Biggest football-centric takeaway?
Chantel Jennings: I knew there was a high interest in USC this year, but I guess I didn’t realize how high. The reporter crowd around Steve Sarkisian was about three times as large as for any other coach who attended today (including Mark Helfrich, whose team is the favorite for the Pac-12 title). Obviously, it’s USC and by nature, people will care. But with the program being back on track, a new coach, some exciting players and a new offensive scheme, the Trojans are going to be in a complete pressure cooker. Quarterback Cody Kessler talked about how last year -- and the amount of change and adversity they faced -- will help them this season. Yes, certainly the whole “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” argument is valid. But how much stronger is USC? And are the Trojans strong enough to put up a fight in the South? Are they strong enough to handle the growing pains under a first-year coach? Are they strong enough to handle the increasingly high expectations of the public?
Kyle Bonagura: When it comes to quarterback play, believe the hype. And while, by nature, these types of events exist almost primarily to generate hype, everyone seemed to be in agreement that the quarterbacks have a chance to be considered one of the best conference groups in college football history. That’s not hyperbole, either. There have been comparable years if you take a look at the top five or six, maybe, but to have 10 returning quarterbacks — and so many decorated players among that group — might be unmatched.
Biggest nonfootball takeaway
Gemmell: Oregon and Washington fans might not like this, but the chances their bitter rivalry will grow frostier are slim. When asked about his relationship with new Washington coach Chris Petersen, Oregon coach Mark Helfrich offered this: “My relationship with Pete will be great forever. I’m going to hate him on certain days and some days he’ll hate me, whether it’s recruiting or on game day. But the guy is a lifelong friend of mine and that won’t change. I know that’s going to make both of our fan bases very unhappy.” But it’s oh-so bromantic.
Jennings: The event today had a few different activities set up for the players, including a game of corn hole (for you non-Midwesterners, you’ll know this as "the game with the angled boards with holes in them that you try to get bean bags in"). I, myself, am a connoisseur of the sport and will challenge anyone. However, I wasn’t too impressed with some of the guys and coaches playing today. Especially some of the QBs. You can throw a football 60 yards, but you can't toss a bean bag 20 feet? C’mon.
Bonagura: The conference’s new buzzword is “innovation.” Commissioner Larry Scott used it nine times in his lengthy opening remarks to begin the day and seems focused on using the conference’s home near Silicon Valley to help aid the use of technology in as many ways as possible. He specifically referred to a partnership with AT&T, Sporting Innovations and Stanford that includes the development of an app that will supposedly make more information — videos, stats, etc. — more accessible to fans while in attendance. I’ll take a wait-and-see approach on how innovative this innovation ends up being, but long term it’s not a bad thing.
Best quote of the day
Gemmell: Had a nice little chat with WSU linebacker Darryl Monroe about the fallout from the bowl game and what he thinks when he hears someone use the expression, "Coug’d it": “For me, Coug’d should mean you just went out there and dominated. I don’t understand where this impression of 'Coug’d it' means you did something in a negative light. Maybe the Urban Dictionary should think about rewriting that definition to 'Coug’d it means completely dominated your opponent.'”
Jennings: Can we just insert Mike Leach’s news conference transcript here? (Follow up: Can we just give Mike Leach a reality TV show?) But really, to give you the full experience … I walked up to the media scrum midway through Leach’s news conference. This is the exact moment I walked in. Enjoy.
“The gnats rarely got too hot, I guess. And then finally this one high school coach, as I'm recruiting there, he says, 'Try this.' Now I have big, old fat lips, so it didn't work very good. But he could fire up a little pucker, kind of blow the gnats off, then they had Skin So Soft [lotion], which is big. And I don't know what that is, but evidently gnats don't like it. They rub that all over [their faces]. But it looked kind of oily, you know? What I think is the gnats don't care about it, but it probably puts a little sheet of oil on there so it's harder to bite you. You don't feel the bite. That's just one guy's theory. I'm sure I'm wrong.”
