O/NSO - Media Day edition

With neither a raucous stadium filled to capacity nor the voluminous sights and sounds of a college football game day, the 2005 Pac-10 season kicked off Tuesday morning with media day at the LAX Sheraton Gateway, a day when institutional optimism flows like a Steve Smith corner pattern and adulation for the Trojans is as overwhelming as a Winston Justice drive block.

The Obvious – With neither a raucous stadium filled to capacity nor the voluminous sights and sounds of a college football game day, the 2005 Pac-10 season kicked off Tuesday morning with media day at the LAX Sheraton Gateway, a day when institutional optimism flows like a Steve Smith corner pattern and adulation for the Trojans is as overwhelming as a Winston Justice drive block.

The Not So Obvious – Tuesday's Pac-10 Media Day, which was the largest attended gathering of media in recent memory, was more than the normal routine of coaches comments and player revelations, due in part to the representation of the nation's No. 1 team, the USC Trojans, who provided the regional and national media attendees both head coach Pete Carroll and Heisman quarterback Matt Leinart.

The Obvious – For the second consecutive year, the Trojans were the unanimous pick of the pre-season media to win the conference and did so with all 41 first-place votes for a total of 410 points.

The Not So Obvious – The bigger news for Trojans fans from Tuesday's media day was the announcement by coach Pete Carroll that his club intended to have a Trojan Fan Appreciation Day scrimmage at the Coliseum on Sunday, Aug. 21, free of charge at 1:00 p.m.

The Obvious – Pete Carroll left no stone unturned during the media day as he had Dennis Slutak, director of Trojan football operations, taking mental and written notes on the press conference.

The Not So Obvious – Slutak told the O/NSO that the Trojan Fan Appreciation Day scrimmage was yet another Pete Carroll innovative idea to give back to the fans who can't normally attend games or the opener in Honolulu. Plans are also in the works to have the Trojan Marching Band and spirit squads create the frenzy of a game-day environment, provide a Trojans kid's fun zone, and allow Carroll's top-ranked club a chance to perform in front of what could be a monster crowd in the Grand Old Lady. And, yes, Slutak said Carroll's club will do the "Trojan Walk" before entering the stadium in a game-day rehearsal. How big a deal is Carroll's brilliant idea? Slutak said Trojan Fan Appreciation Day planning also includes the USC marketing and promotions wings to help get the word out.

The Obvious – The format of the Pac-10 Media Day is a quick media check-in, the procurement of those glitzy team media guides, and then on to the main ballroom as each coach and a player is allotted a total of 15 minutes for opening statements and then media interrogation.

The Not So Obvious – The beauty of these sort of media exercises is the fact that everybody is cordial, complementary, and so "excited" that you almost get the impression that it's a shame any of the universities even have to play each other. However, each coach chose their words carefully, especially with compliments regarding the Trojans.

The Obvious – Pac-10 commissioner Tom Hansen opened the festivities at 9:30 a.m.

The Not So Obvious – Hansen started the morning's exercise by welcoming the media, the new coaches in the conference, and commenting how happy he was that all conference teams will finally play a nine-game conference schedule next season. He called 2005 " an exciting time of the year." Hansen also looked forward to the application of the Instant Replay option in the coming season.

The Obvious – First to the "table on risers" at 9:35 was Arizona coach Mike Stoops and star free safety Darrell Brooks. Both discussed how impressed they were with the 100% summer commitment by Wildcat players, how Stoops, according to Brooks, is now more involved with the offense, and that the Wildcats are "much more together as a football team this year."

The Not So Obvious – The first of many comments about the Trojans and their run in the Pac-10 came from Stoops who said, "They are head and shoulders over everybody else. Our conference still played USC better in conference compared to Oklahoma." Ouch!!!! Just don't send that comment to Mike's brother Bob, the Sooners head coach. On a side note, Stoops also said he hoped his Wildcats could score more than 14 points per game.

The Obvious – Next up at 9:50 was new Stanford coach Walt Harris and linebacker Jon Alston. Harris said how "excited" he was to "have the opportunity to coach at Stanford," football is more complicated than most people think, and he expects to have a good defensive team.

The Not So Obvious – Harris, fully aware of the Trojans national and conference dominance, said, " I leave the Pac-10 and SC and UCLA are on top. SC is doing an outstanding job and they're at the top." Perhaps not fighting words, but the message was clear. The Cardinal gave the Trojans one heck of a scare last year in Palo Alto (31-28), and linebacker Alston thinks his team has learned a few things from close losses. The big backer said, " We lost some close games last year, a lot which came down to mental toughness and lack of belief." Sounds a lot like the Paul Hackett era.

