The 2014 football season is shaping up to be one of the biggest in not only ASU’s recent history but in the Pac-12 as a whole.
The Conference of Champions hasn’t lived up to the name in college football, despite consistently being one of the sport’s deepest, most talented conferences. It had only three championship game appearances in the BCS era, with its only win being the vacated 2005 championship won by USC.
The State Press reached out to the other 11 student newspapers in the Pac-12 to get their thoughts on the upcoming season. Five have responded: The Daily Californian (Cal Bears), the Daily Bruin (UCLA Bruins), The Daily Utah Chronicle (Utah Utes), The Daily Emerald (Oregon Ducks) and the CU Independent (Colorado Buffaloes).
1. What can we expect from your team this season?
Cal: Not much to be hopeful for in beautiful Berkeley, California. Pretty much everything that could’ve gone wrong last year did, resulting in a 1-11 record with zero wins over FBS opponents and likely the worst defense in the country. The return of a few key parts and pure regression to the mean will make this team better in 2014, but even if you squint hard, it’s tough to see the Bears winning more than three or four games. If they emerge from September winless, there’s a real chance this team pulls a 2008 Washington Huskies. - Michael Rosen
Utah: Something you can expect from Utah this season is hard-nosed football. After showing the rest of the conference that we can hang with any team in 2013, the Utes are ready to prove they belong in the conference of champions. Unfortunately, Utah has one of the hardest schedules in the country this season, and it is hard for me to see a winning season, but don’t be surprised if this Ute squad gives every team it faces a run for its money. - Griffin Adams
UCLA: With quarterback Brett Hundley at the helm, it’s easy to define UCLA by its offense. But throughout fall camp, it was UCLA’s defense that shined. The Bruins’ secondary routinely made life difficult for Hundley. Its linebackers — led by sophomore Myles Jack and redshirt senior Eric Kendricks — are just as disruptive as last year, and its defensive line is becoming increasingly physical. UCLA will be a tough team to score on and more defensively-oriented than it gets credit for. – Kevin Bowman
Colorado: Baby steps. Head coach Mike MacIntyre restored confidence to Colorado in his first season — the Buffaloes improved by three games, played competitively against mid-tier Pac-12 teams, and lost to the conference’s top-shelf squads by 20 points instead of 40. The next hurdle is a .500 record and a bowl berth, which is a realistic possibility this year. Colorado plays three teams that finished 1-11 last season, and it dodged Stanford on the schedule. - Thomas Wood
Oregon: Well, the script looks redundant for Oregon this upcoming season, but second-year head coach Mark Helfrich has no problem with that. Having Marcus Mariota behind center and healthy should mean that both the offense and defense will be able to feed off his presence and control games at the pace it did the first seven weeks of 2013. With an inexperienced group of wideouts, the offense does have a definitive question mark heading into Week 1, but the talent and speed still exists everywhere you look. We’ll also get to find out a lot more about this team a lot earlier than we’ve been prone to seeing with their Sept. 6 matchup versus No. 8 Michigan State. - Justin Wise
2. Name a player or players that we don’t know now but will by the end of the season.
Cal: Unless you’re a fan of sadness, I wouldn’t expect you to know the names of any current Cal players — save for maybe quarterback Jared Goff — so I’ll take this as an opportunity to show some love to Bryce Treggs and Chris Harper, the Bears’ duo of junior receivers. The two guys will catch your attention by the virtue of the Cal offense design, racking up yards and catches by the bucketful, but Treggs and Harper are not just mere products of a system. Both possess top-end speed and NFL-quality smoothness in their route running. If the Bears shock the world and make a bowl game, it’ll be because these two became two of the better players in the conference. - Michael Rosen
Utah: Junior wide receiver Kenneth Scott. This guy is extremely well known in the Salt Lake City area, and maybe even a little bit outside of it, but Scott has the potential to break out this season. After seeing his season go down the drain with an injury in week one last year, Scott is coming back with extra motivation, lining up on the other side of the Utes star receiver, senior Dres Anderson. Dres willl get most of the attention of defenses, but Scott will be an end zone threat every time. - Griffin Adams
UCLA: Junior cornerback Fabian Moreau could very well end up an All-American — at least that’s what coach Jim Mora thinks — but he’s gotten little, if any, recognition from the various preseason watch lists. Moreau switched to corner from running back two years ago, started last year and looked like one of the premier Pac-12 defensive backs in UCLA’s fall camp. – Kevin Bowman
Colorado: Keep an eye on Shay Fields, the freshman wide receiver from Bellflower, California. Landing the four-star prospect, who also drew interest from USC and Cal, was the coup of MacIntyre’s second recruiting class. Fields will be called upon immediately to replace Paul Richardson, the dynamic burner who is now catching passes from Russell Wilson. Fields is a player in the same mold as Richardson — small, slender and fast as hell. - Thomas Wood
Oregon: True freshman running back Royce Freeman seems to have all the intangibles that will translate into a burst onto the national scene. Week after week a new player or coach is singing their praises about the four-star recruit who is listed at 6-foot, 229-pounds. Although Freeman joins a crowded backfield including the only 1,000-yard returning rusher in Byron Marshall, it seems wise to think that the freshman will turn quite a few heads outside of Oregon this upcoming season. - Justin Wise