Bonagura: “We've got a brand-new facility that's great, but everybody's got new stuff. Oregon changes it out like Porta-Potties. Like every four or five years like we need a new this, and they go do it.” -- Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez on the facilities arms race in the conference
A couple of things to address here: (1) He’s right. As a whole, the conference has done a great job upgrading its facilities across the board. It’s nearly impossible to get a sense of how each construction project has helped each individual school — mainly from a recruiting standpoint — because it’s about keeping up with the Joneses as much as anything. (2) Who knew RichRod had a working knowledge of Porta-Potty lifespans?
Jennings: Marcus Mariota said he hasn’t made his mind up on whether or not he’d leave for the NFL after this season. Now, I will say that this is a hard case because it’s a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation. If he came in and said, “Yep, no matter what happens, I’m out,” then he’d be criticized. So I’m not necessarily criticizing him for this -- he’s saying what he needed to say and that’s the right thing to do. But the moment it came out of his mouth, all the reporters silently went, “Riiiiiiiiiiiight.”
Bonagura: Agree wholeheartedly with Jennings. When asked if this will be his final year at Oregon, Mariota simply replied: “I’m not sure.” He sounded sincere, too, but it’s tough to envision a scenario in which he’s not beginning training camp with an NFL team at this time next year. Seeing one of the best talents in college football pass up potentially becoming the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft back-to-back seasons doesn’t happen.
Gemmell: Have to agree with my colleagues. It was nice for Mariota to say there is a chance he could come back for another season. And everyone in emerald land just got all giddy at the prospect of maybe seeing Mariota rocking the "O" beyond 2014. But I think we all know it ain't going to happen. He took out an insurance policy for a reason. Enjoy him while you can for now, Oregon fans. Because he's as good as gone.
Which player made a good impression on you?
Gemmell: I’ve long been a fan of Connor Halliday’s play. Is he reckless sometimes? Sure. Does he throw too many interceptions? Yeah. But I also like a guy who will throw a pick and then on the next drive make the exact same throw for a 60-yard touchdown. I like the moxie. And I thought that confidence came through during his podium session. He fielded all of the questions about turnovers and bowl games and still had time to crack wise about his head coach. You need poise to play for Mike Leach. And Halliday showed me a little of that today.
Jennings: Utah WR Dres Anderson isn’t a guy who has had a ton of media training or been in too many situations in which he’s crowded by the media. But even so, he handled it very gracefully. He was energetic, funny and engaging without seeming disingenuous (which some players do when they’re so over-the-top). He told anecdotes without needed to be asked, “OK, do you have any examples of that?” by reporters. He was a player who it seemed was really just having a bunch of good conversations with strangers.
Bonagura: Cal quarterback Jared Goff was in a tough spot last year getting thrown into the fire as a true freshman on a historically bad team, but you wouldn’t have known that based on his demeanor today. Goff was polished, personable and said all the things you’d want your team’s starting quarterback to say. If there were any doubts about how well he’d evolve into a leadership role, there shouldn’t be. With 10 returning starters at the position, Goff might fly under the radar in the conference, but he’s as talented a young quarterback as there is in the country and has a chance to compete statistically with the nation’s best.
And of course, no recap would be right without a series of Leach tweets:
Swing your snow cone. pic.twitter.com/yDxek7JqH4— Kevin Gemmell (@Kevin_Gemmell) July 23, 2014
Mike Leach playing corn hole? Mike Leach playing corn hole. pic.twitter.com/mQAOdu7XBT— JB Long (@JB_Long) July 23, 2014
My heart is so full pic.twitter.com/5E82c8hSXi— Sarah Kezele (@SarahKezele) July 23, 2014
“I really like this football team,” said Sarkisian, whose Trojans were the media’s preseason pick for second in the Pac-12’s South Division behind favorite UCLA.
Some of Sarkisian’s excitement stems from the fact that his predecessor and good friend, current Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, didn’t exactly leave the cupboard empty when he was unceremoniously fired by USC athletic director Pat Haden after last season’s Arizona State debacle.
