A recap of the week’s top developments across the Pac-12 …
1. Montlake momentum
Washington successfully retained offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb after the playcaller interviewed with Alabama coach Nick Saban for the same post — a massive victory for the Huskies as they pursue the Pac-12 championship and a berth in the College Football Playoff. (They should start the season in the top 10 of the AP poll.)
With coach Kalen DeBoer and quarterback Michael Penix Jr. returning, UW would have navigated Grubb’s departure — but not without a continuity cost.
At the highest levels of the sport, success often unfolds on the margins. Three or four plays over 12 games make the difference between an impressive season and a playoff season. Between winning 10 and winning 12. Between watching the semifinals and participating in them.
With Grubb returning, the likelihood of those crucial sequences falling in UW’s favor increase markedly.
DeBoer has won the two recruiting duels that mattered most this winter: He kept Penix away from the lure of the NFL Draft and Grubb from the clutches of the Crimson Tide.
2. Cash counting
Grubb reportedly received two raises from the Huskies, during and immediately after the season, which pushed his compensation to a reported $2 million annually.
Based on USA Today’s salary database, Grubb likely will be the top-paid assistant in the Pac-12 next season and one of the best-compensated in the country.
(We don’t know for sure because the database won’t be updated with 2023 contracts until next fall. Oregon defensive coordinator Tosh Lupoi was the conference’s top-paid assistant in ’22, with a salary of $1.7 million.)
The demand for Grubb makes perfect sense given his impact on the Huskies and the conference. UW’s willingness to rework his contract twice reflects an administrative commitment to maximize the momentum generated by DeBoer’s stellar debut.
One by one, Pac-12 schools are increasing their investment in football — a development that starts at the highest level (with the university president) and can have massive implications for the campus at large.
3. Recruiting wins
The 2022-23 recruiting cycle came to a close on Wednesday with the traditional National Signing Day, and it’s clear the Pac-12’s on-field upturn carried over to the recruiting trail.
When accounting for transfers, the conference generated five of the top 25 incoming classes, according to the 247 Sports composite rankings.
Only the SEC had more.
USC and Oregon cracked the top 10, while Colorado, UCLA and Utah were in the 20s.
A year ago this week, only three teams possessed top-25 classes.
4. Pledge of allegiance
Arizona State Kenny Dillingham collected a signature victory seven months before his first game, landing coveted quarterback recruit Jaden Rashada on National Signing Day.
Rashada didn’t sign a letter of intent; he went through that process in December with Florida, then was granted a release when his NIL deal fell apart.
The four-star passer from the Bay Area narrowed his choices to ASU and TCU and ultimately opted to follow his father’s footsteps to Tempe. (Harlen Rashada played defensive back for the Sun Devils in the early 1990s.)
Rashada will compete with returnee Trent Bourguet and two transfers, Drew Pyne (Notre Dame) and Jacob Conover (BYU), for the starting assignment.
He serves two purposes for Dillingham over and above the on-field contributions, helping to legitimize the rookie coach’s tenure and attract other players to Tempe. Quarterbacks are the Pied Pipers of recruiting.
5. Lengthening the lineup
Rashada’s commitment to ASU means 10 teams will have quarterbacks on the roster who fit into one of three categories: Heisman Trophy candidates, solid returning starters or gifted newcomers.
— Heisman contenders: USC’s Caleb Williams (the 2022 winner), Oregon’s Bo Nix, Utah’s Cam Rising and Washington’s Penix.
— Solid returnees: Washington State’s Cam Ward and Arizona’s Jayden de Laura
— Gifted newcomers: Colorado’s Shedeur Sanders, Oregon State’s DJ Uiagalelei, UCLA’s Dante Moore and ASU’s Rashada.
The two teams that don’t: Cal and Stanford.
6. Triple threat in Corvallis
ASU is hardly the only program that has overhauled its quarterback depth since the end of the season. Oregon State, which won 10 games despite erratic play from the pocket, has done the same.
The Beavers added Uiagalelei, the former Clemson starter, and high school signee Aidan Chiles, a four-star prospect and one of the most underrated recruits (at the position) in the West.
If the passing efficiency improves and the Beavers remain stout across the other 21 positions, they should be a force in the conference race.
7. Big 12 reminder
The Big 12 released its 2023 football schedule this week. For the first time, it featured a certain university located in Provo, Utah.
Brigham Young’s lineup of opponents includes Texas and Oklahoma but was notable for what was absent: Pac-12 opponents.
The Holy War (against Utah) is on a two-year hiatus, and with the requirement to play nine league games — instead of an Independent schedule — BYU no longer has a need for Pac-12 matchups.
That’s an important consideration as the Pac-12 mulls whether to drop to eight league games in the 2024 season (and beyond). Without the Cougars, quality opponents outside the Power Five will be even more difficult to find.
8. Budget recovery
It took two years, but Pac-12 schools have finally emerged from the pandemic’s budget wallop.
Financial reports made public this week for the 2022 fiscal year showed Utah with record revenue of $115.7 million and a budget surplus of $3.8 million, according to KSL.com.
Washington State reported a surplus, as well. The Cougars had $84.2 million in revenue and $82.6 in expenses.
In each case, football accounted for the majority of revenue.
The Hotline will take a full accounting of the Pac-12’s post-COVID finances once all the schools have finished reporting.
9. March muddle
Utah didn’t fare as well on the court this week, with a home loss to Stanford undermining the Utes’ fragile case for an NCAA Tournament berth.
A high number of low-quality wins outside of Pac-12 play left the Utes with a narrow path into the at-large pool. Following the faceplant against Stanford, their NET ranking dropped into the mid-50s, suggesting trouble ahead.
At this point — with Utah and Colorado struggling and Arizona State unable to gain traction — USC stands as the bubble team with the best chance to join UCLA and Arizona in the tournament.
The Pac-12 looks like a three-bid league, at best.
10. Tour de force in Tucson
We’re hesitant to declare a winner in the Pac-12’s Player of the Year race with a month remaining in the regular season. But Arizona forward Azuolas Tubelis, who leads the conference in scoring and rebounding, moved closer to clinching the honor with a sterling performance Thursday.
Tubelis scored a career-high 40 points and grabbed nine rebounds (plus three steals) in the victory over Oregon.
The efficiency was even more impressive: He made 16-of-21 field goals while attempting only one 3-point shot — a throwback performance of the most refreshing variety.
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