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After years of parading around Los Angeles movie studios and Hollywood landmarks, Pac-12 Football Media Day has moved to the equally bright lights of Las Vegas this year for what should be a riveting preview of the upcoming 2023 season.

The eponymous Conference of Champions has no shortage of stories to discuss when the league’s players, coaches and staff meet with the media, from a host of top 25 teams capable of ending a long college football playoff drought, to some of the sport’s true superstars on the field, to existential threats that will change the future of the league moving forward.

What will be the most important thing going into Friday in the Pac-12? Here are some key stories to track West as the spotlight turns to the conference:

Prime Trainer Absence

After all, one of the most anticipated podium sessions in the Pac-12 won’t happen.

Colorado confirmed Wednesday that head coach Deion Sanders will have surgery on Thursday and will miss media day this week as a result.

While everyone certainly wishes Sanders the best as he continues to deal with blood clots in his legs, the news stings a bit for the conference considering how much attention Coach Prime has brought to both his program and the league as a whole. Not only was the stage in Las Vegas expected to offer him a chance to issue some rebuttals to his fellow trainers who were questioning his methods, but it would also allow Trainer Prime to lay out clearly how the Buffs can return to prominence between the lines.

Instead, we’ll have to get health updates and a look at the state of the program from Sanders’ son Shedeur and the head coach’s replacement on the mic in defensive coordinator Charles Kelly.

[Deion Sanders will not attend Pac-12 media day]

Quarterbacks, quarterbacks, quarterbacks

Seven of the Pac-12 teams will bring their signs to Las Vegas this season, which helps reaffirm that the Champions Conference is probably better known as the Quarterbacks Conference.

Obviously, one can start with the guy who has been stiff-arming for much of the past seven months on Caleb Williams. The USC QB helped transform the school almost overnight from a mid-tier team to contending for the conference crown and knocking on the playoff door. We’ll see what he can do for an encore after throwing for 4,537 yards and an FBS-high 42 touchdowns (against just five interceptions), but it’s safe to say the Heisman winner will be front and center this week as he reflects on what he’s done so far and how he can improve.

Expectations for Caleb Williams, USC in 2023?

Expectations for Caleb Williams, USC in 2023?

 

Williams isn’t the only player to watch out for, and the fact that he’s not a favorite to repeat as a first-team All-Pac-12 selection speaks as much to the quality as the quantity of players on other teams. Washington’s Michael Penix Jr. is also a genuine Heisman contender, while Oregon’s Bo Nix is ​​already generating buzz as a potential first-round candidate with another strong season in Eugene. Arizona’s Laura’s Jayden and Wazzu’s Cameron Ward are among the most electrifying and inspiring YOLO signal callers in the league, while new Colorado quarterback Shedeur Sanders might have the most attention on him of all who made the move to the Power 5.

And, while his QB isn’t addressing media day, Oregon State coach Jonathan Smith will no doubt be asked a lot of questions about former Clemson star DJ Uiagalelei moving to Corvallis.

The most important position on the field usually gets a lot of attention at events like this, but in the case of the Pac-12, it totally deserves it.

The awkward goodbye

On media day last year, Pac-12 coaches, players and executives were still trying to process the announcement that USC and UCLA were going to the Big Ten. Truth be told, most still are.

However, now things are becoming even more tangible. This is the last season that the teams will play the Bruins and/or the Trojans in the league. The last trip to the Rose Bowl in a month other than January, the last moment to see that flame burning atop the Coliseum. Last time for many things involving two programs with rich, intertwined histories with the other 10 schools left behind.

While much of the emphasis this week will likely come from the form of asking Lincoln Riley and Chip Kelly how they’re preparing for those trips to the Midwest in 2024, the other coaches will be talking a lot about respecting the two schools’ final journey up and down the West Coast … which they also hope ends with one last loss.

USC defensive upgrade

Speaking of the Trojans, their offseason motto has been “The Work Isn’t Done” after being crushed in the Pac-12 title game and subsequently losing the Cotton Bowl by losing a late lead to Tulane.

No one is going to question Riley’s credentials when it comes to offense, but both he and new linebacker Mason Cobb, who will be in attendance Friday representing the other side of the ball, will be peppered with questions about the team’s biggest flaw: defense. Last year, the group ranked 93rd in points allowed per game and 106th in total defense.

