HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — Over the years, no conference in college football has been known for its quarterbacks more than the Pac-12.
So, it was quite remarkable that of the 24 players who attended Pac-12 media days at the Hollywood & Highland last week, there were just as many punters as passers.
"I think one year there might have been a million quarterbacks here," Colorado head coach Mike MacIntyre joked. "Everywhere you turned there was a quarterback."
MacIntyre was the only coach to bring his quarterback to Hollywood, with Sefo Liufau representing the Buffaloes along with defensive back Chidobe Awuzie.
This may not be a bad year for quarterbacks in the Pac-12, but it's certainly a time of transition, as eight teams could field a new starter. Seven teams go into fall camp with ongoing battles for starting roles.
"Now more so than ever, I think it's going to be a conference of running backs," Pac-12 Networks analyst Lincoln Kennedy said. "I think you're going to get back to the old fashioned way of playing football, because you have to establish that comfort for whoever is quarterbacking in the backfield, to be able to have time and have a presence. They can't do it without a good running game."
Although the Pac-12 isn't likely to turn into a running, grind-it-out conference, nine teams return their top rusher from last year.
The Pac-12 features Stanford's Christian McCaffrey, who was the Heisman Trophy runner-up last year; and Oregon's Royce Freeman, who could certainly be in the Heisman conversation this year. Washington's Myles Gaskin and Arizona State's Demario Richard are also back after posting more than 1,000 rushing yards last year.
To Kennedy's point, the veteran presence at running back could help a lot of teams as they transition to new quarterbacks.
Stanford was picked to win the conference, despite not having a starting quarterback named at this point. Head coach David Shaw isn't too concerned, though, because he has McCaffrey and other talented players on offense, and he likes both of his quarterbacks — redshirt sophomore Keller Chryst and redshirt junior Ryan Burns.
"These guys aren't kids," Shaw said. "These guys have been in our program for years now. They're going to come in, and we're going to expect them to play at a high level.
"Some people may have anxiety (about not having a starter), and I don't, because, as I said at the outset, it's not just about the quarterback; it's about the other guys who help the quarterback be efficient."
Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich doesn't sound too concerned either. He does consider finding his starting quarterback as the Ducks' most pressing need (three players go into camp vying for the job), but having Freeman and other talented playmakers on offense takes some stress away from Helfrich.
"It's not as vital as I think some systems," he said of having an established quarterback. "How we go about things, we don't have the look-them-in-the-eye in the huddle moment."
Having an established quarterback at this point in the year can be huge for a program, however.
UCLA was picked to win the South Division, in large part because sophomore Josh Rosen is one of the top quarterbacks in the country. Washington is considered a title contender in part because of sophomore Jake Browning.
Washington State junior Luke Falk threw for 4,561 yards and 38 touchdowns last year. Cougars coach Mike Leach said there's comfort in having that position settled.
"Your offseason work tends to accelerate a little bit because you've got a guy that's been in the role that's kind of leading the others, and they follow his lead," Leach said. "So, I think that part is very good."
Aside from UCLA, Washington and Washington State, Colorado (Liufau) and Oregon State (Darell Garretson) are the only schools with a starter in place, although Garretson is a transfer in his first year of Pac-12 football.
Arizona State has four players in the running, California and Utah have three, and USC has a two-player race. Arizona has two-year returning starter Anu Solomon, but he's being pushed for the job by sophomore Brandon Dawkins.
"There's two things: Who's going to give us the best chance to win immediately, and who's going to give us the best chance to win ultimately," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "Who gives you the best chance to win Game 1 may not be the same guy that gives you the best chance to have the best season you can possibly have."
Although Colorado has plenty of things to worry about, MacIntyre is glad he's already got his quarterback in place.
"You always want to have an experienced quarterback, if you can, that you feel can handle the pressure and do it, and we feel like he can," MacIntyre said. "Our team has kind of caught up with Sefo, so I'm excited about seeing him perform this year and lead our team."
Brian Howell: firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.