LOS ANGELES — The Pac-12 was the final Power Five league to unofficially kick off the upcoming 2022 season with its media day taking place Friday at The Novo in Downtown L.A. Though media days are typically all smiles and eternal optimism, this particular moment comes at a tumultuous time after USC and UCLA officially declared their intentions earlier this summer to leave the league and join the Big Ten in 2024.
However, the entire day wasn’t overrun by off-field realignment questions. Key transfers and debuts for new coaches also dominated the storylines as the Pac-12 heads into the upcoming season.
Here are the key takeaways from Pac-12 Media Day:
Things are getting testy between commissioners
Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff started cordial, but couldn’t help but take shots at a Big 12 that he claimed was trying to “destabilize” his league — as recently as this week.
“The tampering continues,” Kliavkoff told 247Sports. “The good news is my presidents and chancellors and athletic directors forward me all those messages. I have a big collection of those messages.”
The Pac-12 and Big 12 are battling for many of the same media rights as the leagues have contracts that end in 2024 and 2025, respectively. Several Big 12 schools fought to try to get into the Pac-12 last year, but now several Big 12 schools have turned their eyes on adding Pac-12 schools.
“I’ve been spending four weeks trying to defend against grenades that have been lobbed from every corner of the Big 12 trying to destabilize our remaining conference,” Kliavkoff said. “I understand why they’re doing it, when you look at the media value between the two conferences. I get it, I get why they’re scared.”
Kliavkoff initially made a plea for collegiality between commissioners, but ultimately his frustration shined through. Things may only be getting worse as college football enters its most critical moment.
USC is embracing expectations
The Trojans went 4-8 last season, but Lincoln Riley hasn’t run from any expectations. The first-year coach emphasized that his expectations for this season are nothing short of winning a championship.
“The reality is if there’s no pressure, then you probably don’t have the same opportunities as others do,” Riley said. “You’ve got to see the opportunities in it. This is one of those programs and one of these cities that if you do it here, the sky’s the limit.”
USC has been perhaps the most scrutinized team in the country over the past several months following Riley’s controversially departure from Oklahoma. The Trojans put together the nation’s No. 1 transfer class, featuring five-star quarterback Caleb Williams and Biletnikoff winner Jordan Addison.
For USC and Riley, there is no learning curve. 2022 is championship or bust.
Utah has earned everyone’s respect
While USC is the top on-field story, the Utes are the overwhelming preseason selection to repeat as Pac-12 champions. The Utes received 26 of the 33 first-place votes in the preseason poll and opposing coaches gushed about their ability.
“There’s obviously a guy at the helm that I have a tremendous amount of respect for,” Colorado coach Karl Dorrell said of Utes coach Kyle Whittingham. “He’s got a great staff and they recruit. They do things right.”
Utah won its first Pac-12 Championship in 2021 after switching to quarterback Cameron Rising. A large amount of production returns, headlined by strong running back and tight end rooms around Rising. Now, the challenge for Utah is to keep things in perspective despite suddenly lofty expectations.
“We’re a program that is still working on our brand and trying to become more of a national presence,” Whittingham said. “But you’ve got to earn that. No one’s going to give that to you.”
The Big Ten hung like a cloud
Nearly every coach was asked about USC and UCLA’s shocking move to the Big Ten, from recruiting impact to the long-term health of the league. Some coaches shied away from the issue while pointing out that the move is still two years away. Others gave votes of confidence to the remaining 10 schools.
“I think the Pac-12 is going to be here and is going to be thriving for a very long time,” said Washington State coach Jake Dickert.
Whittingham claimed that nothing could surprise him in college football anymore after his long tenure in the industry. Oregon coach Dan Lanning didn’t seem too concerned about where his program stood in the ever-shifting landscape of college sports.
“I have zero concerns from that front just because I know how strong our brand and product is,” Lanning said. “I share a vision that our leadership in the conference and school shares … Oregon is a brand that is national.”
New faces abound
Four new coaches will be making their debuts in the Pac-12 this fall: Riley, Dickert, Lanning and Washington’s Kalen DeBoer. However, the coaches took a backseat to the number of transfer players who showed up to Pac-12 Media Days.
USC quarterback Caleb Williams headlined the group after entering the year among the Heisman Trophy finalists. FCS transfer Cameron Ward is also set to lead the way at Washington State after he followed Eric Morris, the former Incarnate Word head coach who is now the Cougars’ offensive coordinator.
The transition could ultimately be a good thing for many programs, especially one like Arizona that went 1-11 last season. The Wildcats added former Washington State starter Jayden de Laura and brought standout receiver Jacob Cowing to media day as its offensive representative.
Ultimately, the new faces will decide the ceiling of the Pac-12 in 2022.