They were -- still are -- the best of friends, these "boys from Bakersfield." And Saturday, here they were, two fifth-year seniors representing their schools at Pac-12 Media Days at Warner Brothers Studios in Burbank. And representing Utah, linebacker Jared Norris, with his new Ute tattoo in his scalp.
But he'd thought this out. When he doesn't want the feathered Indian headress to show, he says, "all I have to do is let my hair grow out."
But he wanted to make it clear to everyone how much the school had done for the linebacker who leads his team in tackles now after deciding early on to make Utah his school. So early, he says, he couldn't tell you "how many stars I was, if any."
But he can tell you what it was like the night at his house when he decided to call Utah and say he was coming. Next up was his best bud, Cody, who was going to call then-Washington coach Steve Sarkisian, who had recruited him hard, and say he would be signing up for Seattle.
"But I decided to sleep on it," Cody said. The next morning at school, Cody was in the coaches' office, literally about to reach for the phone, when his coach told him USC's Clay Helton had just called and the game-changing offer from USC was coming. And that was it.
Cody would be staying in California where he'd go head-to-head with Max Wittek with the understanding between the two friends that 'one of us would get the job and the other would leave," Cody says. As happened with Max, who will get his senior shot this season as a highly anticipated transfer for Norm Chow at Hawai'i.
So would Cody have left, as well. "That's a great question," he says. One he doesn't have an answer for. One he doesn't have to have an answer for.
"It's worked out perfectly," Norris says for both of them. Each has beaten the other's team once and now, as they both said Friday, "It's best two out of three." And "it's at USC this year," Norris says.
BY THE NUMBERS
12Number of new officials the Pac-12 has hired this year. Sounds like a lot but eight of those are for the new eighth official -- the center judge position -- with two retirements and two leaving for the NFL having to be replaced. The new guys are coming from the Big-12, Big Sky and Mountain West.
232A couple of weeks ago, Su'a Cravens weighed in at a mere 220 pounds. But after "eating a lot," he says simply, he's up to a linebacker-like 232 pounds and looking to get down to a hybrid number -- 225 pounds -- for the season.
Mid-70sThat's USC's sliding scale scholarship numbers with two tight ends keeping the numbers up in the air. Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick, who has disappeared from the player-run practices in July, is still fighting the eligibility battle and Bryce Dixon, who was dismissed from school on a student conduct issue, has chosen not to go the legal route and is appealing his dismissal and applying for readmission, which would almost certainly not come until the second semester. Although no one seems to know for certain how that might work out.
85It looks like it will take USC two more years to get to the full scholarships number, Sark said, because of "our large senior class," Compared to a number of teams in the league whose seniors barely number in double digits, USC will have 14 -- more than at least three of the full-scholarship Pac-12 schools who were on the Friday program.
Number TBDYes, Sark says, they'll "have a pitch count" for Adoree Jackson and his three-way approach to the season on offense, defense and special teams. But until he sees how freshmen defensive backs Iman Marshall, Isaiah Langley, Marvel Tell and Ykili Ross show how much they're going to be able to do in the secondary, there's no number here for AJ. Also in play will be the new Catapult System has that tracks players' every movement through every practice with a GPS system that reports the cumulative wear and tear each of them absorbs. "I'm going to need Adoree just as much in November as in September," Sark says.
75/80No longer will USC defenders, especially linemen, be asked to play that many plays, Sark says, with the rotation he expects and that alone will allow USC to play a more attacking, more aggressive style that goes after people and doesn't just try to react to them in place.
12/13No byes for Arizona, which plays 12 straight weeks this year, or Cal, which adds an extra game at Hawai'i, and goes 13 straight weeks without being off. It's the one concession to USC, we understand, with the way the Notre Dame flps to midseason every other year, requiring some adjustments for other teams to make it work.
