Pac-12 Media Day has arrived in Las Vegas.
The big discussion is going to be a media deal, even though reports have said that isn’t happening.
So, let's focus on all the big storylines, in what should be a fascinating conference this season.
Is USC more than their offense this season?
USC was the preseason pick to win the league, and a big reason is that they should again have one of the best offenses in the country. That's what happens when you have the Heisman Trophy winner, Caleb Williams, returning.
This year, he does have new faces around him though. The backfield will be by committee with both Austin Jones and South Carolina transfer MarShawn Lloyd splitting carries. Raleek Brown will be utilized in the backfield or the slot and five-star tight end Duce Robinson and Arizona transfer Dorian Singer both come in as potentially big targets for the Trojans to utilize as a receiver. The offensive line is a bit concerning, but they added a few transfers to help there. T
he biggest question is what the defense can do to recover from a bad year last year. They stood out with the best turnover margin in the country but were eighth worst nationally in yards per play allowed and 94th in scoring defense. Bear Alexander is a big transfer that comes in to help on the defensive line from Georgia, and Anthony Lucas is a former five-star who began his career at Texas A&M.
The transfers should help, but the defense will be a massive question mark until the season kicks off. That will be the difference between USC being good and them being playoff good.
Is Washington ready for that next step?
Washington was one of the biggest surprises last year in college football and now this year most of the team comes back from last year, especially from the offense.
Every important member of Washington’s offense is back after the offense was the second best in the country in total yards per game at 515.8. Michael Penix Jr. is back after finishing last year as the second leading passer in the country at 4,641 passing yards. Rome Odunze and Jalen McMillan are back in the receiving corps, and both had over 1,000 receiving yards. Misssissippi State transfer Dillon Johnson and Germie Bernard both come in for help at receiver and running back. The offensive line is a concern because they need to replace three starters.
The defense needs to play better after not being great last year. Bralen Trice is back off the edge and is one of the best pass rushers in the country. Zion Tupuola-Fetui and Tuli Letuligasenoa are also big factors on the defensive line. The Huskies need to get better against the pass after finishing 100th last year against it. Jabbar Muhammad is a big transfer pickup at cornerback and Ralen Goforth at linebacker too.
What does Oregon do as an encore?
After losing to Georgia in the opener last year Oregon bounced back nice, entering November with an inside track at the College Football Playoff. Two losses in the final month ruined those dreams, but the Ducks have quite a bit returning this year.
Bo Nix is back at quarterback after he had a great season last year before getting injured late in the season against Washington. Bucky Irving and Noah Whittington are back in the running backfield after combining for 1,837 rushing yards last season. They also added some pieces in the transfer portal with former Alabama wide receiver Traeshon Holden and Tez Johnson, an adopted brother of Nix (yes, that's a real thing) in the receiving corps. Troy Franklin and Terrance Ferguson are also back, with Franklin being the best receiver on the team.
Like on offense, Oregon went to work on improving the defense in the transfer portal. Jestin Jacobs comes over as a linebacker from Iowa, Khyree Jackson at cornerback from Alabama, and Jordan Burch came over as a pass rusher in the front seven from South Carolina. Brandon Dorlus and Casey Rogers are also key returners for the Ducks on defense.
Oregon is a team with as much top-to-bottom talent as anyone in the conference, but have a tough schedule which includes Utah and Washington on the road, plus USC at home.
Is Oregon State really a Pac-12 dark horse?
Johnathan Smith has completely rebuilt this Oregon State team and they basically won 10 games without an average quarterback on their roster. Now, they landed DJ Uiagalelei from the transfer portal, and he’s expected to be one of their best quarterback additions they’ve ever had. Oregon State has a great offensive line still with four of five starters returning. They’ll block for Damien Martinez who comes back after winning Pac-12 Offensive Freshman of the Year. Cal transfer Jermaine Terry II and Jake Overman should be great at tight end, while the receiving corps will be led by Anthony Gould and Silas Bolden.
The defense led the conference in total defense last year at 332.8 total yards per game. Oluwaseyi Omotosho comes over from Wyoming to improve the Beavers pass rush. He joins Cory Stover and John McCartan in the linebacking corps. Isaac Hodgins and James Rawls are also back on the defensive line after having good years. The Beavers also have a great group of safeties with Kitan Oladapo and Alton Julian leading the way there.
Can Utah maintain their consistency?
Utah is trying to win the conference for a third straight season. The Utes are returning 14 starters, but quarterback Cam Rising tore his ACL in the Rose Bowl and is a major question mark at quarterback to start the year. Kyle Whittingham says he'll back in time to start the seaon, but it's definitely a wait and see approach. Ja’Quinden Jackson should be a star this year at running back and Brandon Kuithe is back for one more year at tight end after also suffering a torn ACL. The offensive line should also be very good too.
The defense should be a major plus with Miles Battle as a transfer from Ole Miss, JaTravis Broughton, and Zemaiah Vaughn all ready to pick up the slack at cornerback after Clark Phillips left for the NFL. Sione Vaki and Cole Bishop are also two very good safeties. The front seven is also going to be very good, with Junior Tafuna being a major anchor at defensive tackle.
Utah has all the talent to be back in this spot.
Has Jedd Fisch resurrected Arizona?
Arizona was in the dumps thanks to Kevin Sumlin. Now, in Fisch’s third year there’s finally a glimmer of hope. Jayden de Laura is back at quarterback after having a very good year last season. He threw for 3,685 passing yards and 25 passing touchdowns. The wide receiver duo of Jacob Cowing and Tetairoa McMillan might be the best in the Pac-12 next to Washington. Both are All-conference caliber players. Michael Wiley is back at running back and will split time with Jonah Coleman. They both combined for 1,143 rushing yards. The offensive line should be solid, with Jordan Morgan being one of the best offensive linemen in the country.
The defense went through a much-needed makeover after struggling for the last few years. Jacob Manu is back as a great linebacker and is joined by Justin Flowe from Oregon. The defensive line should be better with Bill Norton coming in to anchor it out of Georgia. Ephesians Prysock is another key piece to watch in the secondary at cornerback too.
What can Colorado do in Deion’s first year?
Deion Sanders won't be at Pac-12 Media Days this week, but no program has had a wilder off-season - adding dozens, literally dozens of new players to the roster. The spotlight is going to be on Deion Sanders in his first year.
Shedeur Sanders comes in as a massive upgrade at quarterback compared to what the Buffaloes have had in recent years, and he is running a new offense under offensive coordinator Sean Lewis, who had one of the most explosive offenses in college football the last few years as head coach at Kent State. Travis Hunter, Xavier Weaver, and Jimmy Horn Jr. all transferred in and will be huge pieces in the receiving corps when needed. The running back room will be by committee with Kentucky transfer Kavosiey Smoke and Houston transfer Alton McCaskill IV being the two major pieces. The offensive line is a question mark with them having three returning starters, but they also added six transfers to come in and help.
The defense also needed a big makeover after it was last in the country in scoring at 44.5 PPG. Charles Kelly is the new defensive coordinator, and he had a lot of success at Alabama. Travis Hunter and Cormani McClain will headline the secondary at cornerback on each side. Trevor Woods is a good safety that is returning and the best of that bunch. Of the new transfers, Shane Cokes, Jordan Domenick, and Jeremiah Brown make up a very good defensive line. They are joined by LaVonta Bentley in the front seven at linebacker in the front seven. Cam’Ron Silmon-Craig and Myles Slusher are also key additions at safety.
No program is more intriguing than the Buffaloes this season.
Follow Jake Faigus on Twitter - @Jake_Faigus