his copywriting "Mr. Pac-12 Perfect Predictor" and the giant billboards he erected in all Pac-12 towns and cities. To quote Uriah Heep, Kevin remains "the 'umblest person going."

For those believing the Pac-12 blog merely goes with the flow, recall that the 2013 Pac-12 media poll picked Oregon and UCLA as the division winners, while Kevin and Ted went with Stanford and Arizona State.

(Insert smug look).

There are some differences here between your Old Men and the New Blood, most notably the bottom two finishers in the South. There also are some differences in the placement of Oregon State, Washington and Washington State in the North, and USC and Arizona State in the South.

Here's Ted Miller's (You can follow him on Twitter here).

North Division
1. Oregon
2. Stanford
3. Washington
4. Oregon State
5. Washington State
6. California

South Division
1. UCLA
2. USC
3. Arizona State
4. Arizona
5. Utah
6. Colorado

Champion: Oregon

Here's Kevin Gemmell's (You can follow him on Twitter here).

North Division
1. Oregon
2. Stanford
3. Washington
4. Oregon State
5. Washington State
6. California

South Division
1. UCLA
2. USC
3. Arizona State
4. Arizona
5. Utah
6. Colorado

Champion: Oregon

Here's Chantel Jenning's (You can follow her on Twitter here).

North Division
1. Oregon
2. Stanford
3. Oregon State
4. Washington
5. Washington State
6. Cal

South Division
1. UCLA
2. ASU
3. USC
4. Arizona
5. Colorado
6. Utah

Champion: Oregon

And here's Kyle Bonagura (You can follow him on Twitter here).

North Division
1. Oregon
2. Stanford
3. Washington
4. Washington State
5. Oregon State
6. Cal

South Division
1. UCLA
2. USC
3. Arizona State
4. Arizona
5. Colorado
6. Utah

Champion: Oregon
Gas up the family station wagon and hit the Holiday Road. The Ultimate Road Trip is back! Over the next couple of weeks we're going to look at each week during the 2014 season and pick the can't-miss game (and maybe for Thursday/Friday games, we'll work in two).

Start planning accordingly. The Ultimate Pac-12 Road Trip continues.

Welcome to Week 6

Thursday, Oct. 2
  • Arizona at Oregon
Saturday, Oct. 4
  • Arizona State at USC
  • Utah at UCLA
  • Oregon State at Colorado
  • California at Washington State
  • Stanford at Notre Dame
  • Bye: Washington
My choice: Arizona at Oregon and Arizona State at USC

Why: Another Thursday night game means we have the chance to for another two-for-one.

We capped last week's two-part road trip in Seattle. I'm just going to assume that no one has to work that week, so it's time to take a leisurely drive down the I-5. We'll start in downtown Seattle and you can either floor it to Portland, or maybe take the 205 for some nice stops along the Columbia River. Kick around Portland for a few days and then head to Autzen Thursday night for a rematch of one of the most shocking games in the Pac-12 last season.

Arizona's 42-16 thumping over the Ducks wasn't only the signature win of the Rich Rodriguez era, it knocked the Ducks out of the Pac-12 championship game and subsequently a BCS bowl game. It was as shellacking from start to finish. Rather than trying the slow-it-down/grind-it-out method others have tried against the Ducks, the ‘Cats matched Oregon speed for speed.

A great subplot to this game is Arizona's stellar wide receiving corps going against one of the best defensive backs in the league in Oregon's Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. But besides him, Oregon has holes to fill in the secondary, which makes that an intriguing game within the game to watch.

Friday morning, hop on the 5 and don't get off for 861 miles. That should take you right to the Coliseum where the Trojans will also have revenge on their mind against the Sun Devils. Recall last year's beat down that led to the dismissal of Lane Kiffin.

But what makes this game so significant is the South Division ramifications. It's widely believed (at least in the preseason) that UCLA is No. 1 in the South pecking order with ASU and USC in a virtual tie for the No. 2 spot to challenge the Bruins. ASU and UCLA will have already played. If the Sun Devils won, they'd need this game to defend their South crown. If they lost, they would need a win to keep pace with the Bruins.

As for the Trojans, this would be a first step toward reclaiming the South. And with a lot of offensive firepower on both sides of the ball, this has the potential to be one of the more entertaining games of the season.

We considered Stanford's trip to Notre Dame. That nonconference game is always a fun one and, depending on the records of both teams come October, the national pundits will no doubt be eyeballing that one. There is also the battle of the “raids” with Cal at Washington State. And last year's UCLA-Utah game was a squeaker.

But with two high-powered offenses squaring off on Thursday night and a huge South Division showdown on Saturday, we opted to keep it in conference this week. All in all, this is a solid couple of days of football.

Mailbag: Alabama scheduling

July, 18, 2014
Jul 18
6:00
PM ET
Happy Friday. Welcome to the mailbag.

You can follow me on Twitter here.

To the notes.

Michael from Anniston, Alabama, writes: You credit the CF playoff for the Bama-USC match-up? Hogwash. Bama has been scheduling such opening games ever since Nick Saban became head coach.

Ted Miller: You make a fair point. Unlike a lot of SEC teams, Alabama (and LSU) have not been cowards with their nonconference scheduling.

While the Alabama Crimson Tide's matchup with West Virginia to open the 2014 season hardly scintillates, the Mountaineers are a "name" opponent. And the Tide's list of nonconference foes since Saban took over is impressive: Virginia Tech (2013 and 2009), Michigan (2012), Penn State (2010-11), Clemson (2008) and Florida State (2007).

That's a strong list, no doubt. But USC is different. Trust me.

Of that group, only one team finished with fewer than four defeats -- 10-3 Virginia Tech in 2009, which finished ranked 10th. Despite five defeats, Michigan finished ranked 24th in 2012, and the Wolverines are the only other team on that list that finished the season ranked. Three of those seven teams finished with six losses.

