Pac-12 Media Days 2014 Preview, Part 2

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Take Two. Pac-12 media days is pluralized, joining the rest of the Power 5 conferences with a multiple-day event to kickoff the season.

Check out part 1 of the Pac-12 media days preview here.

PAC-12 MEDIA DAYS LINEUP: THURSDAY, JULY 24

9 a.m.: Pac-12 Networks President Lydia Murphy-Stephans

A barometer of the current college football landscape? Pac-12 Networks president Lydia Murphy-Stephans may face more scrutiny at Pac-12 media days than any head coach or player.

With the SEC Network building to an impressive rollout next month, the pressure is on for Pac-12 Networks to get into more homes. That means solving the impasse the conference has with DirecTV, the major remaining holdover.

The Pac-12 has fared admirably, brokering deals with Dish Network, Cox, Time Warner and AT&T U-verse. Still, the DirecTV domino would be a big one to fall. But don’t expect any such announcement at Pac-12 media days.

9:30: Arizona State
Todd Graham, quarterback Taylor Kelly, offensive lineman Jamil Douglas

Todd Graham made no bones about Arizona State’s goals in 2013. The Sun Devils were after a Rose Bowl bid, and came one win away from accomplishing it.

Aspirations are not as clear this summer, in part because of the substantial turnover Arizona State faces on defense. That’s reflected in Graham’s choices for Pac-12 media days, as he’s the only coach in the league bringing two offensive players to Hollywood.

Arizona State may have to put up a lot of points to defend its Pac-12 South crown, but quarterback Taylor Kelly is quite capable of leading the Sun Devils to some staggering offensive output. Paired with dual-threat rush-and-receiving threat D.J. Foster and one of the best wide receivers in the nation, Jaelen Strong, Kelly is surrounded by the playmakers necessary to have offensive coordinator Mike Norvell’s scheme firing on all cylinders.

But Graham is the only coach bringing two offensive players to Pac-12 media days, which is indicative of the where the Sun Devils come into the year on that side of the ball: unknown.

Two-time Pac-12 Defensive of the Player Will Sutton, havoc-wreaking linebacker Carl Bradford and a stellar secondary of Osahon Irabor, Robert Nelson and Alden Darby were integral in the Sun Devils’ run to the 2013 Pac-12 Championship Game. All are gone.

10:10: Oregon State

Mike Riley, quarterback Sean Mannion, linebacker Michael Doctor

Oregon State has an interesting way of exceeding expectations in years that media overlooks the Beavers. But last season, Oregon State opened the campaign ranked in the Top 25 only to lose to FCS Eastern Washington Week 1 and suffer a five-game losing streak in Pac-12 play.

The new season is a return of middling expectations, so precedent suggests this is a dangerous team in the Pac-12 North. With four-year starting quarterback Sean Mannion back from setting the Pac-12’s single-season passing record, the Beavers are certainly formidable in the air.

But the big question at Pac-12 media days for the always congenial Mike Riley is how his offseason hire of NFL-tenured offensive coordinator John Garrett will remedy the Beavers’ run-game woes? Mannion was oftentimes painted into a corner by Oregon State’s No. 118-ranked rush offense.

10:50: UCLA

Jim Mora, quarterback Brett Hundley, linebacker Eric Kendricks

Perhaps the most anticipated session of Pac-12 media days 2014 is that of preseason Top 10 UCLA.

The Bruins are coming off their best finish since 2005, return more starters than any team in the Pac-12, including Heisman Trophy candidate Brett Hundley, and are embracing championship expectations.

There’s plenty to like about the Bruins’ championship chances in the coming season, including Hundley and the Eric Kendricks-led front seven on defense. But UCLA certainly has questions: who will shoulder the burden of the run game? How has the offensive line matured? What has the team done to cut down on penalties, a major problem for the Bruins each of the last two seasons?

Pac-12 media days in Hollywood makes for a fitting launch point for UCLA’s season, as Pac-12 Networks will go inside the program throughout the fall for Season 2 of the documentary series The Drive.

11:30: Washington
Chris Petersen, offensive tackle Ben Riva, linebacker/defensive end Hau’oli Kikaha

Long anticipated but seemingly more unrealistic with each passing year, Chris Petersen is now appearing at Pac-12 media days. The man who built Boise State from a solid foundation to unparalleled heights left the Broncos are eight seasons, in that time amassing the best record of any active coach.

The No. 1 question facing Petersen is how his success in the WAC and Mountain West will translate to the Pac-12. In the immediate future, the outlook is quite favorable. Petersen inherits a talented Washington team coming off the program’s best finish in 12 years.

Perhaps the most electrifying of Petersen’s inherited Huskies is Hau’oli Kikaha. One could make a rather compelling case for Washington’s hybrid linebacker and defensive end as being the most versatile defender in the conference.

He can blitz off the edge, line up with a hand on the ground and go head-to-head with a beefy interior lineman and give chase to opposing ball-carriers; and he does them all equally effectively.

Petersen’s Boise State teams were built on great play up front, so it’s small wonder his two choices for his first Pac-12 media days are a hard-nosed defensive player and offensive lineman.

12:10: Stanford
David Shaw, quarterback Kevin Hogan, safety Jordan Richards

Two-time defending Pac-12 champion Stanford is known for defying the odds, but head coach David Shaw faces an especially tall task in his fourth year coaching his alma mater.

Stanford lost defensive coordinator Derek Mason to the head coaching position at Vanderbilt in the offseason, leaving Lance Anderson in charge of the Cardinal’s defining trait each of the last two seasons. Mason’s game plan helped Stanford twice accomplish something few others in the last half-decade of Pac-12 play were able: slow Oregon’s offense.

Safety Jordan Richards is among those taking the lead in a new-look unit that must replace Shayne Skov, Ed Reynolds and Trent Murphy, three of the Pac-12’s top individual talents in recent years.

Pac-12 media days attendee and third-year starting quarterback Kevin Hogan is among the conference’s more interesting wild cards. He’s been dynamite at times, including in the Cardinal’s 35-14 rout of Arizona State in last December’s Pac-12 Championship Game.

Hogan’s struggled at other times, occasionally suffering from red-zone failures.

With Tyler Gaffney gone from the backfield and the receiving corps returning Ty Montgomery and Devon Cajuste, Stanford needs Hogan to take the next step in 2014 if the Cardinal are to compete for a third straight conference championship.

Stanford must also navigate perhaps the most treacherous schedule in the Pac-12, with trips to UCLA and Arizona State out of division; Oregon and Washington on the road in the North; and a nonconference visit to Notre Dame midway through the season.

12:50: Colorado

Mike MacIntyre, wide receiver Nelson Spruce, defensive tackle Juda Parker

In Mike MacIntyre’s one season as head coach at Colorado, the Buffs are gaining much-needed confidence. But confidence only goes so far in the top-to-bottom competitive Pac-12.

Last year’s 4-8 finish was Colorado’s best since joining the conference in 2011, but just one win came in Pac-12 play. MacIntyre still has a long way to go before the Buffs are anywhere approaching the success the program enjoyed in the 1990s into the early 2000s.