Here is the schedule of events for today (all times PT):
- 9 a.m. - Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott
- 9:30 a.m. - ARIZONA - Coach Rich Rodriguez, WR Austin Hill, S Jared Tevis
- 10:10 a.m. - CALIFORNIA - Coach Sonny Dykes, QB Jared Goff, CB Stefan McClure
- 10:50 a.m. - USC - Coach Steve Sarkisian, QB Cody Kessler, DE Leonard Williams
- 11:30 a.m. - OREGON - Coach Mark Helfrich, QB Marcus Mariota, LB Derrick Malone
- 12:10 p.m. - WASHINGTON STATE - Coach Mike Leach, QB Connor Halliday, LB Darryl Monroe
- 12:50 p.m. - UTAH - Coach Kyle Whittingham, WR Dres Anderson, DE Nate Orchard
- 9 a.m. - Pac-12 Networks president Lydia Murphy-Stephans
- 9:30 a.m. - ARIZONA STATE - Coach Todd Graham, QB Taylor Kelly, OL Jamil Douglas
- 10:10 a.m. - OREGON STATE - Coach Mike Riley, QB Sean Mannion, LB Michael Doctor
- 10:50 a.m. - UCLA - Coach Jim Mora, QB Brett Hundley, LB Eric Kendricks
- 11:30 a.m. - WASHINGTON - Coach Chris Petersen, OT Ben Riva, OLB Hau'oli Kikaha
- 12:10 p.m. - STANFORD - Coach David Shaw, QB Kevin Hogan, DB Jordan Richards
- 12:50 p.m. - COLORADO - Coach Mike MacIntyre, WR Nelson Spruce, DT Juda Parker
Salem, Oregon, was in the news after Baylor coach Art Briles made a suggestion that people at Dairy Queens in Salem have now heard of quarterback Bryce Petty, whom Briles is peddling for the Heisman. Jake Trotter broke it down, along with an Instagram video from Petty, who boasted that Baylor has the most explosive offense in the country.
He’s right, by the way. The Bears scored 52.4 points per game last season, and Oregon was fourth nationally with 45.5.
Our own Chantel Jennings took a swing at calling Dairy Queens in Waco to see if they knew who Marcus Mariota was. She went oh-fer.
Perhaps it is the wrong venue. Besides Mariota, the Pac-12 has another Heisman hopeful quarterback in UCLA's Brett Hundley. And we most closely associate Southern California with In-N-Out. So the Pac-12 blog called the In-N-Out in Waco to see if anyone had heard of Hundley. Oh wait, there isn’t one. SoCal 1, Waco 0. (But one is coming soon to Killeen!)
No doubt Mariota and Hundley will be asked about the Heisman, and wacky media days questions are the norm. We are just wondering if Mariota or Hundley will send an Instagram or tweet back to Waco. Your move, fellas.
Speaking of the Heisman, Athlon released its list of 10 Pac-12 players who should get consideration. Five on their list (Mariota, Hundley, Taylor Kelly, Sean Mannion and Connor Halliday) will be in attendance at media days.
Washington linebacker Shaq Thompson is the lone defensive player on the list, but the story also includes five defensive players who should be in the mix but won’t be. One of them is UCLA’s Myles Jack. Don't get us wrong. We love Jack. But as the Pac-12 blog has already noted, we know who the real leader of the UCLA defense is.
Rock the vote
One of the big storylines today will be the release of the preseason prediction. Pac-12 media members are invited to cast their vote on what they think will happen at the end of the season. You can see how the #4Pac voted. (Yeah, that is what we're calling ourselves now. Thoughts?)
A few more ballots from other media members:
- Jon Wilner, San Jose Mercury News
- Ryan Kartje, Orange County Register
- Doug Haller, The Arizona Republic
- Jack Wang, InsideSoCal.com
- Christian Caple, The News Tribune
A lot of folks are thinking we’re going to see Oregon-UCLA in the Pac-12 championship game. The Pac-12 blog agrees.
Anyone want to take a guess at the over/under for times Todd Graham is asked about his defense at media days? Probably the same number of times Rich Rodriguez will be asked about quarterbacks.
