Posted by Bryan Fischer
LOS ANGELES -- Following a video production that would have made Steven Spielberg proud, Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott kicked off the conference's inaugural Pac-12 Media Days from Los Angeles Tuesday morning. Though he didn't make bold proclamations about the state of NCAA affairs like some of his peers, Scott did extoll the virtues of the league on the heels of landing a big new media deal.
"The last 12 months have brought monumental change to the Pac 10 conference, now the Pac 12," Scott said. "The conference moniker, Conference of Champions, has been well earned and embraced over the years. And this past year was no exception.
"This is a new era for the conference as we embrace the future, and the addition of Colorado and Utah very much helped us secure a landmark media agreement that's going to provide for unprecedented exposure nationally for the conference.
Scott focused on the accomplishments of the conference both on and off the field, noting that two players were finalists for the William Campbell Trophy, the so-called "academic Heisman." Of course, he also mentioned the fact that the league put two teams in BCS bowls and is returning two returning Heisman finalists.
"The Pac 12 brand of football, if I can describe it that way, is as dynamic as any in college sports. Year after year we seem to produce the best quarterbacks and the most sophisticated offenses in the country," Scott said. "All five of the quarterbacks that are here with us today uphold the standard of play that legends before them set."
Plenty of coaches and players also talked about their teams heading into the league's first year, here's some highlights from Pac-12 North:
- "This is always a favorite time of the year because the players have been working hard all summer long and now it's timed to get back to work," head coach Jeff Tedford said. "The chemistry, I'm really excited about this team with the leadership, the work ethic, the team chemistry. I'm really pleased with how they've come together and their work ethic. Very eager to compete."
- The Bears failed to go to a bowl last year but, according to Tedford, they were a handful of plays away.
"Last season we fell short of that, and we're not hiding from that," he said. "We understand that there is a very fine line between winning and losing, and we're six points away from being 8-4 last year."
- Tedford said he will be more involved with play calling this season as a result, hoping to improve a Cal offense that floundered down the stretch last season.
"Offensively we need to improve. We were not close to the consistency that we needed to compete at a high level," Tedford said. "Zach Maynard has been named the started and he earned it."
- With the departure of the team's leading rusher Shane Vereen, Tedford is counting on one of his incoming freshmen to compliment his inexperienced returnees at the tailback position.
"We recruited four tailbacks and I'm excited to see what they can do," he said. "I really think we'll have one back or two be solid contributors."
- Tedford said it would be a little bit different playing two Thursday games and one on Friday. The Bears are also playing the majority of their "home" games at AT&T Park due to construction on Memorial Stadium.
"Wherever those lines are, that's what were going to focus on," he said.
- The 10th year head coach was also asked about Will Lyles since the program purchased a scouting package from the now infamous high school scout.
"I'm not concerned one bit," Tedford said. "I wouldn't know Will Lyles if he were in this room."
- Ducks head coach Chip Kelly knew right away the questions about the program's NCAA investigation were coming early and coming often.
"I know the one everybody is waiting to have answered but we sent out a release earlier," Kelly opened his remarks to the media with. "We've cooperated fully with (the NCAA) and will continue to cooperate them."
For more on Chip Kelly's comments on the Lyles situation, click here.
- Kelly's appearance wasn't completely about the cloud hanging over his program. Fresh off a BCS National Championship game appearance, the Ducks head coach is experiencing quite the roster turnover and focused on other issues.
"I looked at our roster coming in here and I think we have 11 or 12 seniors, and we'll have 47 either freshmen or red shirted freshmen," he said. "It's a good time for us. We're excited. We start on August 8, and we have an interesting game to start the season on September 3rd that has every one of our players attention, and we'll work as hard as we can to prepare for that game on September 3rd against a really, really good LSU team."
- Luckily for Oregon's explosive offense, the Ducks aren't hurting for talent despite being young.
"LaMichael (James) is the returning Doak Walker Award winner as the nation's number one running back," Kelly said. "I've always believed that to win football games you have to be able to run the football. And we've led the Pac-10 in rushing in the last four years. Total offense the last four years, scoring offense the last four years, and LaMichael's a huge part of that."
- Kelly said he hasn't made any decisions on suspended players Kiko Alonso and Cliff Harris. Both players are working out with the team but their status for opener and beyond is still up in the air.
- Incoming recruit D'Anthony Thomas, "Can flat out run," according to Kelly and the coaching staff will figure out a way to incorporate him into the offense. Lache Seastrunk is one of the players that's a possibility to be the third string running back behind James and Kenjon Barner but nothing is set in stone because no one grabbed hold of the position in spring practice.
- "We're excited to be here at the dawning of the Pac-12 conference," veteran coach Mike Riley said. "But we're going to really, really have to grow a lot through fall camp and through our season. We had five guys that had off-season surgeries and missed spring practice. So as we get back into this thing, we'll have to grow a lot and be ready to compete all the way down the stretch, get better every day."
- As someone who has just about seen it all over the years, the new format with two divisions and not playing everybody every year will take a bit of getting used to for Riley but he was excited about the changes.
"I've been in the conference a long time now, 11 years, and I've seen the competition rise to where every week is like the Super Bowl," he said. "So I think it's going to be really, really competitive."
- The Pac-12 put on a seminar with their head of officiating on Monday in order to better educate the media about some of the new rules going into effect in 2011. The one rule that has drawn the most criticism is the new celebration rule, which Riley says is just something the players will have to adjust to.
"It's going to be an emphasis for the officials early," he said. "Whether or not you agree with the rules, this is what it is. I think it's going to be to a point where you're going to have to be really careful."