The Obvious – Following Harris and Alston came the appearance of new Washington coach Tyrone Willingham and physical linebacker Joe Lobendahn. Willingham said it was "nice" to be back in the Pac-10, his squad is hard at work trying to get better, and "our footprint has been accepted by our team." Linebacker Lobendahn was asked about the media prediction of his team to finish last and said, " We were 1-10 last season so I don't care about polls, just Air Force (the UW opener)."

The Not So Obvious – One of the more awkward moments came on the media's first Willingham question when former L.A. Examiner sports editor and broadcast personality Bud Furillo asked Willingham if "Notre Dame was a football factory." The room became as silent as after a Trojan loss. Willingham, however, stayed the course and gave the Trojans compliments by saying, " I think (USC's dominance) says great things about our conference and to win two-straight years. They've played a difficult schedule and they've earned the respect of the entire country."

The Obvious – Next up at 10:20 was Washington State gentleman coach Bill Doba and wonderful linebacker Will Derting. Doba said the Cougs had a good spring, their defensive front is their strength, and they are still unsure about their starting quarterback situation.

The Not So Obvious – Doba, a class act, opened his remarks by saying, " Congratulations to Pete (Carroll) and USC on that whipping (over Oklahoma). They did us proud." When asked about an intimidation factor the Trojans might have in playing their future opponents, Doba joked, " Who WANTS to play'em? They are at the top. There is an advantage. It's SC and they expect to win. They (his Cougars) get jacked up to play'em. SC has that tradition, the kids, and the attitude." As for Derting, he said that although conference opponents are the bad guys during the season, he " always roots for Pac-10 teams" in the bowls.

The Obvious – Some think that the Trojans will have their hands full at Oregon on Sept. 24, so it was of great interest when Ducks' coach Mike Bellotti, sans his traditional mustache, walked up with senior tailback Terrence Whitehead, the former Crenshaw star. Bellotti said his team has great energy wanting to rebound from last year's disappointing season (5-6), and they are a veteran team on offense with a new, quick quarterback release offense, although there are questions about his offensive line. He likes his secondary and says his group is ready to take on the conference's receivers. Are you listening Steve Smith, Dwayne Jarrett, and Dominique Byrd?

The Not So Obvious – Bellotti feels this will be the last season for his All-World junior defensive tackle Haloti Ngata. The one-time USC head coach candidate had kind words for the Cardinal and Gold. Bellotti said, " USC has had the opportunity to take whomever they wanted in my last 17 years. They've just evaluated better in recent years. We owe them a debt of gratitude in helping recruiting nationally across the board and around the country." Whitehead said the Ducks are excited to play the Trojans at Autzen Stadium because "we haven't played them in three years." Of the Trojans visit to Eugene, Bellotti remarked, " Anytime you play the national champs at home, you're excited."

The Obvious – No break in the morning is complete without ending the first session with the UCLA Bruins' head coach Karl Dorrell and explosive tailback Maurice Drew. Dorrell said the Bruins are ready for the "next step" up, and that for the first time in two years, he has the depth, team competition, and a "great core" in his program.

The Not So Obvious – As it would figure, media members wanted to know how Dorrell is coping with the Trojans national acclaim. Dorrell, who seemed more upbeat and enthusiastic than in the past, said, " They (SC) are off and doing great things. We shoot to do great things ourselves. This (USC success) inspires me to do better."

The Obvious – At 11:05, break time appeared and there was a restroom media dash of William Buchanon warp speed.

The Not So Obvious – During the break, we had the pleasure of talking with old friend Dave Davis, longtime UCLA statistician for Bruin radio broadcasts of football and basketball. Davis was amazed at the large number of media in attendance. "This is the biggest turnout I've seen," said Davis, who has been coming to this event since the 1980's.

The Obvious – Coming out of the break, it was appropriate to have Pac-10 Coordinator of Football Officiating Verle Sorgen discussing the new conference Instant Replay, which he will also share next week in meetings with his officials in NorCal.

The Not So Obvious – Sorgen, whom we had a chance to talk with earlier in the hotel elevator, said the replay is "NOT" the NFL replay. He told the audience there is a list of what the replay is not. Basically the replay is to catch "Big Ticket Items" such as scoring plays, sideline judgements, and end zone issues. A two-man replay team will sit in the press box and relay down to the referee, via a buzzer, that a play is being reviewed. The referee will then inform the crowd that the play is under review. Sorgen said the average wait during Big Ten replays was 2:39. Sorgen said, " Nobody wants to stop the game."

