Welcome back to the latest edition of Gold Nuggets, Saturday Out West columnist Jon Gold’s weekly trip around the Pac-12.

Read below for an update on a new UCLA NIL collective focused on the community and Arizona fielding improvements in Tucson, and more…

Arizona: New turf a good sign for Fisch

Despite – or maybe, because of – having perhaps the best men’s basketball partner west of the Mississippi, the Arizona football program has lagged behind in facilities and support. If your bucks can go into getting the Cats into the Final Four, that’s better than pumping money into an Arizona football team that has zero Rose Bowl bids and no postseason appearances since 2017?

But to open Year 2 of the Jedd Fisch era, the Wildcats are getting some much-needed improvements that should have a material impact on their performance.

Two months ago, Arizona announced that it was upgrading its playing surface for the first time since 2013, and the roughly $1.4 million job was recently finished. The little things—as if a $1.4 million upgrade is a “little thing”—add up for a football program. Fisch has to feel happy that the school is making a commitment to his program.

Arizona State: Anderson tees off on realignment

Much has been made of the Pac-12’s seemingly shrinking options in the light of UCLA and USC’s defection to the Big Ten.

Much ado about nothing so far, Arizona State athletic director Ray Anderson told Michelle Gardner of the Arizona Republic.

“Nothing is off the table and shouldn’t be because things are constantly changing,” Anderson told Gardner. “We’re still looking for schools that are an academic, cultural fit. … We have high academic standards and if we get to that point (expansion) we’re going to look for schools that have that same belief, that same mission. We’re not going to lower our standards for the sake of adding a team or two”

Cal: Center Cindric getting deserved recognition

The Cal Bears aren’t placing many players on preseason award watch lists—a team coming off a 5-7 record rarely does—but they’ve got one at one of the most important positions on the field.

Redshirt senior center Matthew Cindric was named to the Rimington Award Watch List after starting 27 games the past two seasons for the Bears.

Cindric should have one big senior season under the tutelage of Angus McClure, one of the Pac-12’s best coaches and recruiters.

Colorado: Buffaloes dip into familiar recruiting waters

The Cherry Creek High School-to-Colorado pipeline continues to produce for the Buffaloes.

I found it fascinating that the commitment of Bruin two-way lineman Hank Zilinskas gives Colorado yet another of Buffalo legend-turned-Cherry Creek coach Dave Logan’s proteges. Colorado’s roster includes receiver Chase Penry, running back Jayle Stacks, and cornerback Mac Willis.

The verbal commitment puts the Buffaloes in the top 40 in national recruiting rankings, a big feat for Karl Dorrell.

Oregon: Ducks have wild card in realignment

The incomparable John Canzano, who along with Jon Wilner of The Mercury News has just been all over the Pac-12 realignment story, had an interesting nugget in his newsletter about Nike founder Phil Knight.

“Per a source in Knight’s inner circle,” Canzano wrote, “‘The good news is Phil is working hard to determine the correct path forward and hopefully to determine one that is viable. My guess is, his aspirations aren’t practical or achievable. But try to tell that to the man that has won most battles in his life that seemed out of reach.’”

That’s as scary as it is sounds. One man, one very powerful man, wields an enormous amount of influence in the college sports landscape. Where Oregon ends up is arguably the biggest fallout from the UCLA/USC move to the Big Ten, maybe with the exception of Notre Dame. As Canzano put it: “The man known as ‘Shoe Dog’ didn’t pour a fortune into the UO athletic department eco-system to be left in the minor leagues.”

College athletics is no stranger to benefactors—T. Boone Pickens basically built Oklahoma State, with contributions totaling over $1 billion—but Knight’s outsized influence along with Nike makes this a fascinating study.

Oregon State: Early Civil War sell out

On Saturday, I wrote about the Pac-12 games I’ve got circled on my calendar, and it appears that fans of the Civil War are just how excited.

How excited?

The game is already announced as a sell out.

Here’s the catch: With ongoing construction, capacity is just under 27,000.

With the Beavers coming off their best season in a decade, this won’t be the only sell out.

Stanford: New tight end recruit gives a nod to past greats

I love that new Cardinal commit Walker Lyons called Stanford “TEU” in his Twitter post announcing his intention to head to Palo Alto.

