Football practice is over. The team is looking forward to its day off from school tomorrow, though practice will be at the usual time. We've got our Pac-10 story in its unedited glory on the link. But we kick off the post with some notes from practice. Read on.
• Jeff Tuel's right knee was in one of the neoprene sleeves today and he did not practice. He was on the field, played catch while studiously avoiding putting pressure on the leg and, after practice, played catch with David Gilbertson while kneeling on his left leg. In other words, he kept his right arm in shape without stressing the right kneecap. ... Tight end Tony Thompson wasn't in uniform, still feeling the effects of last week's concussion. Coach Paul Wulff said he doesn't know when Thompson will be back. With the senior out, it looks as if redshirt freshman Andrei Lintz has moved up the depth chart, teaming with Skyler Stormo, another redshirt freshman, in double tight formations. ... Chima Nwachukwu also did not practice, though Wulff hopes he'll be able to go Wednesday. We'll see. ... Steven Ayers and Alex Reitnouer both were at left tackle – Tyson Pencer's ankle was in a boot – though Ayers took most of the snaps. ... Linebackers Alex Hoffman-Ellis and Andre Barrington were playing catch after practice, throwing passes from sideline to sideline. Hoffman-Ellis seems to be able to do anything he wants, from throwing 50-yard strikes to punting the ball the same distance. ... Jason Stripling was in a yellow jersey, but it didn't seem to be anything serious. ... Tackle Bernard Wolfgramm, who has struggled at times the past two years with back issues, is taking it easy this week, saving his body for the weekend. ... Safety Jay Matthews was back at practice with his left shoulder in a brace.
• During his weekly press conference, Wulff was asked about a couple issues Pac-10 coaches like to talk about. The first is the conference's round-robin schedule, something that seems to split the coaches down the middle. Wulff comes down on the side of dropping a conference game, allowing teams to schedule a non-conference opponent that should be easier to win. He sees the nine-game conference schedule as a detriment for the Pac-10's bids to get more than one team in the BCS picture. "There's a chance that none of our teams will be in a BCS game (this year) and that's ridiculous." ... The other subject is an early signing day for football like basketball has this week. That question – Wulff is for it – led to a discussion of schools poaching kids who have already committed to another school. That brought out Wulff's ire. He said "five, six, seven kids," that have committed to WSU are being recruited hard by other Pac-10 schools, though he didn't name them. Though he doesn't see any kids foregoing their commitment, Wulff lashed out at schools that do such late cherry picking. "Other schools come in and try to get them to change their mind. I think that's a 100 percent wrong message. I think it shows lack of class on those schools that do that, I think it shows no regard to caring if a kid makes a verbal commitment, that we're going to ask him to change his mind. I think it's immature and I think it's wrong." Though Wulff didn't name any school or players, sources in Spokane have said Cal has made a concentrated effort to entice Mead's Aaron Dunn and Ferris' Connor Halliday to change their minds. So far, neither has made a change. "I guess I'm kind of old-fashioned in my beliefs," Wulff said. "Some people think it's OK (to recruit committed kids). I'm not one that does." ... Wulff was reminded about Cory Mackay, who originally committed to Washington before Wulff was hired at WSU. Wulff said Mackay contacted them, and if a player reaches out to a school, that's different as the onus is then on the player and the player's family, not on the school.
• OK, now on to the Pac-10 story for the week ...
PULLMAN – Two years ago, Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh took his team into the Los Angeles Coliseum as a 41-point underdog and won, 24-23.
This week he'll take the Cardinal down the same path, with a much tighter line and much more at stake.
"It's put up or shut up time for Stanford football," Harbaugh said Tuesday.
Though Harbaugh still admits that upset of then-No. 2 USC in 2007 was "a great thrill," he knows it has little relevance.
Saturday's game, no matter who wins, won't capture the country's fancy like that one did. But it will decide which team stays in the Rose Bowl race and which drops out.
Both have two Pac-10 losses – Stanford is 5-2 while USC is 4-2 – and, with Oregon and Arizona up ahead with one each, the loser can forget about a Pasadena-date.
"It's a very competitive conference," Harbaugh said. "We knew that right from the beginning. Everybody is going to be fighting here. It is November. These games, they don't count any more than the ones in October or September do ... but they sure do stand out."
But games two years ago certainly have no bearing.
"It's so far gone, we don't even think about it," USC coach Pete Carroll said, noting there are only a few current Trojans who played that day.
The Cardinal (6-3 overall) will be trying to follow another stunning upset, last week's 51-42 shocker over Oregon, with a solid win against a team Harbaugh thinks is a mirror image of his own.
"I enjoy watching that style of football," he said. "It presents a lot of challenges for us."
In one way the Cardinal are different, and are different from every team in the nation, in that they have a key player going both ways.
Owen Marecic not only lines up in front of Toby Gerhart at fullback – he's gained 13 yards on five carries this season though he mostly opens holes with his blocking – with a season-ending injury to Clinton Snyder, he played linebacker against the Ducks, making a tackle.
"It's an enormous challenge, first of all, knowing how much it takes to play on either side of the ball," Carroll said of Marecic's play. "He's such a good football player that he's making it. And I'm sure he's having a ball with it.
"We can't get kids to do one or the other."
He better this week. There's a lot riding on it.
Game of the Week
No. 25 Stanford (6-3, 5-2 in Pac-10) at USC (7-2, 4-2)
12:30 p.m. Saturday; FSN
It's been a long time since a late-season meeting between these teams meant anything in the Pac-10 realm, but this one does. The loser drops out of the Rose Bowl race for sure. The winner doesn't magically recapture a front-runner role, but it does have hope. With Arizona's tough schedule and Oregon's stunning loss, it's conceivable the conference champion could have two losses. Look for the Cardinal to try to play smash-mouth offense early with Toby Gerhart, then attack over the top on the arm on Andrew Luck. The Trojans offense just needs to execute, something it hasn't done effectively in a while.
• That's it for now. We'll be back in the morning. Until then …