LOS ANGELES Being picked to finish third in the South Division didn't put a damper on Utah's first Pac-12 football media day. Head coach Kyle Whittingham and offensive lineman Tony Bergstrom took it in stride during Tuesday's gathering at the Fox Studios.
"There's a lot of unknowns going into the season as far as being in a new conference," Whittingham said. "I've never historically worried about preseason predictions or any of that type of stuff. We'll just accept it for what it is."
Although the Utes garnered four first-place votes in the media poll, it paled in comparison to projected frontrunner USC (24) and second-place pick Arizona State (13).
"Everybody picks us everywhere. I've heard every projection there is. I've heard dead last. I've heard first," Bergstrom said. "So I've never really thought about it. I'm not going to lie. I've seen all kinds of things. It's not a big deal to me. I don't care what other people think to tell you the truth."
The Utes were followed in order by Arizona, which netted one first-place vote, then UCLA and Colorado.
"Third place is nothing to scoff at, especially in a great conference like this. But you obviously want to be the best," Bergstrom said. "It's always kind of nice coming in as a bit of an underdog. So I think that's where we want to be."
Oregon was tabbed as the team to beat. The Ducks topped the media poll as the projected Pac-12 title-game champion. They netted 28 votes. Stanford (1) and Arizona State (3) were the only other teams to receive votes.
In the North Division poll, Oregon led the way with 29 first-place votes. Stanford was second with 13. Washington was picked third, followed Oregon State, California and Washington State.
The polls were released at a large media gathering that featured all 12 of the expanded conference's head coaches and players from each team.
"Sitting here today, I can't overstate the excitement for this conference for the upcoming season — a historic new beginning for the conference," said Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott, who welcomed Colorado and Utah to the fold.
Whittingham acknowledged things were a little bit different than the Mountain West Conference's preseason media event. Considering the tour continues for the coaches and Scott with stops in New York City and ESPN headquarters over the next two days, there is definitely more involvement.
Not everything is new, however.
"It's all basically the same routine," Whittingham said, while making the rounds for interviews with television, radio and print media.
One big difference, though, was the overnight accommodations for the participants. They roughed it at the nearby Beverly Hilton, a jewel in the midst of the famed 90210 ZIP code.
"It's been great. I kind of wish they would have comped me the money for the room. I would have stayed in a Motel 6," Bergstrom joked. "But it was nice. It's been great. They took us out to dinner last night. I don't think I've been treated this well in a while . . . since the recruiting visit."
Bergstrom got to know the other 11 players at the gathering.
"They're all great. You kind of come down worried about being the new guy," he said. "But they're all great guys. So it's a good time."
Liz Abel, senior associate athletics director and director of communications at Utah, also enjoyed meeting with her colleagues around the conference. She was even more pleased when the press corps arrived.
"It's exciting. It's really neat. I saw the list of media that is here and I bet a third or a quarter of it is Salt Lake people," Abel said. "The Salt Lake media is completely represented here."
Utah's contingent included representatives from 10 different media outlets, including sports reporters from every major television, radio and newspaper in the Salt Lake City market.
"I don't think anybody else can make that claim," Abel said. "So it was really great to see the list. I thought it was impressive."
email: [email protected]
Pac-12 preseason media poll
1. Oregon (29) 239
2. Stanford (13) 220
3. Washington 142
4. Oregon State 120
5. California 110
6. Washington State 51
1. USC (24) 230
2. Arizona State (13) 207
3. Utah (4) 170
4. Arizona (1) 140
5. UCLA 89
6. Colorado 46