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Husky Football Blog

Times reporter Bob Condotta keeps the news coming about the Montlake Dawgs.

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July 23, 2008 10:32 PM

Official Husky blog picks

Posted by Bob Condotta

Wow, I'm overwhelmed by the response to the earlier post today to send in your Pac-10 picks.

So much so, I'm not sure I was able to tabulate every single one as they are still rolling in.

So consider this an unofficial tally, but one that I'm fairly confident captures the general consensus.

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

As should be expected, UW was picked higher here than it has been in every other poll I've seen, and probably higher than it will be when the official Pac-10 poll is released tomorrow (I'm expecting Washington to be eighth in that poll, ahead of Stanford and WSU).

But much of the rest of it is about how the rest of the world has called it, including what seems to be an earnest attempt to give Oregon its due --- the Ducks even got three first-place votes from people (though one from an admitted Ducks fan). Arizona State was the only other team to get a first-place vote, garnering two.

As has been the case with the, uh, pros who do this for a living, Arizona was the biggest enigma among those of you who posted. Arizona was slotted everywhere from second to 10th with everyone unsure exactly what to expect out of Mike Stoops' crew. Second seemed too high for me until I looked at UA's Pac-10 schedule again. The Wildcats have five home games and the four road contests are at UCLA, Stanford, Washington State and Oregon. Arizona could conceivably be favored to win three of those. But 10th may not be out of the realm either. Struggle early, and the bottom could fall out of that team.

Washington State and Stanford were near unanimous picks for the bottom two slots, though UCLA and Oregon State each got last-place votes, as well (I'm throwing out the seemingly non-serious votes that Oregon got for the bottom).

Speaking of the Ducks, after I released my poll this morning, a couple of you sent me questions about Oregon. Namely: why do I and others assume RB LeGarrette Blount will make a big splash for Oregon this year but don't have similarly high expectations for UW's incoming running backs; and why does everyone seem to think Oregon's secondary is so good when the Huskies scored 34 points on the Ducks last season?

First, on Blount. Consider his history: He was one of the top-rated RBs out of high school, signing with Auburn, but didn't make it in academically. He went to a JC in Mississippi where he had two big years and was then rated as the No. 1 JC RB (if not recruit) in the country. Then once at Oregon, he reportedly tore it up in spring ball. Point being, he's so far lived up to the hype at every turn and RB is one spot where JC guys can come in and dominate immediately. Frankly, he sounds like Corey Dillon, who might have had 2,000 yards in his one year at UW except he didn't arrive until August and then had to win the job from a pretty good back in Rashaan Shehee (who got injured early in the season). Everybody could be wrong, but JC RBs are generally one of the easiest to project. UW's backs just strike me and others as more unproven at the moment.

As for Oregon's secondary, no, the Ducks weren't the most statistically impressive group last season, ranking seventh in passing defense in the conference (which is based solely on yards allowed) and sixth in pass efficiency defense (a better stat encompassing yards, percentage, interceptions and touchdowns). But the hype is emanating from the fact that Oregon has three starters back, one of whom is potential All-American senior safety Patrick Chung and a pair of cornerbacks who each earned conference honorable mention last year.

UW did throw a couple of long TDs against Oregon last year, but Jake Locker also completed just 12-31 passes in that game. Stats can also be a little misleading --- Oregon gave up more than 300 passing yards only once last season, but that came in a game it won fairly handily (379 against ASU), which is common. Teams that fall behind always start throwing the ball all over the place, so winning teams often have lower pass defense ratings than maybe they deserve. Also, the Ducks play a style of defense that often leaves the corners on islands, and can result in a few big plays when things break down (as happened on the one long TD from Locker to Anthony Russo last year). A more conservative style would likely help the numbers a bit, but being able to rely on the secondary that way can help mask some problems elsewhere.

Mostly, observers are assuming a steady rate of improvement from the returnees, same as fans of any team expect that their starters from one year will be better the next. Not to say everyone viewing it this way won't be wrong, of course. We'll all begin to find out for sure come Aug. 30.

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July 23, 2008 7:28 PM

ACC to release official injury reports

Posted by Bob Condotta

I spotted this one a few days late, but here's an interesting story that the ACC plans to release official injury reports for all of its member schools twice a week this season.

Here's another story with even more detail, saying that the league will announce pending surgeries and season-ending injuries on Monday and then a status report for the weekend on Thursday based on the NFL's long-time standards of out, doubtful, questionable and probable.

This could be a good thing if everyone goes along with it, though the ACC says schools that don't comply won't be punished in any way (I've heard nothing to indicate the Pac-10 is considering anything like this).

Sounds like it was an idea of North Carolina State coach Tom O'Brien, who was a finalist for the UW job when he was at Boston College when it instead went to Tyrone Willingham, and he's to be applauded for trying something.

Injury updates are one of the biggest constant sources of friction between coaches --- most of whom want to keep that info as secret as possible (including Willingham); and reporters --- who mostly are trying to get the info at the behest of fans, who want to know who is playing that weekend.

Since there's never been any uniformity, each college sets its injury-update policy based coach. Guys like Arizona State's Dennis Erickson or USC's Pete Carroll have generally been pretty open about injuries, apparently figuring everyone is going to find out anyway. WSU has released official injury reports through its SID office the last few years.

