Commentary on Pac-12 developments on and off the field, and court …
Rising: Pac-12 basketball schedule
The most-anticipated season in years is fast approaching. On Wednesday, the Pac-12 released the master schedule, which includes tipoff times and TV assignments for all but a few games.
We took a peek at the non-conference opponents to get a sense for the challenge — and opportunity — awaiting the teams.
It’s impossible to provide the full list of foes because so many teams play in-season tournaments, where only the opening-round opponent is known.
But we know this:
The Pac-12 has three games against defending national champion Baylor, two games against (likely) preseason No. 1 Gonzaga, and single games against North Carolina, Villanova and Kansas.
We also know UCLA’s schedule is an absolute work of art.
The Bruins, who returned all the key players from their Final Four run and should be No. 2 or 3 in the AP preseason poll, will host Villanova and face Gonzaga and North Carolina in Las Vegas.
They will carry the Pac-12 banner with two hands. Everyone else will clutch it with one.
Other notable matchups in November and December:
Colorado hosts Tennessee and Kansas.
Arizona State plays Baylor on a neutral court and Creighton on the road.
Oregon gets Baylor at home.
Stanford plays in Waco and faces Texas on a neutral floor.
Arizona has true road games against Tennessee and Illinois.
Washington visits Gonzaga.
And there are potential dates with Ohio State, Michigan and Syracuse, depending on results of in-season tournaments.
The conference has no shortage of chances to show remaining skeptics that the March Madness success was the start of a sustainable upswing, rather than a fluke.
All that’s left, it seems, is the winning.
Falling: Washington State’s schedule
The Cougars are the only team that doesn’t face at least one high-profile opponent. Quite the contrary. Their schedule is packed with creampuffs:
Alcorn State (home), Seattle (home), UC Santa Barbara (home), Idaho (road), Winthrop (home), Eastern Washington (home), Weber State (home), South Dakota State (in Spokane), New Mexico State (home), Northern Colorado (home) and Boise State (in Spokane).
We get it: Kyle Smith is wary of over-scheduling as he builds the program. Success is essential for confidence and momentum.
But the Cougars won more games than they lost last season (14-13), return a slew of key players and could very well finish in the top half of the conference.
Smith has done a masterful job in his first two seasons.
But the 2021-22 schedule, frankly, is disappointing.
Rising: UCLA football
We’re not sure anything the Bruins do on the field this season will top the gesture they made earlier this week.
In the aftermath of the death of Utah defensive back Aaron Lowe, the Bruins sent a sympathy note — except it wasn’t your standard sympathy note.
It was a three-foot-tall foam board (a mix of cardboard and styrofoam) that featured a picture of Lowe in uniform, holding the Utah flag, with signatures from the entire UCLA team and coach Chip Kelly.
Utah published a photo of the board on its Twitter account with a note of appreciation.
“This is incredibly meaningful, @UCLAFootball. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you. #22forever”
Falling: Arizona football
So desperate is the need for players that the Wildcats are holding tryouts for walk-ons.
That’s right. The program’s Twitter feed published a notice of the tryouts, with a link to registration information. (The NCAA has certain requirements for walk-ons.)
We cannot remember the last time a Pac-12 program held tryouts, especially during the season.
Then again, the Wildcats haven’t won a game in two years and are making Kansas look almost competent by comparison.
Sure, the coaches would love to spot a hidden gem who could help win games, but there is a clear need to improve the competitive level of practice, as well.
Our guess is Jedd Fisch never imagined it would come to this when he took the job last winter.
But should it have come to this?
The Hotline examined Arizona’s national and conference rankings for the five recruiting classes (2016-20) that make up the bulk of the current roster.
Per the 247Sports.com database, here’s what we found (national/conference ranking):
2016: 48th/9th2017: 45th/10th2018: 61st/11th2019: 56th/11th2020: 59th/11th
Those are not the rankings typically associated with the level of deterioration we’ve seen in Tucson, much less a multi-year losing streak.
They aren’t good, but many teams have done worse.
In fact, Arizona’s classes consistently have ranked higher over that stretch than those of Wake Forest. And the Demon Deacons are currently undefeated.
Rising: Oregon’s NIL opportunities
As if the Ducks didn’t possess built-in advantages in the Name, Image and Likeness era through their relationship with Nike, here comes the next step:
Phil Knight has formed a company devoted to helping Oregon athletes promote their personal brand.
It’s called Division Street, Inc., and according to Forbes, former Nike vice president Rosemary St. Clair will oversee the company:
“Our team has spent decades building the brands of the world’s best athletes, and we will use that experience to elevate NIL opportunities by bringing in leading expertise across brand, marketing, sponsorship, digital and creative to support all Oregon student-athletes, inclusive of every sport and across gender.”
Of particular note: Sabrina Ionescu is the Chief Athlete Officer.
Because of their location, USC and UCLA are well positioned to benefit from NIL opportunities.
But the Ducks will be formidable in the space, thanks, in large part, to Uncle Phil.
Falling: Pac-12 QB recruiting
Matt Miller, an NFL Draft analyst for ESPN and founder of thedraftscout.com, released his latest ‘Big Board’ for the 2022 draft — a ranking of eligible prospects regardless of position, draft order or team need.
The No. 1 quarterback is Mississippi’s Matt Corral, who’s from Southern California.
The No. 2 quarterback is Nevada’s Carson Strong, who’s from Northern California.
The No. 3 quarterback is Oklahoma’s Spencer Rattler, who’s from Phoenix.
That’s all. End of item.
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