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Pac-12 Media Day

Conference gathers in Hollywood to talk Pac-12 football

NCAA Football: Pac-12 Championship-Southern California vs Stanford Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

College football season is here for the Pac-12 Conference. The annual Media Day took place on Wednesday in Hollywood, California. The Pac-12 shortened their Media Day down to one day to help streamline things for the conference.

There is a lot of coach speak going on, but you can tell the excitement from the coaches and players about the upcoming Pac-12 football season.

Pac-12 Commissioner, Larry Scott, was first up to the podium discussing the state of the conference.

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“I’m very excited about the state of Pac-12 football and its trajectory for the future.” Scott said in his opening remarks.

There has been a lot of discussion about the conference 2017 bowl record. The conference was 1-8 in bowl games, with Utah being the lone win.

“From our perspective, a handful of season-ending games are not a key indicator of a conference’s overall strength and competitiveness.” Larry Scott mentioned.

Larry Scott did say that the College Football Playoff Championship Game for this upcoming season will be held at Levi Stadium in San Jose, California. Certainly he is excited about that due to the fact that the Pac-12 Championship Game is also played there.

“This will be a great opportunity to draw more attention to Pac-12 football.” Scott said.

Justin Wilcox, head coach of the California Golden Bears, was the first coach on the podium.

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There is a lot of excitement around the California program because of what Wilcox has done so far. He’s entering his second season as the head coach of Cal.

Coach Wilcox was asked about how far along he is in terms of changing the culture on and off the field.

“I think we made great strides. We have really good guys on the team. Both guys here today are great examples of guys that have earned it along the way, nothings ever been given to them.” Wilcox remarked.

Question: How does the coaching staff prepare for fall camp?

“Yeah, we put a lot of time in for the preparation for camp and cut up some teaching. And then it’s preparing your mind for the season. So I know I was ready about two weeks ago to get going, and I know our players are itching and our coaches are itching. It’s just that time.” Wilcox said.

Next up was Stanford head coach, David Shaw.

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Question: Were you surprised at all Bryce Love decided to return this year?

“I was not surprised. I wouldn’t have been surprised either way because both had legitimate arguments for him to leave or come back. In my heart of hearts, if I had to guess what he would have done, I would have guessed that he would have come back, just knowing what goals he has both in football and out of football.” Shaw said.

Probably, the most entertaining coach, Mike Leach was next. With the suicide of one of his players, he was asked about mental health of college football players.

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“You know, the biggest thing was as soon as it happened, we got counselors with the team. But then the other thing is just be present for everybody on the team. Then having the team itself, I think has been very helpful. Then we all have very fond memories of Tyler. We’re proud that we had the opportunity to know him, but then also he would want us to move on.” Leach said.

Mental health is a subject that needs to be addressed in every sport and Coach Leach needs to continue to speak about it.

Next up, Chris Petersen, head coach of Washington.

The Huskies are the overwhelming favorite to repeat as champions of the Pac-12.

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Question: Can you talk about the pressure of being number one rated in the conference?

“Yeah, that doesn’t mean anything to us. There’s no more expectations put on us from the day that we walked into that building. We expect to be good and win games, and that’s never changed. So because other people, you know, think that we might win some games, that doesn’t really change our mindset.” Petersen said.

We go from the program that is atop the conference to the program that has the greatest challenge.

Oregon State.

First year head coach, Jonathan Smith, is embracing the challenge in Corvallis.

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Question: With the success of the baseball program, have you sat down with coach Pat Casey and picked his brain?

“We’ve had a couple conversations, yeah. Shoot, I just talked to him two days ago. We go way back. He’s got some real value. He’s lived the experience of being here and competing at a high level and what it looks like. So, yeah, I’ve gotten some things from him.” Smith said.

Smith also talked about the reaction around the state of Oregon by high school coaches.

“I think there’s some excitement. In fairness, I’ve been recruiting the state of Oregon for different schools for a long time, so I know a lot of these high school coaches. We’re making an emphasis of trying to recruit their players, if they’re good enough. I think that’s helped too.” Smith mentioned.

Mario Cristobal, head coach, of Oregon was up next.

The Ducks are coming off a down season and a drubbing by Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl. Duck fans expect a return to double digit wins, so Cristobal has some pressure on him.

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Question: You’ve been around Justin Herbert for a while now. How has he changed as a leader?

Much more vocal. He now is becoming a field general. I think he was a quarterback last year, and now he’s becoming a field general. That guy understands how to flip protections. He understands, well, we’re getting a seven-man rush here, they’re going to play cover zero. He understands the run game like a coordinator does. Meaning, he could get us into advantage runs when we’re not in one or facing pressure, potentially, a negative play.” Cristobal said.

Reading between the lines, as Herbert goes, so go the Ducks.

The first team up after the lunch break was Colorado. It’s only been a couple of years since Colorado was in the Pac-12 Championship game, but the Buffaloes have dropped off considerably since then.

