The Pac-12 is popularly known as the conference of quarterbacks, mostly because it has better quarterbacks than everyone else, at least in terms of NFL potential.

That is again the case in 2011. The conference boasts Stanford’s Andrew Luck, USC’s Matt Barkley and Arizona’s Nick Foles, who each could become first-round NFL draft picks next spring. Then there’s Oregon’s Darron Thomas, who beat out Barkley and Foles for second-team All-Conference honors in 2010, and talented youngsters such as Washington State’s Jeff Tuel, Oregon State’s Ryan Katz and Utah’s Jordan Wynn.

Oh, but across the country in Conference USA, there’s a crew of quarterbacks that offers something that bests the Pac-12 signal-callers: huge numbers. Four Conference USA passers threw for more than 3,000 yards; just two did in the old Pac-10. Also, three threw 31 or more touchdown passes versus just one in the Pac-10 -- Luck with 32.

[+] EnlargeHouston's Case Keenum
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesCase Keenum is one of only two players in Division I history to have thrown for over 5,000 yards more than once.
And that doesn’t even include the return of Houston’s Case Keenum, who passed for over 5,000 yards in both 2008 and 2009 and 44 touchdowns each season. Keenum was lost for the 2010 season in Game 3 after suffering a knee injury at UCLA.

So while the Pac-12 may think of itself as the conference of quarterbacks, Conference USA might be able to counter as the conference of passers.

Sounds like a blog debate! Bring on Andrea Adelson!

Ted Miller: Andrea, you have me and many of my Pac-12 blog readers at a loss. You know all about the Pac-12 quarterbacks because they are on TV all the time.

While most are familiar with Keenum’s eye-popping numbers for the Cougars, some of these other names draw blanks. Educate our poorly informed West Coast brains, please!

Andrea Adelson: Yes, Ted, there is a reason C-USA has a Wild, Wild West Division. It is there you will find some of the most prolific passers in the nation -- Keenum, G.J. Kinne of Tulsa, and Kyle Padron of SMU.

Keenum was just picked as the C-USA preseason offensive player of the year for obvious reasons. Your Pac-12 brethren only got a small glimpse of what he could do last season against UCLA -- the game in which he tore his ACL and was lost for the season. Keenum got a sixth season and has a slew of NCAA records he is chasing down -- total offense, passing yards, touchdowns, pass attempts and completions. He is in an offensive system that suits his strengths, and he really came onto the scene in 2008 under a certain coach named Dana Holgorsen.

With Keenum out last season, Kinne picked up the torch and was named C-USA Offensive Player of the Year. Kinne actually began his career at Texas before transferring to the Golden Hurricane. Last season he truly blossomed, but he is a different style quarterback than Keenum and Padron. Kinne can run -- he led the team in passing (3,650 yards) and rushing (561). It should come as no surprise that Padron is a gunslinger -- he plays for June Jones after all. And Jones is a master of the run 'n' shoot. But there are quarterbacks in the East who aren't slouches, either. Dominique Davis transferred from Boston College to East Carolina and flourished last season, leading the nation in passing. Austin Davis, one of the most underrated quarterbacks in the nation can run and pass, too. We all know the Big 12 is known for its passers, but C-USA equaled that conference with three players ranked in the top 11 in the nation in yards passing with Davis, Padron and Kinne. The Pac-12 might have the most "quarterback ready" players, but C-USA has guys who know how to put the ball in the air, that is for sure. And who doesn't love offensive fireworks?

[+] EnlargeAndrew Luck
Jason O. Watson/US PresswireA number of analysts project Stanford's Andrew Luck will be the No. 1 overal pick in the 2012 NFL draft.
Ted Miller: Andrea, those are impressive -- and sometimes HUGE -- numbers. Keenum got knocked out against UCLA, so the Bruins didn’t really get a full taste of him, which they figure to on Sept. 3 in Houston. But that’s the only time Pac-12 fans will get to see any of these guys. In the Pac-12, I’d rate Luck No. 1, Barkley No. 2, Foles No. 3 and Thomas No. 4 in terms of NFL prospects. Luck and Thomas are both outstanding athletes who are capable running the ball. Most folks don’t realize that Luck rushed for 453 yards last year. Barkley and Foles are prototypical drop-back passers.

