Utah football coach Kyle Whittingham and lineman Tony Bergstrom took the stage at Tuesday's Pac-12 media day, and things went just as expected. They stuck to business, hitting all the talking points such as teamwork and motivation. They used the term "excited" at least a half-dozen times. Meanwhile, they stayed well south of the line between confidence and cockiness.
It was a true Whittingham production.
But what I want to know is why they didn't let it all hang out. Oregon coach Chip Kelly did, in at least one sense, when he joked that the media covering the Pac-12 "are the smartest ones out there" because they picked the Ducks to win the conference. Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck did so, too, when he said he grew a lumberjack beard just because he wanted to, no further explanation necessary. Colorado coach Jon Embree followed suit when, unsolicited, he noted his team has lost 18 consecutive road games.
USC coach Lane Kiffin was a bit disingenuous in saying that once the games begin, being ineligible for a bowl game isn't a big factor. But all things considered, it was a fairly unimpeded media day. Which makes me wonder why the Utes didn't just come out and say they're shooting for a national championship.
I know, you're not supposed to do that.
Darn those conferences. They ruin all the fun.
Two weeks ago, BYU held its own media day and both coaches and players said the Cougars will be competing with a national championship in mind. Now the Utes are in the Pac-12, but they arrived hat-in-hand on Tuesday. Shouldn't it be the other way around? The Utes had a better record — and beat the Cougars — last year. (Their record was better than all but two Pac-12 teams, too.) They're now in an automatic qualifying conference. They have a glaringly favorable schedule.
If I were the Utes, I'd be bragging like Wilt Chamberlain.
Admittedly, it's a long way to the Rose Bowl or the BCS title game. To do so the Utes would have to supersede Stanford, Oregon and other good programs. At the same time, is the road to a national championship any more difficult than BYU's? It's BYU that might have to have to talk its way into a BCS bowl. The Cougars could go undefeated and still get ignored.
The occasion was the Pac-12 media day in Los Angeles. The newly retooled league spread the word via live streaming of its press conference. A coach and player from each team provided his take on the upcoming season.
Whittingham brought along Bergstrom, which is like bringing along your favorite jeans. He's comfortable, trusty and durable. Both of them took a low-key approach.
You think these guys are going to lob a grenade on the first day? No chance.
"Big challenges lie ahead, we're fully aware of that," Whittingham said. "But with big challenges come big opportunity."
Not once did he say his team is going to be great. Asked about being competitive in the new conference, he merely said, "We hope so," despite being picked to finish a respectable third in the South Division.
He did note that it is Utah's goal to win the division, but carefully added, "I'm sure the other five teams are thinking the same thing."
I know what you're saying to yourself — that they're smart. It isn't always the best idea to pull a Larry Bird. He's the guy who walked into the locker room during All-Star Weekend, prior to one 3-point shooting contest, and said, "OK, who wants to finish second?"
The Utes aren't going to do that, though I'd be entertained if they did. But they have no reason to be terribly humble. They have more BCS bowl (2) wins than any team in the conference except USC.
I understand that humility is a safe course. Still, Utah's schedule could hardly be better. Southern Cal is ineligible to play for a title, so there goes one big obstacle this year. The Utes don't play Stanford or Oregon, so there goes Worry No. 2. Meanwhile, they meet Arizona State — picked second in the South — at home.
If I were Whittingham, I'd start getting in peoples' heads by serving warning that the Utes are coming. I'd borrow the line in which someone said, "I'm not all that and a bag of chips; I'm the whole darned party mix."
Then I'd notify Hef, Sheen, Lohan and all the other big L.A. celebrities to get out their appointment books. There's a whole new party coming to town.
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