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Pac-12 Saves Best for Last; Salary Absurdity; More Quotes of Note

One of the bitter ironies of the Pac-12 dissolution is that its upcoming, final season may be one of the best, if not the most competitive, in the league's history.

The pre-season AP poll has five Pac-12 schools in the rankings: USC 6, Washington 10, Utah 14, Oregon 15 and Oregon State 18.

Joel Klatt, for my money the best analyst in college football, has five Pac-12 teams in his pre-season top 15: Washington 6, USC 8, Utah 11, Oregon 13 and Oregon State 15. UCLA also made his list at No. 25.

There are a couple of common threads running through the ranked teams: top-flight transfer quarterbacks and questionable defenses.

Here's a capsule on each.


The face of the Trojan program is last year's Heisman Trophy winner, quarterback Caleb Williams, the transfer from Oklahoma. He's a rare talent who could well repeat as Heisman winner. But the real story here is whether SC can improve defensively. The Trojans allowed 47 points to Utah in the Pac-12 championship game, when a win would've put them in the College Football Playoff, and 46 to Tulane in the Cotton Bowl. They've added a boatload of transfers on that side of the ball, including linemen Anthony Lucas (Texas A&M), Bear Alexander (Georgia) and Kyon Barrs (Arizona, and linebacker Mason Cobb (Oklahoma State).


The Huskies, my pick for the Pac-12 title, are led by superstar quarterback Michael Penix, Jr, the transfer from Indiana. Last season Penix threw for over 4600 yards and 31 touchdowns, with only 8 Interceptions. He has two of the best receivers in the country in Rome Odunze and Jalen McMillan. Coach Kalen DeBoer, a defensive-minded coach, is focused on improving that side of the ball, which faltered in losses to UCLA (40-32) and Arizona State (45-38) last year.


Coach Kyle Whittingham, who we've been saying for years is the best in the Pac-12, has won the last two conference titles and will be in the thick of it again this season. He has a brutal schedule however, with non-conference games against Florida and Baylor, and matchups with all the other contenders (USC, Washington, Oregon, OSU, and UCLA). And the quarterback who's led them to two titles, Cam Rising, the transfer from Texas, is coming back from offseason knee surgery. He has plenty of weapons including running back Ja'Quinden Jackson, receiver Devaughn Vele and the stellar tight end tandem of Brant Kuithe and Thomas Yassmin.


Like the other contenders, Oregon has an outstanding quarterback in Bo Nix, the transfer from Auburn (notice the trend here?). Nix has speedster Bucky Irving at running back and a host of targets including Troy Franklin and Kris Hutson, so the Ducks will score lots of points. But like USC and Washington, they need to shore up the defense. Coordinator Tosh Lupoi, the former Cal defensive lineman, is one of the nation's best recruiters but has yet to prove himself as a DC.

Oregon State

Coach Jonathan Smith has done a marvelous job at his alma mater. Last year the Beavers went 10-3, finishing the season by upsetting archrival Oregon and then crushing Florida 30-3 in the Las Vegas Bowl. OSU will run the ball, with two excellent backs in Damien Martinez and Deshaun Fenwick, and play stout defense. They have their own transfer quarterback, D.J. Uiagalelei, from Clemson, but he may not beat out returnee Ben Gulbranson.


After going 10-21 in his first three seasons, Chip Kelly has turned things around by going 8-4 and 9-4 the past two years, including wins over Utah and Washington last fall. Highly touted freshman Dante Moore is involved in a four-way battle for the starting quarterback spot. The Bruins also hit the transfer portal hard, bringing in (among others) highly-touted ex-Ball State RB Carson Steele and ex-Cal receiver J. Michael Studivant.

Bay Area Teams

Neither Stanford nor Cal has a realistic shot at the conference title, or being ranked in the top 25 for that matter. Both have question marks at quarterback and a substantial talent gap behind the conference's top teams. The Athletic's ranking of every team in the nation, published today, has Cal at No. 75 and Stanford at 95.

The Bears were picked ninth in the Pac-12 pre-season media poll. They absorbed a number of close losses last year, when they struggled on offense, averaging only 24 points per game in the high-scoring Pac-12. Head coach Justin Wilcox has brought back well-traveled offensive coordinator Jack Spavital, who held that position in 2016 when Cal averaged 37 points per game in the Sonny Dykes era, and imported a bunch of transfers on defense.