Although coordinator Alex Grinch was retained, the on-field staff in Los Angeles has seen a bit of a transfer influx like Cobb and mammoth defensive tackle Bear Alexander, who came over from reigning national champion Georgia. Former five-star Anthony Lucas also headed West after time at Texas A&M.

So how good, or at least decent, will USC be defensively in 2023? That is something that will be a fundamental question that will surround the team throughout the season.

The Most Intriguing Assistant Coaches in College Football

The Most Intriguing Assistant Coaches in College Football

 

Cam Rising health

It may be the default to bring in a superior quarterback to the media days for many teams, but the case isn’t entirely straightforward for reigning conference champion Utah. That’s because the veteran Rising tore his ACL in the Rose Bowl and his status remains uncertain for the opener against Florida in Salt Lake City.

Rising has been adamant that he’ll be ready for that game, about eight and a half months after surgery, and he’s bound to be teased ad nauseam in Las Vegas about how he’s feeling and what his condition is. The senior missed all of spring practice and has only been doing light work as he gets back into game form. Not only will it be interesting to hear what he and head coach Kyle Whittingham have to say about the plan to prepare the caller to play the Gators, but also what happens if he doesn’t feel 100% for Week 1.

The Washington Encore

In addition to USC going from four wins to the conference title game and the New Year’s Six, Washington was one of the biggest surprises in the Pac-12 a year ago in his first season under Kalen DeBoer. The Huskies not only won 11 games for the second time in two decades and finished in the top 10 in the final polls, but they raised expectations for 2023 by bringing back nearly every standout for another run.

So what can U-Dub do for an encore?

Penix, who led the nation in passing yards per game his freshman year in Montlake, is already being touted as one of Williams’ biggest Heisman-winning threats, and the defense has seniors with strong résumés to lean on like pass-rusher Zion Tupuola-Fetui.

Add in a schedule that features some big non-conference tests against Boise State and with Michigan State, Oregon and Utah coming to Husky Stadium, plus a final trip to the Coliseum to face USC, and Washington won’t be short of moments in the spotlight next season. It will be up to the Huskies to make the most of it.

Washington’s Michael Penix Jr. throws a 62-yard TD against Oregon

Washington's Michael Penix Jr. throws a 62-yard TD against Oregon

 

New names, new places

Sanders is far from the only big newcomer to be discussed in Sin City on Friday. His fellow new coaches featured in the media day include FBS newcomer Troy Taylor replacing David Shaw at Stanford; and Kenny Dillingham returning to his alma mater to lead the state of Arizona at the ripe age of 33.

media matters

The future Pac-12 media deal starting with the 2024-25 season has been a frequent topic of conversation for more than a full calendar year and it will continue to be a Friday and beyond. Following several reports this week, a conference source confirmed to FOX Sports that a new deal will not be announced in Las Vegas, and it could be several more weeks before it becomes clear where fans could watch their teams play next season and beyond.

Despite another delay in the ongoing saga, the specter of a new deal will continue to hang over the remaining 10 members of the Pac-12. Commissioner George Kliavkoff has not addressed the matter publicly for nearly six months and will surely be asked to clarify what happens next. The same will be asked of the coaches and various athletic directors who haunt Resorts World on the north end of the Las Vegas Strip.

So until something concrete happens on the broadcast front, the media rights deal will remain the most pressing issue facing the league moving forward and will overshadow what should be one of the best college football seasons in modern times.

The new era of college football

It’s not just the makeup of the conference that will change in 2024, it’s very much a new era for the sport as a whole. This is the final season of the four-team playoffs before the expansion sets in, and both coaches and players are likely to have a say in what it will mean moving forward. Throw in noteworthy topics like name, image and likeness, or the transfer portal, and there’s no shortage of off-field issues to be discussed as college football continues to evolve.

Bryan Fischer is a college football writer for FOX Sports. He has been covering college athletics for nearly two decades on outlets like NBC Sports, CBS Sports, Yahoo! Sports and NFL.com among others. Follow him on Twitter at @BryanDFischer.

 



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