So how do you see your guys' NFL prospects stacking up?

Andrea Adelson: None of these guys are first-round prospects, but that does not make them any less impressive as college quarterbacks. All of them are going to carry the "system quarterback" label with them when their careers end. Keenum already gets that when his name comes up in Heisman chatter. Interestingly, he is after the NCAA career passing mark of Timmy Chang -- coached at Hawaii by June Jones. And Jones has a guy in Padron who can sling it, too. Davis is in a system that Ruffin McNeill picked up from his "Air Raid" days at Texas Tech -- a school that has produced prolific passers such as Graham Harrell and Kliff Kingsbury but nobody who tore it up in the NFL. If you want to rank them as college quarterbacks, then Keenum deserves to be in the conversation as one of the best playing today. He is, after all, one of only two players in Division I history to have thrown for over 5,000 yards more than once.

Ted Miller: That’s the rub, I think, Andrea. While the Pac-12 prides itself on producing NFL quarterbacks, I think we can all appreciate guys who produce thrilling performances in the college game, the game by the way we love most, apologies to the NFL.

So as excited as I am to see Luck this year -- and others -- I also am eager to see what a healthy Keenum does in Round 2 with UCLA. And perhaps we on the West Coast need to branch out a bit in our quarterback appreciation and catch a few Conference USA games this season.

We do, you know, like our passing out West.

Issues facing the veteran QBs

August, 9, 2011
It's great having a veteran quarterback, particularly a veteran quarterback who is proven.

But a veteran quarterback can have his own concerns. Here's what the returning starters at the position in the Pac-12 will be fretting about -- though they'd never own up to fretting -- during preseason camp.

Nick Foles, Arizona: Foles has a talented and deep crew of receivers but he also has five new starting offensive linemen in front of him, which not only will be an issue in pass protection but also for creating a running game that will slow down a pass rush.

Tyler Hansen, Colorado: The good news for Hansen is the job is his and he no longer has to worry about the coach's son, as he did under Dan Hawkins with Cody Hawkins. The bad news also is it's all on him, though Hansen seems like the sort who would see that as good news. A more tangible worry for Hansen is a lack of depth at receiver. Paul Richardson can ball and Toney Clemons is solid. After that, things are thin.

Darron Thomas, Oregon: Talk about a debut. Most folks thought Nate Costa was going to win the starting job over Thomas last preseason, but Thomas not only prevailed, he thrived, earning second-team All-Pac-10 honors and, oh by the way, playing in the national championship game. But now Thomas is playing behind a less-experienced offensive line and without his top-two receivers from 2010, Jeff Maehl and D.J. Davis. Further, he's the man now, the first guy his teammates will look at in the huddle, though running back LaMichael James also figures to play a significant leadership role. Thomas seems up to increasing his responsibilities, but he can't do it alone. He will need some young receivers to step up, just as he did last year.

Ryan Katz, Oregon State: Katz might have the biggest arm in the conference and he certainly had some impressive moments, most notably a tour-de-force performance at Arizona. But he sure could use the return of a healthy James Rodgers, who was a big help against the Wildcats before he suffered a terrible knee injury. But receivers are not among Katz's chief worries. His offensive line welcomes back four starters, but it underperformed in 2010, both as run- and pass-blockers. And Katz no longer has certainty at tailback, with Jacquizz Rodgers off to the NFL.

Andrew Luck, Stanford: Luck is the best quarterback in the country, but that means many will expect him to be perfect, which he can't be. For one, his dominant 2010 offensive line is replacing three starters. We don't know if the Cardinal running game will match what it did the previous two seasons. That line also protected Luck as well as any line protected its quarterback in the nation. But more pressing for Luck is a questionable crew of receivers. If speedy Chris Owusu is healthy all season, things should work out. But without him, Luck doesn't have any options who can scare a defense. No one stepped up during the spring, which makes receiver perhaps the Cardinal's most worrisome position.

