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Chris Dufresne ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

Trojans already off to 38-1 start at media day

July 25, 2008|Chris Dufresne

Ten takes taken from Thursday's Pacific 10 Conference media day, which has basically become USC media day surrounded by nine other tables:

1. Trojans rise too

USC getting picked to win the conference has to rank up there with the sun getting picked to rise.

It would have taken a brain cramp to pick anyone else other than USC, which received 38 out of 39 first-place votes. One voter in the media poll, though, gave California a first-place nod.

The same Cal that closed last year by losing six of its final eight games. The same Cal that is 1-5 against USC in the Jeff Tedford era. The same Cal whose coach, Tedford, said of last year's collapse: "I'm not sure we'll ever know exactly what happened."

And this just in from Shock Central: Trojans Coach Pete Carroll is excited about the approach of training camp.

"I've never been more pumped about a season starting," Carroll said.

Why not? He has the best players.

2. Quote, unquote

For notes fodder, we liked first-year Stanford Coach Jim Harbaugh better than the second-year Harbaugh. Last year, Harbaugh created a modest dust-up by saying 2007 was going to be Carroll's last year at USC.

Wrong (unless Carroll takes an NFL job between now and Labor Day).

Harbaugh also said at last year's media day he considered USC to be one of the greatest college football teams ever assembled.

Wrong again. USC lost to, um, Stanford, and Oregon, and finished seventh in the final Bowl Championship Series standings before winning the Rose Bowl.

Harbaugh had nothing spicy to say Thursday. He did reflect on last year's epic upset against USC with a quote from the coaching cliche handbook: "That's water under the bridge."

Who is this impostor?

"I didn't know I was a bulletin-board guy," Harbaugh said.

3. Devil of a hump

Arizona State faces another one of those seminal moments. The devil horns have been notorious for inching close to greatness and then falling on their pitchforks.

"As soon as we start getting to the top, we lose that game we have to win," senior quarterback Rudy Carpenter acknowledged.

Last year, for example, Arizona State started 8-0 before losing to Oregon and then, two games later, to USC.

In no Jake Plummer way does Arizona State compare to the Sun Devils team of 1996 that came a play from winning the national title. But there is a similar opportunity.

In 1996, Arizona State shocked defending national champion Nebraska, 19-0, in Tempe, en route to an almost perfect season. This year, Arizona State plays host to Georgia in Tempe on Sept. 20.

4. Win and Ty

Washington Coach Tyrone Willingham, who didn't get a fourth year at Notre Dame, might need a turnaround fourth year in Seattle to keep his job. Willingham is 11-25 in three years, so it's time to fish for salmon or cut bait.

Part of the problem is all those penciled-in losses on the schedule, again one of the nation's toughest. Washington opens at Oregon before hosting Brigham Young and Oklahoma. That means a win against Stanford on Sept. 21 should lift Washington to 1-3.

5. Beavers should rate

Isn't it time to acknowledge that Oregon State is not the same program that once suffered 28 consecutive losing seasons?

Mike Riley's Beavers went 10-4 two years ago, notably upsetting a very upset USC, and last year finished 9-4. Yet, Oregon State was only sixth in this year's media poll.

Oregon State, astonishingly, finished behind No. 5 UCLA, a team that may have to hand out fliers on campus to assemble an offensive line.

"We're still in some aspects digging out of the past," Riley said. "I could care less. I kind of like it."

6. Now . . . or never?

The Stoops brothers have never been short on confidence, but Arizona Coach Mike Stoops finally admitted that turning the Tucson tugboat around has been far more difficult than he imagined.

"I was a lot better defensive coach when I was at Oklahoma," quipped Stoops, who served as co-defensive coordinator on brother Bob's national title team of 2000.

Stoops is 17-29 in four seasons at Arizona and probably needs a bowl to earn a fifth.

7. Getting defensive

If Oregon is going to get over last year's hangover, it might be -- get this -- with defense. The Ducks boast one of the top defensive backfields, led by rover Patrick Chung.

"We've got to be the best in the nation," said Chung, who spurned the NFL to return for what he called "unfinished business."

8. Talk of the town

You had to love it, USC's Carroll and UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel holding media court, only yards apart, at competing lunch tables. They were the last two Pac-10 coaches left sitting.

It's going to be that kind of rivalry -- last man with a napkin in his lap wins.

9. Rookie mistake

Washington State has a new coach named Paul Wulff. He seems like a nice guy, but that didn't stop the media from picking his Cougars to finish last.

"The difference between the No. 1 team and the 10th-place team is not that much," Wulff said.

Wulff has a lot to learn.

10. Farewell tour

Tom Hansen, who announced last month that he was stepping down as Pac-10 commissioner next July after 26 years on the job, gave his final state-of-the-conference speech before jumping on a plane for another round of meetings.

Hansen will miss the games more than the meetings. The search for his replacement will be led by Stanford President John Hennessy, but league spokesman Jim Muldoon said a successor will not be named any time soon.

--

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

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