But just because the Sun Devils lose nine starters on that side of the ball doesn’t mean Graham isn’t confident, as he tells Doug Haller.
The Sun Devils ranked seventh in the conference last season in scoring defense, yielding 26.6 points per game.
Finally, Tim Sullivan of the (Louisville) Courier-Journal offered some thoughts on the impact of paying college athletes, in light of Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby’s comments Monday. Looking forward to what Larry Scott has to say on the subject.
So which schools scored with recruits for the best food, top facilities, greatest campus atmosphere and coolest uniforms?
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Never gonna give it up, No-Oh
Just don't wake me now
(Ooh, Ooh-Ooh, Ooh)
This is gonna be the best day of my life.
- Catching up with former Arizona and NFL great Michael Bates.
- Arizona State coach Todd Graham is confident with his defense, despite a couple of incoming JC academic casualties.
- California fans can submit their media days questions here.
- Colorado CB Greg Henderson is going to be a rare four-year starter.
- An Oregon recruiting update.
- Oregon State gets a commitment from a Florida offensive lineman.
- Some of Stanford's best plays from 2013.
- UCLA gets a commitment from a defensive tackle.
- USC's summer workouts are voluntary, but not really (just like every other team's "voluntary" summer workouts).
- Here's a best-case scenario for Utah.
- Some thoughts on whether this will be a breakout season for Washington.
- Pick your all-time Washington State defense.
- Jon Wilner has published his Pac-12 media poll ballot.
One player who stood out (offense/defense)
Garry Paskwietz: Running back Buck Allen on offense. The first thing you notice about Allen is how much he has bulked up in the upper body over the offseason. Then you notice the leadership, the once quiet kid from Tallahassee has become a vocal team leader, and he has the kind of respect that comes when other players know you have a unique talent. Leonard Williams on defense. The All-American is at the peak of his game right now and the defense feeds off his energy, which always seems to be positive.
Johnny Curren: On offense, Nelson Agholor picked right up where he left off after an outstanding spring and shined throughout the summer. Leading the wide receivers through their drills each day, he was remarkably consistent, and he certainly appears poised to take his place as the next great USC pass-catcher. On defense, Williams looks better than ever after post-season shoulder surgery. With incredible physical tools to go along with outstanding technique, he was flat-out dominant at times during the 11-on-11 periods.
Most Improved (offense/defense)
GP: Max Browne on offense. Don’t get me wrong, this is still Cody Kessler’s football team, but Browne continues to make the kind of progress that you want to see from a talented backup. There is a lot of talk about the possibility USC is looking at more of a dual-threat quarterback for the future, but at some point you still need to throw the ball and Browne does that extremely well. On defense, I’ll go with Leon McQuay. There was plenty of focus on Su'a Cravens last season as a star freshman safety -- deservedly so -- and the Trojans could be looking at their next big-time pair of safeties with the way McQuay looked this summer. He is filling out on his long frame, yet he is so fluid with the way he moves, we really saw him emerge as a guy making plays on a lot of balls.
JC: Building off an excellent spring, Zach Banner continued to develop throughout the summer and I’m impressed with where he is these days. He is more flexible and noticeably quicker out of his stance, and he also emerged as a real leader. Defensively, I thought Claude Pelon really showed he is ready to take on a big role in the fall.
GK: Given his youth and inexperience, the offensive player that seemed to really make improvements was true freshman offensive tackle Chris Brown. Although he is young and inexperienced, he was very coachable and seemed to improve each time I saw him. The least heralded of the new offensive linemen, he really showed me something. It certainly wouldn’t be considered an insult to an experienced player to be called most improved, but I liked what I saw from senior J.R. Tavai on defense. In voluntary workouts, he seemed to know exactly where he should be, did what he was supposed to do, and looked extremely quick and agile. I was impressed with his overall improvement.
GP: How good Adoree' Jackson looked on offense. If you would have asked me a month ago, I would have said his main position would be in the cornerback rotation while getting spot duty on offense if possible. After seeing him in workouts, however, I think his role is going to be bigger on offense this season. The starting receivers will be Nelson Agholor and Darreus Rogers, but if you’re judging by what we saw on the field this summer, I would put Adoree' next on the list of receiver options, because he is just so dynamic with the ball in his hands.
