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Media day-Washington

In the coming days I will be providing tidbits from each team’s appearance at last week’s Pac-10 media day.

Much of the discourse about Washington was about its schedule. Many have the Huskies’ schedule rated as the toughest in the country. They open at Syracuse, then come home to face Boise State and Ohio State. Their Pac-10 opener is at UCLA. And a season-ending road contest at Hawaii won’t be easy.

“The conference plays one of the most demanding schedules, and I think we have all of them on our schedule,” Washington coach Tyrone Willingham said. “The challenge for us is to be prepared to play probably one of the toughest, if not the toughest, schedule in the country. We don’t think there is anyone that has a tougher start. We also think our conference schedule is pretty difficult.”

This season also will mark the beginning of the Jake Locker era. Locker was a highly regarded recruit coming out of Ferndale, WA and big things are expected of him now that Isaiah Stanback has moved on to the NFL.

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Pac-10 check-in

I will spend the coming days providing some highlights from today’s Pac-10 media day in Los Angeles. Here are a few before I wrap up a long day:

–A reporter asked Cal’s DeSean Jackson if he still stands by his comment after last season’s Holiday Bowl that the Bears will win the national championship this season. His answer was an emphatic yes.

–Cal coach Jeff Tedford expressed optimism that his young group of defensive backs can do the job. He acknowledged their inexperience but stressed their talent level and potential. The Bears have to replace cornerback Daymeion Hughes, who was last year’s Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year. Robert Peele and Darian Hagan are the frontrunners.

–Tedford said one of the team’s uncertanties is finding quality backups to starting running back Justin Forsett. The Bears had the luxury of having Forsett back up Marshawn Lynch the past couple of seasons. Whoever ends up getting snaps behind Forsett will be inexperienced, albeit talented. James Montgomery figures to be the leading candidate to supplement Forsett’s rushing production.

–A couple of the best moments of the day involved Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh and USC coach Pete Carroll. A reporter jokingly asked Harbaugh if he had any update on Carroll’s future at USC, a reference to Harbaugh’s controversial comment that Carroll was leaving after this season. “That ground has been plowed,” Harbaugh said. When Carroll was asked later for a reaction to Harbaugh’s comment that this year’s USC team “may be the best in the history of college football”, Carroll said: “You gotta love Jim, don’t you?… Thanks, Jim.”

–As they took the podium one by one, it hit me that the Pac-10 has a bunch of rock stars as coaches. Dennis Erickson is in the conference once again, and Carroll and Tedford are two of the biggest names in college football. Tyrone Willingham is a former Notre Dame coach, and that immediately gives him visibility, and Harbaugh is well-known from his playing days.

–Arizona coach Mike Stoops repeatedly lamented his team’s inconsistency as the reason why his program isn’t better. Hmm. Isn’t the coach ultimately responsible for such a shortcoming?

If you haven’t seen it yet, Cal was picked to finish second for the fourth straight year in the media preseason poll. USC was a unanimous choice. The consensus among the coaches was the Trojans are clearly superior but the rest of the conference should be ultra-competitive.

That’s it for now. I’ll have much more in the days to come.

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And we begin…

Tomorrow marks the unoffical beginning of the football season for me. It’s Pac-10 media day in Los Angeles. I will be there, along with the coaches of all 10 teams and a star player from each team. One of the highlights will be the release of the preseason media poll. Will USC be a unanimous pick to win the conference title? It will be interesting to see if Cal is picked second or third (I picked the Bears second).

I should stumble across a lot of good stuff and will be sure to share it with you all. I’ll check in when the festivities are complete.

Just for those who may have lost track of time, the beginning of fall camp is less than two weeks away! First practice is on Aug. 6. The Bears will practice every day except Aug. 24 They will have five double-day sessions.

One loose end in case you missed it: Tight end Craig Stevens was named to the Mackey Award watch list. The award is given annualy to the nation’s top tight end. Other Pac-10 tight ends to make the list are USC’s Fred Davis and UCLA’s Logan Paulsen. There are 31 players on the list.

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Pac-10/bowls

Just a quick note from the Pac-10. The conference has signed an agreement to add the Poinsettia Bowl and the Hawaii Bowl to its postseason arrangements. The contract is for the 2008 and 2009 seasons. The Pac-10′s sixth place team will play in the Hawaii Bowl and the seventh-place team will play in the Poinsettia Bowl in 2008. Then they will swap in 2009 and No. 6 will go to San Diego for the Poinsettia Bowl and No. 7 to the Hawaii Bowl.

Of course, Cal fans hope they never have to pay attention to this because that will have meant something has gone horribly wrong.

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Heisman talk

I’m sure many of you by now know that Cal’s athletic department has launched a web site to promote wide receiver/kick returner DeSean Jackson for the Heisman Trophy. History says Jackson will need all the promoting he can get.

In the history of the award, only two wide receivers have ever won — Tim Brown in 1987 and Desmond Howard in 1991. Of course, the one thing Jackson has going for him is his explosiveness as a kick returner, something that helped Howard win the award (of course, this also raises one of the compelling questions going into the season — why in the world would anyone ever kick to Jackson?)

Jackson may be the most exciting player in college football this season, but that may not be enough to get him the Heisman. The funny thing is quarterback Nate Longshore may be the more practical candidate. Quarterbacks have won the Heisman 26 times, including six out of the last seven seasons. Longshore figures to put up some gawdy numbers this season. He also figures to be overshadowed by USC quarterback John David Booty.