Matt Barkley, USC: Barkley looks poised for a breakthrough in his third year as a starter. While Luck is super special, watching Barkley throw the ball at practice is pretty darn special, too. He's certainly an NFL talent, and he's got plenty of young talent around him at the skill positions to help him put up big numbers this season. But his offensive line was awful during spring practices. Injuries were the chief explanation, but he needs his starting five to stay healthy because there is a decided lack of depth. Offensive line is probably, in fact, USC's biggest question mark.

Jordan Wynn, Utah: First, Wynn needs to worry about himself. He's coming back from shoulder surgery, so he needs to pace himself this preseason, both in terms of not overthrowing and in terms of not seeking out any unnecessary contact. After taking care of himself, Wynn will need to develop chemistry with a receiving corps that is replacing two of its three top guys. Beyond that, Wynn will be paying attention to running back, where the Utes' top two rushers from last season need to be replaced. Utah wants to be a downhill running team, and a hard-nosed running game certainly makes things easier for a quarterback when he steps back into the pocket.

Jeff Tuel, Washington State: Tuel and his receivers are going to be fine -- more than fine if they get some help from an offensive line that struggled horribly in 2010, failing to protect Tuel or to create running lanes for an anemic running game. Tuel did an admirable job handling 51 sacks last fall. But if he gets sacked that many times again in 2011, it's hard to imagine him starting all 12 games.

UCLA is only Pac-12 QB battle

August, 9, 2011
Typically, every preseason features a handful of quarterback competitions, even if we sort of feel like we know who will ultimately emerge.

Last fall, there was uncertainty at Arizona State, Colorado and Oregon.

At the end of the 2010 season, it looked like there would be plenty of ongoing quarterback intrigue. Arizona State was expected to feature another showdown with Steven Threet and Brock Osweiler. California was completely wide open with the departure of Kevin Riley. There was a new coach at Colorado, Jon Embree, who said every job was open. UCLA clearly had no clear No. 1. Washington had to replace Jake Locker.

But most of the mysteries were solved by the end of spring practices.

Threet was forced to retire because of multiple concussions, thereby handing the job to Osweiler. Cal coach Jeff Tedford surprised a few folks when he announced Zach Maynard had eclipsed Allan Bridgford and Brock Mansion. It was clear throughout spring drills that Tyler Hansen was the Buffaloes' best option. And Steve Sarkisian tapped Keith Price over Nick Montana before the spring game.

If you're looking for a potential source for making quarterback decisions before preseason camp, consider former USC coach Pete Carroll. He believed in "anointing" a starter after spring practices because he believed it helped them become leaders over the summer -- see Matt Leinart, John David Booty and Mark Sanchez. Notably, Sarkisian chatted with Carroll before tapping Price.

While coaches will still talk about competition, and it wouldn't be wise for any of these guys to take their job for granted, the only team with remaining uncertainty behind center is UCLA, and even then most would project a healthy Kevin Prince -- the incumbent starter who suffered a season-ending knee injury that also knocked him out of spring practice -- is the likely choice.

Still, let's look at where the Bruins' competition stands.

The candidates:

[+] EnlargeKevin Prince
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireKevin Prince seems the likely choice to enter the season as UCLA's starting quarterback.
Kevin Prince: While Prince's passing numbers were horrid in his five 2010 games before getting hurt, he showed in 2009 that he can be a capable passer. And last fall, he showed he could do a pretty good job running a pistol offense. But Prince had suffered myriad injuries even before he hurt his knee last fall, and while he enters the preseason reportedly at 100 percent, keeping him healthy is the critical element for him to become a reliable starter. Recall that the Bruins' ragged start on offense in 2010 could be attributed to Prince not practicing until the week before the season opener -- an embarrassing loss to a Kansas State team the Bruins pushed around the previous season. So it's fair to expect less running -- or at least more running out of bounds -- for Prince. He will be given every opportunity to win the job.

