Welcome to the Hotline’s preview of the 2019 football season, a month-long rollout of content scheduled for three installments.

Starting today and continuing into next week, we’ll examine issues specific to training camp, the conference’s top newcomers and staff changes most likely to impact performance.

In the middle of the month, we’ll transition to team previews that include the Hotline’s annual game-by-game predictions and an expanded offering of commentary and analysis.

The final wave will look at bowl projections, all-conference picks, quarterback ratings and more (much more).

(Note: The head coaches’ comments below are from Pac-12 football media day last week in Hollywood.)

Previewing Fall Camp

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NORTH

Cal

Camp starts: Aug. 2

Season opener: Aug. 31 vs UC Davis

We’re watching: Every aspect of the offense … The Bears are in need of a starting tailback, and Christopher Brown (just 151 yards last season) is the top contender … They are in search of consistency at quarterback, from incumbent Chase Garbers or transfer Devon Modster (formerly of UCLA) … They need better play up front … And they need someone — anyone — to emerge as a big-play threat in the passing game. With the exception of Rutgers, no Power Five team had a lower yards-per-attempt average last season than the Bears (5.7) … The defense, on the other hand, starts strong and only gets better as you move away from scrimmage, with one of the nation’s top back lines.

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Justin Wilcox on … big plays: “To think you’re going to drive the ball at three, four, five yards a play the whole field the whole game is very, very difficult. The primary indicators in scoring points (are) creating explosive plays, and we were not good in that area last year. It’s coaching, it’s development of our players, it’s recruiting, and going out and performing.”

Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert scrambles against UW in October. (Dean Rutz / The Seattle Times)
Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert scrambles against UW in October. (Dean Rutz / The Seattle Times)

Oregon

Camp starts: Aug. 2

Season opener: Aug. 31 vs. Auburn

We’re watching: The hands. We are watching the hands … The Ducks had 52 dropped passes last year (four per game) and must greatly reduce that number without their top receiver from ’18, Dillon Mitchell. All eyes are on Penn State transfer Juwan Johnson, but a second option is essential (perhaps junior Jaylon Redd) … The defense needs a presence on the edge to replace Justin Hollins. Is true freshman Kayvon Thibodeaux the answer? We’re skeptical that he’s up to the task, week after week … The kicking game was awful last season (6-of-11 field goals) and must be resolved prior to the opener.

Mario Cristobal on … winning on the road: “Two years ago, the struggles on the road were monumental. There were double-digit defeats and absolutely no chance at winning to, last year, winning three of them but still having difficulties in other ones. And now understanding that as this thing gets harder and you go deeper into it, especially when it goes into conference play on the road, the level of attention to detail and the shutting out of the outside world has to be at a level where … nothing that can derail you from your mindset and your approach to the game.”

Oregon State

Camp starts: Aug. 1

Season opener: Aug. 30 vs. Oklahoma State

We’re watching: Jake Luton’s back, and his shoulders, and his knees — every part of the injury-prone, 6-foot-7 senior …  The Beavers are relying heavily on transfer Addison Gumbs (from Oklahoma) to solidify a defensive line that was nonexistent against the run. Another key newcomer, Avery Roberts (Nebraska), should start at inside linebacker … Safety David Morris was one of the most promising young defensive backs in the conference in 2017 but missed last season with a broken foot. How quickly will he regain old form? … Oh, and we’re intrigued by the tailback rotation that emerges in camp. The Beavers are loaded in the backfield.

Jonathan Smith on … defending the run: “We needed to get better. It starts up front, and so we needed to grow and add to our defensive front, and that’s taken place. We’ve got to be better tacklers in space … We did look at adding to and tweaking some schemes defensively, so with all of that, confident we’re going to be better against it.”

Stanford

Camp starts: Aug. 2

Season opener: Aug. 31 vs. Northwestern

We’re watching: The running game … The candidates to replace Bryce Love have been, to this point, a bit underwhelming. Will Cameron Scarlett, Dorian Maddox or Trevor Speights transform from role player into star? … Only if the offensive line improves by an order of magnitude. The Cardinal is set at left tackle with Walker Little but has questions everywhere else … The positions responsible for run support, inside linebackers, require scrutiny this month. Stanford is replacing Bobby Okereke, its top playmaker from the front seven. The player to watch in this regard is junior Curtis Robinson, who missed all but two games last season.

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David Shaw on … recruiting: “The recruiting machine in college football right now is very misleading. That’s the reason why we have so many guys that transfer. They don’t know who they are, and they’re picking colleges for the wrong reasons, and they get to the college and they get to their first bump in the road, they’re third string as a freshman and say, ‘I shouldn’t be third string, I’m going someplace else,’ instead of saying, ‘Hey, I chose this college. This is where I want to go to school and play football.’”

