1 thing we learned about each Pac-12 team at Football Media Day
Optimism was oozing when all 12 Pac-12 head coaches and 24 student-athletes congregated in Los Angeles for 2022 Pac-12 Football Media Day.
Here is one thing we learned about each team. (For complete media day coverage, head to Pac-12.com/22FBMediaDay.)
Arizona — Jayden de Laura is Arizona's QB1
Head coach Jedd Fisch revealed that Washington State transfer Jayden de Laura will be taking all the first-team reps in fall camp. That despite the fact the Wildcats return all three QBs who started for them last season and added four-star recruit Noah Fifita, one of the top signal-callers in his class.
De Laura getting the nod isn't that surprising, though. He was voted the Pac-12 Offensive Freshman of the Year last season after throwing for 2,798 yards and 23 touchdowns while leading Washington State to a bowl game.
Pair him with a vastly improved receiving corps that includes UTEP transfer Jacob Cowing, who amassed 1,364 receiving yards last season, and Arizona's offense should be much improved from the unit that was last in the conference in scoring last season.
It already showed in the spring.
"We were able to hit on a lot of passes, we were able to be explosive, we were able to make plays out there on the field," Fisch said. "It was fun to watch 'em. It was fun to watch what they did. They connected pretty well together. ... (It) gives us some hope to be able to be a little more explosive and score a few more touchdowns in the red area."
Arizona State — Herm Edwards is encouraged by the Sun Devils' solidarity
The Sun Devils have 43 new players and will have new starters at several key positions including quarterback, cornerback and wide receiver. But so far head coach Herm Edwards has been impressed by his team's cohesiveness, calling it a "tight-knit group."
"How will they play together, how will they collectively come together, I think you probably won't know that until after the third week of competition what kind of team (we are)," he said. "You have these aspirations of doing certain things, but I think after three weeks, you're going to figure out how they play together. I've told the team that. Then you can determine what type of team you are. That's the fun part about coaching."
California — The Bears expect to improve offensively no matter who their starting quarterback is
Losing Chase Garbers to the NFL might seem like a big blow to the Bears' offense, but head coach Justin Wilcox expects improvement this season with Purdue transfer Jack Plummer or redshirt freshman Kai Millner at quarterback.
The Bears finished eighth in the Pac-12 in scoring last season, averaging 23.8 points per game.
"Getting more specific, it's really scoring touchdowns in the red zone and creating explosive plays," Wilcox said. "Those are the two areas where we have to make the biggest jump. If they do that, we'll give ourselves a chance to win."
Wilcox likes both quarterbacks, but said Plummer, who started three games for the Boilermakers last season, enters fall camp in the lead.
"Jack has some experience, and he did a really good job picking things up maybe quicker than myself or (offensive coordinator) Bill (Musgrave) would have expected. He's doing a really nice job," Wilcox said.
"Kai is going to continue to push and grow as a player. He's a little bit younger. If we were playing tomorrow, Jack would be the guy. But I expect him to continue to improve because I know Kai is as well."
Colorado — The Buffaloes' offense is starting from scratch
Head coach Karl Dorrell was frank when reflecting on last season, saying he is "disappointed" by Colorado's 4-8 record.
Looking to right the ship, he made major changes to his coaching staff by hiring six new assistants, including four on the offensive side of the ball, headlined by new offensive coordinator Mike Sanford.
The Buffaloes averaged just 18.8 points per game last season — the second-fewest in the Pac-12 — and Dorrell hopes they can bring more out of quarterback Brendon Lewis, a former four-star recruit who started 12 games last season.
"We did change our offense completely from scratch. It's a new system," Dorrell said. "We're excited about that process of how the players have taken that information, the offensive players I'm talking about, and digested it and performed it, continue to do that during a time in the offseason, spring, now finishing up the summer. It was a really good summer for them to kind of continue to develop and mature in terms of being in that system."