As I noted in my Sunday column “Madden Football ’23: What the ratings tell us about the Pac-12,” there has been a dearth of top-flight NFL talent coming out of the conference.

One specific place it has come from would be the Stanford tight ends room, as Zach Ertz and Dalton Schultz rank among the league’s best. Could Lyons be the next? He seems to think so.

But just don’t tell Iowa about the whole “TEU” thing.

UCLA: New Bruin NIL collective focused to community

Just a few days ago, I wrote that Pac-12 schools and fanbases would have to get a heck of a lot more proactive in setting up NIL collectives that put actual cash in players’ pockets.

At UCLA, it’s clear that it’s about a lot more than that, reports Ben Bolch of The Los Angeles Times.

The Bruin Fan Alliance is just the latest collective announced in the college sports world. But those involved insist that the goal is community engagement, and that any potential windfall is a bonus.

“We can do something that’s really unprecedented,” Bruin Fan Alliance chairman Gene Karzen told Bolch. “We’re rolling out an NIL model within a charitable organization driven by and owned by current and former athletes.”

Hopefully there’s a way to have the best of both worlds. Big bucks and big change.

USC: Narduzzi still can’t get over Addison

There’s nothing worse than when a fully grown, ostensibly adult football coach sounds like a jilted lover.

Once again, Pittsburgh coach Pat Narduzzi whiffed on bidding a gracious goodbye to an employee who found a better job. Months removed from Jordan Addison’s defection from Steeltown to Tinseltown, the Panthers head coach took the opportunity at ACC Media Day to cry over spilt milk.

“I’m focused on our guys that want to be here at Pitt,” Narduzzi said. “And that’s going to be the key. Jordan’s a great kid, great player. We had fun with him for two years. I think we helped him get where he is today. I think we helped him win a Biletnikoff and be the player that he is. I think Kenny Pickett was pretty good. He had one of the best quarterbacks in the country throwing the ball everyday. I think sometimes people forget how they got where they are. It was a special year. Got a ton of respect for Jordan but young men gotta make decisions based on what they know or what they thought and we kind of move on.”

Sure sounds like moving on!

Two things:

  1. Kenny Pickett is no longer there! How can you criticize a kid when he wants to go play catch with a Heisman candidate? Especially when the alternative is Pitt redshirt freshman Nick Patti and Kedon Slovis, a former USC quarterback himself.
  2. “We helped him win a Biletnikoff…” Come on. Guy is going to sit here and take credit for his player’s postseason award? That’s weak. A good coach deflects credit and praise, not asks for it.

Utah: Can the DL keep up with tradition?

Since joining the Pac-12 in 2011, the Utes have had 16 All-Pac-12 first- or second-team selections on the defensive line. Four times in that 11-year stretch, the Utes have had multiple defensive linemen on the list. Only once have they been shut out.

So to see that Athlon Sports only named one Ute defensive linemen – Van Fillinger – to the preseason first- and second-teams, I was a bit surprised.

The Utes do have Junior Tafuna and Gabe Reid on the preseason third and fourth team, respectively.

I’d bet on at least two of those guys getting a nod when all is said and done.

Washington: Kirkland the lone Husky generating hype

After a disappointing 4-8 season last year, it is not a surprise preseason prognosticators are not high on the Huskies.

Well, one Washington football player is getting plenty of preseason buzz.

Two-time All-Pac-12 first team selection Jaxson Kirkland is back for a sixth season.

His loss last year was Washington’s gain; in a cruel twist, an ankle injury he suffered last season led him to forgo the NFL Draft and return to the Huskies.

A former Freshman All-America selection by The Athletic, Kirkland was projected to be a first rounder until his ankle injury sent his stock plummeting.

If he plays as expected this year – and his ankle shows no wear – he’ll bounce back into the first.

Washington State: CBS analyst has Wazzu as conference dark horse

CBS Sports college football analyst Emory Hunt is high on the Cougars. So high, in fact, that he pegs Wazzu as a dark horse Pac-12 contender.

Hunt is equally high on new Cougar QB Cameron Ward, who dazzled at Incarnate Word, and he pegs Ward as a dark horse Heisman candidate.

Washington State is four years removed from an 11-win season under Mike Leach. After a fantastic year out of now-Arizona QB Jayden de Laura, Ward might be able to take the Cougs to a new level and prove Hunt right.