Happy Media Day

See? Everybody’s smiling.

The Prediction: 10th. Meaningless.

The Oddity: One first-place vote for California. The only school other than USC to get that honor. The Golden Bears were fourth in overall voting. Speaking of which, here are the rankings:

1. USC – 389
2. Arizona State – 330
3. Oregon – 295
4. Cal – 274
5. UCLA – 204
6. Oregon State – 192
7. Arizona – 185
8. Washington – 139
9. Stanford – 76
10. WSU – 61

Which means it is about time I offered up my own opinion. So here goes:

1. USC
2. ASU
3. Oregon
4. Cal
5. Arizona
6. UCLA
7. Washington
8. Washington State
9. Oregon State
10. Stanford

Did I mention pre-season rankings are meaningless? Unless, of course, I get this right at the end of the season. In which case I will crown myself as a Pac-10 football guru this winter. That’s just how sportswriting works, folks.

Quote of the Day: “This isn’t a deal where we want to pass first, run second. We want to run the football.” Maybe not the most intriguing sound byte from media day, but certainly the most telling of how the Cougar offense will actually pan out in 2008. And I’m glad. Wulff reminded the media that the new offense is not a spread, rather a hurry-up, and that WSU will look to pound the bound every bit as much as throw it over the top.

This is great news for a few reasons. One, it means there may be some hope for a red zone offense that has been so terrible in recent seasons, I can’t not even describe it with a word. So I am forced to make one up. Craptawfuble. In fact, the goal line portion of the offense has been so craptawfuble that it struggled to score even with the unstoppable force of Jed Collins (occasionally) in the backfield. So, with a solid offensive line this season and Dwight Tardy at halfback, the Cougs should have the ability to run with some confidence. And as the yards on the ground go up, the more the passing game benefits. And the more confidence that Tardy has, the more likely the ball is to actually cross the goal line. It’s science.

The other reason this is good news is for the aforementioned benefits to the passing game. Gary Rogers will be challenged enough this year with a new offense. It would be hard for him to do anything if opposing defenses begin to focus solely on our high-powered passing game. Sometimes the running game can help without even gaining yards. Just keeping the defense honest at the line of scrimmage allows the wide receivers to work on getting open against fewer defensive backs. Since Brandon Gibson is going to be double-teamed a bazillion times this year, we need as many opponents focusing on the running game as possible. Wulff knows this, and knows he has to commit to the running game to make it happen.

Brandon Gibson, Still Awesome: “I believe every time I touch the ball, I want to do something special with it. I think they kind of expect that out of me.”

The last time I believed a player was capable of that statement was Michael Bumpus. Of course, as defenses began to key in on Bumpus or just avoid punting it to him altogether, a lot of the magic was lost. It could be the same problem for Gibson this season. He will be the focus of the defense. If he can still find a way to be a scoring threat every time he touches the ball, then we’re in business.

Losing Bumpus also hurts Gibson’s game, but not as much as you may think. Jeshua Anderson is so ridiculously fast that a lot of teams may consider re-assigning their fastest defensive back to him instead of Gibson. The receiving corps as a whole is also deep enough to be a help. Just hope they stay healthy.

That’s all I have for now. Let’s close with the Pac-10 media member motto:

If you’re not sure, rank Washington State last.

I believe it’s engraved on the side of the L.A. Times building.

Ted Miller: Player Hater

OK. So I’m not going to take as much offense to this as the Gary Rogers ranking, but here’s where Ted Miller ranks Cougar kicker Wade Penner among his conference counterparts. And yes, it’s only out of ten players:

10. Wade Penner, So, Washington State: Kicker has been uneven, at best, for the Cougars in recent years. Penner showed promise during the spring.

Replace the word “kicker” with “Loren Langley” for a more accurate analysis of the Cougars’ PK struggles in recent seasons. Romeen Abdollmohammodi wasn’t necessarily a solid kicker either, but remember that he was a walk on who had never kicked a meaningful ball through the uprights until college. With that under consideration, I think he did pretty well.

The interesting thing about this is that last I checked, Patrick Rooney was an early favorite to claim the starter’s job. Take that with a grain of salt, though. The competition won’t be decided for certain until fall camp is over. Even then – the winner is a couple of shanks away from conceding the job to the #2. With that in mind, Penner at #10 isn’t too much of a stretch. He has to earn a job first, then a higher ranking.

