Canzano: Burning questions on Pac-12 Conference football front
March Madness is done, football is on.
That was a special second-half performance from Kansas on Monday night in the NCAA Tournament finale. Also, North Carolina wilted. That combination resulted in the Jayhawks cutting down the nets in a 72-69 victory.
“One Shining Moment,” immediately followed.
After that, I smiled because the end of the college basketball season doesn’t just signal the start of Masters week, it indicates that it’s OK to talk more college football.
There are a bunch of spring football games ahead. I’m especially interested in seeing USC’s nationally televised game on April 23. But the spring events for the other 11 Pac-12 Conference programs are just as interesting to me.
Here’s a burning thought I have for each program…
Arizona (April 9 spring game): Arizona was bad last season. They’re a solid pick to make some significant progress. How does transfer quarterback Jayden de Laura look in a Wildcats’ uniform on April 9?
Arizona State (April 9): Head coach Herm Edwards added former NFL coach Brian Billick to his staff in January. Will we see Billick’s influence on the offensive side of the ball? How much has the NCAA probe and turmoil of recent months disrupted ASU?
Stanford (April 9): The Cardinal are 11-19 in the last three seasons with zero bowl-game appearances. The transfer portal has been good to a lot of college football programs but not Stanford, where the academic requirements are more rigorous. David Shaws’s recruiting classes have been much better lately. Are the young players in Shaw’s program talented enough to disrupt the poor recent trajectory?
Oregon State (April 16): The Beavers have solid continuity in a North Division that feels otherwise chaotic. Does Jonathan Smith have a clear starting quarterback in the spring? Chance Nolan is back in 2022, but I’m wondering if he’ll be pressed in the spring by Tristian Gebbia or someone else.
Colorado (April 23): The offense was historically dismal last season. Colorado scored 20 or fewer points in eight of 12 games last season. Will the Buffs move the ball better behind quarterbacks Brendan Lewis and JT Shrout?
Oregon (April 23): What will be the early identity of Dan Lanning’s team? He comes from the defensive side of the ball at Georgia but what does the culture of the program look like and feel like after Mario Cristobal? Lanning is full of energy and has good talent, but I’m eager to see signs of healthy culture.
UCLA (April 23): Chip Kelly changed defensive coordinators, stubbornly trading long-time friend Jerry Azzinaro for Bill McGovern. He’s got some solid recent NFL experience. Is the hiring of McGovern the catalyst Kelly needed to take a step forward?
USC (April 23): Lincoln Riley’s first spring game is going to be televised on ESPN. Brace for the hype machine. As an aside, I’m particularly interested to see how the Trojans will utilize Oregon transfer running back Travis Dye. Depth on the offensive and defensive lines could be issues for USC, too. Will the talented skill-position playmakers overcome that?
Utah (April 23): Kyle Whittingham has opened the last 20 minutes of practice to media for the rest of the spring. So some big questions will be answered before the spring game. There are a lot of people wondering how you replace a linebacker like Devin Lloyd or a receiver like Britain Covey. Not me. I’m more interested in how hungry the Utes look on the field after a historic Rose Bowl season.
Washington State (April 23): All eyes on new offensive coordinator Eric Morris and new quarterback Cameron Ward. They’re bringing back the Air Raid. We’re all here for it. Morris told me that he’s worried about losing four starters on the offensive line. If you’re watching WSU’s spring game the temptation may be to look at the ball in the air, but I’ll bet Morris is watching the pass protection.
Cal (April 30): Here’s a not-so-fun fact for Bears’ coach Justin Wilcox: 14 of his 22 starters on offense and defense from last season are gone. He has glaring holes at quarterback, wide receiver and outside linebacker. He’s also working at a university with academics that don’t allow the coaching staff to camp in the transfer portal like some others. How does Wilcox work around this?
Washington (April 30): First-year coach Kalen DeBoer is not just introducing new schemes, but new culture. The Huskies are eager to matter again. Will there be signs of a bounce back in the spring game? Indiana transfer quarterback Michael Penix Jr. feels like the no-brainer starter next season. He went 12-7 as a starting quarterback in the Big Ten.
ROCK CHALK: More than 500 readers signed up for my annual NCAA Tournament bracket challenge. Only 18 brackets correctly predicted Kansas would win the national championship.
My Final Four: Arizona, Gonzaga, Kentucky, Auburn.
I went 0-for-4.
My finish in the pool: 243rd place. That’s Mendoza Line stuff, folks. So if you beat me, take a victory lap. If you lost to me, do some soul searching and try again next March.
Our pool winner — Trevor Williams — had two of the Final Four (Duke and Kansas) and correctly predicted the Jayhawks as the national champion. Prizes to the top three. If you finished in the top three and haven’t yet heard from me, please drop me a line.
ONE UGLY MOMENT: Kansas won the national title on Monday night and NCAA president Mark Emmert made the trophy presentation to Jayhawks’ coach Bill Self and his team.
Looming in the background?
A stale NCAA investigation into Self and Kansas. The Jayhawks have been charged with five Level I violations. At the heart of the investigation is sneaker giant Adidas and stacks of cash that allegedly changed hands years ago. But it’s not lost on me that in today’s new world of name/image/likeness and new rules this really isn’t a case at all. Adidas could simply pay the players to be product ambassadors.
There is only one takeaway: The NCAA is incompetent. It took far too long to investigate the allegations. So long that most of the world doesn’t care anymore. The players in question are all gone to the next level. Emmert should be embarrassed and not just because he announced the winning team on Monday night as, “The Kansas City Jayhawks.”
PAYDAY: Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News took a look at the projected financials for the Power Five conference members. The revenue estimates paint a troubling picture for the Pac-12 Conference and underscore why the upcoming media rights negotiations are critical.
It’s a good read. A firm named Navigate put together the data and it assumes that there will be an expansion to a 12-team playoff. Their website looks at all five major conferences and is a trove of fun information.
The Pac-12 is projected to have $42.6 million in revenue in 2025. By 2029 that number is expected to grow significantly ($62.8 million). But the troubling part is how behind the conference is projected to end up.
The Big Ten is projected to generate $75.2. million in 2025. The SEC is right behind at $74.9 million. By 2029 those respective conferences will be at $117.8 million (SEC) and $101.1 million (Big Ten).
Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff has some important work to do in the next 18 months on this front. I’m really interested to see how far outside the box he can get with the media rights negotiations. He’s already identified that the conference’s data should be included as a media-rights asset. I expect the Pac-12 may monetize that with a lucrative gambling partnership.
BOOK IT: Former Major League Baseball umpire Dale Scott has written a book — “The Umpire is Out.” Scott has been an occasional guest over the last 15 years on my statewide radio show. He’ll join me on Thursday at 3:30 p.m. PT if you’d like to tune in and hear some fun stories.
The radio show airs 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays in Portland (750-AM), Eugene (1050-AM), Roseburg (1490-AM) and Klamath Falls (960-AM) or you may stream the show.
Scott was born in Eugene and is an avid Pac-12 football fan. He also has some tremendous work stories, including the time he ejected Yankees’ manager Billy Martin. I’ll be sure to ask Scott about some of them this week.
Other radio-show guests this week include: former Oregon Ducks running back Kenjon Barner and I’m efforting a couple of the key Pac-12 athletic directors as well.
Thanks for being here. I appreciate all who have supported, subscribed and shared this new independent endeavor with friends and family. If you haven’t already — please consider subscribing.
Great breakdown, JC. You, Wilner and The Athletic are my only go-to's now. The newspaper business may be dying, but journalism and good writing abound.
Where are the bracket contest results?