Richard Brehaut: There's no other way to say it: While Brehaut didn't play terribly well after replacing Prince, his passing numbers were better than what Prince did in 2010. That fact has engendered some not unreasonable sentiments that coach Rick Neuheisel has some sort of issue with Brehaut, a summary of which is provided here by Adam Maya (by the way, former offensive coordinator Norm Chow doggedly believed Prince was a better option than Brehaut). While Neuheisel said it was "nothing personal," it is fairly clear that Neuheisel questions Brehaut's complete commitment, which is reflected in Brehaut's apparently incomplete absorption of the offense. Further, knowing Neuheisel and how he works with quarterbacks, I can tell you that those little tirades he seems to have with his quarterbacks after a bad play mostly amounts to Neuheisel asking the quarterback to explain what he was thinking. And if the player doesn't have an answer, it drives Neuheisel crazy. A bad explanation -- "I didn't see the safety cheating over" -- is way, way better than "I don't know."

Brett Hundley: Hundley is the hotshot incoming freshman -- one of the nation's top dual-threat prep quarterbacks during the 2010-11 recruiting season -- whom many fans have been making googly-eyes at. But it ain't easy going from high school quarterback to college quarterback, and it was clear during spring practices that Hundley had a ways to go (though he also had some "wow" moments, too). Hundley was a bit of a long shot in any event, but after he had surgery to repair a torn meniscus and will be out most of camp, his chances of redshirting are now higher than of him winning the starting job. Still, if he comes back strong, he could earn playing time. And if the situation gets desperate, Neuheisel, under pressure to win now, might roll the dice with a true freshman.

Nick Crissman and Darius Bell: These are the two long shots. Crissman's career has been riddled by shoulder injuries, but he had a fairly good spring and he's got some skills. Bell, a JC transfer, is a far better runner than passer. Many Bruins fans probably recall his regrettable debut in relief of Brehaut during a loss at Washington: 0-for-3 with an interception and a tongue-lashing from Neuheisel.

Rolling out the top-25

August, 8, 2011
PM ET is rolling out its top-25 "power rankings," and two Pac-12 teams rank from Nos. 25-21.

Here's what Pedro Moura of ESPNLA wrote about No. 25 USC:
The last time the Trojans did as poorly as their 8-5 finish in 2010, it was Pete Carroll's first year on the job and George W. Bush was just getting the hang of his White House post. 2001 seems a long time ago. Luckily for second-year coach Lane Kiffin, Carroll set a precedent for transitioning from first-year mediocrity to second-year dominance, going from 6-6 to 11-2 in two seasons. Such a meteoric improvement might be a little out of reach for a team that lost two early-entry players to the NFL draft, but the talented (and optimistic) tandem of quarterback Matt Barkley and receiver Robert Woods insists otherwise, and the two should be able to lead USC to some success in 2011.

And here's what Bruce Feldman wrote about No. 21 Arizona State:
If Brock Osweiler plays as well in 2011 as he did in the final two games of 2010, Dennis Erickson's job at ASU will be safe. In fact, his team will surge into the top 20. The 6-foot-8, 240-pound junior QB had a 5-0 TD-INT ratio and ran for almost 100 yards, leading ASU to a pair of wins to finish an otherwise underwhelming season. Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone is enamored with Osweiler's leadership skills and his surprisingly nimble footwork. That should come in handy on a team ranked 95th in sacks allowed. Better still, the Sun Devils have a potentially nasty D led by LB Vontaze Burfict and DE Junior Onyeali. The other big question: Can ASU cut down on the knucklehead mistakes (no Pac-10 team committed more penalties)? If so, this will be the South's rep in the Pac-12 title game.

The rollout also includes video of players and ESPN analysts, including yours truly.

Nine Pac-12 players on Hornung watch list

August, 8, 2011
Nine of the 50 players on the 2011 Watch List for the Paul Hornung Award are from the Pac-12, the most of any conference.

The Paul Hornung Award is given annually to the most versatile player in major college football by the Louisville Sports Commission and football legend Paul Hornung.

The Pac-12 players on the list are:

Keenan Allen, WR, California
Kenjon Barner, RB, Oregon
Jesse Callier, RB, Washington
Cliff Harris, CB, Oregon
Josh Huff, WR, Oregon
Jamal Miles, WR, Arizona State
Chris Owusu, WR, Stanford
James Rodgers, WR, Oregon State
Robert Woods, WR, USC

For the complete list, click here.

While you were on vacation ... Oregon

August, 8, 2011
The four of 12 quick updates on offseason Pac-12 goings on.

Oregon in a sentence
  • It's been a long offseason for Oregon-- Cliff Harris speeding, Kiko Alonso arrested, Willie Lyles and NCAA investigation -- but that doesn't change the fact that the Ducks are not only the favorites to win their third consecutive Pac-12 title, they also are national title contenders.
The big issue
  • If you bracket off the off-field issues as a potential distraction, the Ducks' biggest issue is restocking an offense that lost key players at receiver and on the offensive line.
Quick hit news
  • The big news this offseason is the NCAA's investigation into scout/street agent Willie Lyles, what role he played in running back Lache Seastrunk ending up at Oregon and what the Ducks expected for the $25,000 they paid him. It's important to note Oregon has not yet received an official notice of inquiry from the NCAA -- which announces the specifics of an investigation -- so no one really knows when we are going to gain some clarity on this mess. It seems doubtful anything final would happen before the BCS national title game, if that becomes an issue.
  • Kelly has yet to announce the fates of two suspended starters, cornerback Harris and linebacker Alonso, though Harris is definitely out of the LSU game.
  • Backup tight end Brandon Williams decided to retire from football because of chronic injuries, the school announced.
  • The Ducks were ranked No. 3 in the preseason coaches poll, their highest preseason ranking in team history.
  • Every member of the Ducks 23-man 2011 recruiting class has qualified academically.
  • Reserve defensive end Anthony Anderson apparently has quit the team.
  • Oregon has just 14 seniors on its roster -- nine are listed as starters on the depth chart.

Pac-12 in 3D

August, 8, 2011
ESPN 3D will televise 20 regular season college games this season -- along with the Allstate BCS National Championship and five postseason bowl games -- and five of them involve Pac-12 teams.

All times are ET.
  • Arizona at Oklahoma State, Sept. 8, 8 p.m.
  • California at Oregon, Oct. 6, 9 p.m.
  • USC at California, Oct. 13, 9 p.m.
  • UCLA at Arizona, Oct. 20, 9 p.m.
  • USC at Colorado, Nov. 4, 9 p.m.

Video: Arizona State DT Will Sutton

August, 8, 2011

Ted Miller talks with Arizona State defensive tackle Will Sutton about the upcoming season.

Yards to glory: Final yards

August, 8, 2011
Here are the final entries for our package "Yards to Glory" that involved Pac-12 teams.

You can see the entire series -- including video! -- if you click here.

19. Only Takes One

Doyle Nave comes off bench to win Rose Bowl

Jan. 2, 1939: Believe it or not, there was a time when Duke was good at football. That time was the 1930s, and the '38 team was downright dominant -- heading into the Rose Bowl against USC, the Blue Devils hadn't surrendered a point all season. But fourth-string Trojans quarterback Doyle Nave became the unlikely streak buster. Nave completed four straight fourth-quarter passes, the last covering 19 yards to "Antelope" Al Krueger for the winning score in a 7-3 USC triumph.

-- Pat Forde

15. Trojan Force

Craig Fertig and Rod Sherman spoil ND's unbeaten mark

Nov. 14, 1964: Ara Parseghian arrived at Notre Dame from Northwestern for the 1964 season and worked a miracle. The Irish, 2-7 the year before, won their first nine games. They led archrival USC 17-0 at the half. But the Trojans found a way. On fourth-and-8 with 1:35 to play, quarterback Craig Fertig threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to Rod Sherman, and USC escaped with a 20-17 victory. Parseghian used to say Notre Dame finished not 9-1 but 9-. Notre Dame's first national title since 1949 would have to wait two more seasons.

