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Canzano: Never too early to crown a Pac-12 football champion
Regular-season football schedule carries weight.
The Pac-12 Conference football media poll won’t be revealed until July 29 as part of the conference’s media day festivities in Los Angeles.
Utah is the pick for conference champion, right?
The Utes have top-to-bottom continuity on the coaching staff and a returning quarterback (Cameron Rising) who has big-game experience. I like the Utes to win the South Division, for sure. But there are some potential wildcards.
The Utes lost a ton of leadership (see: Nick Ford, Devin Lloyd, Britain Covey). Also, the nine-game regular-season conference schedule wasn’t favorable to them. Utah skips playing two programs (Cal and Washington) that aren’t viewed as title contenders.
USC is intriguing, but I think Lincoln Riley’s liftoff won’t be without growing pains. Still, the regular-season schedule helps Riley. The Trojans don’t play Oregon in the regular season. The Utes not only have to play the Ducks, but they’ll do it in Eugene in what will be billed as a payback game for Oregon.
My current South Division top three: Utah, USC, UCLA.
The North Division is much trickier. I think Oregon, Washington State and Oregon State could all make a run at the division crown. I won’t be surprised if there’s a two-way or three-way deadlock down the stretch. And while Washington is starting over with a new head coach, the UW regular-season schedule is unusually favorable.
Oregon is the most talented team in the division, but the Ducks will have a first-year, first-time head coach in Dan Lanning. I like Lanning a lot. He’s down to earth, recruits well and the spring game was encouraging. Also, Oregon skips playing USC in the regular season. But will Lanning’s relative inexperience play a role at any point? We’ll soon see.
Washington State is poised to matter next season, too. Transfer quarterback Cameron Ward was given a $90,000 deal by the Cougar Collective to come to Pullman. Offensive coordinator Eric Morris is bringing back the Air Raid offense.
While Oregon skips USC next regular season, the Cougars have to play at USC. Also, WSU misses Colorado, which is amid a full-blown rebuild. That feels like a distinct disadvantage for Jake Dickert’s team.
Oregon State’s case in the North Division is built on continuity. The Beavers were 6-0 at home last season. They return the coaching staff, the starting quarterback (Chance Nolan), and add a terrific freshman running back. The Beavers, however, play the three most talented teams in the conference — USC, Oregon and Utah — in the regular season. That will slow OSU down.
Washington isn’t winning the North next season, but it could be a little disruptive. The Huskies skip playing both Utah and USC in the regular season. That’s an advantage I don’t take lightly. Nobody should be surprised if UW ends up a little higher in the standings because of it.
My North Division top three: Oregon, Washington State, Oregon State. Which means I’ve got Oregon vs. Utah in a repeat Pac-12 title game. Until I see evidence that makes me re-think it, I’ll pick the Utes to repeat.
Here are the opponents each Pac-12 program “skips” in the 2022 regular-season schedule:
Arizona — skips Stanford and Oregon State
ASU — Oregon and Cal
Cal — Utah and ASU
Colorado — WSU and Stanford
Oregon — ASU and USC
Oregon State — UCLA and Arizona
Stanford — Arizona and Colorado
UCLA — Oregon State and WSU
USC — Oregon and Washington
Utah — Cal and Washington
Washington — USC and Utah
WSU — UCLA and Colorado
GAME ON: Portland State coach Bruce Barnum told me this week that he really likes the potential of his Big Sky Conference passing game for the coming season.
“My receiving corps is the best I’ve ever had,” Barnum said. “You usually have one guy that is really good, or two. ‘Let’s put him at slot, let’s put him at Z, let’s put him at X.’ I’ve got like six guys that are good; they’re good receivers.”
The Vikings are scheduled to play non-conference “payday” games at Washington ($500,000) and San Jose State ($435,000) this season. That $935,000 subsidizes the entire PSU athletic department. The road game at San Jose State was originally scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 3, but the Spartans inquired last week if the game could be instead played on Thursday, Sept. 1.
PSU’s asking price to agree to the move: $85,000.
San Jose State’s offer: $10,000.
They’re still negotiating. But I expect the game will be moved and that PSU will net an additional $50,000-plus to do it.
TOUGH TICKET: Oregon State is paying Montana State $675,000 to travel to Portland on Sept. 17 for their “neutral site” game at Providence Park. That game isn’t included in OSU season ticket packages. Tickets will instead be sold as a single-game offering.
Oregon State will also pay Boise State $300,000 for their game in Corvallis on Sept. 3. It comes with a catch, though — tickets may be tough to get. As part of the contract, Boise State gets 2,850 tickets to sell to its fans.
Reser Stadium is being renovated and capacity for next season is 26,407. Season ticket holders on what was the “west” side of the stadium are being relocated to the “east” side.
An OSU season-ticket representative told me, “Due to the number of west side displaced season ticket holders, this season will be a little trickier than previous years.”
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