The Pac 12 Media Day may lack the genteel atmosphere of the SEC, but there is no less information and insight to come from the event. Instead of staying seated and asking questions in turn, the media gathers around the stage in a mosh-pit formation after the coach’s opening statement. Meanwhile, in the back of the room, the school has two players also answering questions in the same format. Throw in that the event is held at the Dolby Theater complex where the Oscars are held, and it is decidedly a West Coast event.
Pac 12 Media Day; News and Notes
A New Number One
For the first time, the Utah Utes were picked to finish first in the annual media poll. They edged out Oregon by one vote and defending Pac 12 champion Washington by two votes.
Clearly there was significant deference given to Utah’s returning players at key positions. Quarterback Tyler Huntley and running back Zack Moss will lead the offense. But, on both sides of the ball, the Utes have significant experience returning on the lines. Leki Fotu, and John Penisini are on the Outland Trophy watch list for good reason.
Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said he had a sense his team would be voted to the top spot. He started talking to his players a couple of weeks ago. Whittingham wanted to make sure they did not get caught up in the bluster of being picked number one. He said he gave them some time to get used to the idea then it was back to business.
One coach who was likely happy with the poll was Washington coach Chris Petersen. In what seemed like an annual event, the Huskies would be picked number one, and then when it was his turn to address the media, he would chastise us all for not knowing what we were talking about. Now, he could find other things to haggle over.
The Top Of The Conference
The event always leads off, as all conference media events do, with time with the commissioner. Larry Scott has been under fire from many angles. He talked about, as he always does, the number of championships won by the conference in the last year. The Pac 12, for the 14th straight year, won more NCAA championships than any other conference. Scott went over those details at great length.
What he didn’t do at great length was talk about how the conference still has no deal with Directv or AT&T U-Verse to carry their games. Instead, he talked about how the conference is geared towards a streaming audience and chord cutters. Scott claims that when most network contracts for college football are up in 2024, the Pac 12 will be in position to benefit the most from its forward-looking approach. That sounds great, except it leaves out the here and now. Conference members have never gotten all the money Scott promised when he launched the network. The audience for the product is a fraction of what it could/should be.
Scott said he and others have been hitting up the investment community to make up for some of the shortfall, but our reporting shows they are nowhere close to having a financial or investment partner. For what it’s worth, comedian Byron Allen just bought some of the Fox Regional Sports Networks. Maybe Scott has been fishing in the wrong waters for money.
Never At A Loss
The Pac 12 has some coaches who do not shy away from mixing up the interviews beyond X’s and O’s and discussing the second string long snapper before anyone has even seen a Fall camp workout. Every one knows Washington State’s Mike Leach’s proclivity to treat interviews like open mic night at the Improv. Ask a question and let him go. Wednesday was no different. When asked about adjustments being made in the accountability for Pac 12 officials, Leach said, “I can’t really comment on the officiating unless I want to invest a little more than I plan to, at least at this point.” That is the circumspect version of Mike Leach.
He was asked about West Coast offenses and Air Raid offenses. It would take most of the rest of this column space to include everything he said. But here is an abbreviated version.
“But, you know, we’re constantly searching and discovering things that we think are improving as we’re experimenting. Sometimes we’re wrong. They look good on the board, it didn’t turn out to be as good as you’d hoped. So I’m not real dogmatic about this is the air raid and this isn’t. It’s funny, though, I have overheard people at clinics or something walk up or just overhear, somebody says, Well, that’s not the true air raid. What are you talking about? There’s no true air raid. At least not the way I see it, not the way I’ve been involved with it. Not a true air raid? You’re just trying to move the ball, that type of thing. I don’t think there’s a true anything.”
But Seriously, Folks
Not that Leach is not serious and committed to everything he says, but for the traditional cerebral interview, you turn to Stanford’s David Shaw. He is always ready to talk about football, academics, NCAA rules, student-athletes, or pretty much anything else you can conjure up. A few years ago, I asked Shaw a question about academics and recruiting. His response went viral because it was seen as a not-so-veiled shot at schools in other parts of the country. The following year he and I sat down to get to what he meant with his comments.
Now Shaw was talking about the reputation of the Pac 12, with the conference not getting into the college football playoffs. “The people who know football and that watch football, they know how competitive this conference is. There are not a lot of conferences out there that can legitimately look up and say more than half their conference has a chance to win the conference. And those teams in the, quote/unquote, middle of our conference, any of them can beat anybody at the top of the conference.”
But that was the easy part. Shaw talked about schedules impacting playoffs. In his world, the Pac 12 does its job by having nine conference games. Then there is getting most of the out-of-conference games out of the way by the end of September. That way the rest of the season is pure conference head-to-head. No FCS opponents in mid-November for the Pac-12, according to Shaw.
“Those things happen in our conference and don’t necessarily happen in other conferences because they don’t play four conference games in a row because they have eight conference games. So they’ll play three conference games in a row, the non-conference game, or three conference games in a row and a bye. So those schedules sometimes are more manageable.” Yes, ACC and SEC….he is referring to you, even if not by name.
Does Familiarity Breed Success?
UCLA’s Chip Kelly hopes so. After a 3-9 season in his first year in Westwood with one of the youngest teams in the country, this was his prevailing message. The players know what to expect at every practice. They know why the workout schedules are what they are, and they know why the drills are what they are. With a now-veteran team in place, Kelly says he thinks he can lean on the upper classmen to be leaders at every level.
Linebacker Krys Barnes for one says he has seen seniors gather even just a few players to go to the practice field and do drills and workouts outside of the regular schedules. UCLA opens at Cincinnati and hosts Oklahoma in week three. Immediate returns will be needed on the time investment.
No Study Hall Needed
A couple of the players that were in attendance with the respective teams certainly caught the attention of the interviewers when classes were discussed. Washington defensive back Myles Bryant said his favorite class was Russian Film. He says they are studying Russian cinema from the late 1800’s through the 1900’s as a way to learn more about the history and culture of the country. UCLA’s Barnes apparently dabbles on the same general region of the globe. He reports that his favorite class is Croatian, where is learning the language and culture of a country he now hopes to visit.
Maybe We Were Wrong
This time last year, we scratched our heads at the media day presentation from Arizona State’s new hire, Herm Edwards. He seemed to know little about his team. He spoke in an abstract way about the game’s history and influences on him. This year, the man who runs the Sun Devils from a CEO perspective spoke about making sure his players learn about life after football. He brings in speakers who played pro football. They don’t talk about getting to the league, but to discuss how to run businesses and be successful out of football.
Running back Eno Benjamin is a notorious social media troll, so you have to wonder if Edwards does not get concerned. “I told them this: Just don’t embarrass your last name or the university because every time you press it, you’re writing your resume. It doesn’t go away. It travels with you for the rest of your life, and you can say I’m sorry, but it’s out there. You can’t take it back. I just say — I always tell them be careful because you represent two parties, and you don’t want to put yourself in a position where people are questioning who you are. One of our big deals is words and actions. Make sure they match up every day. I mean like every day. Not just when it’s a good day, like every day. And it starts with me. It starts with me.”
Message delivered for all of us, coach.
Lastly, we leave you with the Pac 12 Media Day tradition. Team desserts.