LOS ANGELES – This is getting to be redundant.
The media covering Pac-10 football has picked the conference champion correctly each of the past nine years. Of course, the media picked USC the last six of those.
So why change? Thursday at the Pac-10’s annual media day at the Sheraton Gateway Hotel near the Los Angeles International Airport, the writers who cover the conference regularly made it seven in a row, giving the Trojans 28 of a possible 32 first-place votes and 316 points, 39 more than second-place California, which received three first-place votes.
The same group picked Washington State last, the same spot given to the Cougars before last year’s 2-11, ninth-place conference season. WSU received 35 points, 39 behind ninth-place choice Washington.
“As long as we don’t get hit by the injury bug,” WSU coach Paul Wulff said, “(and) can stay relatively healthy, this is a team that will get better and better and has an opportunity to surprise some people.”
In between the expected duo at the top and their counterparts at the bottom, the media picked Oregon third, giving the Ducks the final first-place vote, then, in order, Oregon State, Arizona State, Stanford, UCLA and Arizona.
Illustrating the jumbled nature of the middle of the conference, only 13 points separated fifth-place ASU and eighth-place Arizona.
“I don’t think the Pac-10 has ever been stronger than it is right now,” Arizona coach Mike Stoops said.
USC coach Pete Carroll echoes that sentiment.
“It’s so obvious to me why our conference is so challenging for us,” Carroll said. “Year in and year out, without question, our most difficult games, not just one game but many games, come right from our own conference opponents.”
Strong will prevail
Whoever ends up winning the conference this season, most of the coaches agree they’ll have to do it playing a much more physical style.
“The team that actually wins the conference championship this year, they are going to be strong, tough kind of guys,” Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh said. “They are going to be mighty men that win this conference.”
That’s a sea change from the Pac-10’s former reputation as a “finesse” league.
“There’s something different going on in the Pac-10,” Carroll said.
Maybe, but in the media’s eyes at least, that status quo at the top should still hold.
Commish moves slowly
New Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott introduced himself to the assembled media, ending the morning session with a question-and-answer segment.
He praised outgoing commissioner Tom Hansen, talked about how happy he was to be leading the “conference of champions,” said he would visit each campus – he’s been at USC and UCLA so far – and basically said change would come slowly.
Scott took over from Hansen on July 1, leaving his post as chairman and chief executive officer of the Women’s Tennis Association. The Pac-10 post is the former Harvard tennis player’s first as a college conference commissioner.
Stanford will have at least five players working on both sides of the ball when fall camp opens next week, ranging from linebackers playing running back to wide receivers working as defensive backs.
“It seems like there are a heck of a lot of TV timeouts in college football these days,” Harbaugh said. “Our guys are excited about it. They want to get on the field more.”
The Cardinal open their season in Pullman on Sept. 5 and Harbaugh was asked if he was worried about the possible 90- to 100-degree weather.
After showing a puzzled look, he went into a sarcastic minute-long answer about the “cool” weather in Palo Alto, Calif., in the summer.
He’ll zig, not Zag
Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson was asked how he was able to pry freshman quarterback Brock Osweiller out of his basketball commitment to Gonzaga University.
“Gonzaga doesn’t have a football program,” Erickson said. “That helped.”
After the laughter died, Erickson said the 6-foot-7 Osweiller made a choice to be a college football player and that was the main reason behind the change.
“I saw him play basketball in high school and he was pretty good,” Erickson said. “A 6-7 point guard.”