JC: He wasn’t one of the highly publicized prizes of the Trojans’ most recent recruiting haul, but arguably no incoming freshman was more consistent throughout the summer than Ajene Harris. A high school quarterback and defensive back, he looked remarkably at home at wide receiver. Showcasing sure hands and a high level of athleticism, he provided reason to believe that he just might be able to earn some playing time right off the bat.
GK: The player that was the biggest surprise to me was true freshman Ajene Harris. A former quarterback at L.A. Crenshaw, his transition to wide receiver caught my eye immediately. His potential is very intriguing, and it would appear he has a very bright future. He could be the most overlooked freshman of this incoming class.
Keep an eye on ...
GP: The offensive guard spots. There was anticipation coming into the summer to gauge the health of Aundrey Walker (ankle) and Jordan Simmons (knee). Though both saw limited action in workouts, it wasn’t enough to know for sure what their status is going to be for fall camp. The other options might be inexperienced, but there is talent to choose from with Khaliel Rodgers, Toa Lobendahn, Viane Talamaivao and Damien Mama. At some point, however, those 18 starts under Walker’s belt would be welcome for a young line, particularly with an opponent like Stanford waiting in Week 2.
JC: The USC tailback corps. With Allen, Tre Madden and Justin Davis all in the fold, the Trojans have a uniquely talented group. So long as they stay healthy, all three members have shown they are ready to put up some big numbers, especially with USC head coach Steve Sarkisian having expressed a desire to pound the ball. Allen, in particular, looks to be in phenomenal shape.
GK: This question could be best answered by the offensive line, namely its young group of very talented true freshmen. In Lobendahn, Talamaivao, Brown, and Mama, it was surprising to see how well they were able to hold their own against an experienced group of returning defensive linemen. The freshmen offensive linemen might be inexperienced, but they didn’t back down one bit to their older teammates.
There are plenty of topics to cover, from the perhaps unprecedented quality and experience at quarterback, to two new coaches who have familiar faces, to the new four-team College Football Playoff.
Arizona, California, USC, Oregon, Washington State and Utah will appear on Wednesday, while Arizona State, Oregon State, UCLA, Washington, Stanford and Colorado follow up on Thursday. You can see the players on hand and the schedule here. This is the first time the Pac-12 has spread out its preseason media event over two days.
The preseason media poll will be released Wednesday, and the Pac-12 blog is going out on no limb guaranteeing you that Oregon will be picked to win the North and UCLA will be picked to win the South.
As a public service, we've provided you with a cheat sheet so you can contemplate the world as a reporter might. Below are questions for each of the conference's 12 teams that are sure to be asked, less warm-and-fuzzy questions that should be asked, and idle bits of whimsy that the Pac-12 blog wishes would be part of the proceedings.
(Unless otherwise noted, the questions are intended for the head coach.)
Arizona Wildcats, coach Rich Rodriguez
What will be asked: Can you give us an idea of your pecking order at quarterback?
What should be asked: What did Wildcats fans say to you this summer about being 0-2 against Arizona State?
Whimsical interlude: If Todd Graham and Donald Sterling were being attacked by wolves, whom would you save?
Arizona State Sun Devils, coach Todd Graham
What will be asked: Who will step up on your rebuilding defense?
What should be asked: You turn 50 in December: Do you expect to retire as the Sun Devils' coach?
Whimsical interlude: If Rich Rodriguez and Justin Bieber were being attacked by wolves, whom would you save?
California Golden Bears, coach Sonny Dykes
What will be asked: What's your team's attitude after going 1-11 in your first season?
What should be asked: What are specific mistakes you made last season that contributed to your team's struggles?
Whimsical interlude: Compare and contrast your hometowns of Big Spring and Lubbock, Texas, to Berkeley.
Colorado Buffaloes, coach Mike MacIntyre
What will be asked: Is your team ready to take the next step in the Pac-12?
