Seen & Heard 4/29

UNBEKNOWNST TO most of the Cougar Nation, Wazzu was oh-so-close to inking a deal with ESPN to open this grid season at Alabama on August 25. Alas, things fell apart, apparently at the 'Bama end of things, so <b>Jason Gesser's</b> offical launch of his Heisman campaign will have to wait until Week 3 at Ohio State.

Despite the obscene payday (rumored to be more than $1.5 million) and the opportunity to avenge the 1931 Rose Bowl loss to the Crimson Tide, it's a blessing the game didn't come together. Saying "yes" to ESPN would have stretched WSU's regular season from August 25 to December 7 -- far too much wear and tear on a team vying for a coveted BCS bowl.

December 7, you ask? Yep. Pending approval by Pac-10 athletic directors, WSU and UCLA will move their Nov. 16 game to Dec. 7 as part of ABC-TV's "championship week" coverage. The pay day is about $350,000 per school. ABC originally wanted Oregon to play the Cougs, but Bill Moos feared the Ducks would freeze up in Pullman that time of year so he said no thanks.

AND SPEAKING of Ohio State, whom the Cougs play on Sept. 14, the Buckeyes concluded their spring season this past Saturday. In front of 37,783 fans, the Scarlet and Gray failed to score a TD.

The lackluster affair means that the battle to succeed Steve Bellisari at quarterback will continue in August. Through three weeks of workouts, Craig Krenzel and Scott McMullen were still neck-and-neck for the starter's job. And neither did anything Saturday to stake a firm claim -- in part because the Buckeyes' offensive line, with its two best players injured, is woefully thin and both QBs were under constant pressure.

Surmised columnist Bob Hunter of the Columbus Dispatch, "… the Gray's 6-3 win over the Scarlet didn't promote a lot of fist-pumping from the folks heading to their cars. You probably would have to go back to 1984, when starting quarterback Mike Tomczak broke his leg, to find a spring game that produced less optimism."

But don't start getting over-confident, Cougfans. The Buckeyes have tremendous talent at running back and receiver. And their defense, which surrendered 29 fewer yards per game last year than did the WSU stop corps, is believed to be much improved, with two All-American candidates -- safety Mike Doss and end Will Smith -- leading the way.

OH, WHAT A DIFFERENCE a few months can make. The Cougars were so thin at tight end this past season that Jeremy Thielbahr was moved over from running back to shore things up. In 2002, even with Tim Burnette's decision to scrap football in favor of Division III basketball, the Cougars appear to be downright loaded at TE. Mark Ahlberg and Troy Bienemann will continue their spirited battle for the starting nod in August, with athletic Adam West lurking.

There also will be highly touted JC transfer Eddie Robinson, who saw considerable playing time as true freshman at Tulane in 2000, as well as standout incoming freshman Jesse Taylor of West Hills, Calif.

But the biggest addition of all may be Russell Mizin, the guy who was supposed to be WSU's starting TE last season but failed to make the academic cut. The Tacoma News Tribune reports that Mizin, from Aberdeen, is attending Grays Harbor Community College right now and fully intends to be back in Pullman for unofficial workouts this summer/

ROOKIE SENSATIONS?: The latest edition of The Sporting News says Cougars Raonall Smith and Lamont Thompson figure to become NFL starters this season. Smith is expected to be the Vikings' top guy at weakside linebacker and Thompson looks to step right in at safety for the Bengals. Both were drafted in the second round a week ago.

One of their Cougar teammates, receiver Nakoa McElrath, has signed a free agent contract with the Jaguars, becoming the third former WSU wideout to ink an NFL free agent contract this off season. The Raiders signed both Marcus Williams and '98 Rose Bowl standout Kevin McKenzie.

AND WHILE WE'RE on the subject of the recent NFL draft, I have to admit that I was shocked -- SHOCKED, I say -- that the Seahawks had the audacity to take Husky tight end Jerramy Stevens with their first pick. This kid's had more run-ins with the law than Winchell's Donuts. A change of scenery would have been good for all concerned. But given the bad boy image Paul Allen has built with the Portland Trailblazers, it's probably not a surprise he'd throw common sense to the wind. He and Mike Holmgren deserve each other.

CF.C Analyst Matt Moore contributed to this report.


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