Lyles scandal overshadows otherwise festive Pac-12 Football Media Day

Head coach Jeff Tedford and receiver Marvin Jones fielded questions during Tuesday's Pac-12 Media day.
Cal Athletics/Courtesy/File
Head coach Jeff Tedford and receiver Marvin Jones fielded questions during Tuesday's Pac-12 Media day.

LOS ANGELES, Calif. — Cal  head coach Jeff Tedford munched on a Dorito and talked comedy during lunch at Tuesday’s inaugural Pac-12 Football Media Day.

“They film Modern Family here,” he said, referring to the event’s Fox Studio Lot venue.

Funny he mentioned that, because the conference — Cal included — is certainly becoming more modern. The league has added two new schools, Colorado and Utah, just signed a massive TV deal and snagged the divine Gus Johnson to call the games; meanwhile, the Bears have a new, mobile quarterback, Zach Maynard, in what is becoming an increasingly fast-paced game.

“He just brings that added dimension of athleticism,” Tedford said of Maynard, whom he picked as the new starter in May. “When things aren’t exactly perfect, he can run. That’s huge.”

One person who is certainly not a member of the new Pac-12 family is Willie Lyles. More questions were asked about the scandal involving the controversial recruiting scout’s ties to Oregon and the $25,000 payment he received from the school for supposedly outdated scouting materials.

On Tuesday, Ducks head coach Chip Kelly dodged questions the way his speedy and elusive running backs avoid linebackers.

“Obviously I know the one question everybody’s waiting to ask,” Kelly said. “We have great respect for the NCAA in terms of their review and examination of our recruits and recruiting services. And we’ve cooperated fully with them and will continue to cooperate with them.”

Kelly said that Oregon has asked an outside law firm, Bond Schoeneck and King, to conduct a review of the situation and produce a report. When that report is made public, Kelly said he would “love to talk about the situation.” Until then, he tried to steer the conversation away from the scandal. He changed the subject to his squad’s 2011 opener against LSU, a team he clearly preferred to discuss. No such luck.

He even tried to get on the reporters’ good side.

“I’d like to commend the media that covers this conference, because I think you’re the smartest ones out there,” Kelly said. “You picked us to win the league.”

That they did. Oregon was picked first in the preseason media poll, just ahead of fellow Pac-12 North division member Stanford. The South’s trio of USC, Arizona State and Utah came next. The Bears were picked to finish fifth in the North and ninth overall, the second straight year that they have been voted outside the conference’s top-four.

Pac-12 officials abruptly ended Oregon’s Q and A session after another, more loaded, question about Lyles. Yet that line of questioning was not limited to Kelly and the Ducks. Lyles provided his recruiting services to Cal, but Tedford told reporters Tuesday that all of the school’s actions were legitimate.

“I’m not concerned one bit,” Tedford said. “We deal with probably four or five recruiting services per year. I wouldn’t know Lyles if he was in this room right now.”

Tedford is more concerned with getting his squad back on track after a disappointing, bowl-less 2010 campaign.

Even with several key losses, including first-round pick Cameron Jordan and linebacker Mike Mohamed, the defense has the potential to be as highly ranked as last year’s unit, according to Tedford. He admitted the offense has some work to do when fall practice starts on Aug. 6.

“Offensively, we need to improve,” he said. “We were not close to the consistency that we need to compete at a high level. That generally starts at the quarterback position, and we weren’t consistent enough there last year.”

Under center this season will be the athletic Maynard, a junior transfer from Buffalo.

“I definitely have confidence in him,” senior wide receiver Marvin Jones said of Maynard. “From what I see, he has great anticipation, he’s a great leader and he knows how to place himself in situations to be successful. So those are … the key things, assets that he has.”

Tedford considers the receiving contingent, led by Jones and sophomore Keenan Allen, to be the strength of the offense, along with the line. He expects the duo to provide leadership and production, as they will may carry more of the load with a new quarterback and only one experienced tailback (Isi Sofele).

The offense, in general, will also look a tad different than in previous years. Tedford said he will be involved with calling plays more often. The playbook, meanwhile, will be condensed.

“It’s less volume, more creativity,” Tedford said. “We just need to cut it down a little bit … especially with Zach.”

Tedford said that if the Bears play to their potential, they can beat any team on any given day.

But will they? Jones believes Cal can compete for the conference championship.

“Definitely,” Jones said. “We have the players, we have the skill set and we have the potential to rise above the Pac-12 and win the Pac-12.

“Without a doubt, we believe.”

Change Utes can believe in

The Lyles saga may have overshadowed the addition of Utah and Colorado in the inaugural Pac-12 conference, but that didn’t seem to put a damper on the Utes’ head coach. Kyle Whittingham said he is “ecstatic” about Utah joining the conference — and he’s not the only one.

“It’s been a huge buzz in the community with our fan base,” Whittingham said. “We had a 98 percent renewal rate for season tickets, which is virtually unheard of.”

He referred to the conference opener against USC as “baptism by fire.” Yet, the squad’s schedule cools off considerably after the Trojans. With 12 teams but only nine conference games each year, Utah drew perhaps the easiest schedule, with no regular season match-ups against Oregon or Stanford. Whittingham and offensive tackle Tony Bergstrom played it down:

“If you looked at their record last year, it would be very fortunate,” Bergstrom said. “But this year we’re just glad to be in the south conference … playing the best teams that we can.”

Quick hits

  • Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, it appears, is taking his talents to the NFL after the 2011 season. “I’m doing this as my last college football season and approaching it like such,” the 2010 Heisman Trophy runner-up said. His bushy beard, on the other hand, would seem better suited for baseball.
  • UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel led off his opening statement with a doozy: “Excited to be here,” he said. “As a coach on the proverbial hot seat, I guess you’re excited to be invited to any of these things.”
  • Asked about the possibility of finishing second in the south division behind USC but playing in the championship game because of the Trojans’ sanctions, Arizona State head coach Dennis Erickon’s response drew laughs: “I don’t care,” he said. “A lot of things in life, you take any way you can get it.”