New-look Pac-10 has plenty to talk about

Jul 29 2011 - 4:14pm

LOS ANGELES -- If having 12 BCS football coaches under one roof didn't supply enough testosterone to spice up the Pacific-12 Conference's preseason media day, the pomp surrounding the league's merger with a pair of new schools was equally compelling Tuesday.

"Twelve teams ... two divisions ... one champion ... one mission!" the opening promotional video declared.

But the kicker came when, one-by-one, each school not only was left to account for its past season (good or bad), but all the drama of its pending offseason (mostly bad).

That made the nearly three-hour presentation at the Fox Studios resemble a soap opera.

Which prompted Steve Sarkisian, the coach at Washington, to surmise, "it is time to get back on the field. It is time to get playing (football) again."

What transpired:

-- For starters, Tuesday was supposed to be the official introduction of Colorado and Utah as the league's new members, and for them to explain why they would be worthy additions.

The Utes didn't really need to. Before the day started, they were picked by the media to finish third in the Pac-12 South Division behind Southern California and Arizona State, and garnered the fifth-most first-place votes overall - five.

Since 2001, the Utes had beaten Pac-10 opponents in eight of 12 games, so the lofty appointment appeared justified.

"It's no secret how good a football ... program that Kyle (Whittingham) has built there," California coach Jeff Tedford said.

Still, Whittingham, in his seventh season, was asked whether Utah could sustain its current rate of success as a BCS member, grinding out victories week-to-week in one of the nation's most prolific conferences.

"We've had a pretty good track record against BCS schools over the last 10 years," Whittingham said in a matter-of-fact tone.

Colorado is coming into the fray from a different angle -- with a new coach (Jon Embree) and plenty of defeats on its slate.

In fact, no player on the current Buffaloes' roster has ever won a road game, dating back to 2007.

"I'm taking it head on," Embree said. "I believe it all starts from how you prepare. It all starts with the mindset that good teams win on the road. Obviously, we haven't been a good team, or I wouldn't be here."

-- The topic of Willie Lyles came up repeatedly. Lyles, who formerly ran a Houston-based recruiting service, was utilized by a number of colleges -- including California and Oregon -- for information on prospects.

In the spring, various media outlets reported that Oregon paid $25,000 for Lyles' services, which prompted an NCAA investigation into the transaction.

Chip Kelly, the coach of the BCS title game runner-up Ducks, took to the podium looking like a ... you know, sitting duck for questions about that investigation.

It was Kelly's first time addressing the issue. At each turn, he answered politely but briefly, with the same bottom-line response.

"I'd like to talk about the whole situation and clear up a lot of misconceptions," Kelly said, but indicated he was not allowed to while the matter is under NCAA review.

Oregon-area reporters did not let the topic go. One from Eugene asked Kelly if he was upset how the NCAA investigation impacted the reputation of the program.

At first Kelly sidestepped the issue, but when asked again, he tersely responded, "We'll wait for the NCAA's final determination."

A Portland-area reporter noted that Tedford admitted he would not have recognized Lyles if he walked in a room, and asked if it was a bad idea to do deal with a faceless businessman.

This time, Kelly bit his lip.

"I can't speak to what any other school has done with him. ... I know how we dealt with him," Kelly said.

David Paulsen, the Ducks tight end who was brought as the team's player representative, sat next to Kelly during the questioning.

"I wish they would have asked some actual football questions, instead of figuring out different ways to ask the same question," Paulsen said.

-- A handful of coaches start the season on the hot seat. In his fourth year, Rick Neuheisel is 15-22 at UCLA, his alma mater. And the former Washington coach apparently is aware of the growing criticism against him.

He even introduced himself as "excited to be here as a coach on the proverbial hot seat" -- only minutes before announcing that starting quarterback Brett Hundley was to undergo knee surgery in a few days to repair torn meniscus suffered while playing basketball. He likely will be out at least a month.

It is another chapter in a run of misfortune Neuheisel has experienced since returning to Westwood.

"Last year, unfortunately, we took a step backward with respect to our progress," Neuheisel said. "I think what drives all competitive people are great challenges, and this is certainly that. I have a real stake in this. ... I am looking forward to this year like none other. If we can get over this hump and get going in the right direction, it will be one of the great accomplishments in my own personal career."

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