Seen & Heard 5/26

THOSE EAST COAST sports writers are at it again. Do they really think the University of Toledo is better than seven football teams in the Pac-10? Apparently so. No disrespect to the mighty Rockets -- a fine bunch for sure, and no doubt superior than Arizona and Stanford -- but ESPN and Sports Illustrated have them slotted for a top 25 finish. All the while, the likes of Washington State, Oregon, UCLA, Arizona State and Washington are nowhere to be found.

In fact, you'll find no more than three Pac-10 teams in the pre-season top 25s I've come across so far.

USC and Cal are on every list, with the Trojans picked anywhere from No. 4 to No. 1, and the Golden Bears slotted between No. 15 and No. 11. That third Pac-10 spot -- in the No. 20 to 25 range -- has been variously bestowed upon our Oregon, Oregon State and, yes, the team coming off the greatest three-year run in Pac-10 since the 1930s, your Fighting Cougars of Washington State.

I confess I'm a homer when it comes to the Pac-10. But I truly think we play a great brand of football out here. So great, that conference parity means we beat up on each other a fair amount. Is a Toledo win over the likes of a Buffalo, Liberty, Western Michigan or Northern Illinois more impressive, say, than a narrow Arizona State loss to UCLA or maybe an Oregon heartbreaker to Cal?

Bottom line, I beg to differ with the guys making the big bucks in New York, or whatever it is where they're based. However, my hat is off to Dennis Dodd at CBSsportsline, who always seems to have his head generally screwed on straight. He and he alone doesn't peg Toledo for a top 25 finish and, of course, had the good sense to put Ol' Wazzu on his list (at No. 24).

IN OTHER FOOTBALL news, the Cougars received a nice present this week with the announcement by hugely touted prep quarterback Arkelon Hall of Fresno that he's headed to WSU in 2005(see story on CF.C front page). But there was another intriguing pick up this week on the recruiting front. Jabari Watkins, a 6-5, 310-pound offensive lineman from Kentridge High in Kent, said he'll be walking on at WSU this fall. He was being wooed mostly by Big Sky Conference schools during the recruiting process, but his size, athleticism and technical skills could see him develop into a bonafide Pac-10 lineman.

DRIBBLING RIGHT ALONG, how 'bout that Cougar basketball team? In case you missed it, head man Dick Bennett has put together one sweet recruiting class of six, all prepsters. Two of them -- 6-9 center/power forward Chris Henry and 6-0 point guard Derrick Low -- could start right away.

Another member of the class, Kyle Weaver, comes to Pullman from Bennett's old stomping grounds in Wisconsin. He credits son Tony, a Cougar assistant, with landing the high-upside guard. "He's as skilled as you're going to get. He needs some physical maturity, but to Tony's everlasting praise, when I took the job (at WSU), the first thing he did was drive from Madison (Wis.) to Beloit to watch (Weaver) work out, and he said if this kid can develop the aggressiveness that will come with strength, we should sign him," he told the Seattle Times.

A HEARTY CONGRATS to five current and/or former Cougars who have qualified for the U.S. Olympic Trials in July. They are reigning Pac-10 100-meter dash champion Anthony Buchanan; sprinter Bennie Chatman, hurdler Dominique Arnold, discuss man Ian Waltz and, the newest addition to the group, five-time Cougar All-American and current WSU assistant track coach Ellanee Richardson. Over the weekend Ellanee won the the women's Olympic Development 400-meter intermediate hurdles race at the Home Depot Invitational in Los Angeles.

In other Cougar track and field news, soon-to-be Cougar offensive lineman Andy Roof of Spokane's East Valley High last week captured first in both the shot put and discus at the Class 4A regional meet.

And speaking of local track and field standouts, one of the state's premier high school distance runners recently signed a national letter of intent with WSU. He doesn't have far to trek for college, because it's Pullman High three-sport phenom Phil Hinrichs Jr.. He's the state's Class 2A pacesetter in the 800m, 1600m, and 3200m events. His name may sound familiar --- pappy, Phil Sr., was a pitcher for Bobo Brayton in the late 1970s.

SENSITIVE SUBJECT: Word on the mean streets of Montlake is that if you ask former WSU All-American and Cougar Club director Rueben Mayes who he'll be rooting for come the Apple Cup he'll offer up a sheepish "No comment." Knowing what a first-class guy Rueben is, I read that to mean, "Of course I'll be pulling for the beloved Cougars, but I value my pay check so I have to keep quiet." In case you missed it, Rueben recently went to work for the U of W as a fundraiser for the business school.

While that's clearly cause for a demerit on the resume, all is not lost. The New Orleans Saints have announced that Rueben will be inducted into their hall of fame this fall. And if it was up to me, induction into the College Football Hall of Fame would be next for the greatest running back in Washington State history.

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