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HERE I THOUGHT NOBODY could outdo <b>Rick Neuheisel</b> when it came to using smoke and mirrors in recruiting. But it turns out ol' <b>Mike Bellotti</b> is a real <i>marvel</i> at the game of two-bit marketing, too. What really burns me, though, is that I promised never to let such nonsense give me the dry heaves again after I choked on news of Neuheisel flying prized prospects to his Lake Washington manse in a floatplane and having the Little Mrs. waiting dockside with fresh-baked cookies.

And yet, there I was on New Year's Eve, nary a drop of bubbly in my system, when I was overcome. The offending "drink" was the Dec. 27 issue of The Sporting News where it was reported that Oregon -- and I'm not kidding here -- commissioned production of a comic book to help woo quarterback Ben Olson. In it, Olson -- a.k.a. The Gun Slinger -- leads those daffy Ducks to a mythical national title.

Taking this gimmick beyond bad, TSN reports that Oregon only sent Olson the first half of the book. To get the second part required he take an official trip to Eugene.

Turns out the one-time BYU redshirt, just back from a two-year Mormon mission, added his own punch line to the Oregon epic. He's enrolling at UCLA next week -- a veritable THWACK! ZONK! and KA-POW! to that artistic bunch in the Willamette.

SPEAKING OF THE SPORTING NEWS, former Cougars have been mentioned all over it in recent issues. One talked about cornerback Jason David's dramatic improvement with the Colts over the course of the season. Another about linebacker James Darling's unexpected emergence as an impact player for the Cardinals. And yet another listed Steve Gleason as one of the ten best special teams players in the league.

Next up, I have a hunch, will be Erik Coleman's name on the list of finalists for defensive rookie of the year honors. His first year with the playoff-bound Jets has been nothing less than superlative. Erik finished the regular season third on the team in total tackles (100) and first in both interceptions (four) and fumble recoveries (four). Not bad for a fifth-round draft choice who had only one scholarship offer from a Pac-10 school coming out of Spokane's Lewis and Clark High five years ago.

I WENT TO THE COUGAR football media guide last week to settle a bet with a fellow crimson partisan -- did Cougar linebackers coach Leon Burtnett ever coach in the NFL? -- and came away drooling. Not at Burtnett or his resume, though it's mighty impressive and does in fact include five seasons with the Indianapolis Colts as running backs coach and offensive coordinator.

But what struck me was found a few pages later in the bio on running backs coach Kelly Skipper. The list of NFL swine haulers that he coached in college was downright amazing. It averages one for every year he's been an assistant -- 14. The latest of course is former WSU standout Jonathan Smith (Chiefs). Others include Pro Bowler Lorenzo Neal and former UCLA star DeShaun Foster.

IN CASE YOU MISSED A PAIR of notable Hot News updates at the top of this page over the last week, there was more encouraging news for the Cougar basketball program. The two players Dick Bennett signed to letters of intent in the fall signing period are off to great starts this season.

Caleb Forrest, a 6-8, 215-pounder from Pagosa Springs (Colo.) High, has led his club to a 7-0 start by averaging 21.7 points, nine rebounds and four blocked shots per game. And Antonio Chavers, a 6-3 guard from Tyler (Texas) JC has dished off 37 assists and averaged 9.2 points per outing through 10 games. He also has 27 rebounds. But get this -- he's sharing the ball with three other players who also have signed D-1 letters of intent.

WORD OUT OF PULLMAN IS that an initial drawing of the proposed stadium upgrade and expansion is due out early this year. The grapevine also has it that the misguided notion of filling one of the Cougars' 2005 football open dates with the University of Maine officially has been canned.

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