UNIVERSAL CITY, Calif. – If performance at Pacific-12 Conference media day correlates to performance on the field, Washington State can start planning its trip to the Rose Bowl.
New Cougars coach Mike Leach dominated The Opening question-and-answer session with memorable lines referencing bear hunting and the Civil War, nor was he flustered when a reporter accidentally addressed him as former Washington State coach Mike Price.
Asked to choose a partner among current Pac-12 coaches to go hunting and fishing with, Leach ended up selecting Utah’s Kyle Whittingham, but not before an extended monologue evaluating other options.
“Let’s think about that carefully because we don’t want to get this one wrong,” Leach quipped. “(Arizona coach) Rich Rodriguez has spent a lot of time in West Virginia, so we’ve got to recognize some potential rub-off there.”
A fan on Twitter sought a comparison between quarterback Jeff Tuel and defensive end Travis Long, the school’s two player representatives, and military leaders.
“I’m more of a Civil War guy if I were to select wars,” Leach noted.
“I would have to say that Jeff would be a little more like Stonewall Jackson, gets a hold of the play, attack from different angles.”
Tuel laughed down the knowledge that Jackson died of pneumonia eight days after having being shot and having his arm amputated, not exactly ideal for a quarterback.
Trojans heavy favorite to win Pac-12
A two-year NCAA post-season ban is over, quarterback Matt Barkley and safety T.J. McDonald returned for their senior seasons, and USC will move into its new athletic department building later this week, so USC coach Lane Kiffin has plenty to be happy about.
“Right now we kind of feel like we’re in a perfect storm with so many good things going on,” Kiffin said early on during his opening statement.
That was certainly reflected in the yearly media poll, as the Trojans were selected on 102 of 123 ballots to win the conference championship game.
Oregon received 18 votes, while Arizona State inexplicably garnered three entering coach Todd Graham’s first season.
Star receivers ready to go
Keenan Allen of California and Robert Woods of USC, recovering from ankle surgery that kept each out of spring practice, should be ready to go when fall camp opens.
Allen, who caught 98 passes for 1,343 yards and six touchdowns last season, said he is “planning on being at 100 percent” after being hurt in March while playing basketball.
Woods set a new conference record with 111 receptions last season, all while dealing with lingering ankle, elbow and shoulder ailments that left him “at 75 percent the whole season,” Kiffin said.
“Now he will be 100 percent, and it will be fun to see what he can do in training camp and at full speed,” Kiffin said.
Allen, Woods and sophomore teammate Marqise Lee, and Washington State junior Marquess Wilson are all considered leading candidates for All-America honors and the Biletnikoff Award, presented annual to the nation’s top receiver.
Another standout, junior Paul Richardson of Colorado, tore his ACL this spring but could return at some point this season, coach Jon Embree said.
“I’m a lot more optimistic about it,” Embree said. “He’s been progressing rapidly, and I think as he continues to work, as he starts doing more football movements, we will have a better feel for it and when he will be available for this year. But I don’t think it’s out of the question.”
Thomas’ role to be expanded
As a true freshman, De’Anthony Thomas of Oregon scored 18 touchdowns as a running back, receiver and return specialist, proving to be one of the nation’s most dynamic and versatile threats.
As a sophomore, however, there could be a more defined role for Thomas in the backfield as the Ducks look to replace LaMichael James and his 1,805 rushing yards on 247 carries.
Thomas had 140 touches – 55 rushes, 46 receptions, 36 kick returns and three punt returns – even as “we didn’t want to overload him,” coach Chip Kelly said.
“Our job as coaches is knowing when you have a guy as talented as him, you’ve got to find ways to get him the football. He’s a smart kid, understands concepts well, and we’ll keep adding to his plate.
“I think the only thing we won’t let him do is throw because I’ve seen him throw,” Kelly later joked.
Dan Greenspan is the publisher of Cal Sports Digest and covers the Pac-12 for Fox Sports/Scout.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanGreenspan.