Name tags may not be required at Pac-12 Football Media Days; however, there certainly will be a period of orientation for the conference this fall as new coaches take the reins at five programs.
The highest-profile additions all reside in the South Division along with Utah as UCLA hired Chip Kelly, former Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin took over at Arizona and Arizona State hired Herm Edwards out of the television studio.
Utes coach Kyle Whittingham, who is entering his 14th season, described the offseason as “business as usual” despite the widespread changes.
“Well, those are high-profile coaches and guys that have won a bunch of games,” Whittingham said during the Pac-12 teleconference this week. “So I think it just makes an already strong group of coaches even stronger. There’s a bunch of good coaches in this league, and they’ll just add to that.”
Sumlin, a three-time national coach of the year, tutored a Heisman Trophy winner and coached in a conference considered the best in the country (the SEC). Kelly turned a successful run at Oregon into NFL stints with the Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers. Edwards’ most recent full-time coaching job came with the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs from 2006 through 2009. He’s been working as an analyst and studio personality for ESPN since 2009.
Kelly went 46-7, won three consecutive outright conference titles and made a trip to the national championship game after the 2010 season during his tenure at Oregon.
The additions only figure to raise the profile of the conference that was on the outside looking in on the College Football Playoff and went 1-8 in bowl games (Utah collected the lone postseason win) last season).
Perception of the conference “is always going to be up and down,” Stanford coach David Shaw said. “I think the competition that we play, those people who really watch football appreciate what we do and how we do it. I think that added names in this conference is going to kind of shine even more of light on what’s going to happen particularly at Arizona, Arizona State and UCLA with new coaches there. I think there’s an excitement and an energy in our conference.”
Mario Cristobal at Oregon and Jonathan Smith at Oregon State took over programs this winter after previously serving as assistant coaches within the conference.
The volume of change will put an increased emphasis on scouting the nonconference schedule as coaches try to get a sense of the systems installed by the new staffs.
Sumlin, who spent his past six seasons in the SEC, thinks the adjustment will be similar for his staff as it will for the returning staffs.
“You’ve got four or five new guys,” Sumlin said. “You’ve got guys that have been here. So it’s a challenge for everybody. … I think the difficult part is video and film can only tell you so much. It’s really on the field that you start to feel what the league is like. That won’t happen until we actually go out and play.”
Around the Pac-12
• Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate rushed for 1,411 yards, passed for 1,591 yards and became a semifinalist for the Maxwell Award and Davey O’Brien Award last season. His new coach, Sumlin, coached Johnny Manziel to a Heisman Trophy-winning performance in 2012.
“I think everybody with Khalil has seen his talent,” Sumlin said. “I think it’s amazing that the guy has only started eight games. I think he’d be the first to tell you there is room for improvement. He’s played in some games, but he’s only started eight. He’s been dynamic in probably six or seven of those eight games though. He’s got huge potential, and I think there’s some things that we can help him with.”
• Oregon won the recruiting battle for Penei Sewell, a four-star offensive lineman and the top-rated high school player in Utah. Sewell, who starred at Desert Hills, was one of the top 100 players in his high school class. He’ll get a chance to compete for playing time from the first day of preseason camp with the Ducks, according to Cristobal.
“We think that he’s about as good of a player as you’d find in the entire country,” Cristobal said. “Penei is very gifted. He’s very driven. I think what sometimes gets lost in the whole thing is that you see a mountain of a man, but he is only 17 years old. So his best football is still ahead of him. … I think we’re getting a guy that in so many different ways is a tremendous asset and an ambassador of our program, and we can’t wait to get him here for the summer.”
• Shaw was not shy about his dislike for college football’s new rule where kickoffs can be fair caught anywhere inside the 25-yard line and the offense automatically starts from its own 25.
“I understand and appreciate the purpose and the intent behind it,” Shaw said. “Anything that is in an effort to make the game safer I understand and to a certain degree applaud. Field position is the basis of this game, and to fair catch a ball and automatically move the ball up is difficult for me to take. We probably won’t take advantage of that unless somebody does things [like] sky kicks.”
• It remains to be seen if Washington State recruit Cammon Cooper, Lehi’s all-state quarterback and Utah’s Gatorade player of the year, will be part of the competition for the starting job to replace record-setting Logan High graduate Luke Falk when Wazzu starts camp.
“We’ve looked at him closely in the spring, checked him out in the spring,” Washington State coach Mike Leach said. “ We’ll see how good he gets in the fall because we’ll check again in the fall. If he’s polished up enough to play, we’ll play him. If not, we’ll develop him until he is ready.”