Winners and Losers from 2014 Pac-12 Media Days
The last milestone before Pac-12 football teams open preseason camp is in the books. Pac-12 media days wrapped Thursday from Paramount Studios in Hollywood, California, and the countdown to the season officially begins.
The conference’s two-day event was an opportunity for all 12 programs to set the tone for the coming campaign. And, for the few next weeks, the entire Pac-12 is on equal ground at 0-0.
Those who stood out at Pac-12 media days aren't guaranteed wins on the field, but the event's winners certainly started the new campaign on the right foot.
Winner: UCLA QB Brett Hundley
Quarterback Brett Hundley has seen a dramatic shift in UCLA football since he joined the program in 2011.
“From where we were two years ago with nobody expecting too much of us, to where we are now, it’s a big jump.” Hundley said.
“It’s been a fun ride,” he added.
The change was evident at media days. The preseason Heisman contender attracted one of the event’s largest crowd of reporters, as many wondered how the quarterback and his team are dealing with newfound attention.
UCLA is the media’s pick to win the Pac-12 South, and the Bruins will be featured in Pac-12 Networks’ documentary series The Drive.
Hundley embraces the spotlight, but said he isn’t allowing it to impact the team’s goals.
Likewise, he said he is imparting the same mindset to teammates, including Myles Jack. Like Hundley, Jack is generating some preseason Heisman chatter, as Adam Kramer examined in his Bleacher Report profile.
Hundley said as a veteran, he takes it upon himself to mentor Jack from his past experiences.
“I always try to help Myles out. It’s easier for me sometimes...but Myles has done a great job adapting to all his success,” Hundley said.
Loser: Pac-12 Networks and DirecTV Negotiations
Pac-12 Networks will reach an approximate 60 million homes in the United States this football season, the networks’ president, Lydia Murphy-Stephans, announced Thursday.
The third-year Pac-12 Networks are expanding their reach internationally through a YouTube subscription service as well.
Still, the long impasse with the conference’s negotiations with satellite provider DirecTV appears no closer to resolution. DirecTV was not mentioned at all in Thursday’s presentation.
Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott offered up some insight to Eric Sondheimer of the Los Angeles Times, and the outlook is not favorable.
“Sitting here today, [I’m] not optimistic about those discussions,” Scott said.
Winner: Arizona Head Coach Rich Rodriguez's Acting Career
Rich Rodriguez must have felt right at home at Paramount Studios, because he’s gone Hollywood.
The Arizona head coach stars in a series of short videos on YouTube, taking him to the Old West and race track.
When asked if the Wildcats’ video series was building up to a full-length feature film, Rodriguez referred to one of the recent installments.
“I don’t know if you saw the latest video about doing everything fast. But our Speed video with Sandra Bullock? Everybody asks me what she’s like in real life,” Rodriguez joked.
Rodriguez appears “alongside” Bullock in spliced clips from the 1994 film Speed. Arizona’s version is a parody of proposed rules designed to slow uptempo offense.
FoxSports.com's Aaron Torres took a look at how the Wildcats turned Tucson, Arizona, into Hollywood. It's a unique recruiting tactic, so don't expect Rodriguez's acting star to fade anytime soon.
Loser: Arizona State QB Taylor Kelly's Racing Career
Arizona State coach Todd Graham is an automobile racing fan.
“There is something about when...those cars come down that start and finish line going 180 miles an hour that makes the hair on your neck stand up,” he said.
But his hair stood on end for much different reasons when he learned Kelly was drag racing a few years ago.
“He thought I was a fan until I told him. He said, ‘Coach, I thought you were a fan of racing.’ I said, ‘Yeah, you can race if you want to. You’re just not going to be our starting quarterback.’”
Kelly’s focus is now on driving the Sun Devils’ high-octane offense, but he’s continued to indulge his automotive interests by helping teammates with car problems. And they need the help.
Kelly estimated only 10 of his teammates “can change a tire.”
Academics were a central theme of Pac-12 media days. While the collective strength of the conference’s football was on the tip of every coach and player’s tongue, success in the classroom was just as important.
Marcus Mariota was showcased in a video package via Pac-12.com promoting student-athletes majoring in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields of study.
Mariota earned his degree in general science this spring.
Arizona State’s media days attendees—quarterback Taylor Kelly and offensive lineman Jamil Douglas—boast respective 4.0 and 3.92 grade point averages.
Sun Devils head coach Todd Graham praised Douglas’ success in his studies, crediting it in part to the program’s academic support.
“We have the best academic support team in the country,” Graham said.
Loser: Playing Defense in the Year of the Quarterback
A variation on the same question was among the most frequently asked of defensive players at Pac-12 media days: How do you stop these quarterbacks?
The 2014 season is unofficially the “Year of the Quarterback” in the Pac-12, with 10 returning starters. Only Arizona and Washington are replacing theirs.
This crop of quarterbacks isn’t simply noteworthy because of the quantity of experience, but rather the quality of playmakers.
Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and UCLA’s Brett Hundley are preseason Heisman Trophy favorites, while Oregon State’s Sean Mannion and Arizona State’s Kelly are dark-horse contenders. Four of the nation’s top seven returning leaders in passing yards per game call the Pac-12 home.
In a conference dominated by offense, Stanford’s defense has reigned supreme. The Cardinal head into the Year of the Quarterback as two-time defending champions. All this emphasis on offense is a chance for them to again prove one of the oldest football cliches true: Defense wins championships.
“It’s a great opportunity to face quarterbacks who are prolific passers and even prolific runners. It’s an opportunity to compete,” Stanford defensive back Jordan Richards said. “If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best.”
Winner: USC QB Cody Kessler
Cody Kessler could have found himself embroiled in another long quarterback controversy with a new coaching staff at USC in 2014.
Kessler’s competition with Max Wittek in 2013 extended into the initial weeks of the season, and the arrival of new head coach Steve Sarkisian and his staff could have opened a new competition with redshirt freshman Max Browne.
Instead, Sarkisian named Kessler his starter in April, and the head coach has not wavered. On the contrary, at Pac-12 media days, both Sarkisian and Kessler seemed confident in the redshirt junior captaining the Trojans offense.
"Cody Kessler is our starting quarterback," Sarkisian said plainly.
Zach Helfand of the Los Angeles Times wrote Kessler and Trojans teammates "are taking well to Sarkisian."
Indeed, the coach's decisiveness in tabbing a leader set the right tone. And Kessler said he is taking on his role as the No. 1 quarterback with zeal, motivated by the expectations inherent with playing at USC.
"USC's tradition is second-to-none," he said. "You expect to be in the national championship discussion."
Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited.