COUGARS • UPDATE: 7:20 P.M.
Good evening. We wish we had some basketball notes for you, because that would mean we were spending our afternoon in Beasley Coliseum instead of standing on Rogers Field. My guess is there was at least a 40-degree difference. But we do have some pretty important football notes for you to peruse. Please read on.
• We're going to start with a short story that will appear in tomorrow's S-R on another suspension hitting the football team. Then we'll get back to notes. ...
Defensive tackle Toby Turpin has been suspended for the final two weeks of the season for an unspecified violation of team rules, Washington State University said Tuesday.
Turpin's absence leaves the Cougars even thinner on a defensive line. Redshirt freshman Dan Spitz will probably not be available this Saturday against Oregon State after suffering a concussion last week against UCLA. Senior defensive end Jesse Feagin might be available after missing the last three games with a broken hand. Junior tackle Bernard Wolfgramm is still questionable with a back injury.
Turpin, a 6-foot-4, 284-pound junior, has started six games this season. He has recorded 28 tackles, including two sacks.
• OK, back to notes. We don't know what the "violation of team rules" is, but a two-game suspension means it must have been something pretty objectionable. And his absence will really hurt considering the lack of defensive linemen. Feagin returned to practice today, but couldn't go because he didn't have his cast on after spending last weekend in California at a family funeral. Spitz was in street clothes due to the concussion. Wolfgramm practiced, but his back is a day-to-day thing. To help out, offensive lineman Michael Pfeiff (6-foot-2, 283 pounds) switched over to the defensive side of the ball and was undergoing a crash course in defensive line play. Expect to see Jesse Sanchez as well this week. ... As for Jason Stripling, the linebacker who was arrested early Sunday morning in an altercation near Stubblefields, he was not at practice Tuesday. He will not start or play the first quarter of senior day Saturday. I asked Paul Wulff about the hour of the arrest (1:45 a.m.) and if that aspect of the incident bothered him. "After a game, we want players to get back (home) as quickly as they can," Wulff said. "But I also know they have family in town and friends in town and they're going to spend time with them. That's part of being a college student. Ya, we want them to get back and safe, there's no question." ... I don't know if it's related to the suspensions (though my presumption is it certainly is), but the Cougars did 7 minutes of running after practice Tuesday, doing 10-yard touches back and forth. ...
• Jeff Tuel was still in sweats so Marshall Lobbestael and Kevin Lopina ran the offense. Lopina, who made a relief appearance last week, seemed to spend more time with the No. 1 unit. ... Marcus Richmond (hamstring) suited up, but didn't practice much. ... Wulff said some of the seniors would start this week, including offensive lineman Reed Lesuma. It would be Lesuma's first career start. ... Reid Forrest averaged more than 50 yards a punt last week and has moved up to second in the Pac-10 statistics with a 44.2 average. Jeff Locke of UCLA leads at 44.5. ... Finally, co-defensive coordinator and assistant head coach Chris Ball was on the Ian Furness radio show today, and was asked about the staff's future. Ball said the staff has been told by the WSU administration they will be given the time to rebuild the program the right way and they will be back next year. If you want to listen to it, you can find the podcast here. This jives with the general feeling I've gotten from the coaching staff, that no one ever believed this was a one- or two-year fix. They expect to be here for the long term.
• Here's our Pac-10 notebook ...
PULLMAN – Lost in the confusion of a late two-point conversion – was Jim Harbaugh trying to run up the score? – and a dicey post-game handshake – what was really said between the coaches? – was the one truth that emerged from Stanford's 55-21 drubbing of USC last Saturday.
The Pac-10 is flattening out, both in talent and teams.
Southern California's Pete Carroll admitted as much after the game – USC's third conference loss – and the rest of the Pac-10 coaches echoed the sentiment this week.
With one notable exception, the talent gap USC enjoyed over the rest of the conference is shrinking. And, partly because of that, any number of teams could still win the title.
"The Pac-10 conference is as strong or stronger than I've ever seen on a week-in, week-out basis," said Cal coach Jeff Tedford, before mentioning the one exception. "With no disrespect to Washington State as they continue to rebuild, but every other team in the Pac-10 is extremely competitive and you have to play your best in order to win.
"You never know what's going to happen from week-to-week."
Washington might be the best example of the change, with their only conference wins coming over USC and Arizona. Both are still in the conference race, though the Trojans' chances hinge on a WSU upset of Oregon State this week.
"All of these staffs have recruited extremely well," said Washington coach Steve Sarkisian, who has put together just one recruiting class for the Huskies. "They've recruited physical players."
The depth of talent, especially in California, has really helped.
"(It) has so many players, you can stockpile all these programs and give them chances to be successful," UCLA's Rick Neuheisel said.
"Another thing that is unique to our conference is we've got this great junior college lifeblood. Teams are able to shore up weaknesses with the best junior college talent in the country."
There is one main motivating factor behind the surge. Everyone has been trying to catch up with the Trojans, who have won or shared seven consecutive conference titles.
"SC set the bar," said Harbaugh, who pulled it down a little last week, "and everybody is working like crazy to rise up to that standard."
"Give USC credit in a way for all that," Oregon State's Mike Riley said. "A few years back if people didn't rise up, we were just going to fall further and further behind."
Riley's Beavers are one of those who rose up. They could be playing for a Rose Bowl berth Dec. 3 when they face Oregon in the Civil War. All the Beavers have to do is defeat WSU on Saturday afternoon. All Oregon has to do is get past Arizona in Tucson that night.
The former seems a given. The latter might be considered probable, but in the Pac-10, you never know.
Game of the Week
California (7-3, 4-3 in Pac-10) at No. 14 Stanford (7-3, 6-2)
4:30 p.m. Saturday; Versus
For once, the Big Game really is a big game. Though neither team will probably win the Pac-10 title – the Cardinal are Arizona's biggest fans this week when the Wildcats host Oregon – both are headed to a bowl. And both want to be Northern California's pre-eminent team. The Cardinal are seven-point favorites after their 55-21 shellacking of USC last week but Cal has won six of the last seven in the series. The Bears' Jahvid Best will not play this week due to a concussion.
• UPDATE: One basketball note. Washington State announced the signing of Faisal Aden, a 6-4 shooting guard from Hillsborough Community College in Tampa, Fla., tonight. With only one senior (Nik Koprivica) and one other LOI in hand (Patrick Simon), WSU has to free a scholarship before next season. "We’re excited about signing Faisal to a letter of intent," WSU coach Ken Bone said in a press release. "He’s a 6-4 guard that can really shoot the ball from the perimeter…really good scorer, not just a shooter. He’s putting up big numbers right now (at Hillsborough Community College), he’s averaging about 30 points per game after like five games. He’s the type of guy that could come in and help us next year, whether he would play immediately next year or not, that’s for down the road, we’ll see what happens." You add Aden and Simon, both two scorers to a lineup with Klay Thompson - and yes, Klay told me recently no matter what happens this year he expects to be back next season - and WSU can play more like Bone's Portland State teams, getting up and down the court. ... Also, Wulff announced on his radio show Kenny Alfred was invited to the East-West Shrine game.
• That's all for now. We'll be back in the morning. Until then …