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Question: What are biggest concerns going into fall camp?

“There’s always a bunch of concerns. Yeah, we’re excited about some of the young guys that we have on our defensive line and our offensive line. I feel like they’re very athletic, so we need to keep them coming along, so I feel we’ll be more athletic in those two areas than we have been in the past.” MacIntyre said

Question: Did you find that there’s not much difference between being in first place in 2016 and last place last year in terms of how close the games are?

“Yeah, it’s a lot more fun to be in first place than down where we were. It all goes back to winning the close games. You hear coaches talk about that all the time. We lost a lot of good players the year before, and so we played some guys out there that were little bit newer. We just didn’t quite make enough situational plays in some games.” MacIntyre said.

Arizona State was one of the teams that made a coaching change in the off season. Herm Edwards is the new man at the helm of the Sun Devil program. Herm knows how to own the room when he’s in front of the media.

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Question: What’s the philosophy you want to instill in these young men?

“Well, philosophy is real simple, is that we all have to honor the game on how we play it and how we coach it. We all stand on other’s shoulders. No player, no coach is bigger than the game of football, and football is a vehicle. It’s a vehicle for people to have a platform. You use your platform correctly in a positive way.” Edwards said.

“We are all keepers of this great game called football. You folks stand before us right now, and the fact that you’re in the media, you get to cover this game. You make a living covering sports, and we have to realize as coaches and athletes we have to make sure that we play it right, we coach it right, give you information so you can write stories on the game.”

Utah is the team you don’t want to play. Coach Whittingham always has his team ready to play. The Utes are disciplined and play rough for 60 minutes.

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Question: Talk about your quarterback situation, how happy or maybe unhappy you may be with their development.

“Okay, we think we have a good situation at quarterback. We’ve got Tyler Huntley coming back as the incumbent. He was the guy that started it all. I think it was four games for us last year. Behind Tyler, we have red-shirt freshman, Jason Shelley, from Texas. Then we recruited Jack Tuttle from the San Diego area. Exceptionally talented young man.” Coach Whittingham said.

Question: What is it going to take to break through to reach that next level?

“Yeah, we’ve been competitive. Had a chance to get to the championship game a couple times, have not capitalized on that opportunity. That’s the next step of our evolution as a program, in our estimation, is getting to that championship game. Every team in the conference wants to get there.” Whittingham mentioned.

Kevin Sumlin is the new head coach for the Arizona Wildcats now and has one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in the country in Khalil Tate.

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Question: What is the biggest difference that you’ve noticed so far with Khalil versus the other quarterbacks you’ve coached in the past?

“He’s really fast, how’s that? No, he’s a guy that’s really explosive. Moving from being an athlete that is a quarterback, to being a quarterback that’s an athlete. If that makes sense. How do you do that? And that’s called studying the game. Becoming a student of the game. Working and becoming a leader and accepting those roles. So there is a little difference pressure when you’re a starter, and it comes with the things that are expected of you. Not just on the field, but off the field and on the sideline.” Sumlin said.

The Los Angeles schools were the last two school to go. With Chip Kelly at UCLA now the rivalry with the Trojans may go next level. However, Coach Kelly has to get the program rolling before next level competition begins.

USC was the first Los Angeles school on the podium.

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Question: You’ve lost a lot of key players. What do you say to the younger guys when they’re going to be on a larger stage?

“Well, it’s their opportunity. You know, that’s the opportunity of SC. Every time you lose a tremendous—I remember losing Robert Woods and going, okay, what’s going to happen? There is Marquis Lee, then you lose him and there is Nelson Agholor: you lose him, and there is JuJu Smith. So you aquire the talent that you believe in and the men that you believe in.” Helton said.

Question: How soon do you want to make that pick at quarterback?

“We’ve go 25 practices. I’ll name somebody before the opening game. I don’t have a crystal ball because I’m going to have to have time enough to allow the kids to compete and make the best decision for the football team. So I think it will be later than sooner, I just don’t have a crystal ball to when that is.” Coach Helton said.

Last, but certainly, not least was UCLA head coach Chip Kelly. The Bruins were picked by the media to finish lower half of the Pac-12 South Division.

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Question: How are you adapting the program?

“I think when I first came into this league there weren’t many spread offenses and we were the only team that had shiny helmets, and now everybody runs the spread offense and everybody has shiny helmets. I think the game has changed. So I think you have to change with it.”

Question: Do you like the aggressive out of conference schedules playing LSU?

“Yeah, we play LSU when I was at Oregon. We signed on for that. We played Michigan. Played at Tennessee. I think when people talk about how to strategically schedule, I think the first time you start thinking about strategically scheduling, you’ve lost because you don’t think you can compete with people. If you want to beat the best, you’ve got to be the best. So if they want to play us, I’ll play anybody.”

The season is here football fans. Get ready. Buckle up because another season of Pac-12 After Dark is here.