Youth is often served in the Pac-10, as the conference is known for putting the best athletes on the field during the season, regardless of age. It seems that the 2005 season will be no different with another talented group of incoming freshmen competing for serious playing time.
The 2005 Rivals100 list got a pat on the back Tuesday in Los Angeles when three incoming freshmen who were listed rated as five-star prospect by Rivals.com received high praise from players and coaches alike at the Pac-10 Media Day.
Nashville, Tenn., receiver Patrick Turner, the No. 2 rated prospect in the nation, drew kind words from none other than 2004 Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart.
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"We've got the big kid, Pat Turner coming in, and he's really good," said Leinart. "I'm going to leave it at that, but from what he's shown in the summer, we're going to expect a lot of him. He's a great kid, he's really smart and he wants to get better, and that's been obvious this summer."
California coach Jeff Tedford also has high expectations for his true freshman receiver, DeSean Jackson. Jackson was the 18th ranked prospect for the class of 2005 and the No. 3 receiver overall.
"DeSean Jackson is obviously one of the most talented players around," said Tedford. "He brings great speed to the field and has very good hands. I think Jackson may be one of the most polished young receivers to come out of high school that I've seen, and so I feel like he's going to play a major part in our offense very early."
Despite being behind a 1,000 yard running back in Terrence Whitehead, Oregon coach Mike Bellotti expects incoming freshman Jonathan Stewart to share a portion of load in the Ducks' backfield. Stewart is the No. 1 rated running back coming out of high school.
"I think Jonathan Stewart is going to be an excellent addition to our team, said Bellotti. "He's got tremendous speed, strength and explosiveness. I see him accompanying Terrance and being the best one-two punch in the history of this school."
Piling on Pac-10 games
Most of the coaches at the media day were excited at the prospect of playing every other team in the conference every season. Under the 12 games system which goes into effect for the 2006 season, the Pac-10 has decided to use the additional game as a conference contest.
Washington State's Bill Doba was a bit more skeptical of the system.
"Twelve games is stretching it a little bit," said Doba. "The thing we have to remember is that these guys are students. Some of them are 18, 19 years old and playing against guys that are 22 or 23.
"You get twelve games, you make it to a bowl game and that's thirteen. Then if they add playoffs and the next thing you know you've got 15 or 16 games. Some of our kids' bodies aren't mature enough to handle that much contact."
Doba added that's he is excited about the prospect of settling the conference championship on the field, however.
Stoops shifting his focus
Arizona coach Mike Stoops admitted to the press that he spent the majority of his time last season dealing with the Wildcats' defense. After all, after eight years as the defensive coordinator at Oklahoma and Kansas State, defense was what he knew best. But senior free safety Darrell Brooks has noticed a shift in Stoops' priorities.
"He's spending more time with the offense and giving the defensive staff more opportunity to show their capabilities," said Brooks. "He's transformed into more of a head coach, and it has been great to watch. He's matured with his new position."
At the media day, Stoops was the first to admit that his offense needed more attention this season.
"I felt myself giving a lot of commitment to the defense last year, making sure it was implemented the way we wanted it," said Stoops. "But I've switched some of my responsibilities this year so the offense feels my presence and is more aware of what we want to accomplish."
Koetter gets a laugh
When asked what caused Arizona State, a team which normally has very solid special teams, to play so poorly on punt coverage last season, coach Dirk Koetter took the moment to assume full responsibility.
"Poor head coaching is what caused us to rank 114th in the nation in punt coverage last year,' said Koetter. "So as a head coach, I've got to tell the players to try not to punt this year. Think we can make it the whole year without punting?"
And Koetter kept the jokes coming. "Our special teams coordinator would even tell me that we should go for it on fourth and twenty," he said. "We've got a lot of good fakes. Seriously though, we were horrible on punt coverage. It's something we're going to put a huge point of emphasis on this year."
Civil War in Oregon
Oregon State coach Mike Riley has seen his fair share of rivalries, and he thinks that the Northwest has one of the best.
"I've been involved in Alabama-Auburn and the UCLA-USC rivalries, and the Civil War is one of the great ones," said Riley. "In our state, you are on one side of the fence or the other."
Regardless of records and rankings, the Oregon State-Oregon contest almost always comes down to the wire. And since his Beavers have to travel to Eugene this year to visit the Ducks, he knows the chips are stacked against him.
"I think the home team has won the past ten years, they have held that advantage, but we will try to break through that this year."
Mad respect for USC
As expected, USC took the spotlight at the media day – even when Pete Carroll and Matt Leinart weren't on stage.
Questions came up for nearly every coach and player about the most dominant Pac-10 team, and every time the interviewees responded with respect for the Trojans.
Washington State coach Bill Doba answered with candor when asked about the USC game.
"Who wants to play them? That's what I want to know," said Doba. "Obviously, they're at the top – at the pedestal. They're used to winning and they expect to win."
Doba's star lineback Will Derting, for one, enjoyed watching USC beat Oklahoma in the national title game last season.
"We have competition during the year, but come bowl games we always root for Pac-10 teams," said Derting.
UCLA coach Karl Dorrell chimed in on the praise and added that USC has raised the bar for the Pac-10.
"USC is off and doing great things across town. But like any competitive person, you are looking to do great things yourself," said Dorrell. "If anything, this inspires me to be that much better at what I do. When you are on top, it's a great feeling. We've been there before and we will get there again."
Oregon State receiver Mike Hass respects the Trojans, but he doesn't buy into all the Pac-10 favorite hype.
"No one is invincible, everyone is beatable," said Hass. "They lost players, just like everybody else. There are teams in the conference that can knock them off and I wouldn't be surprised if it happens."
10 million reasons to leave
In one of the more lighthearted moments of the day, one reporter asked Matt Leinart if he ever thought about the potential $10 million dollars he passed up by staying at USC. Leinart joked, "I did, 10 million times."
He continued, "I did see what Alex Smith signed for, and it was a pretty cool number. But what're you going to do? I have no complaints with how it played out. I'm happy where I am and I have no regrets about coming back."