A year ago today at dinnertime, the Pac-12 sent shockwaves of joy through every corner of the conference: controversial commissioner Larry Scott announced he was stepping down.
Optimism immediately sprung up, particularly for the sagging football product, but progress was slow. The 2021 season brought another year without a playoff spot, another stunning losing streak and another forgettable playoff.
On the anniversary of the stunning news from San Francisco, the Hotline opted against plowed ground and instead decided to offer a piece of counter-programming:
12 reasons Pac-12 football fans should be excited about the 2022 season.
For unparalleled insight, we reached out to Pac-12 Networks analyst Yogi Roth, who lives, breathes, dines and nibbles on Pac-12 football.
Roth’s list covers set pieces that are ideal for casual observers and depth chart details that hardcore fans will appreciate.
Here we are …
1. Close games and strong cultures
Roth: “I call it transfer portal impact versus player development impact versus NIL (name, image and likeness) impact. With the portal, do you reorganize your roster or are you just selective with one or two guys? Or if you have a young team, are you still growing it and not using the portal much? Then there’s NIL and how coaches deal with it.
“The games will be close in this league, and the culture will be important. Culture wins in one-score games and that’s often what Pac-12 football is all about. Discipline and culture win games by a score. And culture has a drop-down menu in today’s college football: it’s the gate, NIL, the locker room, and how you guys develop.
“I look forward to learning how each program handles these aspects.”
2. Utah: The next step?
Roth: “I’m so excited to see if the Utes can start the season the way they’re finishing it.
“I think they have the best offensive line in the country at QB/RB/TE with (quarterback) Cam Rising, (running back) Tavion Thomas and (tight end) Brant Kuithe. The defense is loaded and the consistency of the coaching staff is incredible.
“It’s the window for them – it’s their league based on what they did last year, what they’re coming back to and their culture. For me, they’re easily top 10 and probably top seven or top eight. They’re going to be everybody’s (Pac-12) favorite to go to the playoffs. And the schedule is shaping up nicely for them.
“They will be in the mix for whatever they want to accomplish.”
3. Lincoln Riley and the “revision” of the USC list
Roth: “He’s already had an impact on USC’s recruiting, an impact on the broader recruiting landscape, and an impact on USC’s day-to-day approach to its program. It’s been amazing, and that’s all we expected.
“Over the past few years, I really believe that this generation of players only cares about what correct arrived – who just won the Heisman Trophy, who just qualified for the playoffs. He has it all. It’s so fascinating to see all that he brings and how the team reacts. And that roster revamp he talked about on signing day — it’s happening.
4) Are the Pac-12 quarterbacks back?
Roth: “Last season probably wasn’t up to the Pac-12 standard in this position. But I look at 2022 and I see four levels.
“The first tier is Dorian Thompson-Robinson from UCLA, Jayden Daniels from ASU, Tanner McKee from Stanford and Cam Rising from Utah. I would put those four against the top four in any conference. Who is the best in the Big Ten? Who is better in the ACC or the SEC? You see four draft-eligible players who, if they make it to the next step, will be in the quarterback conversion just behind the leading group. These are the real guys.
“Then the second tier is Oregon State, which is TBD with two quarterbacks starting in Chance Nolan and Tristan Gebbia; add the big arm of Ben Gulbranson and this team is set up to succeed at QB.
“The third tier is the teams with transfer competition against the guys on the roster. Arizona is in that group with Jayden from Laura coming up. Cal with Jack Plummer and Oregon with Bo Nix and Washington with Michel Penix and Washington State with Cam Ward and USC if they get Caleb Williams. These competitions are going to be fierce and each team will move the ball and challenge defenses with their respective starter.
“Tier four is Colorado, on its own, with Brendon Lewis and JT Shrout, and extremely talented rookie Owen McCown coming in this summer. With those QBs, the Buffs could have the most intriguing quarterback battle of the spring with Oregon.
“Bottom line, this position is going to perform at a high level in 2022.”
5) Oregon’s top seven under Dan Lanning
Roth: “(Linebacker) Noah Sewell is the best defensive player in the league, and I think he’ll be in the top 10. He has a chance to be “that guy”. And then you have Brandon Dorlus and Mase Funa and a healthy Justin Flowe. Now you bring in Dan Lanning, who just won a national championship (as Georgia’s defensive coordinator).