-- Ivan Maisel

8. Forever Young

Vince Young runs in Texas' national championship

Jan. 4, 2006: It was fourth-and-5, but it might as well have been fourth-and-goal -- the goal being Texas' first national championship in 35 years. Quarterback Vince Young spent all night outplaying the guy who took the Heisman Trophy from him, USC tailback Reggie Bush. On the final play of his college career, Young took the shotgun snap and outraced Trojans end Frostee Rucker to the right pylon. Texas won 41-38. The confetti still rains in Austin.

-- Ivan Maisel

1. Bush Push

Matt Leinart scores with some help

Oct. 15, 2005: Who can forget the "Bush Push"? On the last play of a thrilling, back-and-forth contest between top-ranked, two-time defending national champion USC and No. 9 Notre Dame, Matt Leinart tried to sneak in for the go-ahead score from the Fighting Irish's 1-yard line. But a first surge of the Irish defense stopped him short. Then came Reggie Bush from behind with an extra push, and Leinart fell into the end zone for the winning TD. The controversial final play was set up by a fourth-and-9 completion to Dwayne Jarrett that went for 61 yards and reached the Notre Dame 13-yard line. And, on the play before Bush's push, Notre Dame fans stormed the field believing they had won after Leinart fumbled out of bounds.

-- Ted Miller

Pac-12 lunch links: Frosh RB look good

August, 8, 2011
Cracklin' Rosie you're a store-bought woman
You make me sing like a guitar hummin'
So hang on to me, girl
Our song keeps runnin' on
Play it now.

Pac-12 top 25 for 2011: No. 16

August, 8, 2011
Our countdown of the Pac-12's top 25 players continues.

You can see the final post-2010 top 25 here. It doesn't, however, include players from Colorado or Utah.

16. Mychal Kendricks, LB, California

2010 numbers: Kendricks had 66 tackles -- 15 coming for a loss -- with 8.5 sacks, an interception and three fumble recoveries.

2010 ranking: Unranked

Making the case for Kendricks: Kendricks, an explosive, playmaking LB, earned second-team All-Pac-10 honors in 2010. He ranked second in the conference in sacks and fourth in tackles for a loss. He put up those big numbers playing outside, so it will be interesting to see how he performs -- and how his numbers stack up -- now that the 6-foot, 240-pound senior has moved to inside linebacker in the Bears 3-4 scheme. While Arizona State's Vontaze Burfict gets a lot of attention and casts a big shadow, Kendricks is a first-rate talent who has an NFL future.

17. Rodney Stewart, RB, Colorado
18. Jermaine Kearse, WR, Washington
Chase Thomas, LB, Stanford
20. Jeff Tuel, QB, Washington State
21. Robert Woods, WR, USC
22. Johnathan Franklin, RB, UCLA
23. David Paulson, TE, Oregon
24. David DeCastro, OG, Stanford
25. Marquess Wilson, WR, Washington State

Burfict involved in locker room altercation

August, 8, 2011
Arizona State linebacker Vontaze Burfict was involved in a locker room fight with a teammate Wednesday, school spokesman Mark Brand confirmed.

Brand called the fight between Burfict and receiver Kevin Ozier "a minor skirmish that was quickly resolved." He said there were no injuries and both players missed no practice time after the altercation.

Burfict, a 6-foot-3, 252-pound junior and preseason All-American, and Ozier, a 6-foot, 201-pound sophomore, scuffled at practice before the conflict reignited in the locker room.

So what's the takeaway?

Fights happen all the time in practice. Some coaches like or even encourage them, some don't, but it's a physical game that inspires, er, disagreements.

Still, fighting in the locker room is never good, particularly for a guy who's supposed to be a team leader. It's also hard to miss that Burfict outweighed his foe by 50 pounds. Further, Burfict's inability to keep his cool previously was viewed as an on-field issue -- his intensity boiling over and leading to personal fouls and unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. This changes that.

Know that Burfict just got a page added to his file by NFL general managers, who will be intrigued by his first-round talent but worried about his volatility. Burfict is a potential first-round draft pick, but will GMs want to use a high pick for a player they aren't sure they can trust?

