Canzano: Georgia launches reconnaissance mission in Oregon
Plus... three developments on the Pac-12 front.
The Atlanta Journal Constitution newspaper is putting legendary University of Georgia football beat reporter Chip Towers on a plane this weekend.
He’s coming to Oregon.
Towers has been covering the Bulldogs football program for 35 years. He knows the beat better than it knows itself. I spoke to him this week about his reconnaissance mission to Eugene. He’s going to publish a few pieces that examine first-year Oregon football coach Dan Lanning, the culture of the Ducks’ program, and “give my readers an idea what people in Oregon are talking about.”
It’s a real-life “CT” scan, folks.
Oregon plays Georgia on Sept. 3 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. Lanning will be knee-deep in fall camp when Towers arrives on Sunday, and the first-year coach has warned the old beat guy that he won’t have a lot of time to sit around and chat. So I figure we’d better help Towers with a user’s guide.
A few things:
• Take the walk from campus to Autzen Stadium. I did it once during a blowout football game during the Chip Kelly era. I left the stadium in the third quarter, just before sunset, and walked across the bridges, stopping to interview fans and students who were leaving the game early. It’s a beautiful nature stroll and it gives you a sense of the proximity of the UO football empire to the campus. On game days, it’s bustling with enthusiasm.
• Ask Lanning about his backyard BBQs. He’s been holding them with players and his family all spring and summer. Lanning told me last week, “One of our DNA traits in our program is connection. I don’t think you can truly know a person if you don’t spend quality time with them. It’s a family experience for us. You find out some stuff about your guys. Jay Butterfield is the best Cornhole player I’ve ever seen. It’s impressive. Von (Reames) is a really good Connect Four player, but my middle son, Niles, can get him once in a while.”
• Hike Spencer Butte — elevation 2,058 feet — and take a look around. Lanning took his team to the rocky summit in late July as it was mourning the death of tight end Spencer Webb. The Ducks have plans to honor Webb in a variety of ways this season. The kid had a big personality and will serve as a focal point for Lanning’s team to rally around.
• Taylor’s Bar & Grill, the long-time campus watering hole, closed permanently after four generations of family ownership. It was sold to a developer who plans to build retail storefronts on the bottom with condominiums located above. If our visitor from Atlanta wants to wet his whistle and talk with locals, he might instead try Rennie’s Landing, Max’s Tavern or The Webfoot Bar and Grill. Also, he should get lunch near campus at Chulas, Hey Neighbor! Pizza House or Wild Duck Cafe, where he might encounter basketball coach Dana Altman or baseball coach Mark Wasikowski dining with a recruit.
• Women’s basketball coach Kelly Graves tells anyone who asks that his two favorite breakfast spots near campus are Original Pancake House and Studio One Cafe. Graves is a good evaluator of talent. Trust the recommendations.
• Talk with UO linebacker Noah Sewell. He’s the “North Star” of Oregon’s defense and will play in the NFL. If you’re looking for insight into Lanning’s impact on the defensive side of the ball, and the notable differences between Mario Cristobal and Lanning, Sewell is a good bet to provide it.
• Ask Dan Lanning about the final summer trip he took with his family before camp started. He took the kids and Sauphia to Kansas City for the Fourth of July. They visited his family there and set off fireworks. After that, the Lanning family spent some time exploring the tiny beach towns in the “30A” area of Florida, between Panama City and Destin. Lanning told me, “We enjoyed that 30A area in our time down there in Georgia. But it was just a chance to get away.”
• Don’t be thrown by the fact that nobody at Oregon will say that quarterback Bo Nix is the starter on opening day vs. Georgia. Unless there’s a dramatic twist in camp or an injury, it should be Nix that the Bulldogs see on Sept. 3. Ty Thompson is gifted. Jay Butterfield is smooth and talented. But if we’re handicapping the QB race, Nix has a pile of starts in the SEC and his game-day experience is the difference.