Washington

Camp starts: Aug. 2

Season opener: Aug. 31 vs Eastern Washington

We’re watching: The Huskies had one of the top-15 defenses in the country last year but, curiously, ranked near the bottom of the FBS in sacks and tackles-for-loss. Our focus is on sophomore outside linebacker Joe Tryon … The next elite interior defensive lineman in Seattle might be freshman Tuli Letuligasenoa, but is he ready for the role? … Who replaces linebackers Ben Burr-Kirven and Tevis Bartlett in the middle of the defense? Brandon Wellington and Kyler Manu are the top candidates … The secondary will have four new faces, with only nickel Myles Bryant back from the 2018 starting quintet … Oh, and we might find time to monitor that Jacob Eason guy.

Chris Petersen on … the Pac-12 officiating review: “What the report does to me, and I think for probably most of the coaches, is it makes you feel like they’re doing everything in their power to get better at this whole process, and they get it straightened out and do the best we possibly can. And I think that’s what it’s all about, is it’s about owning up to, hey, what do we need to do to take the next step to make everybody feel better, including ourselves. So I think it’s a real positive, and I think we’re heading in the right direction.

Quarterbacks Anthony Gordon (18) and Trey Tinsley (10).

Washington State opened its fall campaign with a practice at Sacajawea Junior High School in Lewiston, Idaho, Saturday, August 4, 2018. 207265 (Dean Rutz / The Seattle Times)
Quarterbacks Anthony Gordon (18) and Trey Tinsley (10). Washington State opened its fall campaign with a practice at Sacajawea Junior High School in Lewiston, Idaho, Saturday, August 4, 2018. 207265 (Dean Rutz / The Seattle Times)

Washington State

Camp starts: Aug. 2

Season opener: Aug. 31 vs. New Mexico State

We’re watching: The most intriguing quarterback competition in the North resides in Pullman, where another transfer, Gage Gubrud from Eastern Washington, is competing for the starting job. But will he beat out Anthony Gordon, who was impressive in the spring game? … Our interest in the secondary increased substantially with the unexpected departure of safety Jalen Thompson (to the NFL supplemental draft). Without him, the Cougars are in serious shuffling mode … The left side of the offensive line has been retooled in the wake of Andre Dillard’s departure. Liam Ryan shifts from guard to tackle. We expect Robert Valencia to slide into the lineup at left guard.

Mike Leach on … expectations: “I realize everybody thinks we’re going to get our head kicked in as usual. I don’t expect that to be the case any more than it was last year at this time when speculation was similar. Yeah, that’s the great thing about us, is every season everybody thinks we’re going to get our head kicked in, then we don’t. So everybody gets to be stunned and surprised, so it’s fun for everybody.”

SOUTH

Arizona

Camp started: July 26

Season opener: Aug. 24 at Hawaii

We’re watching: The Wildcats lost their top-three receivers. Is senior Cedric Peterson ready for a primary role? And who else fills the voids left by Shawn Poindexter and Shun Brown? … The offensive line rotation must be sorted out after losing several regulars from a unit that was a bit thin to begin with … Arizona’s back seven should be solid, but how will the defensive front hold up without PJ Johnson? The Wildcats needed to get bigger in the interior, and JC transfer Myles Tapusoa brings size (330 pounds), but is he an impact player immediately? Two names to watch in August: Jalen Harris and JB Brown.

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Kevin Sumlin on … Khalil Tate: “You couldn’t be at a higher point in your career than he was walking in here last year … and you couldn’t be at a lower point when you’re in the Rose Bowl in your hometown and you don’t even have a uniform on and you can’t help your team. I think that’s affected how he’s approached the offseason.”

Arizona State

Camp starts: July 31

Season opener: Aug. 29 vs. Kent State

We’re watching: The quarterback competition, where true freshman Jayden Daniels is expected to challenge inexperienced senior Dillon Sterling-Cole. (Working in the Sun Devils’ favor: They open with two cupcakes, giving the coaching staff until the trip to Michigan State in Week Three to sort it out.) … The defensive line is undergoing an overhaul after losing Renell Wren and Jalen Bates. The key here might be Rice transfer Roe Wilkins … ASU has one of the top tailbacks in the country in Eno Benjamin, but who provides the relief? Durable as Benjamin was last season, it’s not unreasonable to wonder if he can manage another 300 carries without injury.

