Rising: Washington State and Cal
Two Pac-12 athletic directors, WSU’s Pat Chun and Cal’s Jim Knowlton, recently interviewed for the Northwestern vacancy but are not — or are no longer — candidates for the job.
Regardless of the framing, what matters to the Cougars, the Bears and, frankly, the entire Pac-12 is that neither Chun or Knowlton is leaving his current gig for Evanston.
Continuity atop any athletic department matters a great deal, but especially now, with all the COVID and non-COVID challenges facing Pac-12.
This goes double, and perhaps even triple, for the Cougars.
The conference needs every program to thrive, from the top to the bottom. Washington State is by no means at the bottom of the Pac-12 competitively, but it’s clearly No. 12 in revenue generation.
According to figures published by USA Today, the Cougars produced $71 million in revenue in the 2019 fiscal year — by far the lowest amount in the conference.
Next on the list was Oregon State, at $82 million.
Most schools were $100+ million.
In other words, WSU has less margin for error than anyone else. The Cougars must operate more efficiently. They must maximize every fundraising opportunity. They cannot make bad coaching hires, especially in the major sports.
In Pullman, whiffs on any front carry a greater wallop, and require more time to fix, than they do in Seattle or Eugene or Tempe or Los Angeles.
The Cougars cannot buy their way out of trouble to same degree as their peers. They need an athletic director who generates more hits than misses across his/her range of daily duties.
In three years, Chun’s hit rate has been in Tony Gwynn territory.
At some point, he’ll leave Pullman for a top-10/15 job nationally — most likely, it seems, in the Big Ten. (He’s from Ohio.)
While some WSU fans were frustrated to see his name linked to Northwestern, that’s actually a good thing for the Cougars: Be it head coaches, coordinators or athletic directors, you want people who are wanted elsewhere.
The same goes for Cal and Knowlton, although Cal’s challenges athletically have slightly less to do with raw revenue than with ferocious expenses (from carrying 30 intercollegiate sports) and campus willpower (from the academic dynamic).
At least until the new normal takes root and college sports navigate the momentous issues like transfer legislation and athlete compensation (name, image and likeness), continuity is beyond essential atop the Pac-12 departments.
Falling: Washington football
The most significant on-field news of the spring comes from Seattle, where star edge rusher Zion Tupuola-Fetui suffered a torn Achilles that will force him to miss most, if not all of next season.
Coach Jimmy Lake’s stated time frame for a return is 6-10 months, which pegs the best-case scenario for Tupuola-Fetui (beyond best case, in fact) as the end of October.
Or just in time for the Oregon game.
Speculation aside, this is a huge blow to the Huskies and their designs on a second consecutive division title.
UW’s defense is loaded with experience, especially in the front seven. And typically, the loss of an elite player elicits outsized performances from everyone else. When the playmaker goes down, the role players rise up.
But Tupuola-Fetui, who led the nation in sacks per game last season, is a next-level performer at a high-impact position.
His injury must be taken into account in any forthcoming assessments of the North race.
Rising: Utah football
The Hotline has been burned enough over the years that we’re loath to assign much significance to spring performances, especially from quarterbacks.
But so, too, are we hesitant to fully ignore what transpires in the spring.
Which brings us to Utah, and Charlie Brewer.
The transfer from Baylor looked like a top-tier Power Five starter in the Utes’ spring game, completing all 15 of his attempts and showing command of a scaled-down playbook.
In our opinion, Brewer’s ceiling is less important than his floor to Utah’s outlook for 2021.
If all goes as planned, Cameron Rising will return from shoulder surgery and compete with Brewer in training camp for the starting job.
Rising is a gigantic unknown, having played less than one half of one game last season before the injury.
The Utes would, of course, relish having two good options. But they first need to secure one solid option. Brewer’s showing in the spring increases the likelihood of reaching that goal.
Falling: Oregon football
Some college football fans might not be familiar with Sean Dollars.
Other might know him only as the reserve tailback who unleashed several impressive runs in the Pac-12 championship game.
But Dollars is one of the most talented young backs in the conference, a former four-star recruit from prep powerhouse Mater Dei.
And following the departure of Cyrus Habibi-Likio, who transferred to Boise State, he was poised to play an important role in the Oregon backfield next season.
That plan is now on hold.
Dollars suffered what coach Mario Cristobal called a “significant” leg injury during offseason workouts and isn’t scheduled to return until some point in the fall.
Details were lacking and injury speculation is tricky, but we took Cristobal’s comments to mean Dollars could return in the second half of the season, not the first.
By no means does his absence fully derail Oregon’s running game, not with returnees CJ Verdell and Travis Dye.
But it does undercut the depth — substantially — if either of the veterans is injured.
Rising: Arizona basketball
Within a week of his appointment, coach Tommy Lloyd’s recruiting prowess was on display, albeit via the transfer portal, not a letter of intent.
Tucson is the new home of Oumar Ballo, a 7-footer from Gonzaga who played small minutes but has big talent and should be eligible next season for the Wildcats. (The NCAA’s Division I Board of Directors is expected to ratify new transfer legislation next week.)
The degree to which Ballo contributes means less, at this point, than his decision to join Lloyd’s program: It’s an early win for the rookie coach. Immediate momentum.
In that regard, it’s comparable to the spate of initial victories secured by football coach Jedd Fisch upon his hiring in December.
Fisch landed a few transfers, including the son of an Arizona legend, and convinced several potential transfers to stick with the program. That combination quickly won over skeptics.
In neither case should the initial recruiting wins be taken as guarantees of future success. But in each case, the start to a new coaching tenure has gone as well as Arizona could have hoped.
Falling: UCLA basketball
Fresh off his transcendent performance in the NCAA tournament, UCLA wing Johnny Juzang has declared for the NBA draft.
The 6-foot-6 sophomore left open the option to return next season, and we view this as a distinct possibility: Unstoppable as he was in the tournament, Juzang isn’t viewed as a high-level NBA prospect. (Most mock drafts slot him into the second round.)
At the same time, it only takes one team to tell Juzang and his inner circle exactly what they want to hear.
There’s no risk of a star player entering the draft if he doesn’t declare. Once that first step is taken, the calculation changes.
If Juzang returns, the Bruins will be a popular pick as the preseason No. 1 and reap all the benefits (recruiting, ticket sales, etc.) that come with it.
Rising: UCLA basketball
Even if Juzang stays in the draft and injured wing Chris Smith declines to return, the Bruins likely will be a top-10 team in the preseason, if not top-five.
Tyger Campbell, Jaime Jaquez, Cody Riley, Jules Bernard, a slew of role players and five-star recruit Peyton Watson are more than enough to form the core of a conference favorite.
But coach Mick Cronin has added one more piece: Myles Johnson, a 6-foot-11 transfer from Rutgers.
Johnson isn’t a polished scorer, but he averaged 8.5 rebounds and 2.4 blocks this season in the Big Ten and produced double-doubles against Michigan State, Iowa and Syracuse.
He gives the Bruins exactly what they were lacking: An elite rim protector.
Oh, and we should mention: Johnson was a three-star recruit from Long Beach Poly who, according to 247Sports, had no scholarship offers from Pac-12 schools.