It does not, however, appear that Burfict will miss any practice or playing time due to this incident.

You can read more details here.

Pac-12 Q&A: Commissioner Larry Scott

August, 8, 2011
Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott has gone from outsider with no name recognition -- a former head of the Women's Tennis Association? -- to perhaps college football's most dynamic power broker in just two years on the job.

How has the conference changed under Scott?

A conference that was known for its stubborn adherence to tradition expanded by two teams, but only after an attempt to create a 16-team super conference -- a proposition that terrified all the other automatic qualifying conferences -- was left at the altar at the moment vows were supposed to be exchanged. A conference that lagged behind the Big Ten and SEC now owns the richest TV deal among all conferences -- $3 billion over 12 years from ESPN and Fox. A conference that lacked exposure will own a national network and six regional networks, which will ensure every football and men's basketball game is televised.

[+] EnlargeLary Scott
Jason O. Watson/US PresswireLarry Scott predicts there will be "further consolidation" within college football.
Utah and Colorado are now aboard; there are North and South divisions; the conference will play a championship game on Dec. 2 -- a Friday night, no less.

Much has changed.

With what's happened and will happen, it seemed like a good time to check in with Scott.

So you've expanded the conference, reorganized the officiating, signed a new TV contract and started a network: What's next?

Larry Scott: Well, we've got an awful lot to do in the next year to make this all work and work well. Our championship game has all kinds of operational challenges, given that with home hosting we don't know in which venue it is going to be. A lot of work has to be done on that. We are currently looking at the future of our basketball tournament and evaluating its location. And with what we've just announced, we've got a monumental amount of work to do in terms of building a management team and launching a year from now seven different TV networks, as well as building a digital business, too. The next year is going to be a very busy and challenging one.

With the network: Can you explain the revenue model? How will the conference profit from the national and regional networks?

LS: In its simplest form, there are basically two revenue streams for TV networks. One is subscriber fees, one paid by the satellite or cable or telecom companies [a monthly fee for each subscriber]. And the second is advertising. Those are the revenue streams. There are a lot of costs in terms of production and operations and marketing [which come from the Pac-12 coffers].

The biggest negative response has been from folks with satellite TV: How reassuring to them can you be that they are not going to miss Pac-12 football?

LS: Our vision is that the other satellite companies and cable companies and telecom companies will also take the network. But all we have announced so far is our partnership with these cable companies [Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox Communications and Bright House Networks]. All I can say to fans is I hope the satellite companies will take it further into discussions, and as deals get done they will be announced.

You've talked before about your belief that there's another wave of expansion ahead. Any insights as to what that might look like?

LS: No, I really don't have any insights or predictions about how and when. But I still believe, the way I have consistently said, that over time further consolidation will make sense. I couldn't begin to predict when that might happen.

Do you think it's likely the big conferences will eventually break away from the NCAA?

LS: I certainly hope not. There's no talk about that going on now that I know of. But we've got a very interesting and creative time coming up, with [NCAA president] Mark Emmert, a new leader, and trying to set a new agenda, trying to engage presidential leadership. It will be interesting to see if the NCAA can be more nimble and responsive and bold in terms of creating a reform agenda than has been heretofore.

Speaking of the NCAA, there's been a lot of frustration at USC about first how harshly it was treated, then by how the NCAA has handled other major violations cases, most notably Ohio State. Has anyone explained to you this apparent double standard?

LS: Well, I don't want to get ahead of ourselves. We don't know what the final outcomes of some of the other cases will be, the ones you're probably referring to. But I certainly think the USC decision was a harsh one, and my view is that it's important from a standards perspective that there not be a double standard and that people be treated fairly and evenhandedly. That's what we will be looking for.

The Pac-12 has a TV deal that is more than competitive and now it has new networks. Is the conference on equal footing with the SEC and Big Ten, or is there more catchup ahead?

LS: I guess it depends on how you look at it, what metrics you're looking at. But I feel extremely good about where we are, from an exposure standpoint, from a revenue standpoint and from a competitive standpoint.