What should be asked: What is your program's chief deficiency, and how are you addressing that in recruiting?
Whimsical interlude: Just thinking out loud here, but -- Ralphie, are you certain she has no remaining eligibility?
Oregon Ducks, coach Mark Helfrich
What will be asked: How will quarterback Marcus Mariota be better this season than last?
What should be asked: What were some of the challenges and transitional pains you've learned from after replacing a larger-than-life coach in Chip Kelly?
Whimsical interlude: Marcus, here are five loaves and two fishes. There are a lot of hungry reporters here. So, you know, do your thing.
Oregon State Beavers, coach Mike Riley
What will be asked: How does the offense change without wide receiver Brandin Cooks?
What should be asked: Is it possible for the Beavers to catch up to Oregon without the kind of support the Ducks get from Nike founder Phil Knight?
Whimsical interlude: Sean Mannion, please re-create for us the worst temper tantrum you've ever seen Coach Riley throw.
Stanford Cardinal, coach David Shaw
What will be asked: Who will step up to lead your rebuilding defense?
What should be asked: The media have again picked Oregon, the two-time defending Pac-12 North champions, to eclipse you. Is that a slight to your program, and if not, how do you interpret it?
Whimsical interlude: Jordan Richards, you are a public policy major. Please compare and contrast the deontological perspectives of Kant, Mill and Rawls.
UCLA Bruins, coach Jim Mora
What will be asked: How do you manage all the hype and high expectations that surround your team and quarterback Brett Hundley?
What should be asked: What do you need from the UCLA administration to maintain and build on your present advantage in your rivalry with USC?
Whimsical interlude: Jim, what does your dad think of the new college football PLAYOFFS?
USC Trojans, coach Steve Sarkisian
What will be asked: How will your up-tempo offense work while you have depth issues due to scholarship limitations?
What should be asked: What mistakes did you make at Washington that you'll avoid at USC?
Whimsical interlude: Steve, what would be the most interesting revelation if you, Pete Carroll, Jim Mora and Lane Kiffin went out for drinks?
Utah Utes, coach Kyle Whittingham
What will be asked: Explain how your quarterback situation sets up with Travis Wilson and transfer Kendal Thompson and how each fits in new coordinator Dave Christensen's offense.
What should be asked: Have Utah fans underestimated how difficult it would be to move up from the Mountain West to the Pac-12?
Whimsical interlude: You've had six offensive coordinators in six years. Please match each with one of Snow White's seven dwarfs, assuming that this stupid question automatically makes you Grumpy.
Washington Huskies, coach Chris Petersen
What will be asked: What was it about Washington that lured you away from Boise State?
What should be asked: What did quarterback Cyler Miles tell you about his role in two separate fights that occurred after the Super Bowl?
Whimsical interlude: OT Ben Riva: You are the only offensive lineman here. There are eight quarterbacks, three receivers and a bunch of defensive guys. First, what's the worst prima donna behavior you have witnessed? And second, is this pretty much an offensive lineman's seventh level of hell?
Washington State Cougars, coach Mike Leach
What will be asked: With a veteran quarterback and a deep corps of receivers, what are your expectations for your offense this fall?
What should be asked: Did your job get more difficult or easier with the hiring of Chris Petersen at Washington?
Whimsical interlude: Connor Halliday and Darryl Monroe: Here is a 10-question quiz on your coach's book about Geronimo, which I'm sure you've read. You have two minutes. Go!
Here is a position-by-position look at who has given a verbal commit, how many scholarships the Trojans may use for each position, and what the outlook is for each spot.
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7:30 PM ET Idaho State Utah 10:00 PM ET Rutgers Washington State 10:30 PM ET Weber State Arizona State
9:00 PM ET Colorado State Colorado 10:30 PM ET UNLV Arizona
12:00 PM ET UCLA Virginia 3:30 PM ET California Northwestern 4:00 PM ET Portland State Oregon State 4:00 PM ET UC Davis Stanford 7:30 PM ET Fresno State USC 10:30 PM ET Washington Hawaii 10:30 PM ET South Dakota Oregon