3. What’s the make-it-or-break-it key to your season?
Cal: It’s gotta be winning the Sacramento State game. Best chance at a win all year, have to take it where you can get it. Other than that, I’d say it’s winning one against Northwestern, Colorado and UA, all of whom they play in either August or September. After this stretch of relatively weak opponents, Cal launches into perhaps the toughest stretch of schedule in the country, so it’s going to be imperative for them to emerge from this slate with at least a couple of wins. - Michael Rosen
Utah: Finishing games. Utah fans hold their breath every time a close game comes down to the wire for the Utes, as they always seem to blow it in the waning seconds. This year, if the team wants to make it back to the postseason, it needs to learn how to finish off Pac-12 opponents. - Griffin Adams
UCLA: UCLA’s biggest problem in recent years has been dealing with physical front lines. The team struggled against Stanford and ASU last year partly for that reason. The Bruins seem to have improved both their offensive and defensive lines in the offseason, but staying healthy and maintaining consistency there will be key for them to avoid losing to some lower-ranked teams. – Kevin Bowman
Colorado: Beating mediocre teams. That is glaringly obvious and hopelessly pathetic, but it parallels Colorado’s need to improve in increments. The Buffs haven’t beaten a conference opponent with a winning record since 2011. They were competitive, at least initially, against the Pac-12′s mid-tier teams last year. Now they must win those games. Colorado can’t compete with Stanford, Oregon and UCLA before it can beat UA, Oregon State and Utah. - Thomas Wood
Oregon: The answer lies in the way Oregon finished its last season. Despite Mariota not missing a start, his health proved to create marginal differences in the way Oregon controlled the tempo of every game they played in. In the Ducks’ final four regular season games, Mariota and Co. did not look the same and the defense’s size disadvantages in the trenches became exposed. If Mariota stays healthy, the team has every reason for a maximized outlook this season. - Justin Wise
The State Press also asked each reporter to fill out a preseason ballot of the Pac-12 standings, offensive player of the year and defensive player of the year. I also voted representing The State Press, resulting in a total of six ballots cast. Here are the results:
1. Oregon Ducks (five first-place votes)
2. Stanford Cardinal (one first-place vote)
3. Washington Huskies
4. Oregon State Beavers
5. Washington State Cougars
6. California Golden Bears
1. UCLA Bruins (four first-place votes)
2. USC Trojans (one first-place vote)
3. ASU Sun Devils (one first-place vote)
4. UA Wildcats
5. Utah Utes
6. Colorado Buffaloes
Offensive Player of the Year:
1. Marcus Mariota, quarterback, Oregon (five first-place votes)
2. Brett Hundley, quarterback, UCLA (one first-place vote)
3. Sean Mannion, quarterback, Oregon State
Also receiving votes: Taylor Kelly, quarterback, ASU; D.J. Foster, running back, ASU; Jaelen Strong, wide receiver, ASU; Kevin Hogan, quarterback, Stanford; Dres Anderson, wide receiver, Utah
Defensive Player of the Year:
1. Myles Jack, linebacker, UCLA (four first-place votes)
2. Shaq Thompson, linebacker, Washington (two first-place votes)
3. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, cornerback, Oregon
Also receiving votes: Addison Gillam, linebacker, Colorado; Leonard Williams, defensive end, USC; Marcus Peters, cornerback, Washington
Reach the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @EvanWebeck