Pac-12 Media Days 2014 Preview, Part 1

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Hollywood is home big and often shattered dreams, but nowhere do the stars who find success shine brighter. Thus, Hollywood is a fitting backdrop for the unofficial beginning of the college football season, with Pac-12 media days kicking off Wednesday at Paramount Studios.

The conference split the event into two days after years of showcasing all its members on a single day. The move is long overdue with every other Power 5 league spreading its event over multiple days.

The Pac-12 is closing in on the SEC in gridiron prowess, yet the Southeastern Conference dominates this time with an absurd weeklong media days. The Pac-12’s two days are nothing in comparison–and that’s not a bad thing.

The College Football Huddle is providing updates throughout both days of Pac-12 media days, so stay tuned. In the meantime, below is the complete Day 1 schedule:

PAC-12 MEDIA DAYS LINEUP

Wednesday, July 23
Times are PDT

9 a.m.: Commissioner Larry Scott

Since Larry Scott’s hire in 2009:

• the Pac-10 expanded to 12;

• the conference brokered a record-setting television deal with ESPN and Fox;

• independently owned Pac-12 Networks launched;

• every conference member either completed or has planned major facility renovations, using TV revenue;

• 2013 was the most collectively successful year in conference history, with six teams ranked in the final AP Top 25 and nine members appearing in bowl games.

Surely all the success the Pac-12 has enjoyed in Scott’s tenure will be discussed in his opening address, as well as what’s still to come for the conference in the College Football Playoff era.

9:30: Arizona
Rich Rodriguez, wide receiver Austin Hill, safety Jared Tevis

Last July, Rich Rodriguez joked even if he could reporters who would start at quarterback come Week 1, he wouldn’t. Rodriguez will undoubtedly be peppered with the same line of questioning this year while replacing B.J. Denker, who a year ago replaced Matt Scott.

Rodriguez won’t show his hand on the competition, but Pac-12 media days attendee Austin Hill is one reason the next quarterback faces an easy transition. Hill returns from missing the 2013 season to join one of the best receiving corps in the nation.

The passing game may have to buoy the offense while the Wildcats find a replacement for All-American running back Ka’Deem Carey. While the offense finds its identity, three-year starter Jared Tevis and the defense will carry a considerable burden–quite the transition from Rodriguez’s first year, when Arizona’s defense was among the worst in the Pac-12.

10:10: Cal
Sonny Dykes, quarterback Jared Goff, cornerback Stefan McClure

Sonny Dykes’ first season as head coach couldn’t have gone much worse. The Golden Bears were 1-11 without a win against Bowl Subdivision competition, and their defense ranked No. 124 of 125 teams in the FBS.

To that end, Dykes’ Pac-12 media days address could be decidedly positive. After all, it can’t really get any worse, can it?

Don’t bet on it. Quarterback Jared Goff showed flashes of brilliance in his debut season. Tabbing him for media days suggests Dykes has quite a bit of faith in the sophomore to represent the program in a pivotal year.

10:50: USC
Steve Sarkisian, quarterback Cody Kessler, defensive lineman Leonard Williams

USC has an uncanny knack for dominating the spotlight at Pac-12 media days. In 2012, the Trojans were eligible for a bowl game for the first time in two years and a No. 1 ranking was forthcoming. And, that morning of Pac-12 media day 2012, Penn State running back Silas Redd was rumored to be interested in a transfer.

Head coach Lane Kiffin embraced a top ranking and made a very transparent recruiting pitch to Redd without violating NCAA rules, lamenting his roster’s running back situation–despite USC returning 1,000-plus-yard rusher Curtis McNeal.

But Pac-12 media day 2012 was just about the peak of the Trojans’ historically disappointing season, and a year ago at media day, Kiffin had just received the dreaded vote of confidence from athletic director Pat Haden. Media showered Kiffin with questions about his future, which prompted several replies of “it is what it is.”

What it was two months later: Kiffin was fired after a 3-2 start and a much-discussed coaching search ensued. Steve Sarkisian is the new head coach, making the in-conference move from Washington. His return to USC is sure to command plenty of attention at 2014 Pac-12 media days.

Among the many questions sure to be repeated: How committed is Sarkisian to Cody Kessler at quarterback? Despite Kessler’s admirable performance down the stretch of 2013, excitement for redshirt freshman Max Browne persists. Sarkisian’s choice of Kessler as one of two media day representatives is a pretty bold declaration on the state of any perceived quarterback competition.

11:30: Oregon

Mark Helfrich, quarterback Marcus Mariota, linebacker Derrick Malone

Since USC’s run of seven straight conference championships ended, Oregon moved into the forefront of the conference. The Ducks have been the face of the Pac-12 the last half-decade, winning three conference championships.

But a two-year drought punctuated with late-season defeats kept Oregon out of the national title scene–a place the Ducks figure to be in 2014 with Marcus Mariota leading one of the most veteran lineups in the Pac-12.

Mariota is attending his second consecutive Pac-12 media days. Though statistically he’s been favorably comparable to Heisman Trophy winners Johnny Manziel and Jameis Winston, Mariota’s media day appearance won’t attract a circus as Manziel did to SEC media days a year ago, or heavy criticism as Winston has at ACC Kickoff 2014.

Mariota is the anti-star. That may not make for the most exciting media days experience, but Oregon’s championship aspirations have a reliable captain guiding the ship. The offense has never really been a question, though.

Derrick Malone leads a defense that must prove its championship credentials after giving up huge rushing performances from Tyler Gaffney and Ka’Deem Carey in each of the Ducks’ 2013 losses.

Malone took the lead in downplaying the “We Want Bama” talk of a year ago. In the coming season, he’ll help set the tone for the Ducks in their pursuit of actually getting the Crimson Tide in a much-anticipated Playoff matchup.

12:10: Washington State

(Mike Leach, quarterback Connor Halliday, linebacker Darryl Monroe)

Mike Leach’s interests away from the football field always elicit questions. And frankly, Leach is more likely to go in-depth when discussing the guerrilla warfare tactics of Geronimo than he is specifics of his team.

Leach likes to play his hand close to the chest, but it’s no secret that Connor Halliday will throw. A lot. Halliday set a conference record for attempts in a single game last year, and scored six touchdowns in the Cougars’ New Mexico Bowl loss to Colorado State.

The New Mexico Bowl was a bittersweet finish for Leach’s second season at Washington State–sweet in that it marked the Cougars’ first postseason appearance in a decade, but bitter that it ended

When the wound was still fresh, Leach was not particularly enchanted with the media in the Land of Enchantment.

Perhaps seven months have eased the coach’s sentiment.

12:50: Utah

Kyle Whittingham, wide receiver Dres Anderson, defensive end Nate Orchard

Utah reached a bowl game in each of Kyle Whittingham’s first seven seasons, including the Sun Bowl in the Utes first year as Pac-12 members. But in each of the past two campaigns, Utah has finished 5-7, and the program has yet to finish on the right side of the .500 mark since coming to the conference.

Whittingham may feel pressure to deliver where the past two Utah teams failed. The good news: the Utes have a stable quarterback situation on the two-deep depth chart, which they haven’t in recent years. More good news: either Travis Wilson or Kendal Thompson will be passing to Dres Anderson, one of the best wide receivers in the Pac-12.

Bad news: Utah plays a taxing schedule that includes nonconference dates against Michigan and Fresno State, and the Utes draw both Stanford and Oregon out of the North.