ABCs Of The Pac-12 Conference: A-M
By Christopher Wuensch
From A to Z, the Pac-12 is as colorful as conference as it is an annual powerhouse. We take an etymological look at the ABCs of the Pac-12:
A — Anu
As in life begins Anu Solomon for the Arizona Wildcats. Rich Rodriguez named the redshirt freshman as his starter for the Wildcats’ season-opener on Aug. 29 against the Running Rebels of Nevada-Las Vegas. According to Anthony Gimino of AG’s Wildcat Report, Solomon is the first freshman to start a Wildcats’ opener since Arizona joined the Pacific-10/12 conference for the 1978 season.
B — Brett Hundley
UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley should be a household name by the end of the 2014 season. Not that his 3,071 yard, 24-TD performance last year wasn’t eye-opening enough. In fact, the redshirt junior’s freshman year was, statistically-speaking, slightly better. Hundley enters this year on the Davey O’Brien Foundation and Maxwell Award watch lists. He’s the only Bruin ever to have thrown, rushed-for and caught a touchdown pass in the same game.
C — Championship, Pac-12 style
Pac-12 Championship, that is. The Pac-12 announced in May that the brand-new Levi Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., will play host to the next three Pac-12 Championship Games. That is, if the home of the San Francisco 49ers fixes its turf issues — which has now been replaced twice this preseason. In the championship’s first three seasons, only four different schools — Arizona State, Oregon, Stanford and UCLA have competed in the Pac-12 finale.
D — Directv
In this case, D should be for “D’oh!” aka Directv. The nation’s largest satellite provider still has no deal in place to air the fledgling Pac-12 Network. Conference commissioner Larry Scott says he has a long-term plan in place where the Pac-12 retains its creative rights and profits. His only request? Please be patient.
E — Exit Orgeron, Enter Sarkisian
Ed Orgeron wanted to remain the head coach at Southern California — especially after going 7-2 with a Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl win — but the Trojans had other ideas. Enter Steve Sarkisian formerly of Washington. The former USC offensive coordinator returns to SoCal after leading the Huskies to a 35-29 (2-2 in bowls) record the last five years. Sark is what you’d call a “USC Man,” having started his playing career at the school…as a middle infielder on the Trojans’ baseball team.
F — First Teamers
The conference returns eight players from last season’s All-Pac-12 First Team, including: QB Marcus Mariota, C Hroniss Grasu and DB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (Oregon); DL Leonard Williams and ST Soma Vainuku (USC); Zane Gonzalez (ASU); P Tom Hackett (Utah); and KR/WR Ty Montgomery (Stanford).
G — Goff, Jared
Reports say California quarterback Jared Goff is playing with a newfound confidence that he lacked last year as the first true freshman ever to start a Golden Bears’ season opener. If Goff was timid last year, Pac-12 defenses might be in trouble in 2014. All he did was set Cal single-season records for passing yards (3,508), most yards gained (3,508), total offense (3,446), passes completed (320) and passes attempted (531).
H — Heisman Mariota
Marcus Mariota enters his junior season under center with the white-hot glare of the Heisman spotlight fixated on him. The Oregon quarterback passed for 3,665 yards and 31 TD strikes in 2014, but ended his season on a downturn, thanks to a leg injury. The junior is healthy this year and poised to make a run at becoming the first Heisman winner in Ducks’ history. The Bovada sports book currently lists Mariota at 5/1 odds to win the award.
I — Ifo Ekpre-Olomu
Oregon defensive back Ifo Ekpre-Olomu’s name is just as great as his play in the Oregon Ducks’ secondary. The senior enters his final campaign in Eugene as a two-time All-Pac-12 first-team player, tallying 3 interceptions and 5.0 tackles-for-loss last season. His 84 tackles were good-enough for second-best in the conference, but not good enough to leapfrog teammate Derrick Malone (105) for team lead. Yes, you read that correctly. Malone finished with 21 more tackles than anyone else in the Pac-12 last season.
J — Jack, Myles
Myles Jack is a rare player. In many circles, he’s simply known as a beast. In old-school terms he’s known as a two-way player. Jack started 12 games at linebacker — logging the second-most tackles (75) by a freshman in UCLA history — and one at running back, where he scored 7 touchdowns. His efforts landed him the honor of both Pac-12 Offensive and Defensive Freshman of the Year awards.
K — Kickers, Utah Style
Utah’s Andy Phillips and Tom Hackett form arguably the Pac-12’s, if not the country’s, most-formidable kicking tandems. Phillips was a member of the U.S. Ski team from 2007-11 and led the Pac-12 in PATS (41 of 41) in 2013. He returns to Lou Groza Award Watch List this year, after finishing as a semifinalist last season for the top placekicking award.
Hackett went from playing Australian Rules football at Geelong College in Victoria, Australia, to walking-on as freshman at Utah, before being named an All-Pac-12 First Team punter as a sophomore. The Melbourne, Australia-native kicked his way into the Utes’ record book, booting 3,300-yards-worth of punts in 2014. He enters this season on the Ray Guy Award Watch list.
L — Linebackers
The Pac-12 lost plenty of linebackers from last year, with the departures of Anthony Barr (UCLA), Trevor Reilly (Utah), and Stanford’s Trent Murphy and Shayne Skov to name a handful. All are fighting for spots on NFL rosters this summer. The departures should leave Washington’s Hau’oli Kikaha as the conference’s top pass rusher. The senior OLB tallied 13 sacks in 2013 — three of which came in his defensive MVP performance in the Huskies’ win over BYU in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. Eric Kendricks of UCLA and USC’s Hayes Pullard should also contend for the conference lead in sacks.
M — Mannion the Man
Lots of questions remain whether or not Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion can repeat his dominant 2013 season without the use of his No. 1 wide receiver Brandin Cooks (1,730 yards, tops in the nation). The answer, is likely: yes. Mannion finished second in the FBS last year with 4,662 yards, adding 37 touchdowns through the air. The senior already holds 11 Beavers’ records and should add to that total this season.