8:58- Pac-12 VP of Officiating David Coleman offers to take questions, but time and the completely unconscious crowd prohibits further probing of the officiating agenda for the Pac-12. After administering smelling salts to the groggy media throng, Pac-12 Networks President Lydia Murphy-Stephens takes the stage.
9:30- Rich Rod takes the stage and look out Joey Bishop!! With four giant projection screens on the walls of the sound stage and the Pac-12 100 logo all over every swag item on the premises, Rodriguez informs us all that it is, in fact, the Pac-12's 100th year. He then opened his set with a recital of the "So you're saying there's a chance.." scene from Dumb and Dumber. He then went on to push Tucson as a tourist destination, claimed Arizona had the best practice facility in the conference as well as a giant billboard of Scooby Wright. I will pause while you all book your flights now. Rodriguez said he was happy to have quarterback Anu Solomon return because he "started last year, was good, and got better. I'm happy because I feel he's better." After that, he went into his best material, referencing The Lion King when explaining why he doesn't dwell on the past, as well as putting the image of two octogenarian bird-flippers in the minds of everybody in the sound stage. He talked about being "pissed off for a month and a half" after the Wildcats' bowl game loss to Boise State, but did manage to slip in some interesting thoughts on the state of the Pac-12 as well as recruiting. He expressed tremendous confidence in terms of closing on recruits. Essentially he said that the real trick was getting recruits to visit Tucson. He claimed the 'Cats keep "60%" of recruits who visit, and he maintained his willingness to keep knocking on the door of in-state recruits looking to leave. The impression Rich Rod leaves you with is of a man who can sell. He almost had me rethinking a trip to Tucson. Ok, he's not that good, but I can see why players would want to play for him. After being around both now, I can also see why Todd Graham loathes him. They are both more similar than either would like to admit, bringing big energy and positivity. They're both salesmen. The difference is that Rodriguez leads with the fact that he's selling but doesn't seem to take himself too seriously.
10:10 AM- Cal Coach Sonny Dykes.....PAUSE FOR TECHNICAL DIFFICULTY.
10:37 AM- FINE, I'll say something about Cal. Jared Goff presented well. He identified Washington and Stanford as the two best defenses he faced last year. He deflected talk about his own accomplishments, but was very bullish on the maligned Cal defense. He said the biggest improvement he noticed when practicing against the Bear D was "playing the ball in the air." He also confirmed that the game had, in fact, slowed down for him in his time at Cal. He said the biggest corner he turned happened in spring ball this past year, at which point he felt secure making changes and the line, seeing those calls prove out, and "seeing the entire field." Goff said there was a transition from his first to his second year, but that this past spring was really the moment when he was in full control. Linebacker Hardy Nickerson noted that this was the first time in his career Cal would be returning its defensive coordinator (Art Kaufman). He pointed to the vastly improved depth as the biggest reason Cal's D would improve. Sonny Dykes talked. Satisfied?
10:50- Sark came out in a silver black and neon polo and basically sat with the poise of a man who has all the cards. Which he does. USC is the most talented team in the Pac-12. 'Twas ever thus, and ever thus it shall be. He did have some interesting things to say about the state of his team as it faces the usually inflated expectations for a USC team. First off, he spoke of owning the lofty expectations, and about how it's made clear to everyone who comes to USC Football (himself included) that that's the reason you come to USC. He spoke optimistically about how much further along the program was "philosophically as well as schematically" in year two of his tenure. He said that it was "never too early to think about UCLA," but repeatedly reminded us that SC had not won anything yet as nice as it was to be picked to win the Pac-12 by the media. We also got some Sark Snark, as he said "We won't be taking the field in 13 different uniforms for 13 games," a clear dig at SC's penultimate opponent in 2015. The quote came in response to a query about SC's challenge recruiting. Sarkisian said that SC was more than content to lean on its unmatched pedigree of 11 National Championships and six Heismans. I asked him about his O line, which last year started three freshmen, but this year is a legit "10 deep" according to Sark. Must be nice. He also did emphasize that while SC will be a "run-first" team, the Trojans would be using play action and would "not be a dink and dunk offense. We will throw the ball down the field." Ok, then.
11:30- Coach Helfrich followed, and he was queried about SC. He said he had "no curiosity" about the Trojans, noting "SC is SC...they always have the best recruiting class." He talked openly about the quarterback competition in terms of Jeff Lockie. He sung Lockie's praises but had less to say about Vernon Adams, who apparently has yet to enroll, or "take care of business" as the question was put to him. Overall, he talked about how defenses are adapting and adjusting and that the "shell game" goes on and on with moves and counter-moves. He admitted to some frustration with the loss to Ohio State, talking about the things that would have been "quick fixes" that they missed out on during the game. Rodney Harvick commented that the Buckeyes were the strongest team that they'd played, and Helfrich acknowledged that the strength of OSU across the board had certainly informed Oregon's off-season workouts. I was lucky to have a few minutes to talk with Coach Helfrich one-on-one, so look for more on the Ducks to come.
12:10- Washington State-The Pirate eschewed the opening monologue and went right to introducing his players. Once he got rolling, he did offer some strong dating advice involving two for one sandwiches and sturgeon fishing. Leach seemed at ease with the quarterback competition between Redshirt Freshman Peyton Bender battling Redshirt Sophomore Luke Falk. Falk had the advantage of playing in games last year after Connor Halliday's arm collapsed from throwing 125 passes per game (this may not be accurate). He also talked like Sarkisian about the advantage of an offensive line that was inexperienced last season but now returns en masse. Washington State's upgraded facilities and their location in the heart of campus were two selling points Leach promoted while talking. He wouldn't put a number in terms of expectations for a win but simply wanted to continue to improve. He did also suggest rattlesnake hunting as a possible date alternative to sturgeon fishing, by the way.
12:50- Coach Kyle Whittingham embraced the opener with Michigan on a number of fronts. First, he said it was a sign of progress that they were able to get a home and home with school like Michigan. He also liked that such a big opener has brought an urgency and focus to the team since last winter when the schedule was released. He also expressed confidence that the duo co-offensive coordinatorship of Coaches Aaron Roderick and Jim Harding, the Utes' eighth coordinator unit in eight seasons, was here to stay. Coach Whittingham expressed a desire that the hire came from within, and with both having served on the staff he met his goal. His hope is that continuity would survive with the hire, so we shall see if this duo can outlast their predecessors.
...and that about wrapped it up for me at Pac-12 Media Day Two. It was a great experience to meet all the coaches in the conference in a uniform setting, and I do think that the unanimous enthusiasm is not unfounded. This conference is loaded, and whoever does emerge in December as the champion will have certainly earned it.
T minus 36 days......
Are you fully subscribed to The Bootleg? If not, then you are missing out on all the top Cardinal coverage we provide daily on our award-winning website. Sign up today for the biggest and best in Stanford sports coverage with TheBootleg.com (sign-up)!