July 29, 2010

Pac-10 notes: The move to 12

MORE: Pac-10 race to Rose Bowl wide open

PASADENA, Calif. - First-year Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott doesn't fashion himself as the one who spearheaded the discussion on conference expansion and the idea of 16-team leagues. Nor does he paint the picture that the Pac-10 steered the events of the summer single-handedly.

If not for the Big Ten's expansion talks in the spring, Scott said, the Pac-10's designs to add six teams from the Big 12 would not have gained so much traction.

"We may not have even thought about the idea," Scott said Thursday at the Rose Bowl during the pac-10's Media Day.

But he does have a good idea of who put the kibosh on the enterprise - the state of Texas.

"Texas and Texas A&M separating with Baylor created a tsunami of Texas political pressure that got way too hot for the politicians," Scott said.

Scott also said he believed information was leaked to the media as a way to hold the Big 12 together. He does not believe the idea of Texas' plans for its own TV network or a sweeter TV deal was the make-or-break factor that ended the expansion discussion.

"There were bigger issues," Scott said. "You wouldn't have gotten that far if it were about a couple of dollars here or there or TV right here or there."

For now, while the Pac-10 awaits the arrival of Utah and Colorado, the conference has a handful of decisions to make in the coming months.

The separation of the Pac-10 into divisions was a hot topic Thursday, though no decision has been made. Coaches were politically correct about the split, deferring to the higher-ups.

Oregon coach Chip Kelly downplayed the importance of making sure the non-California teams have opportunities to play in Los Angeles, the Pac-10's best recruiting hotbed, on a regular basis.

"We haven't played in Texarkana, Texas, but that's where we got LaMichael James," Kelly said of his star running back.

The target date for the announcement on divisions and a championship game is October, when the school presidents meet, Scott said.

"We're going to look at two models, but we're not deep in trying to figure that out. We're trying to first work on divisions," Scott said. "We're going to look at neutral-site models or home-field advantage for best team in the conference."

If there is one certainty, the Pac-10 will be the Pac-12. That includes the possibility of playing one season with 11 teams. Utah will join the conference in 2011. Colorado could leave the Big 12 in 2011 or 2012.

USC feeling hits of sanctions

USC coach Lane Kiffin said the Trojans have 71 players on scholarship.

He had 72 at one point. He thought he might end up at 70 for a while. Wide receiver Travon Patterson just decided to transfer to Colorado. Wide receiver Brandon Carswell considered a transfer to Cincinnati but eventually elected to stay at USC.

This is how Kiffin arrived at 71 scholarship players. For now, anyway.

That's the by-product of NCAA sanctions that's starting to have an impact on the Trojans before the scholarship limits hammer recruiting and before bowl bans means USC will be home in December or January.

"This is the above the sanctions part," Kiffin said. "This isn't written into the penalties."

NCAA by-laws allow upperclassmen to transfer without penalty if their school is placed on probation. Normally, transfers must sit out one season before being eligible at their new school.

Kiffin said the rule has opened up his roster to poaching from other programs, which he equated to free agency without a salary cap.

Linebacker Jordan Campbell transferred to Louisville, defensive end Malik Jackson to Tennessee and running back D.J. Shoemate to Connecticut. USC also released offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson, the No. 2 player in the country, from his national letter of intent after sanctions. He now is at Miami.

"All of a sudden in the second week of training camp you get after a player or he's not happy because you gave more plays to another guy or you go to discipline a guy, he says, 'You know what? I'm leaving because School A, B and C have been calling me all week,' " Kiffin said.

"I wonder if that's the intent of the by-law. ... If a player is leaving in the second week of training camp, it's not because of the bowl game. They're leaving because they're not happy with the coaches or playing time. I don't think that was the intent."

Although none of the veterans were projected starters, it does damage USC's depth. The Trojans also are handicapped because of a limited walk-on program. USC, a private school, must find walk-ons who can be admitted and afford higher tuition.

"We're going to have to be more NFL-oriented about the way we practice because of our reduced numbers," Kiffin said. "We're going to have to tone down our practice a little bit."