First-year coach Troy Taylor has his work cut out for him at Stanford, where graduation and transfers left a pretty bare cupboard. The entire offensive line is gone, and there are no experienced returnees at quarterback. It could be a very rough season for the Cardinal, picked last by the media, unless someone steps up at QB and running backs E.J. Smith (Emmitt's son) and Casey Filkins can stay healthy.

The future looks brighter. Taylor is recruiting a stellar class for 2024. The question is, pending Stanford's conference status, will the top recruits remain committed?

Pac-4 Update: No news to report relative to the future of the Pac-4 teams. But the Richmond Times-Dispatch's David Teel had an interesting note on four of the ACC schools that voted to admit Stanford and Cal. Virginia Tech President Tim Sands, Wake Forest President Susan Wente, Boston College President William Leahy, and Duke President Vincent Price all have degrees from one of the two universities. Sands and Wente went to Cal; Leahy and Price to Stanford.

Salary Insanity: Last week Boston Celtics star Jaylen Brown, who played one year at Cal before jumping to the NBA, agreed to sign the richest deal in NBA history -- a five-year, $304 million supermax contract extension.

Brown is a nice player. He averaged 26 points and 7 rebounds per game this year. Yet his team was eliminated in the playoffs by Miami and he's never won an NBA title. No way Brown should make more than Nicola Jokic, Steph Curry, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embid, Luka Doncic, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler, his teammate Jayson Tatum, Devon Booker and Damian Lillard, for starters.

Brown's deal is fully guaranteed. So he gets over $60M year, or roughly $750K per game, regardless of whether he gets hurt or slips into mediocrity.

Not to be outdone, quarterback Justin Herbert and the San Diego Chargers of the NFL agreed to a five year, $262.5 million deal. Herbert isn't the best quarterback in the NFL. He ranks behind Patrick Mahomes, Joe Burrow, Josh Allen, Aaron Rodgers and perhaps Jalen Hurts. Yet he's going to pull in $52.5M per year, with $218 guaranteed over five seasons.

If you're a lunch pail guy who loves pro football, or even a CEO or litigator pulling in a million per year, this has to make you a little nauseous.

Quote Time: Many of you commented on the inclusion of interesting quotes last week. Here are a couple more.

UCLA basketball coach Mick Cronin, discounting the claims of conference commissioners and ADs that realignment fosters benefits for the athletes like more exposure, better competition and more money for nutrition, mental health and academic support:

"None of it is in the best interest of the student-athlete, no matter what anybody says. It's in the best interest of more money to cover the bills. That's it. Football is not the problem. We're changing leagues because of football? No, no, no. We're changing leagues to pay the bills for all the sports...all the bills have gotten too big. So, you gotta do what you've gotta do to be able to pay 'em. So it's unfair to say football is the problem; they've been the answer."

Mississippi coach Lane Kiffin, someone I've blasted in the past, has been making some refreshingly honest observations relative to NIL : "This is a disaster coming because you just legalized cheating and you just told donors they can pay the players is what you did. So now we've got professional sports, that's really what we are, and there's no caps on what guys can make and what teams' payrolls are. I'm not complaining, because we've taken advantage of it, but I don't think it's really good for college football. These massive overhauls of rosters every year, that's not good for college football.

"People used to ask me, which do you like, coaching in the NFL, coaching in college. I'd tell them I really like college because the players care so much about where they're at. A lot of that locker room, it's like, that's where they wanted to play when they grew up. And the passion of the fan base. And I used to say, in the NFL it's a business. But now we've moved towards that, where it's a business, and I would say the joy is gone."

Amen to that.

This Week: The 2023 season kicks off this Saturday. Two interesting games of note--USC hosts San Jose State and Notre Dame meets Navy in a neutral site game in Dublin.


Gary Cavalli - Bowl and League co-founder, author, speaker 

Gary Cavalli, the former Sports Information Director and Associate Athletic Director at Stanford University, was co-founder and executive director of the college football bowl game played in the Bay Area, and previously was co-founder and President of the American Basketball League.

Get in touch//@cavalli49//

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