Herm Edwards on … inexperience: “We’re going to be very young. But that was part of it. That’s why I sit here today, is that we were going to build a program, and there’s going to be a lot of young players. What’s unique about that is that we were able to do that last year, and some guys were successful, and we want to continue to do that.”

Colorado wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. takes part in Pac-12 media day Wednesday, July 24, 2019, in Los Angeles. (Marcio Jose Sanchez / The Associated Press)
Colorado wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. takes part in Pac-12 media day Wednesday, July 24, 2019, in Los Angeles. (Marcio Jose Sanchez / The Associated Press)

Colorado

Camp starts: Aug. 1

Season opener: Aug. 30 vs. Colorado State

We’re watching: Laviska Shenault’s reps and health: He broke down last season (understandably) and is recovering from multiple injuries/surgeries. Keeping him fresh through August should be CU’s top priority, followed closely by identifying a secondary option in the passing game (best bet: KD Nixon) … Defensive tackle Mustafa Johnson is one of the best in the conference, but will help emerge from a group of transfers and underclassmen? Name to watch up front: Terrance Lang … Just a few years ago, Colorado was billed as DBU. Without Evan Worthington, the secondary lacks a marquee name entering 2019. Is there a game changer on the roster?

Mel Tucker on … his philosophy: “At the end of the day, I have to be myself, and the team is going to be a reflection of me and how I believe the game of football should be played. But the experiences I’ve had have been a tremendous asset for me moving forward. There are going to be some things from Bama, from Georgia, from Ohio State that I’ve learned and that I’m going to install in Boulder.”

UCLA

Camp starts: July 31

Season opener: Aug. 29 at Cincinnati

We’re watching: The Bruins were No. 117 nationally in tackles-for-loss and 119th in sacks. They’re well stocked at inside linebacker, but who will provide pressure off the edges with Keisean Lucier-South out of action (academic issues) … Within the Pac-12, only Cal produced fewer passing plays of 30+ yards last season. The Bruins must do a better job stretching the field — a task made more difficult by the loss of tight end Caleb Wilson … Freshman tackle Sean Rhyan is touted as one of the top offensive line recruits in school history. Is he ready to wall off the left edge? If so, UCLA will have one of the division’s top lines.

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Chip Kelly on … habits: “There’s a lot of people that say, ‘New Year’s Day, I’m going to get in shape and I’m going to go work and do other things,’ and it lasts for three days, and then they’re buying chips and soda at the store three days later. Their habits don’t reflect their mission. You all figure out what your mission is and then your habits need to reflect that. So that’s all we’re just trying to emphasize, your habits need to reflect that. That’s all we’re trying to emphasize, making good choices.”

USC

Camp starts: Aug. 2

Season opener: Aug. 31 vs. Fresno State

We’re watching: “Culture, discipline, schemes, personnel and staff” … The offensive line has been overhauled following the departures of starters Chuma Edoga, Toa Lobendahn and Chris Brown. Unless the unit coalesces rapidly under new position coach Tim Drevno — the early-season schedule is ridiculous — the Trojans won’t rise up to challenge Utah … The secondary has more holes than any other unit, especially on the perimeter with vacancies at both corner spots … The sophomore class: quarterback JT Daniels, receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown, defensive tackle Jay Tufele, linebacker Palaie Geoteote, safety Talanoa Hufanga — so many of USC’s top playmakers are sophomores. The Trojans need them to play like seniors.

Clay Helton on … the team dynamic: “The big men are controlling our team right now, and that’s what you want to see. The best teams that I have been on, the offensive and defensive line have thrived, they control the team, and they’ve controlled the line of scrimmage.”

Utah

Camp starts: July 31

Season opener: Aug. 29 at Brigham Young

We’re watching: Utah has one of the nation’s finest tailbacks in Zack Moss, but the departure of Armand Shyne (to Texas Tech) leaves a hole in the backup spot. The top option is probably Devonta’e Henry-Cole, who missed last year due to injury … Loaded as the Utes are on the defensive front, talented as they are in the secondary, a playmaking void exists at linebacker. Francis Bernard, formerly of BYU, and Penn State transfer Manny Bowen — both seniors — are the favorites to man the middle … The program with what’s usually the best kicker-punter combo in the conference is in need of both (Matt Gay and Mitch Wishnowsky have moved on). Freshmen Jadon Redding and Ben Lennon are the top candidates. (UPDATE: Bowen has reportedly left the program.)

Kyle Whittingham on … dealing with hype: “We started these discussions with our players two or three months ago because we felt like we were going to have some preseason hype and that type of things, and so we wanted to make sure that we got out ahead of it and talked to our players about just ignoring the noise and just staying focused.”

More from Jon Wilner

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