You need to know that, just as in everything else in big-time FBS football, there's strategy involved in scheduling, and that includes nonconference games. There's scouting. There's projecting forward. There's seeking out a "name" foe that seems manageable.

What do I mean? Well, remember in Rocky III when Rocky gets worked up over Clubber Lang ruining the ceremony dedicating a statue of himself in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. But of course you do. Afterwards, Mickey tries to explain to Rocky that he shouldn't schedule USC/Clubber Lang. He should continue to schedule Virginia Tech. Rocky really wants to fight USC/Clubber Lang, though.
Mickey: No, he ain't just another fighter! This guy is a wrecking machine! And he's hungry! Hell, you ain't been hungry since you won that belt.

Rocky Balboa: What are you talkin' about? I had ten title defenses.

Mickey: That was easy.

Rocky Balboa: What you mean, "easy"?

Mickey: They was hand-picked!

Rocky Balboa: Setups?

Mickey: Nah, they wasn't setups. They was good fighters, but they wasn't killers like this guy. He'll knock you to tomorrow, Rock!

Now, we're not saying the USC Trojans are going to knock Alabama into tomorrow in 2016. In fact, I'd guess the Trojans are likely to be underdogs on a neutral field. But I'd also project that the Trojans will start and finish the 2016 season with a national ranking closer to No. 10 than No. 25. This is not a hand-picked game for the Crimson Tide. Or for USC, for that matter.

My prediction for the game? Pain.




Michael from Moscow writes: Dear Ted, on behalf of the American expat community in Moscow i wanted to thank you for the terrific insight into a game we left behind when we moved to the ice fields of Russia. With the exception of a few games (kick-off often at 4am local time here), we rely on the internet for information about CF. Finally, my observation and question: it seems that every day i check ESPN another player is: 1) transferring to another school; 2) has been dismissed for a crime or disciplinary infraction or 3) has been declared academically ineligible. Is it me, or is this an evolving epidemic?

Ted Miller: You are addressing two different issues.

First, discipline and academic problems. As for news stories about that, I hear you. It does seem like almost a daily issue somewhere, but I don't think it's an epidemic. My feeling is the number of these sorts of incidents and problems has been pretty consistent over the 17 or so years I've covered college football.

You have 5,440 scholarship football players, plus or minus, on Big Five conference teams. With that many male 18-to-23-year-olds, you're going to have guys getting into trouble. I'd bet the "trouble" rate for football players isn't much higher than the trouble rate for the average 18-to-23-year-old males nationwide, whether that's about discipline or poor academics.

Should we be outraged by bad behavior, particularly violence? Absolutely. But my perception of college football players is more positive than negative. For every Dorial Green-Beckham, you have a handful of Marcus Mariotas or an Obum Gwachams -- see here on the latter.

As for transfers, I support that: If a guy wants to leave, he should be able to. While you could score a valid point about finishing what you started and redoubling the competitive effort, such talk often sounds better as a coaching cliche than as practical advice for a young man with dreams of playing time and, perhaps, a shot at the NFL.

There are plenty of stories about transfers making good. And there are plenty of stories about guys sticking around -- like Arizona State quarterback Mike Bercovici. I don't think there is anything wrong with transferring. When Alabama opens against West Virginia, both starting quarterbacks will be Florida State transfers who didn't want to sit behind Jameis Winston. That seems like a perfectly reasonable decision to me, one that is obviously paying off.




Bill from Denver writes: Ted... which PAC-12 power is most susceptible to a CU upset? (It's going to happen this year!)

Ted Miller: If I were to guess two Pac-12 games when the Colorado Buffaloes could pull a surprising upset, I'd go with a pair of home dates in the first half of the season: Sept. 13 versus the Arizona State Sun Devils and Oct. 4 versus the Oregon State Beavers.

The Sun Devils are going to be tough to stop on offense, but their defense might still be finding its footing in Week 3. As for the Beavers visit, you start with the not unreasonable projection that the Buffs could be 4-1 at that point and feeling pretty confident. Further, Oregon State will be coming off what is sure to be a challenging road date at USC. This game has the classic "overlook" feel to it.

Am I picking Colorado to beat either team? Not at this point. But I wouldn't be shocked if they got an upset in one or the other.




Asa from Eugene writes: Ted, I need a good read. You have great taste in books, so what am I reading next?

Ted Miller: I just finished "Fourth of July Creek" from Smith Henderson. It's not particularly uplifting, but the writing is consistently engaging. Henderson is a major young talent. And he's a Portland guy. I might stalk him when I'm next up there.

If you like BIG BOOKS! I'd recommend Donna Tartt's "The Goldfinch." Not exactly an obscure novel, seeing it won the Pulizter, but it's emersion fiction in a Dickens vein from one of our finest writers.

Both are dark, but both also allow readers to distill a message on why we, despite everything, choose to endure, which I appreciated.

And, as always, I recommend that everyone read everything from Daniel Woodrell. He's just so... good.




Blake from Phoenix writes: As I was stopped at a red light on my way to work this morning, I looked at the car next to me and I could have sworn that it was non other that Pac-12 blogger Ted Miller. While being next to Mr. Miller would seem exiting enough, what put it over the top was seeing that he was driving a little red convertible, likely from the late 90s. Alas as I stared more at the man driving I realized that it wasn't Mr. Miller. However, I was left pondering for the rest of my drive to work, what type of car would the Pac-12 Blogger drive? Whatever it is, I hope it's as good as a little red convertible.

Ted Miller: While I certainly appreciate red convertibles, I don't need one.

Pac-12 lunch links

July, 18, 2014
Jul 18
2:30
PM ET
Happy Friday.

SPONSORED HEADLINES