Previewing an individual team creates many good storylines but examining a major conference in the final year of the BCS championship system is just as intriguing.
There are a lot of questions surrounding the Pac-12 coming into the new football season. How well is the Pac-12 going to be? Are the conference’s elites good enough to dethrone Alabama and the SEC and what’s the deal with the Pac-12/DirecTV negotiations?
The State Press asked various football beat reporters and sports editors from other Pac-12 student newspapers on the conference’s outlook this season as well as adding our own thoughts.
1) What do you think is the biggest storyline in the conference for 2013?
Andrew Erickson, The Daily Bruin, UCLA: This year’s biggest storyline revolves around whether or not the conference’s three biggest first year quarterbacks from last year — Stanford’s Kevin Hogan, Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and UCLA’s Brett Hundley — can avoid sophomore slumps. All three schools are looking for at least a shot at the Pac-12 title, and with a big time playmaker exiting each program (Stepfan Taylor from Stanford, Oregon’s Kenjon Barner and UCLA’s Johnathan Franklin), the pressure will be on each of these quarterbacks to carry a heavier offensive load. This could also be the year we finally see the Pac-12 develop into a full-fledged quarterback conference, with Taylor Kelly of ASU on the rise, Washington’s Keith Price looking to bounce back and competitions just having been decided at Arizona, USC and Cal.
Nick Selbe, The Daily Trojan, USC: Is the Pac-12 the best conference in 2013? SEC folks would scoff at the thought, but the discussion might be closer than most think. The Pac-12 features five teams in the preseason top 25, with three others receiving votes. The SEC has six teams ranked, though all of them are in the top 12, and the conference has of course won the last seven (!) BCS titles. But the Pac-12 has two legit title contenders with Oregon and Stanford, and an unparalleled depth of talented, bowl-bound teams capable of sneaking into the national picture. The SEC reign of terror has to end sometime, and the Pac-12 could be the conference to knock it off its throne.
Luke Della, The Daily Wildcat, UA: I think the biggest storyline for 2013 season is whether or not Oregon and USC are still the faces of the conference. From 2009 to 2011 Oregon absolutely dominated the Pac-10/12. And Stanford always seemed to be lurking in the back. But now that they ended Oregon’s short reign of dominance and Chip Kelly is in the NFL, “have the Cardinal replaced the Ducks?” could be an interesting thing to keep tabs on as the season progresses. Now it seems USC has been a face of the conference since OJ Simpson and probably before that. But since 2009 the almighty Trojans just haven’t quite had the same roar as before. Part of it might have been because they were on probation, they did finish 2011 ranked No. 6 in the AP poll, but USC hasn’t really been a fixture in the National Championship race and for the first time in a while. Whoever their quarterback is going to be is a pretty much unknown. That being said, I think that since it’s L.A. they’ll always be in the news. It’s just a matter of if UCLA will be on the front page and USC will have to accept page two.
2) Which team would you say is the “dark horse” of the Pac-12?
Andrew Erickson, The Daily Bruin, UCLA: The 2013 Pac-12 dark horse candidate is Arizona State. Though UCLA, whether by technicality (2011) or outright victory (2012) has been the Pac-12 South’s only representative in the Pac-12 Championship so far, the Sun Devils could change that this year thanks to the return of 3,000 yard passer Taylor Kelly as well as a somewhat fortunate in-conference schedule. While ASU will have to travel to Stanford in late September, Oregon does not appear on the team’s schedule, a huge advantage in a Pac-12 South race that could be extremely tight. If Kelly can keep his mind off of drag racing and on the routes of his receivers on Nov. 23 in Pasadena, the Sun Devils could earn a shot at their first Rose Bowl Game since 1997.
Chris Shaw, The Daily Evergreen, Washington State: At the risk of being a homer, the Washington State Cougars are the dark horse and underdog this season in the conference. They were at the bottom of the Pac-12 last season, saved from last place only because of a stronger preseason than Colorado had. Before that, the Cougars resided in the depths of the conference and have formed a reputation for losing. However, quarterback Connor Halliday has a year of experience with head coach Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense, which will work out some of the kinks Halliday experienced last season. Also, a slew of returning receivers will assist Halliday in the Air Raid, giving the offense the chemistry it might have lacked last year. If the Cougars can continue to make big plays on defense and can turn offensive possessions into touchdowns rather than field goals or worse, interceptions, Washington State has a chance to make an impact as early as this season. If they should run into trouble with the passing game though, they did manage to land four-star recruit Tyler Bruggman to step in if needed.