We don’t know much about Penner’s in-game ability to make field goals. What we do know is that his kickoffs seemed to get a couple yards shorter with every game he played. Now this could mean his leg strength deteriorated, or that Doba’s crew wanted him to get more air under the ball. Regardless, I just pray that the words “squib kick” aren’t in Paul Wulff’s vocabulary. I’m sure Penner would be thankful for that as well.

Back to Ted Miller, who actually doesn’t hate on all Cougs. He ranked Brandon Gibson second among receivers and the O-line fifth in the conference. Still, Miller’s rankings are representative of a general media attitude towards the Cougs. That is, if you’re not sure about them, rank ’em last.

It’s an attitude we’ll almost certainly see when the media rankings come out Thursday.

Ted Miller Ranks Quarterbacks, Loses Credibility

Hey there, former Seattle P-I and current ESPN.com writer Ted Miller! How do you rank the Pac-10’s quarterbacks for this upcoming season?

[sitting on the edge of my seat]

First, let’s have some background:

This is not a bumper year for Pac-10 QBs. Only three schools are locked at the position: Tuitama, Carpenter and Locker.

There’s a clear leader at four schools — Oregon (Nate Costa), UCLA (Olson), USC (Sanchez) and Washington State (Gary Rogers). But it wouldn’t be shocking if any of the four lost his job at some point this season.

This is what is known in the sports writing world as “covering one’s behind”. I probably would be shocked if Olson, Sanchez or Rogers lost their job. Costa wouldn’t surprise me because he’s a sophomore and hasn’t really proven anything yet. Olson and Rogers are seniors; Sanchez is a junior who used to be one of the most highly touted QB recruits in the nation. So 3 of those 4 are fairly safe.

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Bad Times for Cougar Football

Well… we now know what the Seattle Times knows regarding the Cougar football program. There wasn’t a lot of information that we didn’t know, although it shed some light on Cougar linebacker Andy Mattingly who highlighted the story by wielding a frying pan:

Andy Mattingly, a linebacker coming off an outstanding sophomore season, was in Spokane in late January when a friend called for help. His front teeth had just been punched out in an argument with some soccer players from North Idaho College, he said.

The friend joined up with Mattingly and Trevor Mooney, a WSU tight end. The three went to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, where two of the soccer players, a goalie and a midfielder, shared an apartment.

First, they knocked. Then, Mattingly kicked in the door. The midfielder grabbed a steak knife, the goalie a butter knife. Mattingly picked up a frying pan off the stove.

The midfielder jumped out a window. This left the goalie — Cesar Lira, 5 feet 10, armed with a butter knife — to contend with Mattingly, a 6-4 linebacker swinging heavy kitchenware.

Mattingly hit Lira’s head so hard the pan’s handle broke, court records say. Lira got back up, jumped out a window and called police. He had a 2-inch gash and was “bleeding profusely,” a police report says.

Much like the Times’ seering indictment of Husky coach (and current UCLA coach) Rick Neuheisal, this sheds a lot of light on the Doba era and a culture of indifference to wrongdoing at WSU. It goes to show you that a team can win with character problems (like the Husky Rose Bowl team) and lose with character problems. The point is you never truly win when your players fail to represent the University in a decent manner.

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News and Notes 6/19

Jeshua Anderson did it – he’s now the NCAA champion in the men’s 400m hurdles. This is huge news for the Cougar faithful and yet another confidence builder for Jeshua going into the Olympic Trials which take place in Eugene starting June 27th.

Pre-emptive Damage Control – Remember the Seattle Times’ massive expose on the Huskies’ last Rose Bowl team? Well, in an effort to be more fair and balanced, they may be out to do the same for the Cougars. The evidence is this e-mail from AD Jim Sterk that is making the rounds:

Dear Cougar Family,

First, let me apologize if any of you receive this email in duplicate. We have tried to hit as many Cougar supporters as possible with this and some of you may appear on duplicate lists.

The purpose of this email is to alert you to a Seattle Times story that is scheduled to appear either later this week or early next week. From our understanding the story is an in-depth look at the WSU football program, perhaps focusing on negative issues that have occurred over the past few years. My belief is they may combine the off-field incidents of some of our players with the recent APR news as the focus of the story.

