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Pac-12 Media Day Recap: Sonny Dykes optimistic about Cal football

Everything that happened at Hollywood & Highland on day one

The 2016 football season officially unofficially kicked off today, as representatives from six teams convened in Hollywood for the first of two Pac-12 Media days. Since it was my first press event, I spent most of the morning running around and forgetting to put the memory card in my camera.

Here's a quick rundown of today's events. Transcripts for each speaker can be found here.

Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott

Do you like buzzwords? The Pac-12 loves buzzwords. The conference opened with a hype video for the conference that advertised things like "Totality," "Creativity x Talent x Progress," and "Pac-12 Globalization." To explain what that all meant, Commissioner Larry Scott took the stage to address the state of the conference.

Scott emphasized the Pac-12's focus on the student-athlete experience, specifically the time demands placed on them by their practice schedules. The conference is also focused on issues of player safety, investing $3.9 million this year in grants to study head trauma and other health concerns.

For fans, the biggest news of the morning was Pac-12 Networks' expansion into online streaming, partnering with Twitter to broadcast over 150 Olympic sports events through the service this year. No word yet on DirecTV though.

Before handing the stage off to the coaches, Commissioner Scott took the opportunity to throw some shade on other Power Five conferences (including, for example, one that also had its media event today). When asked whether he had concerns about Pac-12 teams' ability to compete for the College Football Playoff, he responded:

The other thing that one notices is with the advent of the College Football Playoff, we know that in any given year, there will be teams with similar records, and a determining factor that the College Football Playoff selection committee will make is based on strength of schedule. So our conference very much prides itself for a variety of reasons on playing the toughest schedule.


Rich Rodriguez, as usual, was all business. "Am I happy to be here?" he quipped in his opening statement. "Nope. I'd rather be on vacation." He then gave a quick recap of the offseason, saying that the changes he made to the Arizona defensive staff were difficult but necessary for the development of the team.

Andrew Miller

It's easy to see why people like Rich Rod. A few choice moments:

  • On preseason polls: "Hell, that don't matter. I mean, it's preseason, right? I didn't know. Somebody just showed me where we got picked, but I didn't even know—if they picked the top 25 in the country or something? There are a lot of polls coming out."
  • On the best team in the South Division: "Oh, I know, but I wouldn't tell you. Arizona. I'd pick Arizona. I have confidence in our guys."
  • On Pokemon Go: "I had no idea what the hell Pokemon Go was until the other day, and I think my son was telling me, he's an 18 year old. But I know there's a lot of people that are walking around like this and bumping into each other, so it's kind of dangerous."


I'll have a lot more on Sonny's thoughts in the next couple of days, but the key word for him was optimism. How much of that was just for show remains to be seen, but he didn't sound like a guy who just lost his star QB, all of his wide receivers, and two of his top safeties. In his opening statement, Sonny said this year's team might be his favorite in 20 years of coaching. He's proud of the progress his players have made in the classroom and on the field, and despite all the personnel losses, thinks the team will continue to progress this season.

Andrew Miller

As expected, Coach Dykes gave no indication of who the starting quarterback will be. He was happy with the work Chase Forrest and Ross Bowers put in during spring camp, and praised Davis Webb for his work ethic as he adjusts to a new program. Dykes was careful to point out that Webb's transfer wasn't a reflection on the state of his roster in the spring, but rather a matter of getting a guy who could help the program:
I don't think any of us—we didn't leave spring football saying we've got to go find a quarterback. We didn't feel that way at all. We felt like we had two good, solid quarterbacks that were ready. But this was a unique situation based on his relationship with Jake, his relationship with me, and more importantly, his experience in this system, being at Texas Tech. It's a very similar system. So it was a unique opportunity and we felt like it was something we needed to look into.

The bad news out of Sonny's session had to do with the Bears' secondary. In addition to yesterday's announcement that Griffin Piatt would medically retire, Sonny indicated that Damariay Drew's injury could keep him out all year. Drew is coming back from an ACL injury, and the coaches hope he can return towards the end of the season if at all.


I missed most of Clay Helton's session finishing up my notes on Sonny, but the cluster of reporters clamoring for his attention leads me to believe there's plenty of coverage out there if you want it. The crowd for Adoree' Jackson was bigger than some coaches had.

Andrew Miller

Helton seemed pretty comfortable at his first Media Day as head coach, and it's evident that he is psyched to open the season against Alabama. We'll have to wait a little bit longer to find out which quarterback the Bears will face when they travel to the Coliseum. Helton, following the theme of the day, said he wouldn't decide on a QB until two weeks before the opener.


A lot of the conversation with Mark Helfrich centered on Devon Allen, the Oregon wide receiver who recently qualified for the Rio Olympics in track and field. I also passed by former Cal guy Johnny Ragin III, there representing the Oregon defense, who was pretty animated about Allen's achievement.

On the football side, Helfrich was mostly asked about the quarterback competition—no answer—and new defensive coordinator Brady Hoke. Helfrich claimed responsibility for a lot of Oregon's defensive struggles last season, and has been pleased with the adjustments made so far.

Andrew Miller
And of course, because it's the silly season for college football, there were questions about Oregon's uniforms. Helfrich said he didn't think they would be as slick as ESPN reporter Ted Miller's fly media day outfit, but that they would be as crazy as ever.

Washington State

Speaking of crazy as ever, the next coach to speak this was Washington State's Mike Leach. From the wisdom of my media day forbears, I knew Leach's session would be the best of the day. He did not disappoint. Where most coaches offered up a few minutes of commentary on their programs, Leach instead had the following:

All right, any questions? Those that have dealt with me before know I don't really do opening remarks, so let's get started.

And with that we were off.

What's next for Luke Falk? "Steady improvement."

What's next for Gabe Marks? "Just steady improvement."

Thoughts on the Heisman race? "Yeah, I'm in favor of it."

What's the question you hate most at Media Day?

Thoughts on Pokemon Go?


I snuck out of the Utah session early to chat with Sonny and the Cal players, and because no one could possibly follow Leach's performance. Reading the transcript though, Kyle Wittingham was a very diplomatic interviewee. The Utes have a lot of pieces to replace this season—quarterback included, no news there—and it seems like Wittingham would be glad to keep his head down and work things out himself. He did alert the media to new punter Mitch Wishnowski, saying he was the new guy to know on their team.

That's all for today! I'll be back tomorrow with updates on the other six Pac-12 teams.