I went to Pac-10 media Thursday at the Sheraton Hotel on Century Blvd. I got there early and staked out a spot in the middle of the 2nd row with a table seat next to SCPLAYBOOK'S Kevin Carden. I started with the continental breakfast, and then I picked up a free media guide for all 10 Pac-10 teams.
There was a lot of chest pounding by the coaches promoting their teams, and a lot about the greatness of the Pac-10 as well. The Pac-10 is 9-2 in BCS bowl games since 2002. They have USC to thank for that. And the Pac-10 has a winning record over SEC teams since 2000, 10-7. The Pac-10 was called the conference of champions.
Here's a quick look at what each coach shared:
Paul Wulff, Wash State: The Cougars are still struggling to find a QB. They will be more physical this year and have 8 starters back on offense. Wash State has two good RBs, so they will run the ball. Wulff said they want to be balanced, but they can only do what they can do. They have a good offensive line.
Wulff began a theme that would carry through Pac-10 media day. The Pac-10 is a physical conference and will run the ball this year. Last year the Pac 10 had six 1,000 yard rushers and five of them are back in ‘09.
No USC back was mentioned all morning. Not a word.
Steve Sarkasian, Washington: Sarkasian spoke of Washington's legacy of National Championships and Rose Bowls. He said the team was 0-12 last year, but not the coaches who have brought a different mindset. He was asked if they would be like USC? He said maybe in scheme and style, but we have to be who we are and play with who we have. He said QB Jake Locker made great strides as a passer in the spring. And he again spoke of how physical the Pac-10 conference is going to be.
Rick Nueheisel, UCLA: Neuheisel also said UCLA will be more physical. He was asked about UCLA recruiting class being ranked 40th by Scout.com. He said he was skeptical of early commitments and wanted to evaluate players as well as possible.
Rick was asked if UCLA would schedule teams from Florida so they could establish a recruiting base there. He said UCLA's focus would be southern California and the state of California. He said the Pac-10 was becoming a tailback conference and very physical.
Neuheisel likes their tailback Christian Ramirez. He said Stan Hasiak and Xavier Sua-Filo will be in the mix this August on the offensive line for the Bruins, and freshman QB Kevin Prince was composed and made smart decisions.
Jim Harbaugh, Stanford: Harbaugh brought RB Toby Gerhart, and toughness was Jim's theme. He said the program has been built on bedrock and are primed for a bowl game. He again emphasized how tough the Pac-10 conference is. He said that Stanford has 7 teams on its schedule that were 7-0 in bowl games.
Harbaugh also said USC is the most physical team in the conference and knows how to kill its opponent. He said Stanford has learned how not to get killed, but it must be relentless like the Trojans are and be the hunter not the hunted.
Dennis Erickson: The Sun Devils don't know who their starting QB will be. Erickson said defense will be the strength of the team. Their 3rd game is at Georgia.
Dennis said Vontaze Burfict has completed his school work and is in the clearinghouse. He did all he was supposed to do. They must find a QB who can sustain an offense. He again brought up all the good running backs in the Pac-10.
USC is going to need a strong rushing defense and strong linebacker play. USC's linebackers will make big plays this year, but may not be as strong as last year's team on 3rd and 3.
Erickson said the Pac-10 pounds you with teams like USC, Cal and Stanford. And then Oregon spreads you out and pounds you as well.
He said, "You'd better be able to stop the run in the Pac-10." He closed by saying, "Football is changing. Players are more physical, bigger, stronger and faster.
Mike Stoops, Arizona: Mike was a little upset about the Wildcats being picked to finish 8th in the Pac-10. He said we don't get respect, because QB Willie Tuitama has left. He then said this would be his best Arizona football team. He said they have skill, talent, speed and a very capable football team.
He said this will be their best defense, and they were second in the Pac-10 last year. Mike spoke with passion and I enjoyed his presentation. He said the only chance he would get to play his big brother would be in a bowl game. He also said the Wildcat's running game was in good hands with Antolin and Grigsby. He said Arizona is beginning to make those defining plays at the end of games which win games.