The Obvious – Next up was Oregon State's Mike Riley and brilliant wide receiver Mike Haas. Riley was "excited" about the opening of the new "half" of Reser Stadium, his new transfer quarterback, a good set of receivers, and the fact that OSU, in his opinion, is Linebacker U.

The Not So Obvious – Receiver Haas had some sobering words for the Trojans. Big Mike said, " No team is invincible. They (USC) lost players like everybody else." Asked if he was disappointed that the Trojans were not on the Beavers schedule this year, Haas said, " I would like to see'em again. It's always fun to play the No. 1 team in the nation and see how you stack up."

The Obvious – Following the Cougars at 11:40 was the Arizona State Sun Devils with coach Dirk Koetter and All-America receiver Derek Hagan. Koetter said replacing Andrew Walters with Sam Keller was a challenge, but Keller is ready to do the job, and he was hoping to use running back Rudy Burgess like the Trojans use Reggie Bush.

The Not So Obvious – Koetter tried to explain how his punt team coverage was 114th in the nation and how his special teams coach, Tom Osborne, advised him to "go for it" rather than punt. Naturally, thoughts of Reggie Bush in Tempe rolled through the minds of many in the audience. Koetter drew a big laugh when reflecting on the Trojans' Orange Bowl win. The ASU coach said, " It was great to see USC beat Oklahoma. Unfortunately, when we played SC, we looked like Oklahoma (45-7)."

The Obvious – Things started to get serious after the ASU presentation when Cal coach Jeff Tedford and premier center Marvin Philip entered the ballroom at 11:55. Tedford, whose Bear team is voted second behind the Trojans in the media poll, talked about a lot of "new faces" in Strawberry Canyon because "we lost 26 players." The one-time SoCal prep QB star said his Bears are very talented on defense and offense, and he is "100% confident we have the talent to get things done, now it's just a matter of gaining the experience."

The Not So Obvious – Well, the O/NSO could hardly remain silent so we had to ask Tedford how he and his players competed so well against the Trojans. Tedford revealed, " Our players look forward to playing (SC). We have a lot of southern California kids. It happens we automatically get up. There is a packed house, but we don't do anything special. Our players just come out hard."

The Obvious – Finally at 12:10 p.m. Pete Carroll and Matt Leinart appeared through the side door opening and there was a rush of photographers and flashbulbs forming a spirit tunnel as though royalty had just entered the ballroom. For most Trojan fans, they've already heard the party line about being No. 1 and the new season. Carroll said he is "as pumped as I've ever been," and he hopes " the players will feel comfortable in this environment (being No. 1) and maintain a high level of play."

The Not So Obvious – Leinart surprised many of the media with his "Dan Fouts beard." Lefty tried to downplay his celebrity status and reminded those in attendance "that's not what I'm about." Walking up to the podium, Leinart had his arm around Carroll's right shoulder, displaying the love and respect he has for his head coach. Carroll did inform the media that he probably didn't explain well enough how his new offensive play-calling system was going to work with coaches Steve Sarkisian and Lane Kiffin. Pete also said his main focal point is replacing the heart of his defense and would attempt to scheme things to help in the transition.

The Obvious – Following the final interview session with the Trojans, the hoard of media departed into a smaller room for a buffet lunch with the coaches and players.

The Not So Obvious – The lunch was a combination of chicken and pasta, two types of salads, some delightful veggies, garlic bread, and what appeared to be carrot cake. The food was fine, but one had to wonder if Pete Carroll would ever get to eat his as the coach was engulfed by media trying to get taped and print interviews.

The Obvious – There were the usual number of celebrities in attendance along with the coaches and players. Some athletic directors made an appearance along with various broadcast types that covered the various teams.

The Not So Obvious – Trojans "voice" Pete Arbogast and analyst Paul McDonald, the former Trojan All-America QB, were in attendance along with 1540 personalities Mark Willard and Petros Papadakis, who were doing their radio shows in the lobby. WeAreSC and broadcaster John Jackson stopped by to take in the proceedings.

The Obvious – The gathering of media started departing the premises around 2:00 p.m., many coaches and players exiting the Sheraton Gateway on shuttles bound for LAX and for eventual Pac-10 outposts like Corvallis, Tucson, and Pullman.

The Not So Obvious – For Trojan fans, the media day provided a new calendar date to circle and that would be Aug 21. That will be the Sunday afternoon "kickoff" of Trojan football in the Coliseum. Hey, it might not be Aloha Stadium and it may be "just" a scrimmage, but for the projected crowd of perhaps as many as 35,000 to see the Trojan for free, that will do just fine. Just the way the creative mind of Pete Carroll envisions it.

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