I shouldn't have to talk you into getting excited about Pac-12 football, but every year after Pac-12 Media Day(s) I go into a slight depression because I just got excited about all the storylines, players and games of 2014 only to leave the event and realize that it is more than a month until the season actually starts. This final stretch before fall camp even stars is always the worst and watching the Mariners slip out of the playoff chase isn't going to help this year.
So, to help you, and most importantly me, get through these darkest days of summer, here are some of the reasons why I could not be more excited for the 2014 Pac-12 football season...
The quarterbacks are outrageous... this is not a year where Lyle Moevao or Rudy Carpenter will be considered one of the best QBs in the conference as there are five proven QBs that are All-American-level players and a bevy of young talents waiting in the wings as well. Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley are getting a lot of the attention, but Taylor Kelly, Sean Mannion and Connor Halliday easily could be first-team All-Pac-12 in any given year. What is going to be most fun about this is the quarterback showdowns, forget Manning vs. Brady, Mariota vs. Hundley, Mannion vs. Mariota and etc... are going to must-see TV this fall.
The conference is healthy as a horse... Not that long ago, the conference was pretty much Oregon, Stanford... and everybody else, but the torso of the conference is back! Oregon and UCLA are national championship contenders and Stanford is down a bit, but still a Top 15 and USC is on the verge of being back. Where the conference has improved the most though is in the middle where a pack of programs like the Washington and Arizona schools and Oregon State are going to have some epic battles fighting over middle ground. Even the bottom dwellers are on the upswing, as I anticipate Cal and Colorado no longer being "gimme" games this year.
The coaches are entertaining as they have ever been... Recent Pac-12 Media Days are now becoming yearly reminders that the Pac-12 has some of the best, and most-entertaining coaches in the country. With Mike Leach and Rich Rodriguez around, the season is going to be full of good bytes, Todd Graham and Jim Mora bring as much intensity to the game as anyone out there and most importantly, almost every coach in the conference has proven that they can really coach on the field and are in the prime of their careers. Adding Chris Petersen is adds more quality coaching to the mix and we traded Lane Kiffin for Steve Sarkisian, setting up an epic rivalry between Mora and Sarkisian.
The College Football Playoff gives hope and not just to Oregon, Stanford and UCLA... Yes, the College Football Playoff gives Pac-12 hopefuls like Oregon, Stanford and UCLA a lot more hope for winning a national championship even if they lose a game or even two along the way, but I like what it foes for the rest of the conference a lot more. The new format I think gives hope to a team like Washington or Arizona State who will have a hard time getting into the Top 2 since they are starting slow low, but could get hot and lose only a game and get into the playoff conversation. Think along the lines of Missouri, Baylor, or even Auburn last year, who caught some breaks, had a favorable schedule and got into that territory. Adding two more teams that get a shot will be huge for the Pac-12's chances.
We can watch every game... This one has been around for a while, but I never stop appreciating it. I know that sometimes having games on random days and starting them at 11 a.m. or 8 p.m. justifiably gets under the skin of fans who go to games, but for me, especially since I mainly watch games on TV, it is worth it. Also, I'm not so much talking about the timing of the games, but the fact that, they all ARE televised, even games against Idaho State. Well, unless you have DirecTV.
Oregon and Stanford could no longer be invisible... The Ducks won 11 games in 2013, but started to show some cracks in their armor, getting dominated by Arizona and Stanford in ways that they never were by anyone under Chip Kelly and Stanford losses as much talent and experience going from season to season in any season since Jim Harbaugh showed up in Palo Alto. I wouldn't bet on either of these teams fading at all, but this is as much hope as the rest of conference has had in a while. I like both programs, but the top of the conference has been a bit of a dictatorship as of late and I think the democratic era of the Pac-12 (the Pac-10 actually) from 1992 to 2002 when almost every team in the Pac-12 seemed to take a turn at the top of the conference was more interesting overall.
The non-conference part of the season is awesome, even if it isn't as awesome as it used to be...
National respect is coming... I don't know why it took so long, but it seems like the rest of the country is finally starting to wake up on the Pac-12 and at about the right time. I will admit that the conference was pretty soft just a few years ago outside of Oregon and Stanford, but I never remember another time before that when it wasn't underrated for the overall strength of the conference. I remember my never-ending frustration of always having to open preview magazines and see the conference listed behind the might ACC and Big East in strength. The nation is finally starting to come around though, and I will give a lot of kudos to the conference brass for making a great PR effort to get the conference in front of the nation and let it show just how strong it is.