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Sizzle, substance at Pac-12 Football Media Day in Los Angeles

Jul 22, 2013

CULVER CITY, Calif. -- Befitting the location, the Pac-12 brought pizzazz to the league's annual media day on Friday at Sony Pictures Studios.

"On these grounds here at the Sony lot, history has been made and brought to life through television and movies. Our football coaches and accomplished student-athletes take over the stage to kick off what we expect to be Pac-12 football action full of highlight reels and story lines," commissioner Larry Scott said during his opening remarks. "The Conference sits in an enviable position as we enter what I believe will be a historic year in many respects."

It wasn't all about the sizzle, as there was plenty of substance that came out of Stage 8 and the surrounding area. Scott set the tone early, directing fans to switch from DirecTV to a TV provider with Pac-12 Networks, introducing more information on the student-athlete health initiative and calling for a dramatic shift in the way the NCAA operates.

[Related: Drop DirecTV - get Pac-12 Networks]

"It's clear right now (the NCAA) are at a crossroads. It's time for a new vision," he said. "I believe there is a responsibility of the major conferences to provide thought leadership and articulate a future vision for college athletics. If we fail to do so, we forfeit the right to complain about the status quo."

There were plenty of light moments as well. Arizona State's Will Sutton transformed into Mary Poppins -- if she were a mammoth 315-pound defensive tackle -- when a light rain started to fall by grabbing an umbrella and jaunting around. USC's Marqise Lee and Hayes Pullard were a comedy act at times. There was a Soviet Union reference and Washington State's Mike Leach discussed zombies and Geronimo.

Yes, zombies (he called his players that last year). Yes, Geronimo (he's writing a book about him).

"Books are funny things. They're satisfying, ultimately; but then there is a point where it gets tedious and you get tired of the same stuff over and over," Leach said. "Books almost go a little beyond even the confines of, say, a marriage. You write a book, that's there forever. There is no divorcing a book, you know?"

[Related: WSU's Leach finds books more binding than marriages]

Leach also revealed that Connor Halliday would be his starter at quarterback, a welcome change after refusing to state what many media members thought would be obvious. Speaking of quarterback battles, Mike Riley may be close to naming a starter at Oregon State, while it will be a full competition going on at USC with neither coach nor award-winning receiver giving any indication of who would be under center for the Trojans.

In their first big unveiling in front of the West Coast and national media, the three new Pac-12 coaches earned rave reviews for their quips, thoughtful answers and genial nature. Cal's Sonny Dykes noted the motion picture lot -- with actual movie stars walking around -- was a tad bit different from the WAC media day he was at last season. Colorado's Mike MacIntyre was a bit wide-eyed, but came off as the guy to turn the Buffs around.

[Related: Pac-12 Football Podcast Part 1: Washington State, California, Washington, Oregon]

Oregon's Mark Helfrich, picked by the media to win the league, dealt with his fair share of Chip Kelly questions. But it was apparent to anybody around that the Ducks were in good hands going forward.

"Changes are going to happen and we'll adjust accordingly, but we have a bunch of great guys that believe in what we do and that's the most important part," he said. "We want to score. We don't care about the method."

The two Los Angeles schools naturally had the largest media contingents poking and prodding at the six players and coaches. Whether there's been a power shift in the city between USC and UCLA figures to be a prominent story line over the coming months, and that was clear on Friday even if neither party wanted to address it head-on.

"That rivalry game is obviously very big for us -- big for our fans and both universities being so close with so many connections," Lane Kiffin responded. "Obviously, we were on the wrong side of it last year. For a number of years we were on the right side, and we got to get that back."

"We have great respect for USC and what they do, but I think we're on the rise, and I think we're full of confidence and belief, and like (Xavier Su'a-Filo) said: We're not too concerned about them and they're not too concerned about us," Bruins linebacker Anthony Barr said.

[Related: Pac-12 establishes new football contact policy as part of student health initiative]

Should be a fun crosstown showdown again in 2013.

No matter what the headline to come out of Sony Pictures Studios on Friday, however, there was one thing that was perfectly clear to everybody in attendance: Football season is here and there's nothing needed to accentuate that fact.