Pac 12 Media Tour

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Yesterday saw the football coaches of the new Pac-12 gather in Los Angeles for their first date with the media for 2011. Rick Neuheisel was part of the crowd, bringing Johnathan Franklin as his player representative. After opening with the news that Brett Hundley will be having surgery and missing part of fall camp to recover, Coach Neuheisel took a few minutes to share some updates on the team, and answer a few questions about the program, and his outlook as a part of it.

Starting off with the quarterback position, after breaking the Hundley news, Rick stated that while there will be an open competition in the fall, that Kevin Prince will begin the practices as the first-team QB, having been the prime starter last fall. He then continued with his thoughts on the quarterback competition and what he is looking for in his starting QB:

It makes no differences the name on the back of the jersey to me. What makes the difference to me is that the guy has all the intangibles that are necessary to play it well. One, intelligence, knows the situation, knows what is required of this particular situation. Two, has the ability to throw it to guys in the same colored jersey accurately, and, three, the team loves him and follows him. Those are the kind of things that you need at that position, and our conference is full of them. It’s time for UCLA to have that guy as well.

Blair Angelo added some further tidbits on the leading two candidates for the starting QB job after the day’s activities ended, addressing Kevin Prince’s health and Richard Brehaut’s decision to play baseball while following a full summer practice schedule:

Neuheisel said he has been assured by various people that Prince is “100 percent healthy” and completely ready for the fall. And of Brehaut’s dual-sport aspirations, Neuheisel said: “You have to do what your heart tells you to do. Richard, we’re going to coach hard. I don’t want to paint him as a bad guy because I love Brehaut, I love his family, but I know what the quarterback position demands.” Brehaut, a catcher who joined the UCLA baseball team in the spring, has juggled football and baseball duties since spring, playing in the California Collegiate League as a member of the Academy Barons this summer.

Even before taking questions, Neu acknowledged the warming sensation under his chair. As shared by Adam Maya:

(I’m) excited to be here as a coach on the proverbial hot seat,” he said in his opening statement. Later, he added: “I don’t consider it the hot seat. I consider it a great challenge. No one thinks you can do this. Go do it.

… To get in the postseason is huge. That’s where the perception of the program changes. We’ve got to get over the hump of mediocre.

Even with the hot seat, he must be more comfortable this week than Chip Kelly is. Later on in his presser, he was asked about the on-field struggles of the team – particularly the 4-8 result of last Fall’s campaign, leading him to talk a bit about last year’s backslide, while remaining optimistic about the upcoming season.

I’m always an optimist. I believe that UCLA and what UCLA’s done in the past has helped to catapult the students to a great future. We’ve had some good recruiting classes.

… But we just haven’t turned the corner to the extent that I thought possible. I thought we were on the verge of it after 2009 with the Bowl win and coming back. But last year, unfortunately, took a step backwards with respect to our progress for a number of reasons not to be gone into again.

… I am looking forward to this year like none other in that if we can get over this hump and get going in the right direction, it will be one of the great accomplishments in my own personal career and something that I think everybody will be excited about that I’m close to within the program and externally that follow our program.

As I mentioned earlier, Johnathan Franklin was also in the house. After having been asked about his thoughts on the NCAA’s new premature celebration rule (which folks in yesterday’s open thread saw as a pattern by one journalist) and his spot on the Doak Walker Award watch list, he was asked about stepping up to a leadership role on the squad – which his presence as player representative at media day seems to point toward – and how he might change to fill that role.

Q: You’ve always been a quiet player. Are you ready to step up and be the vocal leader at UCLA?

JOHNATHAN FRANKLIN: Yes, sir. I have no choice but to. You have Rahim Moore going, Akeem Ayers gone, and I’m placed on a platform where I have to lead this team. In late games when we need a guy to make a play, I have to be that guy. I have to be that guy to bring the spark to the team. I have to be the guy to carry the team to the top once again. I’m ready for that challenge, that’s why I came to UCLA.

After having reported on the goings on at the session regarding the Bruins, Blair Angelo focused his UCLA Media Day coverage for ESPNLA on Johnathan Franklin, focusing a bit on his fumbles from last season, but also his prolific production and current role as the face of the offense.

 … He’s the only offensive player on the cover of UCLA’s 2011 media guide and has been named to the Doak Walker Award and Maxwell Award preseason watch lists. Franklin knows he’ll be called upon as UCLA’s passing game works out the kinks under new offensive coordinator Mike Johnson.

“I want 20 carries a game,” Franklin said. “I want to be the guy. I want to be the man. I’m ready to take over. UCLA needs a running back, it needs a player to take it to where it needs to be. We need a Mark Ingram, we need a LaMichael James. We need a guy, and I plan on being that this year.”

One of the broader takeaways from this media gathering is that the media is not so bullish on the Bruins this fall, picking UCLA to finish 5th out of 6 teams in the Pac-12 South. Southern Cal and Arizona State were tapped at the top of the division, followed by Utah and Arizona and Colorado at the bottom of the pack. For what it is worth, ESPN’s Peter Yoon tabbed the Bruins to finish 3rd in the Southern division (7-5 overall) and Jon Wilner picked UCLA to end the season in 4th.

A couple of injury notes came out of yesterday. As Achilies noted on Tuesday afternoon and I briefly mentioned at the start of this post, Brett Hundley tore the meniscus in his knee earlier in the summer; after the knee failed to respond to less extensive treatment, he is set to undergo surgery today, and is slated to miss the first half of Fall camp. Later in the evening, Jon Gold reported that Anthony Jefferson will likely miss the 2011 season, due to a bulging disk which is expected to require surgery.

While not having an impact on the immediately forthcoming season, Angelo passed along some positive news regarding Xavier Su’a-Filo – now halfway through his two year LDS mission – and his future back at UCLA:

Neuheisel said he has kept in touch with the father of offensive tackle Xavier Su’a-Filo, who left for a two-year Mormon mission after his freshman season at UCLA in 2009. Su’a-Filo, who started every game at left tackle, “can’t wait to come back,” Neuheisel said. There was some ambiguity surrounding Su’a-Filo’s post-mission plans.

In non-directly Bruin-related news from Tuesday, Jon Wilner caught a couple of minutes with Larry Scott, who shared his thoughts on some hot topics in college football today – the level of funding for athletic scholarships, as well as how best to improve compliance with NCAA bylaws, calling for schools to use some of the upcoming flood of TV money to beef up their compliance staffs.

Let’s not forget that Tuesday’s media day in California is just the first part of a Pac-12 media tour, which continues today and Thursday in Bristol, CT and New York City. As part of the tour, Coach Neuheisel will be spending a significant part of today at the ESPN campus in Bristol, appearing on several programs throughout the day, beginning with a live appearance on Sportscenter at approximately 7:40am PDT. Feel free to add your thoughts on Neu’s appearances on tWWL, and other goings on as the media tour continues.