"You've got to deal with it," senior safety Lance Mitchell said. "When it affects the team, it's just bad all around and you have to keep it under control."
- One of the key players for the Beavers is all-everything athlete James Rodgers, who is coming off his second knee surgery but should be able to contribute this season.
"The one thing you can never do with James is count him out," Riley said. "He's been deemed ahead of schedule but I'm going to play this conservatively."
- Rodgers' brother, Jacquizz, was the team's leading rusher for the past few years but left early for the NFL, a decision Riley said was a good one despite the criticism "Quizz" took. Though there's some talent at the position to replace him in the offense, it will be a wait and see approach until one player separates from the pack.
"We don't have a number one back that can replace Quizz today," he said "I think if we look at that group it will probably be running back by committee."
- Riley expects the team to be very solid on defense and expects Jordan Poyer and Michael Doctor to be key contributors among others.
He also said key contributor Joe Halahuni will be ready going into the fall camp after having surgery in April.
- So what's David Shaw's deal? Apparently, it's much like Jim Harbaugh's, the man he replaced in Palo Alto.
"The differences are minimal because our biggest differences are we have different personalities," Shaw said. "We have the same goals and same competitive drive. We like to teach. I see myself as a teacher and that's the environment we've created down there."
- For Shaw's Heisman Trophy front-running quarterback Andrew Luck, not having much a transition between the two head coaches has been invaluable.
"It's definitely nice not to have to learn a new scheme, a new offense," Luck said. "Coach Shaw recruited me. He's been instrumental in my growth as a football player and ever since I've been on campus. So continuity was definitely something that a lot of the players were hoping for when the coaching change was being made. It's definitely been easier for me, I think.
- Luck was sporting a rather large beard for his media day appearance and according to him, the first time he's grown one. Though he's not sure if he's keeping it, the humble star did make news by announcing that he would indeed be leaving Stanford after this season.
"I'm viewing this as my last college football season and approaching it as such," he said.
- On the opposite side of the ball for The Cardinal, Shaw will be using to co-coordinators on defense with Derek Mason and Jason Tarver.
"We do have co-coordiators," Shaw said. "The mix of those two guys are phenomenal. They're like an old married couple, they finish each others' sentences."
- Wide receiver and ace return man Chris Owusu missed six games due to injury last year and will be a key part of the offense this year with an inexperienced group of receivers - if he can stay healthy.
"I haven't said anything to Chris except play every game," Shaw said. "We need Chris Owusu to play every game. We've got a talented but inexperienced receiving core around Andrew."
- If there was one person in the room who was really excited to be a part of the inaugural Pac-12 Media Day, it was Washington coach Steve Sarkisian.
"Being a Southern California guy and being raised in this thing when it went from Pac-8 to Pac-10, to Pac-12, it's just exciting," Sarkisian said. "I think for us as the University of Washington and our program as we're growing, we couldn't be in a better conference at you a better time for the exposure needed for us and for this conference."
- Sarkisian talked at length about the Huskies' brand of football as the team moves on from the Jake Locker era.
"I think we've got a football team that you saw at the end of last season starting to play a brand of football that we believe in, that is one that is physical that believes in running the football and playing sound defense," Sarkisian said. "We're fortunate to have veteran leadership as we grow but we're still a very young football team. We've played 16 true freshmen last fall. And we've got veteran leaders."
- There's not much that can get a head coach going than talking about his quarterback and the former signal-caller-turned-coach had no problems praising starter Keith Price but cautioning that they would take it slow in his first year as the starter.
"He's a kid that comes to work with a smile on his face," Sarkisian said. "But the reality of it is we're not going to be able to rely on that quarterback position like we were able to with Jake for two years. It's going to be more on relying on Chris (Polk), and Jesse Callier of running the ball, then utilizing the one-on-one matchups on the outside with the Jermaine Kearse, Devin Aguilar, Kevin Smith, and maybe the emergence of a newcomer in Kasen Williams.
- With someone new behind center, many expect Polk to carry the offense on his back, something he accepts but realizes he can't really do if the team is to be successful.
"It's not necessarily on my back, because the game of football is not based off individual performances," Polk said. "So if our O-line's not working and the running game's not working and the passing game's not working."
- A few players, such as Semisi Tokolahi and Sione Potaoa'e, might be limited once the Huskies break for fall camp but the team should be close to full strength once the pad comes on.
"For the most part we're healthy," Sarkisian said. "We look good. Our guys are transforming their bodies and look great."
- Washington State was picked last in the North Division but if there is one encouraging sign for the Cougars, it's on defense with some players who are young but have starting experience.
"There's a good chance that we'll start just one or two seniors on defense," head coach Paul Wulff said. "I'm pretty sure we're going to take a big step on defense."
- Wulff signaled out running back Rickey Galvin, wide receiver Kristoff Williams and linebackers Sekope Kaufusi and Alex Hoffman-Ellis as players who he expects to make the leap to key contributors.
- Despite being at the bottom of the conference standings for awhile, Jared Karstetter said that the Cougars are being taken more serious by other Pac-12 programs.
"Yeah, I think we were more competitive especially the end of last year," he said. "Any sort of lack of respect that we feel as a team, I think that we just use that as motivation to go out there on game day and compete and prove ourselves.
- Wulff talked at length about the type of player he recruits and specifically said the staff is looking for players with their head on straight.
"We've gone about our business to recruit the right type of person," Wulff said. "Great football players that can help you build a team. We go after guys that fit our profile."
- With a good quarterback with plenty of experience behind center in Jeff Tuel and an improved defense, Wulff thinks the team can build on last season and move up in the pecking order.
"I know through spring football, we were executing things we'd never done," he said.