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At Pac-12 football media day, Mike Leach has the answers

The Washington State coach provides entertaining replies. Also, Oregon's Chip Kelly talks about deploying De'Anthony Thomas, and USC is forecast to win the conference crown.

July 25, 2012|By Baxter Holmes and Andrew L. John, Los Angeles Times

You hear all kinds of questions at media days, and the one for Pac-12 Conference football Tuesday at Universal Studios was no exception.

Fortunately, the colorful and eccentric Mike Leach, in his first year as Washington State's coach, was on hand to provide some entertaining answers.

Question: Which of the conference's coaches would make the best bear hunting/fishing partner?

Leach's answer: Utah's Kyle Whittingham, in a close call over Arizona's Rich Rodriguez.

Leach's reasoning: Rodriguez had to be in the mix because of the "potential rub-off" from his years coaching at West Virginia. But Whittingham was the winner because in Salt Lake City he was "sandwiched between a lot of mountains."

Leach was deemed qualified to answer the question because of his recent bear-hunting trip to Canada.

He also found some time during his 24-minute session to talk about his team, which went 4-8 last year.

That wasn't a run-of-the-mill speech either. For example, Leach compared two of his Cougars players to Civil War generals: quarterback Jeff Tuel to Stonewall Jackson, and defensive end Travis Long to Ulysses S. Grant.

Of Long, Leach said, "Going to bombard them until they bust, provided he keeps his pads low."

Thomas' talents

As a freshman last season, Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas scored 18 touchdowns — seven rushing, nine receiving, two on returns — and gained 2,235 all-purpose yards.

He was also the only player in the country with 400 or more yards rushing, receiving and returning kicks. So what more could the electrifying former Crenshaw High running back do?

"Hopefully a lot," Oregon Coach Chip Kelly said, adding, "I think the only thing we won't do is let him throw.… I don't know if he's got the arm to step up there and throw the ball. But I think you'll see him a little bit more in the kick-return game, maybe a little bit as a punt returner."

Utes youth

Utah's offensive coordinator Brian Johnson, 25, is the youngest coordinator in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

The former Utah quarterback is in his first year on the job, taking over a unit that averaged a conference-worst 310.9 yards per game last season.

"Brian has tweaked things," Whittingham said. "We're gravitating back to what we did prior to Norm [Chow's] arrival. That's to spread the offense, get the ball in space a little more, and that's got to happen if we're going to contend."

Trojans tabbed

The media, which have correctly picked the conference's football champion in 11 of the past 12 years, overwhelmingly chose USC as the favorite this season.

Of 123 voters, 102 picked USC to beat Oregon in the Pac-12 title game, which will be held Nov. 30.

baxter.holmes@latimes.com

twitter.com/BaxterHolmes

andrew.john@latimes.com

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