Another Pac-10 football media day is done and the participants are en route home, wherever that may be. We have a couple of stories for tomorrow's Spokesman-Review, the unedited versions of which can be found by simply clicking on the link. One is built around WSU player participant Kenny Alfred and the offensive line. The other centers round the media poll, which picked USC first and Washington State last. If you are interested, read on.
• Here's the Alfred story …
LOS ANGELES – Kenny Alfred had some time on his hands.
Washington State University's center wasn't able to practice last spring, a victim of a sore right hip that demanded surgery. So the senior-to-be and three-year starter stood off to the side, watching his fellow offensive line mates sweat through workouts.
And one day it hit him.
"Something frustrated me – I honestly couldn't tell you what – and I was really inspired by seeing how guys were playing through the spring," Alfred said Thursday. "Obviously I couldn't be on the field and it was burning in my gut and I needed something to rope myself back in and also to try to unify guys going into the summer."
So Alfred came up with an acronym for the offensive line: VITL.
He pronounces it vital, and the mantra, as Alfred terms it, stands for vicious, intense, tenacious and low, all things the offensive line wants to be in the upcoming year.
"It's something simple we can echo to each other," said Alfred, WSU's representative at the Pac-10 Conference's annual football media day, held at the Sheraton Gateway Hotel near the Los Angeles International airport. "It's just a simple word that holds a lot of weight."
Alfred and his fellow offensive linemen know they didn't pull their weight during last year's 2-11 season and they feel they'll be a vital part of any turnaround this season, which opens Sept. 5 with a home conference game vs. Stanford.
"We didn't produce as well last year as we would have like to," Alfred said while talking in front of the assembled media. Later, over lunch, he expounded on the why behind that statement.
"There were quite a few things," he said. "We had a bit of a lack of communication, we didn't really know how to finish ...(and) we struggled with pad height, staying low all the time. At the same time, we struggled with injuries. That's the bottom line."
The injuries – at least four potential starters were either hampered by or lost time to injuries – affected the communication, Alfred said, and limited growth.
"An offense line is supposed to be five guys who are tight knit, that understand each other and can play as one," Alfred said. "You have guys switching in and out every week, getting injured here and moving around there, it makes it incredibly difficult."
Though some linemen, including 2008 starters Micah Hannam (shoulder), Brian Danaher (shoulder) and Alfred, underwent post-season surgery that limited their ability to lift weights or drill over the summer, Alfred feels the group made strides.
"I've been really impressed with the speed the guys have been able to come back," Alfred said.
The offensive line could be a team strength when practices start Aug. 9 according to WSU coach Paul Wulff, with the emphasis on could.
"There's potential to do really good things," said Wulff, who will miss the first three days of practice due to an NCAA sanction for rules violations that occurred while he was at Eastern Washington University. "But they've got to do good things."
That, according to Wulff and Alfred, is vital.
"We have a lot of hard work ahead of us to get this offensive line seasoned and ready to go," Wulff said. "There are no short cuts. We have to push them hard in fall camp so they are ready to go that first game."
• And here is the notebook, leading with the media poll …
LOS ANGELES – This is getting to be a little 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 Cal, which received three first-place votes.
The same group picked Washington State last, the same spot the Cougars occupied 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 is 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."
Whomever ends up winning the conference, 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," Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh said, "they are going to be strong, tough kind of guys. They are going to be mighty men that win this conference."
Which is 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.
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 in the summer.
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."
• That's it for now. I've got a plane to catch back to Seattle and on to Spokane. We're going to write up the basketball items and the plane and try to post it in Seattle, though our layover is a little tight. Until then …