Rose Bowl Championship Trophy Lisa Horne/PigskinGrind
Hollywood, Calif— Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott kicked off the 2017 football season at the Loews Hollywood Hotel's Dolby Theatre on Wednesday by celebrating the conference's historic 500th national championship won by the University of Washington's women's rowing team. Congrats, Huskies.
But can we talk about football?
The biggest news was the conference's addition of an instant replay command center. Here is how it works: when a play comes up for a review by the instant replay booth, the command center becomes an extra set of eyes that directly communicates with the booth in real time.
Vice President of Communications Dave Hirsch told me that the command center can also buzz the booth when a play is not under review if a significant call was potentially missed. This is big news. The reputation of inconsistent officiating by Pac-12 crews, while not always true, has plagued the conference. This new command center should alleviate some criticism.
The media's preseason poll was released and USC was picked to beat Washington in the conference championship.
The breakdown of total votes is as follows, with first place votes in parenthesis:
1- USC (49) 309
2- Utah (1) 220
3- UCLA (1) 209
4- Colorado (1) 182
5- Arizona State 109
6- Arizona 61
1- Washington (49) 309
2- Stanford (1) 247
3- Washington State (1) 206
4- Oregon (1) 163
5- Oregon State 101
6- Cal 64
Stanford head coach David Shaw called the Cardinal's 10-3 season a "disappointment." USC head coach Clay Helton was not satisfied either, despite beating Penn State in the Rose Bowl game.
"It’s about winning Pac-12 titles, and it’s about winning national championships," Helton said.
"And the fact of the matter is we did not accomplish that.”
Oregon head coach Willie Taggart made his debut and frankly, it started out awkward. As he sat down on the main stage to make his opening remarks, he laughed and said, "I thought I would get a big round of applause when I walked in here."
There was some clapping but most reporters, trained to not cheer in the press box, just looked confused.
This is not the SEC Media Days, coach. (The sparsely-filled theater should have been his first clue.) Nevertheless, Taggart was warm and very accessible, something to which the Ducks' beat writers are not accustomed.
Speaking of the SEC, Mike Leach made an interesting comment regarding teams that play in the November Cupcake Wars. While Leach does think all teams should play the same number of conference games, he does not fault the SEC for scheduling cupcakes.
"I think it's very smart by the SEC, and I think it's lesson we can learn from the SEC," Leach said.
"I think the SEC laughs all the way to the bank."
UCLA head coach Jim Mora seemed fairly relaxed up on the stage, especially after coming off of a 4-8 season. He was optimistic about the upcoming fall and did not have huge concerns "other than how the offensive line develops."
That comment is a huge concern.
The offensive line was not very productive last year. As a result, the run game and pass protection did not develop. And it cost the offense dearly.
Quarterback Josh Rosen, an extraordinarily accurate passer who throws a great deep ball with exquisite touch, was often hurried, pressured and sacked—in his first three games last season, he was sacked 10 times.
With the inevitable termination of offensive line coach Adrian Klemm coming to fruition, UCLA has set the table. The line should be stronger and Rosen should be more productive. This all points to a huge upswing of momentum for the Bruins.
Unfortunately, the school failed to capture any excitement at media days.
Sam Darnold Lisa Horne/PigskinGrind
The three best quarterbacks in the country play in the Pac-12. Two play in Los Angeles, the other in Seattle. Only two came to Hollywood on Wednesday and Thursday: Washington's Jake Browning and USC's Sam Darnold.
Center Scott Quessenberry was chosen to represent UCLA's offense and to be honest, he was a terrific interview. He represents the school well. He is smart, handsome, polished and a Rimington Trophy candidate. That's all good.
But a center is not going to fire up a frustrated fan base living in the League of Quarterbacks.
Rosen was a unanimous 5-star recruit. He was nicknamed Chosen Rosen and it fits perfectly—he is a candidate for a number of major awards including the Heisman Trophy.
But Rosen is coming off of a reported surgical procedure on his shoulder—his injury sidelined him for most of the 2016 season. He appeared 100 percent in the spring game but that was a no-contact scrimmage.
Rosen will start off his third season under his third offensive coordinator. Mora says having all these coordinators has been "helpful because [Rosen] loves information."
Mora and Quessenberry used words like "progressed" and "maturity" in describing Rosen on Wednesday.
Unfortunately, Rosen was not at media days to confirm any of this. Even more puzzling was the Bruins' beat writers failing to ask some obvious questions.
If the season started today, is Rosen 100 percent ready to go?
Does he have this team?
Does he have confidence in his offensive line protecting him?
Since the Bruins' fall camp will be closed to the public* and offer only limited access to the media, the intrigue grows.
Trotting out a Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback to counter that momentum building across town under Darnold would have been a brilliant move to boost confidence.
If the Bruins celebrate a championship season, then Mora's grand plan will have been brilliant.
But for now, the proverbial elephant is looming large in the room.
*Update: The Bruins have now opened up their practices to the public starting on August 2, per BruinsNation.com.