Oregon — The Ducks will be playing for Spencer Webb this season
The Ducks recently hiked up Spencer Butte as a team to honor Spencer Webb, a junior tight end who died in July. They will continue to honor him throughout the season, embracing the growth mindset that Webb always had.
"Had the conversation with our team about the bamboo plant, how over time you'll water that plant every single day, and at times you don't see the growth. It hasn't come out of the ground. But at some point that plant breaks ground and it grows exponentially," said head coach Dan Lanning.
"I'm excited to see that investment in our team. I'm excited to see us continue to build, continue to grow in that effort as we focus on the process and the investment in our players. The expectations of our team, really outside of our room it doesn't matter. We're focused on the opinions of the people in our program, collecting 24-hour wins with that growth mindset."
Oregon State — The Beavers (and their stadium) are not a finished product yet
Capacity at Reser Stadium will only be 26,407 this season after the west side of the venue was demolished to make room for $153 million renovations.
Playing in a half-built stadium will change the gameday atmosphere in Corvallis, to be sure, but head coach Jonathan Smith is excited about what the final product will look like. Same goes for his team, which has steadily improved throughout his tenure.
The Beavers played in a bowl game last season for the first time since 2013.
"I will tell you at Oregon State we're proud of the progress we've made," Smith said. "We're not a finished product by any stretch. But over the four years being here as the head coach, really proud of the development we've had, competitiveness, winning more games than we lost last year.
"I think that momentum carries into our belief from a program, our boosters and supporters as we continue to finish off a stadium. It will be a little bit different for us in a stadium that is half built. Construction is going as planned. Playing a season in about half a stadium filled. But we're really looking forward to, when that finishes, completing Reser Stadium, to be in one of the best football facilities and stadiums in the country. It's an exciting time to be around."
Stanford — The Cardinal will benefit from a regular offseason
COVID restrictions in the San Francisco Bay Area have hampered the Cardinal the past two seasons, robbing them of their usual strength and conditioning regimen. But things returned to normal this spring and fall, and head coach David Shaw is looking forward to Stanford recapturing the physicality it's been known for.
"It's just so nice to have an offseason now, started in full winter conditioning, full spring football, full summer conditioning," he said. "Our team is bigger, faster, stronger than it's been in many years. Real excited about getting back to not just survival football but attacking football.
"Very excited about the strengths of our football team right now... starting with (quarterback) Tanner McKee, who had some really bright spots last year, never had all three of his starting receivers at the same time the entire time last year. Missed some time with injury. Had a lot of ups and downs. But you saw a lot of bright spots in there. Really excited about him taking the next step along with our receiving core. We think we've got one of the best groups of guys in the nation."
Utah — The Utes aren't content with last season's success
The Utes are coming off their best season in program history, winning their first Pac-12 championship and reaching their first Rose Bowl.
They have been tabbed by the media as the preseason favorite in the Pac-12 — the first time that's happened, too — and head coach Kyle Whittingham noted how that is a departure from the underdog status his program usually embraces.
Yet, Utah still has something to prove. The Utes are out to prove their place among the nation's elite programs.
"But you got to earn that. No one's going to give that to you," Whittingham said. "The way you do that, every time you have a chance to prove that, national television, bowl games, that type of situation, then you have to play your way into that respect and that level. So I think we've made inroads. Are we where we want to be? Not yet. But we think we're heading in the right direction."
UCLA — Jake Bobo will boost the Bruins' aerial attack
The Bruins always boast a strong running game under Chip Kelly, and the addition of Duke grad transfer Jake Bobo should help open up their passing game.
Kelly said Bobo, an all-conference player in the ACC last season, already has a strong rapport with starting quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who is expected to keep improving in his fifth season in Westwood.
"Jake has an unbelievable work ethic," Kelly said. "To have a 6'5" kid on the perimeter as an outside receiver, 220 pounds, he led the ACC in catches last year at Duke. I think everybody, when you play Duke, knew he was going to get the ball thrown to him. He still made the catches. He can make contested catches.