Words hurt

Kiffin made his peace with Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fisher, a USC alum whose team is suing the Trojans' coach for hiring running backs coach Kennedy Pola.

"From my opinion, I don't think the lawsuit has anything to do on whether Jeff got my message before Kennedy or if he called me back or anything," Kiffin said.

Then what is it about?

"I think it has to do with the location of the team that is in the lawsuit," Kiffin said.

USC hired Pola a week before NFL training camp started to replace running backs coach Todd McNair, whose contract ran out and wasn't renewed after he was named in the NCAA investigation. Fisher told a reporter he was disappointed in Kiffin's "lack of professionalism," a statement that bothered Kiffin more than anything else.

"When Jeff said that, I did take that personal," Kiffin said. "Not just because he's an SC guy, because he's Jeff Fisher and I have a lot of respect for him. I feel confident after a conversation with Jeff and going through all the details and making sure he knew the facts, that he feels different. Whether he can say that with the lawsuit, I can't say that."

No changes for Kelly

Oregon's Chip Kelly can make as good a case as any coach that he's ready for the season to start.

During the offseason, his two best players had dealings with the law. The Ducks dismissed quarterback Jeremiah Masoli after he was cited for marijuana possession and driving infractions. He already had faced burglary charges earlier in the offseason. And running back LaMichael James pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor harassment charge.

In addition, wide receiver Jamere Holland was dismissed after a Facebook post critical of Kelly was the last straw in a series of run-ins with the coach.

Kelly and Ducks defensive lineman Brandon Bair said Kelly has not changed anything in his approach to off-field legal issues or issued any major reminders for players to keep out of trouble.

"The people who can't follow the rules aren't here anymore," Kelly said. "That's a pretty good reminder, I think."

UCLA tweaks offense

UCLA's offense has lacked explosiveness for several seasons. That's why coach Rick Neuheisel visited Chris Ault and Nevada during the offseason. UCLA's coaches studied elements of the pistol offense to boost the Bruins' rushing numbers, which ranked ninth in the conference.

With the pistol offense, a version of the shotgun where the running back lines up directly behind the quarterback, Nevada led the nation in rushing and had three 1,000-yard runners last season.

Neuheisel likened the wrinkle to adding elements of the veer while he was coach at Washington. Marques Tuiasosopo ran the veer in high school and helped teach it to the rest of the offense, including the coaching staff. Washington led the Pac-10 in rushing that season and won the Rose Bowl.

"We need to be more consistent running the football," Neuheisel said. "It's a trickle-down effect. It takes the pressure off the quarterback. It takes pressure off the playcaller."

Was that a compliment?

Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson's dry sense of humor was on display, especially when describing linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who might be his best defender.

Burfict, a sophomore, finished last season with 69 tackles and seven tackles on the way to Freshman All-America honors. At the same time, he picked up a handful of personal-foul penalties, including three in one game against Washington.

Erickson complimented him for not getting called for any penalties ... during spring football.

"You don't want to take a lot away from him because he's such an aggressive guy. We had a lot of those guys like that at Miami, and obviously I controlled them all," Erickson said, with tongue firmly planted in cheek.

Visiting the Big Apple

A handful of coaches were skeptical at first about Scott's plans to take the Pac-10 East, but they said this week's trip to New York and Bristol, Conn., was productive.

Before its annual conference media day Thursday, the league's 10 coaches and quarterbacks Matt Barkley (USC), Jake Locker (Washington), Andrew Luck (Stanford) and Nick Foles (Arizona) visited East Coast media as well as ESPN and New York Times headquarters.

"It bridged a gap that's been there forever," Washington State coach Paul Wulff said.

The Pac-10 also arranged to have a version of the season's promotional video play on a billboard in Times Square.

"We've been the 'Left Coast Conference' and perceived as a finesse conference for years," Neuheisel said. "You get into conversations with somebody east of the Mississippi River and they'll tell you, 'You play that throwing-the-ball-around football, not the 3-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust tough-guy stuff.' "

David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com.


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