Jeff Tedford: Tedford again spoke of how tough it is to win in the Pac-10, especially on the road. He said the loss last year against Maryland wasn't as much the time change as the humidity. Cal will play at Minnesota this year at 9:00am PDT. He said they hoped QB Kevin Riley could give them some consistency. He expects their defense to be even stronger and hinted that Jahvid Best could be a top Heisman candidate.
Tedford said Cal's fans would rather go to the Rose Bowl than the national championship game. He emphasized the strength of the offensive line and their tandem of running backs with Jahvid Best and Shane Vareen.
Mike Riley, Oregon State: Riley said they are looking forward to a good year in a very tough conference. He said QB Lyle Moevao is recovering from offseason surgery and cannot complete a full practice, so he isn't game ready.
Mike said they've been able to beat USC by playing a great football game and holding on at the finish. LB Keaton Kristick credited the Beaver fans for making their home field such a tough place to play. He said they bothered USC's offense and defense. He said their offensive line played a great game.
The Beavers look for a monster year on the ground with Quizz Rodgers, and think he will be effective again on draws and screens. They develop one back and expect 25-30 carries a game. He said Rodger is not small, he's just short.
USC is going to need a tough run defense.
Chip Kelly, Oregon: Kelly was very confident for a new coach. He said QB Jeremiah Masoli was new last year and didn't even practice in the spring before the season started. He expects a great year from Masoli and RB LeGarrette Blount. Blount set an Oregon record for TDs last year.
The Ducks play at Boise State, who is 54-2 on their blue field. They play Utah in their 3rd game. The Ducks are focused on Boise not USC, at least that what they said. They feel they have the biggest home field advantage in college football. They should be great at running the ball. He said their WRs help their running game because if you cover them one-on-one to stop the run they will make you pay.
USC is going to need a tough run defense.
Pete Carroll and Taylor Mays, USC: Pete came out fired up and he looked happy to be there. He said good things were happening in Pac-10. Every year USC tries to maximize their football team and each player wants to be the best player he can be for his school.
He said there is a great challenge ahead of them. He commented on QBs Corp and Barkley, and said Corp was the clear leader completing 70% of his passes in the spring and only throwing one interception on a botched screen pass. He said Matt Barkley was far ahead of any true freshman QB he's had at USC.
Carroll also said the LB and QB issues was more settled than at the start of spring. But then Pete again spoke glowingly of Barkley. He said Barkley's first pass in the spring was a laser. It was a seam route to Damian Williams right in front of Taylor Mays. He said Taylor spared his friend William's life, by not blowing him up with a tackle.
Carroll said USC practiced at the same level this spring and spoke of how much of a challenge the Pac-10 was for USC. Carroll said, "Our toughest opponents are in conference." He said the Pac-10 was the best conference in the country with the best players, coaches and performance.
Carroll was asked if he headed up the NCAA for a day what would he do? He said institute a playoff. Carroll spoke of the tradition of safeties at USC and said USC embraces that. He also said no safety has been more fit, stronger, or faster than Taylor Mays.
Mays said he returned to USC because it was best in the long term. He wanted to graduate, be a better football player and person. He said he wanted to be a role model to other Trojans and teach them the sacrifice it takes to play to our potential.
Pete said, "USC is not at the end of things, its right in the middle." He said he enjoys each moment and each day, and he wants others to share in that joy. He said the key to future success is to hold on to the discipline that brought them to that day.
Oldtimer's Take: The Pac-10 is a tough conference and certainly USC is the game every team points toward. USC is going to need solid play from its QB in 2009, and a great rushing defense to get them through a very difficult road schedule this year.
In hearing about how strong the running game is going to be in the Pac-10 this year, my mind kept drifting to how thin USC is at LB with Telfort's career over and LB Luthur Brown with academics problems.
Could Taylor Mays end up at LB? I hope not! But if he lined up there USC would still have the best safeties by far in the Pac-10 with Harris, Pinkard and McAllister.
Middle linebacker Chris Galippo will be a major part of USC's run defense in 2009.