"Having a weapon like that on the perimeter that can beat one-on-one coverage is going to dictate some double coverage at times. I think it will open some things up for other people. If they choose to cover him one on one, I think Dorian is going to be really excited about that."
Bobo caught 126 passes for 1,441 yards and three TDs in 44 games at Duke.
USC — The Trojans have championship expectations in Lincoln Riley's first season
The media picked the Trojans to finish third in the Pac-12 behind Utah and Oregon, but also received five of the 33 first-place votes — the second-most in the conference — showing that outside expectations for USC vary greatly from media member to media member.
But if you ask first-year head coach Lincoln Riley, he expects the Trojans to finish at the top.
"I mean, you don't come to USC and you don't come to Los Angeles to do things small. You got to set your sights big," he said. "I don't think it's too much. I don't. I believe in what we're doing. I believe in what we're teaching. I believe in the people that we have in there. Obviously it's going to continue to evolve through years. I didn't come here for one season. I didn't come here to do this in a short-term.
"In some respects, you keep the long game in mind. The people we brought in here, the staff we brought in here, we didn't come here to play for second. We are not wired that way. We came here competitively to win championships, win them now and to win them for a long time. That will always be our expectation."
Washington — Kalen DeBoer broke down the Huskies' QB competition
The Huskies are another Pac-12 team with an ongoing quarterback competition, with Indiana transfer Michael Penix Jr., Sam Huard and Dylan Morris, who started 11 games last season.
First-year head coach Kalen DeBoer went in-depth on each one.
"Michael Penix comes to us from Indiana where I coached with him for one year," he said. "Systematically he understands what we do. That was an easy transition for him during spring ball. You see him being able to coach guys up and being a little more confident in that. In those workouts that we had, those 15 practices.
"As far as the other two that obviously were already on the roster, Dylan, again, I have only got the 15 practices to go off of and the film. But he's taken a lot of snaps in a Husky uniform.
"It's cool hearing the guys that are on the team and hearing them talk about how much they see Dylan's improvement from last year already to where we're at now. That's only going to continue to happen and develop.
"Then you got the up-and-comer, Sam Huard. Took a few snaps last year or last year. His ceiling, he's probably the furthest away from his ceiling because he's younger, hasn't taken as many snaps that the other two have. Every day his growth is the one that probably will continue to be the most extreme each and every day.
"It's fun seeing those guys. They're great high-character guys. They understand it's a battle amongst all three of them. But first and foremost our team comes first. They all want to be the leader and the guy that takes the first snap on September 3. They're doing a great job of doing it in a united way."
Washington State — Cameron Ward is at a new school, but not in a new offense
The star quarterback transferred to Pullman from Incarnate Word, where he was one of the top FCS players in the country.
In 2020, Ward won the Jerry Rice Award, given to the most outstanding freshman player in FCS football, after setting multiple UIW single-game and single-season passing records.
His head coach that year? Eric Morris, who left in 2021 to be Washington State's offensive coordinator and was retained by head coach Jake Dickert for 2022.
Dickert said reuniting with Morris was a big factor in getting Ward to the Palouse. The Cougars could have one of the most explosive offenses in the conference as a result.
"It was the opportunity to showcase what he could do in system a system that he believes in, in a system that is very quarterback-driven," Dickert said. "We're going to give him the opportunity to change the play, get us in the best routes.
"I told him all the time, I trust him, I believe in him, go out there and be you, right? Cam hasn't reached his ceiling. For us coaches that really love the passion and the technique and the coaching and the development, that's exciting for us as a football program.
"I'm excited for Cam. I'm excited to help him through adversity. His first year at UIW, there was a lot of success. We know being in this league, there will be a lot of challenges that we're ready to attack head on.
"It's amazing to see his development last year at UIW to what I saw in the spring. That's that classic year one to year two quarterback jump. I'm excited to help him throughout his journey."