LOS ANGELES – Washington State doubled its win total; did they notice? The Cougars won at USC and qualified for their first bowl game in a decade; did anybody care?
Although the WSU football team rose toward respectability with its play last season, Pac-12 media day provided a stern reminder that the Cougars have to do more to receive an invite to eat with the cool kids.
The annual gathering of the conference’s head coaches, a pair of players per school and their respective communications handlers is partially a networking event, partially a chance for reporters to preview the upcoming football season and mostly a popularity contest to stack up the schools and see who has the most buzz.
Only bumbling California was predicted to finish lower in the Pac-12 North than the Cougars in the preseason media poll. Reporters flocked to Oregon’s Mark Helfrich and USC’s Steve Sarkisian, who appeared right at home as the stars of the two-day event at Paramount Studios in Hollywood.
“The thing that gets me, I guess, is getting WSU to a bowl game in 10 years, that never gets talked about,” WSU quarterback Connor Halliday said. “I understand that WSU isn’t the big deal here and there’s Marcus Mariota (of Oregon) and all those guys, but at the same time it is a little frustrating. I’m going into my senior year and what else in the world do I have to do to get a little recognition? I broke damn near every school record last year, so that’s my deal, I guess.”
By trotting out linebacker Darryl Monroe the Cougars elected to show the improvement rather than speak it. Monroe spent the morning in front of cameras, shirtless, 10 pounds heavier than last season and not an ounce of it fat.
“Connor finally weighs more than me, so that’s good, too,” coach Mike Leach quipped.
The Cougars, never ones to go out of their way to give the media more than absolutely necessary, were a font of interesting information.
Halliday was taken aback by Tyler Bruggman’s transfer, which he learned about while acting as a counselor at Peyton Manning’s passing academy, but unsurprised that Austin Apodaca left. Young quarterbacks are scared to ask Leach questions in the film room, lest he launch on a tirade about anything from President Obama to his pupils’ love lives.
But still the majority of the ink will be spent saying that Sarkisian thinks his high school All-Americans are quite good football players, indeed.
Halliday had only two reporters talking to him by the end of his session with the media, both of them local scribes he could have just as easily met at a Pullman coffee shop.
Athletes often talk about how they play better when they are disrespected, how it is more fun to prove the doubters wrong and earn respect. But once the doubters have been proven wrong, shouldn’t some of that doubt fade away?
“It’s not about what anybody says,” Monroe asserted. “These guys are at the bottom or at the top because we have our own expectations.”
Not surprisingly, Leach does not concern himself with outsiders’ attempts to evaluate his team in a vacuum. Media polls do not push blocking sleds, after all.
“I don’t worry about any of that, what do I care? That’s why they have the games, they have that to keep you guys busy and to engage people that can’t wait for the games,” Leach said. “Which I don’t blame them they can’t wait for the games, but they didn’t write that for me or our team.”