A Pacific-12 Conference football primer, from A to Z.
A is for Air, as in: “The Pac-12 is on the air.” This season, for the first time, all conference games will be televised nationally. The idea, as commissioner Larry Scott likes to say, is to expand the league’s “brand” from coast to coast. The TV package has proven to be lucrative for the schools – $3 billion from ESPN and FOX – but comes at a cost: Saturday afternoon games are becoming as passe as the wishbone offense.
B is for Black Friday, the traditional shopping day after Thanksgiving and the not-so-traditional date for the Apple Cup in Pullman.
C is for the Clink – CenturyLink Field – Washington’s home away from home in 2012. The temporary relocation will save the typical Huskies season-ticket holder from the South Sound 1,329 hours in commuting time.
D is for “DAT,” the nickname of Oregon electro-back De’Anthony Thomas. By the way, the Ducks are scheduled to face Washington State at the Clink on Sept. 29. That blur fans see – or may not see – who figures to give the Cougars fits? That will be DAT.
E is for Edit Function, something UCLA coach Jim L. Mora could use whenever he opens his mouth. Mora can be personable and charming, but he often speaks before he considers the consequences of what he’s about to say.
F is for Four, the number of consecutive outright conference titles Oregon is attempting to win. That hasn’t been accomplished since USC’s 1966-69 Trojans.
G is for the Gildan New Mexico Bowl on Dec. 15. The first game of the bowl season will pit the Pac-12’s No. 7 slotted team against the fourth selection from the Mountain West Conference in Albuquerque.
H is for Heisman. The Pac-12 boasts the preseason front-runner (USC quarterback Matt Barkley), along with a potential finalist (Thomas) and an intriguing long shot in Washington’s Keith Price. If the redshirt junior quarterback leads the Huskies to anything close to an upset at LSU, all bets are off.
I is for Injuries, the only obstacle standing between USC and a berth in the national championship game. Scholarship restrictions mandated by sanctions have left an impressively talented Trojans team without much depth.
J is for the Joy that Cougars fans will share when they watch freshman Gabe Marks line up in a deep-threat passing set with all-conference wide receiver Marquess Wilson. If Marks is as productive in games as he’s been in practice, Wazzu could have the best pass-catching duo in the conference.
K is for Knute Rockne, the immortal Notre Dame coach who envisioned an annual game against USC. The storied intersectional series, which dates back to 1926, remains among the few rivalries that have survived this era of conference reshuffling.
L is for Lionized, which best describes how Andrew Luck was seen at Stanford. The two-time Heisman Trophy runner-up has gone on to the Indianapolis Colts as Peyton Manning’s heir apparent, and his replacement at Stanford? Somebody named Josh Nunes. In 2010, Nunes threw two passes – with one completion, for 7 yards – before sitting out 2011 with a toe injury.
If Nunes takes care of the ball for an offense anchored by a power running attack built around Stepfan Taylor, Cardinal coach David Shaw won’t care if his quarterback averages 7 passing yards a game.
M is for Mediocre, the official adjective of Oregon State football. Sacramento State stunned the Beavers in last season’s opener, and they never recovered en route to a 3-9 finish. Coach Mike Riley has loosed the mood at practice with player-requested music and occasional hijinks, but Riley has lots of work ahead of him if he wants to preserve his legacy.
N is for the NFL draft, which could find Utah’s Star Lotulelei as the No. 1 defensive player selected. Lotulelei, a 6-foot-4, 325-pound tackle, spent his first year out of high school delivering furniture in Salt Lake City.
O is for Open Date, which the Huskies will covet on Sept. 22. It precedes a three-game, season-defining gauntlet of Stanford, Oregon and USC.
P is for Playbooks. Cougars coach Mike Leach doesn’t use them, and finds it hard to believe anybody else would. “Your playbook is your film clips,” Leach said recently. “Written playbooks became a little obsolete when they shifted from film to video.”
Q is for Quid Pro Quo, a legal term – in Latin, it means “this for that” – familiar to non-practicing attorney Rick Neuheisel, now a Pac 12 Network studio analyst. Quid pro quo is not to be confused with an expression more familiar to college football fans: “Kid, go pro.”
R is for the Riches enjoyed by Pac-12 head coaches. Leach and the Huskies’ Steve Sarkisian each will be paid $2.25 million this season, and they’ll still rank below USC’s Lane Kiffin (a reported $4 million), Oregon’s Chip Kelly ($2.8 million) and California’s Jeff Tedford ($2.3 million.)
S is for Stadium projects. Husky Stadium, which won’t reopen until 2013, is merely one example of a major facelift. Martin Stadium in Pullman has been upgraded. Cal this season moves back to Memorial Stadium, renovated to resemble something associated with the 21st century. Football operations facilities, meanwhile, have been expanded at Arizona, USC and Oregon.
The message regarding recruits is clear: If you don’t build it, they won’t come.
T is for TBA, a common abbreviation on every Pac-12 team’s schedule. It stands for “To Be Announced,” which in turn stands for “check your local television listings before making out-of-town travel arrangements.”
U is for Upset. An intriguing upset possibility is lurking on Oct. 4, when USC leaves the state of California for the first time this season and goes to Utah. The Utes espouse a strange football philosophy almost foreign in the Pac-12. They play defense.
V is for Volatile, a mood the Huskies must contend with during their Nov. 2 grudge-match game at Cal. The Bears haven’t forgotten how the popular Tosh Lupoi, their most effective recruiter, bolted for a new job (and a substantial raise) as defensive line coach/recruiting coordinator at Washington.
W is for the Wanderer, 47-year-old coach Todd Graham. Since taking over at Rice in 2006, Graham has overseen teams at Tulsa (2007-10), Pittsburgh (2011) and now Arizona State. It was Graham, by the way, who last year vented his displeasure about losing assistants to the Arizona staff of Rich Rodriguez – “mercenaries,” he called them – two weeks before Graham also bolted Pitt.
X is for X’s and O’s. With almost every Pac-12 team operating a version of the spread, defensive coaches will be challenged to implement counter strategies – and the only head coaches in the league with defensive backgrounds are Mora and Utah’s Kyle Whittingham.
It’s why the Huskies paid Tennessee assistant Justin Wilcox $750,000 to replace Nick Holt as defensive coordinator.
Y is for “Yuck,” the first word anybody over the age of 25 mutters upon seeing Oregon’s newest football uniforms.
Z is for the Zilch chance Colorado has of winning more than three games. The Buffs had trouble moving the ball last season, and the defense was worse. Over one five-week wretch – er, stretch – they failed to hold any opponent under 40 points and 500 firstname.lastname@example.org