• Travel up winding Skyline Blvd. and find “Pre’s Rock.” There’s a small stone there marking the spot where Olympian and native Oregonian Steve Prefontaine died in a car accident on May 30, 1975.
• Before you get on the plane to return, ask Dan Lanning about being an 18-point underdog in the season opener vs. his old employer, Georgia. I did. Lanning told me, “The only opinions that matter are the ones inside the room. We’re going to focus on us. That’s our mantra. Nobody in the stands, nobody who sets the spread, nobody in the nation is going to control the game better than us.”
Note: I like Oregon +18 points.
It’s a season-opener. Strange things happen in Week 1. The Ducks will fly around. Georgia is the defending national champion and a contender, but it’s replacing a ton of experience lost to the NFL. I don’t see Oregon winning the game outright, but I think it can stay within a shout.
Anything else you’d tell Chip Towers?
Post in the comment section below.
PAC-12 FRONT: There’s a real shortage of sourced, in-depth reporting when it comes to the Pac-12 Conference and its media rights conundrum. I’m only giving you what I can verify with multiple, well-placed sources for that reason. I appreciate you being here for it.
• The 30-day exclusive negotiating window with ESPN and Fox is closing (or already closed) today. I think the Pac-12 presidents and chancellors have a solid idea of the early media rights valuation, but several ADs told me on Wednesday that they hadn’t yet seen numbers. I believe them. I don’t think the conference wants that information out there yet, and I expect the Pac-12 to slow play this. They’ll get ESPN’s first offer, but not its best offer. The rest of the market needs a chance to bid and that won’t come until after the Big Ten finalizes its media package. Any numbers you hear or see are just guesses until you hear and see them from a sourced entity.
• There were erroneous reports that originated from media members, particularly in Arizona, about the conference’s four corners schools meeting with the Big 12 Conference. I’ve talked with high-level sources at all four of those institutions (Utah, Arizona, ASU and Colorado). No meetings were even scheduled. It was all smoke and no fire. One of the ADs from those universities told me at the time, “No meeting with Big 12 and George (Kliavkoff) is kicking ass.”
Those who reported the meetings as fact, whiffed. They’re spitballing and guessing or just listening to the wrong people. As I wrote in a column on Wednesday, there is (and always has been) only one threat to the Pac-12 — the Big Ten. It remains the lone threat.
• I’m more interested in the “kicking ass” part of that AD’s quote, aren’t you? Kliavkoff fashions himself a problem solver. I want to see if he’s as good as advertised. On that front, I keep circling back to a potential “loose partnership” with the ACC, which the Pac-12 began exploring a few weeks ago.
If the Pac-12 is looking for creative and new revenue, inviting ESPN to enhance the value of the ACC isn’t a bad play. Not talking about a merger here. That would require the ACC’s grant of rights to be unwound and free some restless members. I’m talking about some creative early-season football and men’s basketball games and seeded crossover games during championship-game week in Las Vegas. Also, ESPN could combine the ACC Network with the Pac-12 Networks to generate a pile of fresh content for ESPN+. It makes sense for all parties and adds some value to what the Pac-12 is shopping.
• Expansion is still out there, too. San Diego State is interesting because it brings 1.1 million TV households in Southern California. Also, it would allow the conference to play some “home” games in Los Angeles at SoFi Stadium, potentially. I think SMU is a potential No. 2 target, if the conference expands. I also think Houston is interesting, depending on whether it can wiggle out of its Big 12 commitment.
After that, Fresno State, UNLV and Boise State have some selling points. However, I expect the presidents and chancellors of the conference won’t make an expansion move unless it’s a no-brainer. They’re not risk takers. Beyond San Diego State, I’m having a difficult time finding a great fit. I wonder if the better short-term plan is to try and retain UCLA and pair it with San Diego State. It’s a long, long shot. I don’t expect it to happen. But it’s absolutely what I’d try before moving on.
I’ll have more as this develops.
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