The link to the Jackson website: http://www.the1towatch.com

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2007 Pac-10

Well, folks. I submitted my Pac-10 predictions to the conference office. The media preseason poll will be announced at Pac-10 media day on July 26. I thought I would share my picks with you, and you can proceed to rip them all you want. Here goes:

1. USC. Not much to go over here. Some think this might be the best Trojans team ever. On paper, it certainly looks as though they are deeper than ever before at so many positions. The only good news for their opponents is they can only play 11 of them at one time.

2. Cal. The Bears have questions about their defense, but they’ve had questions before and come through. If Cal can get respectable defensive play, its offense should be good enough to carry them to an elite level. The season-opener against Tennessee may go a long way toward setting the tone for what kind of season this may be.

3. UCLA. The Bruins are getting a lot of love from the prognosticators because they have 20 starters returning. But experience doesn’t always guarantee success. Let’s not forget that UCLA was only 7-6 last season and was beaten handily by Florida State in the Emerald Bowl. Still, they won three of their last four, including an upset of USC that knocked the Trojans out of the national championship picture. The big question for UCLA: Can its offense catch up to its defense?

4. Oregon State. It seems many tend to forget the Beavers finished last season ranked No. 21 in the final AP top 25. They have 18 starters returning to a team that went 8-1 during its final nine games. Unfortunately, one of those starters is not the quarterback. If likely starter Sean Canfield can produce, it should be another good season in Corvallis.

5. Arizona State. This is where things get a bit dicey. Arizona State and Oregon appear to be the next two best teams, and the Sun Devils get the edge, partly because of their schedule. Arizona St. gets USC and Cal at home and one of its road games is at Stanford. The Sun Devils also begin the season with four straight home games, which should do wonders for their confidence.

6. Oregon. Big things were expected of the Ducks last season but they disappointed with a 7-6 record, including four losses in a row to end the season. Oregon still has offensive firepower with quarterback Dennis Dixon and running back Jonathan Stewart. An early nonconference showdown at Michigan will be a stern test.

7. Arizona. Coach Mike Stoops may start feeling the heat if the Wildcats don’t break through in his fourth year. Arizona had an impressive defense last season and Stoops brought in spread offense guru Sonny Dykes as offensive coordinator. If Arizona doesn’t get much out of talented quarterback Willie Tuitama, Stoops may be out of a job.

8. Washington. Even though they had a six-game losing streak before beating Washington State in their season-finale, the Huskies showed signs last year that they are starting to turn the corner. Two of their losses during the streak — at Cal and against Arizona State — came in overtime. They also lost a close game at UCLA. Washington has talent, including new quarterback Jake Locker, who could become a star if he gets any help.

9. Washington State. Trivia question: Who ranks second among the country’s active quarterbacks in touchdown passes? That’s right, WSU’s Alex Brink with 50. The four-year starter has been a pretty good kept secret in Pullman. Unfortunately, for him, he won’t have playmaker Jason Hill around anymore. Hill was drafted in the third round by the 49ers.

10. Stanford. New coach Jim Harbaugh talks a good game. It doesn’t appear the Cardinal has the ammunition to back him up. Harbaugh has a huge task ahead of him, and he will have to prove he can succesfully recruit to Stanford before any judgement is passed. For now, only a minor improvement from last year’s 1-11 record can be expected.

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NBA summer league

Through three games of the Vegas summer league, Leon Powe is Boston’s leading scorer (16.3 ppg) and rebounder (8.7 rpg). Last night, Powe had 23 points and 12 rebounds as the Celtics routed Team China. Powe thoroughly outplayed China’s Yi Jianlian, this year’s No. 6 overall draft pick to the Milwaukee Bucks. Yi had seven points, five rebounds and eight fouls in 22 minutes.
It will be interesting to see how the Celtics’ roster shakes down as the summer progresses. Powe got a lot of playing time near the end of last season, but some of that was because Boston was hit hard by injuries. Still, Powe made an impression on Celtics management and appears to solidly be in their plans. But Boston also drafted Glen Davis out of LSU with its second-round pick, which could give the team a bigger logjam inside.

An update on Ayinde Ubaka, who is playing for the Charlotte Bobcats: He has played 18 minutes in three games, with two points and one assist. Ubaka missed Tuesday’s game against Chicago with a sprained left ankle.

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Ayinde update

For those who didn’t see it, Ayinde Ubaka scored two points in five minutes in his summer league debut Monday night. Ubaka is playing for the Charlotte Bobcats in the summer league in Orlando. The Bobcats play again tonight, against the Chicago Bulls.

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Back on duty

Hey everybody. Just checking in after a two-week vacation. We now find ourselves less than a month away from the beginning of fall practice. I’m getting more and more excited for my first year on the football beat as it gets closer and closer. In a little over two weeks, it will be Pac-10 media day in Los Angeles where, among other things, the media preseason poll will be announced. I will be voting soon and will share my choices with you.

A couple of thoughts about things that went down while I was away:

–After seeing the results of the NBA draft, I think it validated DeVon Hardin’s decision to stay in school. The draft was so deep, and six post players went among the top ten selections. Two others went in the first round. The draft won’t be as deep next season, and Hardin will have one more chance to prove he is NBA-ready. That could substantially increase his stock in 2008.

–It was nice to see Ayinde Ubaka get picked up for the Charlotte Bobcats’ summer league team. Ayinde is a nice young man who stuck it out through some hard times at Cal. It’s doubtful he will be on an NBA roster next season, but he certainly could play elsewhere if he chooses to do so.