I, along with the entire coaching staff and athletic administration, evaluate each and every incident involving our football program in a very serious manner. Although the attitude and behavior of our football student-athletes is not in a crisis situation, there is room for improvement. I believe Paul Wulff has put in place a process to positively impact the culture surrounding Cougar football and that change is already noticeable. While there are no quick fixes, the program is heading in the right direction.

I appreciate your continued support of Cougar Athletics and please let me know if you have any questions or concerns regarding this issue.

Sincerely,

Jim Sterk

Director of Athletics

The fact that this e-mail came out says two things:

1. The Times told WSU about the article before it was even published, perhaps to allow such a response from Sterk

2. The article likely contains some damaging information about WSU athletic programs – most likely football.

The big question is, can the Seattle Times reveal anything we don’t already know? The APR mess has opened up all sorts of discussion already regarding academic issues and most disciplinary issues have already been covered in detail by a variety of sources.

Is it an appeal to the Washington fans that threatened to cancel their subscriptions after the Times tore apart their program under Neuheisal? Possibly. A newspaper is still a business, and an article or series of articles surrounding the Cougars might appeal to some of Seattle’s unhappy customers. Still, from a PR standpoint, this seems to come at an advantageous time for WSU, with the Sonics’ trial dominating local sports news in Seattle and the NBA draft coming up to give Cougar fans a chance to swell with pride over Weaver and Low.

There’s a new Cougar football commitment from linebaker Darren Markle – a position where depth is always welcome. It is the second verbal for Wulff’s class of 2009, with the first being DE Geoff Meinken from Lynnwood. Markle is highly touted as well. Scout.com has him as the 32nd ranked MLB in the nation and lists him as a 3-star player. A huge get for the Cougs and another early victory for Paul Wulff, who already seems to be outworking his predecessor on the recruiting trail.

What to Expect (When You’re Not Expecting a Bowl Game)

Expectations are everything. I cannot think of a truer statement in sports, or life in general. Let me put it this way: if you expect to grow up and go to Harvard and become one of the world’s finest neurosurgeons, then you would find a philosophy degree from the Evergreen State College (and herbology, if you catch my drift) to be disappointing. However, if you came from a family that never had a college graduate, or one that simply celebrates the occasional high school graduation, then that degree all of sudden looks pretty promising.

Well, the same goes for sports. Fortunately for the Cougar football squad going into 2008, expectations are low. How low depends on who you ask, but after four consecutive seasons without a Bowl game its safe to say WSU fans aren’t exactly expecting a national championship in the upcoming year. Part of the reasoning for this lies with the free pass we tend to give first-year head coaches. This pass works well for any argument opposing fans can come up with to taunt you after your team loses. We lose an Apple Cup at home in ’08? The team is just adjusting to the coach. Lose in horrifying fashion to Portland State? Blame the new system and the fact that the players weren’t recruited by the current coach. For one year, we as fans can use the first-year coach pass to avoid virtually any smack talk from opposing fans.

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News and Notes 5/30

Posting has been a little light this week – combination of a slow news week and working on another Cougfan article.

Head on over to WSU Hoops for the most comprehensive info on walk-on recruit John Allen of Montlake Terrace. If he makes the 15-man roster, I believe that it all but assures Charlie Enquist of another season on scholarship. I’m leaving the scholarship chart as-is until we get some concrete info from the program, because walk-ons that don’t make the roster just end up on the practice squad (and therefore don’t affect the scholly chart). (Edit: I still would expect Allen to make the roster for this fall)

Cougar football cut ties with QB recruit Calvin Schmitdke, the Lakes High star who has been drawing some hype from people close to the school. It’s unfortunate, and probably related to the numerous, albeit minor, legal problems Schmitdke has come across recently.

Otherwise, if you’re looking for some reading to keep you occupied, check out one blogger’s quest for the ESPN.com “featured comment of the day”. Also, Bill Simmons has a blogspot blog as part of what appears to be a passive-aggressive quarrel with the Worldwide Leader in Sports. If baseball is more of you’re thing, it’s always entertaining to witness the meltdown on USS Mariner as the M’s work to avoid being the worst team in baseball. Bill Bavasi has to be toast at this point, right?