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2015 Pac-12 Football Media Days: Quick Hits and Takes

August 2, 2015

                                                                                                                         photo credit Lisa Horne



Burbank, Calif-- Broadcast analysts marveled over the depth of the league. Head coaches played mini-golf and took swings at piñatas. Media members were given dating advice from a head coach.


A new king was crowned in the Shoe Wars. Six teams from one conference were selected to the Amway's Coaches Preseason Poll.


Some shade was thrown. 


No, this was not SEC Media Days in Hoover, Alabama.  Welcome to Pac-12 Media Days at Warner Bros. Studios.


The excitement was palpable. The confidence was oozing. Unlike an almost obituary-esque aura at SEC Media Days, the atmosphere here was that of impending glory. The setting was swaggy.


The only thing missing from this celebration of back-patting, hype and swagger was an announced deal between the Pac-12 Networks and Direct-TV (which now looks more promising) and a national championship trophy sitting on the podium. 



                                                                                             photo credit Lisa Horne


Last year at Pac-12 Media Days, Commissioner Larry Scott acknowledged the league's commitment to football. He also noted the elephant in the room. 


"Until we win a national championship, it'll be an asterisk," Scott said.


This year, UCLA head coach Jim Mora doubled down when he spoke with Siruis/XM Radio's Mark Packer and Kirk Morrison.


"The Pac-12 can't say anything until we win multiple national championships," Mora said.

                                                                                                                         photo credit Lisa Horne


The question is, can the Pac-12 win the big prize?


If some big programs can fill in some question marks, then the answer is "yes." The more competitive the league, the more respect it will garner.


UCLA and Oregon have not officially named their starting quarterbacks but Mora may have inadvertently hinted at the Bruins' starter.


According to Inside Socal reporter Jack Wang, Mora said Virginia, the Bruins' first opponent, would be blitzing a guy who has "never taken a snap." Freshman Josh Rosen is the only quarterback on the roster who has not taken a snap in college football.


Mora later clarified his statement saying he meant "started a game" and not "taken a snap."


While UCLA returns the most starters (18) of any school in the conference, the departure of Brett Hundley in the league of quarterbacks is hard to ignore and is probably a big reason why the Bruins were only ranked No. 14 in the coaches poll. 


                                                                                                                          photo credit Lisa Horne


Jeff Lockie is expected to compete with Eastern Washington transfer Vernon Adams for the starting spot at Oregon but head coach Mark Helfrich has been quiet about Adams' status.


According to Yahoo!Sports, "Adams announced in February he would transfer to Oregon, where he would be immediately eligible for his senior season as a graduate transfer." 


The report notes "Adams has not completed course work to obtain his degree from Eastern Washington, and might miss the start of the Ducks' fall camp."


If Oregon and UCLA can solidify their quarterback situations, the level of competition in the league should impress the CFP Selection Committee. Four of the South's six teams are ranked in the coaches poll, including Arizona State, whose head coach Todd Graham turned heads on Friday. 


Graham took the Pac-12's western theme to a new level by sporting alligator cowboy boots that one-upped SEC coaches' Bret Bielema and Dan Mullen's footwear at SEC Media Days earlier in July.

                                                                                                                         photo credit Lisa Horne


Speaking of fashion, USC head coach Steve Sarkisian squashed rumors of a possible alternate uniform for his team this year. USC will be "wearing cardinal and gold" on Saturdays, according to Sarkisian.


According to CBS Sports' Jerry Hinnen and USA Today's Dan Wolken, Sarkisian may have lobbed an intentional/unintentional shot at Oregon during an interview.


"We fall back on our rich traditions," Sarkisian said. "We're not going to take the field wearing 13 different uniforms." Ouch.


In remarkable irony, Sarkisian wore a coach's shirt (see picture above) featuring highlighter green pinstriping detail. 


Oregon media relations staffer Joe Waltasti fired back responses on his Twitter account by tweeting "Sark 0-5 vs Oregon as a head coach" and the Ducks have "outscored Sark coached teams 227-97. #tradition."


Trojan Linebacker Su'a Cravens noted that while he is "all about the traditions," he "wouldn't mind a matte black uniform.  


After a two-year hiatus, USC travels to Oregon on November 21. Circle the date. Leave the gun, take the canoli. It's going to be a bloodbath. 


I asked Washington State head coach Mike Leach a question from my Twitter account regarding dating advice. Leach's response was, as expected, mindblowing.



Leach also likes his facility's new underwater treadmill. "I raised it real high and I pretended I was walking on water one time," he said.


Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez was comedy gold all day. 


When asked about quarterback Anu Solomon's strengths, Rodriguez responded with this gem:


“If I knew, I wouldn’t tell you because maybe you’re friends with the defensive coordinator from UCLA or ASU or something.”


Rodriguez was also asked if it was refreshing to have a quarterback with experience returning.


“Refreshing?" he quipped. "I think a nice cold beer or a Bacardi and Coke, or maybe even a nice iced tea sweetened is refreshing. What was the question again?”


The Wildcats play 12 consecutive games without a bye. Rodriguez told the media that he's "not going to complain about it after today, unless we’re not winning, and then I’m going to complain about it quite a bit.”


But Rich Rod owned the day when he regaled us with a story from back when he was head coach at Michigan.


 “I remember when I got there they were like ohhhh, Ohio State-Michigan... you won’t believe some of the things you’ll see when you go down there," he said.


"The rivalry’s so intense and all this kind of stuff. Then we pull into Columbus on the bus, and there are two elderly women probably in their 80s and they wait for us to get off the bus. ‘Hey, Coach Rod.’ And they give us the middle finger.”


Game. Set. Match. Rich Rod.


                                                                                                                          photo credit Lisa Horne


While there was a genuine casualness at Warner Brothers Studios Sound Stage 12--the breakout style of interviews conducted  by the media lended to that atmosphere--there was still pressure in the air.


The SEC appears to be trending downward. There is a lack of firepower in SEC offenses, particularly at quarterback. There is the proverbial blood in water. 


Timing-wise, the Pac-12 is in perfect position to be trending upward. Some coaches are showing more respect for the league via their preaseason poll. A golden opportunity awaits.


Mora gets it. The Pac-12 cannot be content to just challenge for the College Football Playoff National Championship. It must win it this season.


And the next. 



Media Day Notes:


The Pac-12 released its annual preseason poll. Oregon and USC were selected to win the North and South divisions, respectively. USC was picked to win the conference championship, with Arizona State, Oregon, Stanford and UCLA also receiving first-place votes.


Pac-12 media have correctly picked the Pac-12 champion in 12 of its last 15 preseason polls.


The Pac-12 Championship Game will be held on Saturday, December 5 at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California.









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