Beth Maiman, The Daily Emerald, Oregon: Arizona State. The Sun Devils return a handful of starters for the 2013 season. Last year, Arizona State was competitive against ranked Pac-12 teams and finished the season on a high note beating ranked Arizona and taking home a bowl win against Navy.
3) How many Pac-12 teams do you see finishing in the Top 25 at the season’s end?
Luke Della, The Daily Wildcat, UA: I see five Pac-12 teams finishing in the top 25: Oregon, Stanford, Arizona, Arizona State and USC. UCLA and Oregon State just out the outside, and if I’m feeling optimistic, maybe UCLA will find a way into the mix to make six teams.
Riley McAtee, The Daily Californian, Cal: Only three: Oregon, Stanford, and Washington. I would be shocked if Oregon or Stanford dropped out, (but then again, we watched that happen to USC last year) and I think that third slot could be filled by Washington, Oregon State, UCLA or Arizona State. I think the initial Coaches Poll jumped the gun by putting five Pac-12 teams in the top 25. It will be fewer than that when all is said and done, but I can’t decide on exactly who will make it.
Josh Nacion, The State Press, ASU: There were four teams ranked toward the end of the season in week 15, so with a deeper and better Pac-12 this season, five will probably get in. Oregon and Stanford will more than likely be in the Top 10, and ASU, UCLA and Oregon State will make the cut as well. It’s possible you could swap any of those three teams with USC or Washington as well.
4) Can a Pac-12 team end the SEC’s reign of winning national championships this season?
Nick Selbe, The Daily Trojan, USC: I think the Pac-12 is the top opponent to the SEC this season. Oregon and Stanford should (and probably are) expecting to contend for a national championship this season, and I believe both of those teams are good enough to top whoever wins the SEC. A nine-game conference schedule means there is no margin for error for a Pac-12 team to make it to the top two in the BCS though, so whoever wins the conference will have to do so with no more than one loss to have any chance at getting to the title game.
Thuc Nhi Nguyen, The Daily, Washington: Not this time. Maybe when the playoff system comes in, but for now, Alabama is still Alabama. It’s the sexy thing to change to an up-tempo, high-octane offense, but through it all, Nick Saban is chilling down in Tuscaloosa in his straw sun hat with his conventional pro-style offense shining up his championship trophies and making room for another.
Chris Shaw, The Daily Evergreen, Washington State: Even with their recruiting violations, the Oregon Ducks still are bowl-eligible this year, which gives the Pac-12 a glimmer of hope for overthrowing an SEC team in the national championship. The Ducks will still draw top talent and even without Chip Kelly, the system of speed that is taught at the school will remain in place. However, the Ducks are only one team and even though they have been able to score quickly in the past, they must keep pace with the always-evolving SEC teams and their ability to score just as easily and to shut down offenses when necessary. The Ducks just won’t have SEC competition in the Pac-12 and therefore, they might get to the national championship, but they still could be shocked once they get there.
5) Describe the Pac-12/DirecTV standoff in one word, and which side do you believe should soften its stance?
Thuc Nhi Nguyen, The Daily, Washington: I prefer to describe my feuds in online acronyms, so I’ll use “LOL.” The fact that the conference is actually coming out with anti-DirecTV ads is hilarious to me, and I don’t care who softens their stance as long as we get more petty ad campaigns.
Beth Maiman, The Daily Emerald, Oregon: Unfortunate. For those lucky enough to experience DirecTV’s NFL Sunday Ticket from the comfort of their own living room, giving up every single NFL game for a mediocre Pac-12 game seems just absurd. Pac-12 Network is asking for big money and Direct TV has agreed to offer the channel to those willing to pay. However, one thing certain about college sports is the presence of loyal fans. Therefore, Pac-12 Network should accept DirectTV’s offer of allowing customers to buy the channel or specific games.
Riley McAtee, The Daily Californian, Cal: Ridiculous. There is so much money to be made by a TV deal that I can’t believe we are going into a second year without the Pac-12 Networks on DirecTV. I’m no expert on the negotiations, but I think the best strategy would be for the Pac-12 to lower its price for carrying the Pac-12 network, and then after a few years and an established fan base should try to cash in. At any rate, the fact that no deal has been reached is hurting everyone. The Pac-12, DirecTV, the fans, the players, everyone. Just get it done already.
Reach the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @Josh_Nacion