“I can’t wait to see them practice, how they participate in individual exercises and team exercises. Outside of Los Angeles, this is the first place I go. Defense has a chance to be special.
“With what Mario Cristobal left behind, this team is built to compete for the Pac-12 title and the playoffs this year.”
6) Stanford: Towards a rebound season?
Roth: “I will not accept their record (3-9) as a reality. The culture is too strong. In Michael Wilson and Tanner McKee, they have the best receiver-quarterback duo in the conference to date. And they had the best (recruitment) class in the league based on the early signing period.
“I can’t wait to see what they do with the defensive front and the maturation of their offensive line. They have weapons, their program is extremely motivated after what happened last fall, and they have one of the best coaches in the country in the person of David Shaw.
7) The chaos of the northern division
Roth: “Everyone fought. Stanford beat Oregon and Oregon beat WSU and WSU beat Oregon State and Oregon State beat Washington and Washington beat Cal and Cal beat Stanford.
“That’s why I come back to number 1 on this list: your culture and your ability to win close matches will be important.
“Last year was the funniest call party I’ve ever had. Part of that was that we (the Pac-12 networks) only aired one game in 2020, and one part was the competition and the way the games have gone in the last few discs. I think the North is still like that this year.
8) Washington: Better than people think
Roth: “They’re not really in the discussion because they’ve fallen so far in 2021. But I’m a huge fan of Kalen DeBoer and the coaching staff and the kind of football they play when I watched them at Fresno State .
“The Huskies are going to move the ball down the field. And the players have fallen in love with what they think they can do with this staff. Keep an eye out for their wide releases. Jalen McMillan and Rome Odunze have a chance to all be Pac-12 players.
9) Second and Third Year Player Development
Roth: “Among the players I’m looking forward to seeing this spring is ASU linebacker Eric Gentry – I think he has the ability to play eight or 10 years in the NFL if he continues to develop. as expected; UCLA leads Laiatu Latu (a transfer from Washington), who had a potential first-round pick before injury; Cal’s Brett Johnson, who was my best inside lineman in the league (before an off-court accident); Washington linebacker Sav’ell Smalls; Oregon State tight end Luke Musgrave; USC wide receiver Kyle Ford, who is finally healthy, and Korey Foreman; Oregon cornerback Dontae Manning and linebacker Justin Flowe; Stanford wide receiver John Humphreys; Utah linebacker Ethan Calvert and corner Clark Phillips.
“And there are so many more. This league is full of young talent, some proven and some in development, and this spring will be important for all of those players.
10) Arizona coach Jedd Fisch’s freshman class
Roth: “How is he going to manage the roster and create a competitive cauldron? It’s the best (incoming) class in the league when you combine rookies and transfers so far, and they only won one game last year.
“All these guys are expecting to play and most are already on campus. Can they have a training atmosphere as competitive as anything they will face on Saturday? He creates this. You can see it, and I can’t wait to visit this spring.
11) New offensive and defensive coordinators
Roth: “We know there are new guys on both sides for the four teams that have new head coaches (Washington, WSU, USC and Oregon). But what about other slot machines?
“Who is UCLA going to hire as a defensive coordinator? How is Johnny Nansen in Arizona? What about Trent Bray at Oregon State? And on the offensive side, Mike Sanford in Colorado?
“I think they each bring their own style, and that will reflect in their players. This spring is huge for each of them to teach their team the basic pattern and build confidence ahead of the offseason for practices. led by players.
12) NFL Reality
Roth: “It’s more about the spring than the season. I call it NFL reality versus lazy narrative. Watch what players want. They are all about the college football playoffs and the league – the NFL. You can play in the Pac-12 and still get into the NFL. It’s third in the number of former players on NFL playoff rosters, behind only the SEC and the Big Ten (which have two other teams).
“I’m intrigued by where Kayvon Thibodeaux (Oregon edge rusher) will be drafted. I don’t know if he’s a lock for No. 1 and I’m sure there will be a lot of dialogue around his play movie. I think Trent McDuffie (Washington) could be the No. 1 cornerback 1 taken. Devin Lloyd (Utah) could be the No. 1 linebacker picked, and Drake London (USC) could be the best player left out. These guys are all going to get on the draft boards because there are so many positive things to talk about with each of them.
“There is a backlog of players because of 2020 and the bonus (eligibility) year, but this could be the most players drafted in Pac-12 history. don’t go to the league since the Pac-12 is just lazy and, simply put, incorrect.
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