43 percent/600 percent/no changePac-12 Networks Pres. Lydia Murphy-Stephans noted that the networks' viewership increased by 43 percent and its "fan engagement" through social media increased by 600 percent last year. But we'll add to what she said with what she didn't say: The league's wholly-owned network still has no deal with DirecTV (and its largest-in-the-nation 1.3 million Southern California subscribers or with Verizon) and has just 12.3 million subscribers to the Big Ten's 60 million plus and the SEC's 70 million. And the Pac-12's $1 million annual payout remained the same this year compared to the Big Ten's $5 million per school and the SEC's $10 million per. LM-S did not stay around for questions from the audience.
24/23/3Add them up -- offense, defense and special teams -- and you get the 50-man All-Century Pac-12 Football Team that's getting lots of attention as the panel of experts debates the prospects, especially at running back where the younger members are enthralled at the idea of Reggie Bush as the greatest running back of them all while the more senior members say don't forget about O.J. Simpson and Marcus Allen. At the suggestion that his post-college issues might disqualify Reggie, Sark says: "I'd vote for him," One member who did, and has put his choices out there, is San Jose Mercury News columnist Jon Wilner, who has among his choices and near choices, had 30 Trojans in consideration. For point of comparison, UCLA had 10, Cal nine and Stanford seven. Outside California, Washington had seven, Oregon four.
STEVE SARKISIAN On his biggest concerns right now: "I guess my biggest concerns are that we manage -- I don't know if it's with the team, but more on me. That we manage training camp well, that it's hard and hard enough, but not too hard where we're not prepared to play. The goal is to be the best football team we can be come August 30th. That is the challenge. That is the ebb and flow of a training camp of four weeks of making it mentally and physically hard, but also making it to where we're in the best position possible in from the 30th."
SARK AGAIN: On the biggest change people will see this season: "I think our glow in the dark uniforms. No, just kidding. That was a joke. I think, obviously, the up-tempo offensively is a big change. We're going to go fast, and that is something that will be very different than has ever been seen at the Coliseum. The schemes are going to look similar, but we are going to go fast. It's going to be a faster paced game. Hopefully a more exciting game for our fans, one that captivates them and keeps them into the game and utilizes the home-field advantage the Coliseum can give you . . . We're always trying to make the experience of our fans the best that it can be. I don't want to disclose all the game-day activities and atmosphere. But I will say this, it should be a home-field advantage. When you put 90,000 people in the building, it should be hard to play in. We have to help generate that. We have to create that excitement. So hopefully we can get that done."
Cody Kessler: On this season's new attitude: "This is a new team going in a new direction and it started with the team getting a 2.8 cumulative GPA, the highest in USC football history. And that carries over to everything else."
OREGON'S Mark Helfrich On whether he's frustrated with or curious about how the media selected USC to win the Pac-12 over his defending champion Ducks: "We can all go home. It's done. It's decided. No, I think whatever it is, I always tell our guys, whatever the noise is that you listen to, if it's your girlfriend, your wife, the media, Twitter, whoever, if you use that for motivation, great. If you use it to dwell or think about something else, that does nobody any good. So if somebody's sitting at home going 'those jerks didn't vote us for whatever' and they go lift. Great. But we don't think about that too much? . . . No, there is no level of curiosity. They're [USC] really good. We see them all the time just in crossover film of getting ready for other opponents. Yeah, SC is SC. Quarterback playing great, unbelievable skill everywhere in the back end, on defense, all over the map on offense, a young offensive line that is big and physical and can move. I mean, they always are the best recruiting class. Always are the best -- we know they have guys and they do a good job with them."
ARIZONA'S Rich Rodriguez: On the excitement sitting in front of a background with the No. 100 on it at least 100 times next to a helmet with the No. 100 on it and on a podium with the No. 100 on it, here was his opening line: "Did you all know it was the hundredth anniversary of the Pac-12? Just making sure. It's exciting."
RICHROD AGAIN On the impact of the new rules for supporting student-athletes:" We'll do what everybody else can do. I think the one rule they passed last year, we have unlimited meals, free meals. I think that was long overdo and was great for student-athletes. The cost of attendance varies. Some schools may have $1,500, some schools may have $5,000. Even though it's the same sized town, that's kind of unique. But I've also heard rumors that cost of attendance is being paid for years at certain schools, it just wasn't legal. You know what I'm saying? But I don't think it's a big deal."
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