LOS ANGELES — It finally feels real.
For more than a year, the University of Utah has known it would be a member of the Pac-12 Conference. There were press conferences and pep rallies touting Utah's new status among college athletics elite, but it wasn't until I arrived at the Fox Studio lot Tuesday morning that it really sunk in.
When we arrived early Tuesday morning at football media day we were greeted by Pac-12 logos and team flags representing all 12 members of the conference, and right in the middle of all the flare was the crimson of the University of Utah.
Looking at the coaching placards on the various tables scattered around the interview area, there were names like Kelly, Stoops, Erickson, Kiffin, Sarkisian and Whittingham. After months and months of talking about what it will be like when the Utes are in the Pac-12, the reality of the Utah's new situation has taken hold, at least with me. One funny thing with the coaches' placards at their interview tables was the Colorado Buffalo logo on Utah coach Kyle Whittingham's placard. So maybe there's still a little education to be done regarding the league's newest members.
I've been covering conference football media days for almost 20 years now, from the Big Eight to the SEC, ACC, Mountain West and now Pac-12. I can honestly tell you that in all that time and all those meetings, I've never had back-to-back interviews like the ones I had on Tuesday.
In the span of 10 minutes, we had interviews with two Heisman Trophy candidates: USC quarterback Matt Barkley and Stanford QB Andrew Luck. These two young men personified everything you want in a quarterback and team leader. They exude charisma and confidence. In fact, the Pac-12 is embarrassingly rich with quarterback talent this year.
The kid that I enjoyed talking with most on Tuesday was Arizona State QB Brock Osweiler. Osweiler, who goes to the tune of 6-foot-8 inches tall, had a full ride scholarship to play basketball for Mark Few at Gonzaga and chose to play football instead in the Valley of the Sun. He told me that the overriding reason was coach Dennis Erickson.
Speaking of Erickson, he may be on the hot seat this season at Arizona State, but you'd never know it talking with him. He was very much at ease with his job and his team — plus he happened to be sporting his 1987 national championship ring that he won as head coach of the other "U" — the University of Miami.
So what about the Utes? How were they received at their first ever Pac-12 media function? According to Whittingham and Tony Bergstrom, it was a lot of questions about transitioning from the Mountain West to better week-in and week-out competition. Utah was picked third in the Pac-12 South by the media, which Whittingham said was about what he expected. Most of the coaches we talked to in Los Angeles thought the South was wide open and Utah had as good a chance of winning the division as USC or Arizona State.
So now that it's real, what's next for the Utes? Practice next week, the opener in a little over a month, then their Pac-12 baptism at the Coliseum on Sept. 10 against the Trojans. I'm looking forward to bringing you all the action this fall on game day and sharing some thoughts in this space weekly. Football season and the Pac-12 are finally here, it's a great time to be a Ute!