Pac-10 Media Day: The story behind the story

LOS ANGELES – The Pac-10's annual media day, which lately has become little more than an anointment of USC as the predicted champion, was actually full of surprises Thursday. Foremost was the unexpected bashfulness of Washington State defensive end Mkristo Bruce. As aggressive as he is on the field and as colorful as he is to talk with in person, you'd expect the second-coming of Joe Theismann.

But when Cougar head man Bill Doba finished talking Thursday morning, turning the microphone over to Bruce with the warning "he likes to talk," the big man from Renton simply quipped that he didn't have anything to add.

Bruce, however, was his usual loquacious self when the camera lights were off. He was seen on several occasions outside the briefing room holding court with reporters.

Doba, whose team lost five games last season in the waning moments, reiterated his off-season mantra that the Cougars need to learn to finish games.

In what Cougar fans no doubt hope will be an omen of things to come during crunch time, WSU's media guides were not at the hotel when event organizers started setting things up at 7 a.m. But talk about Trandon Harvey-like timing – just before Doba and Bruce stepped to the dias, the media guides landed.

WSU left the day crowned most Zen-like, as Doba declared that his biggest concern in having to travel to Auburn for the season opener Sept. 2 is the humidity, but "we're not going to talk about it -- we're just going to go play."

Outside the briefing room, Doba confirmed that JC All-American running back J.T. Diederichs, who signed with the Cougars two years ago coming out of Seattle's Ballard High and then again in February following two seasons at Dixie College, has failed to qualify academically and will not be in uniform for WSU this season.

WASHINGTON'S TYRONE Willingham and Isaiah Stanback kicked off the day's proceedings – an "honor" always bestowed on the conference's last place team. Stanback made the biggest splash of the day, but not because of anything he said. He was dressed in a flashy yellow suit with a matching yellow tie. Depending on your viewpoint, he gets the nod as the Pac-10's best dressed player or the Most Likely to be Mistaken for a Can of Pledge Award.

Willingham joked that his major goal for next year was to not have the earliest time slot at media day. Apparently, expectations aren't quite as lofty in Seattle as some might have hoped – and the conference's beat writers agreed, having picked the Dawgs to finish a very distant 10th place in the league this year. Willingham wins the nod for being most frank — tersely requesting that media members stand and introduce themselves before speaking. He also gets the call for most quotable quote not delivered in the third person. To one reporter he responded, "I did not hear the initiation of that question."

OF ALL THE HEAD coaches, Arizona's Mike Stoops came off the most confident. Senior Wildcat receiver Syndric Steptoe's calm demeanor was a nice compliment to Stoops' over-bearing nature. The way Stoops fielded questions, you would have thought the Wildcats were coming off an 8-3 season, not a 3-8 campaign.

Stanford coach Walt Harris and standout quarterback Trent Edwards took center stage a little before 11 a.m. and you'd have thought the interview was with Joe Namath. While Edwards has done a reverse Namath – going from long hair and an unshaven face to the clean cut look – the poor guy who's all of 22 years old had to answer whether all the hits he's taken in recent seasons were starting to take a toll on his body. I'm not sure if that's a bigger shot at Trent himself or at his offensive line. Either way, Edwards graciously answered the question.

Harris, meanwhile, had a couple of awkward moments himself. To start, a reporter asked for Harris' thoughts on playing all nine other teams in the conference, as opposed to the normal slate of eight. Harris, entering only his second year in the conference, didn't quite understand what the reporter was asking. It took three re-phrasings before Harris clued in. Later on, Harris fielded a question about what it'll be like to play in a newly renovated stadium and he went on to talk about the upgraded bathrooms and concession stands. It didn't end there. One reporter asked an off the wall question about Harris' thoughts on UCLA losing so many stars offense. Taken aback, Harris did his best to answer after incredulously muttering, "UCLA?"

Arizona State coach Dirk Koetter also fielded a misguided question when a reporter asked for his assessment of a new player in the fold over at Arizona. Koetter did his best not to make the reporter feel stupid by simply talking about his own transfers.

CAL COACH JEFF Tedford brought senior corner Daymeion Hughes with him. Hughes seemed to enjoy being at the microphone when he finally got a question thrown his way. He talked a little about how he felt that the team would be well prepared for their first challenge at Tennessee. When asked how the 100K fans in Knoxville might affect QB Nate Longshore, Tedford brought up the fact that Longshore had been in stadiums like that before but just had never had to play.

Funny, I thought that was the important thing in this equation. Heck, I've been in stadiums like that myself, but I think I'd get my head knocked off if I had to stand in the pocket and take a snap.

The end of the day was reserved for the Pac-10's two BCS teams. Er, wait a minute. I mean one BCS team and one BCS-shafted team. Don't worry, I'm not alone on those sentiments. When asked about whether or not he liked the changes to the BCS this year and if he thought they would make things better, Oregon coach Mike Belotti simply replied "Better?" to a room full of snickers. Belotti takes home the "mad about more than one thing" award for being rather upfront about his feelings on the rule changes affecting Pac-10 officiating. Oregon senior center Enoka Lucas, clad in a Hawaiian shirt and necklace, was a crowd favorite. When he got to the mic, he sat down and said "Whatup? How's everyone doin? Just kiddin". Later, Enoka talked about how the team was doing with workouts over the summer—only it sounded more like he enjoyed hanging out with his buddies. At one point the words "we like food" made it out of his mouth to some laughter.

USC coach Pete Carroll ascended the stairs to the stage along with senior center Ryan Kalil. Carroll's opening remarks weren't quite as short as the 60-second effort of UCLA's Karl Dorrell's but Carroll didn't have much to say either and seemed more matter-of-fact than high-energy. Still, he said he was excited about the season and his new backfield.

Kalil kept quiet for the most part until someone asked him if he was using the day to parlay his football career into a Hollywood career much like Leinart did a year ago. Kalil provided some comedy relief as he quipped that the team took a vote and decided to send the most handsome guy this year.

And with that uproarious laugh, the morning came to a close on Pac-10 football media day 2006.

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