The SEC has won five national titles in a row. Is the consensus among commissioners from other conferences that the SEC plays better football, or is this just a historical cycle?

LS: I'm probably not the best historian in terms of analyzing the cycles of college football, but definitely they've been a real powerhouse. You have to admire their recent run. But if you look at USC in our conference, it's probably been the strongest program over the past decade. It depends on how you look at it. Long term, I see it being very competitive. I think there will be trends and cycles.

You've been on the job a couple of years now. Can you tell me what the biggest surprise has been about your job?

LS: It's probably been the amazing amount of potential. I took the role in the first place because I was inspired by the vision of Pac-12 presidents. I thought it was a great opportunity. Now that I've gotten to see under the hood, to see how much potential there is for change and uplift, it's been a very pleasant surprise.
The big story in college football heading into this season is change. The conferences are dramatically different heading into 2011 than they were just a year ago.

Of course, we're talking about expansion -- and contraction in some cases -- which the Pac-12 was on the forefront of because, well, the conference was the Pac-10 last year and thereby changed more than anyone else.

The Big Ten, which was once 11 teams, is now a 12-team league with the addition of Nebraska. And still it's called the Big Ten.

The Big 12, which was once a 12 teams, is now a 10-team league with the subtraction of Nebraska and Colorado. And is still called the Big 12.

This, of course, is bat-pooh stupid, but perhaps counting is an overrated skill.

The Mountain West now features Boise State, late of the WAC. BYU, spurned by the expanding Pac-10, took its football and bolted the Mountain West to become an Independent. TCU will bolt the Mountain West for the Big East next fall.

The Pac-12 -- new owner of 12 teams; thus the new moniker -- added Colorado of the Big 12 and Utah of the Mountain West and then signed the biggest TV contract in the history of the universe. The college football universe, at least.

But you know all of this. The question going forward is how expansion makes the Pac-12 better, other than revenue.

And by better we mean on the field. We mean winning national titles, which the conference hasn't done since USC won two in a row from 2003-04.

Do all these changes -- within the conference and, tangentially, outside the conference -- bring the Pac-12 close to hoisting the crystal football, the BCS championship trophy?

The short answer is maybe.

Because it is now a 12-team league, the conference has split into North and South Divisions and will play a championship game. Nine of 13 BCS titles have been won by 12-team leagues that played a championship game.

Of course, seven of those are from the SEC and none from the ACC in its 12-team configuration (Florida State won in 1999 when the ACC had nine teams; Miami won in 2001 as a member of the Big East).

So 12 teams has been dandy for the SEC. Not so much for the ACC, an academically elite conference that better compares to the Pac-12.

What a 12-team league with a title game does do is present an extra opportunity for a team to distinguish itself. If the nation is comparing unbeaten or 1-loss teams for one of the top-2 spots in the BCS standings, a victory in the title game over a highly rated conference foe from the opposite division could bolster a Pac-12 team's chances.

Or, an unbeaten or 1-loss Pac-12 team could faceplant in the title game and end up not playing in any BCS bowl at all, as a, say, 3- or 4-loss Pac-12 team goes to the Rose Bowl as a upset winner.

Further, the Pac-12 is continuing to play a nine-game conference schedule even though that no longer provides a true round-robin format. That ensures the conference will hand deliver itself an extra six losses every season, losses the SEC, ACC and Big Ten (until 2017), which play eight-game conference schedules, will not be burdened with.

The nine-game conference schedule not only severely damages the Pac-12's national title hopes, it also lowers the annual number of bowl-eligible teams.

On the other hand, if the Pac-12 features a number of ranked teams -- say five or six -- and a champion emerges unbeaten or with one defeat, it should stand in good stead in the BCS standings.

So, again, the answer is maybe.

The newly expanded Pac-12 might have a better shot at winning a national title than the old Pac-10 did. And it also might not.

But you know what the real secret will be?

Recruiting good players and coaching 'em up. That would really help the Pac-12's chances.

Pac-12 lunch links: Wynn ready to step up

August, 5, 2011
Happy Friday.



Saturday, 11/22