Other schools, however, try to keep that info as hush-hush as possible, seeming to view keeping injuries quiet as a way to get a competitive edge (and in Willingham's case, it fits in with his close-to-the-vest manner about every topic).

The view of many coaches is typified in the quote in The Sporting News story by Virginia coach Al Groh saying he's in favor of the reports, but apparently only so he won't have to answer all those "stupid questions.''

It must be comforting for parents or relatives of Virginia's players to know that Groh views queries about the health of those players as "stupid.'' Wonder if he feels the same way when those parents or relatives ask him directly how their loved ones are doing? In essence, that's all we're doing --- asking the question for the thousands out there who don't have the same access we do but want to know, many of whom may be a high school coach or teacher of the player in question.

I can attest that whenever a player is injured, I gets tons of e-mails and questions asking how the player is doing, a good recent case in point being the Juan Garcia situation.

Reporters ask because fans want to know. And while coaches often want to publicly hold to the "next man up'' theory of simply moving on once a player is injured, it's not that simple for fans, who often grow emotionally attached to the players they watch --- they wouldn't pay all that money for tickets (money that helps pay the increasingly high salaries of Groh and his fellow coaches) if they didn't care so much.

Maybe standardized injury reports would at least end the song-and-dance between coaches and reporters, though if there's nothing compelling the coaches to comply, such reports might not carry much credibility.

And there will always be uncertainty --- listing a player as "questionable'' on Thursday wouldn't prevent that player from being able to play on Saturday. Still, it'll be interesting to see how this is received in the ACC and if it becomes a standard throughout college football.


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July 23, 2008 2:56 PM

Price talks about commitment

Posted by Bob Condotta

Keith Price, a quarterback from Bellflower, Calif., said he knew well that Washington didn't have a commitment for its recruiting class of 2009 until he gave Husky coaches the good word today, and that there is conjecture about the future of UW coach Tyrone Willingham.

"That was my main hesitation (in not commiting earlier),'' he said today when he spoke with the Times after having told UW coaches he plans to sign with the Huskies next February. But he said his some of his worries were calmed in conversations with Willingham.

"I have faith in coach Willingham and the program and that he's going to turn it around,'' Price said. "So that's why I gave him my commitment.''

Price said he found Willingham to be "a great motivator, a very upbeat guy'' in his conversations, which also helped convince him to become a Husky.

Price, a 6-2, 181-pounder who is a dual threat in the Dennis Dixon mold, said it had been a fairly short courtship with Washington. He said he hadn't heard anything from UW coaches until June, when first-year assistant Brian White saw his highlights.

"Then after that they were talking about offering me and I was like 'where did that come from?''' he said.

Price visited UW in late June, attending the school's football camp, which helped further cement interest in him from the Huskies. He said UW offensive coordinator Tim Lappano told him that none of the other QBs in the camp had the combination of throwing and running. "He said I was perfect for them,'' Price said. "He said after Jake (Locker) leaves and I redshirt my freshmen year I could be ready to go.''

Price said he was leaning toward commiting during that visit but wanted to do a little more research on the school and talk with his parents. He also recently got an offer from Utah (and had one from Nevada) and said more interest was beginning to come in --- Louisville had also begun to talk with him and he said he's also spoken with Oregon and WSU (though UW is his only listed Pac-10 offer).

"I wanted to stay on the West Coast and I wanted to stay in the Pac-10,'' he said. "I got some looks from Louisville and they really liked me, but I didn't really want to go back East. I wanted to stay on the West Coast. ... Washington, I'm already used to the offense. It's the same kind of offense my high school is running so I thought it would be a perfect fit.''

Price has been described as being an "under-the-radar'' type who was only now beginning to get a lot of attention. He said it's in part because last year was his first as a starting QB at his high school and the team concentrated on its running game before the leading rusher was hurt midway through the season, allowing him to throw the ball a bit more.

But he said he has been playing football since age 7 and quarterback since age 8, so he's hardly a novice to the position.

He also plays basketball and ran one season of track.

Price said he hopes his commitment will help spur more recruits to cast their lot with UW. He said he had already spoken with receiver Kirby Moore of Prosser. He got to know Moore at the UW camp a few weeks ago.

"He's texting me right now saying he heard about it and congratulations,'' Price said. "I'm trying to get him up there. When I was at the camps I felt like I'd been with him forever becacuse he was catching everything I threw at him.''

Price said he has put on a few pounds and now weighs 181 and hopes to be 185-188 by next fall.

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July 23, 2008 12:54 PM

Do Huskies have their first commit?

Posted by Bob Condotta

The answer is yes, according to RealDawg.com, which is reporting today that UW has received a commitment from quarterback Keith Price of Bellflower, Calif. UPDATE --- Scout.com now has a report on Price as well, with a quote from Price saying he has committed to UW.

Here is his Scout.com bio indicating he also had offers from Utah and Nevada.

Here also is a little blurb on Price from the Orange County Register, as well as a breakdown of his game from Recruiting Planet. And here's another story on Price from Yahoo.com.

As noted in this story last week, the Huskies had been the only Pac-10 team without a commitment. Given that Pac-10 media day is tomorrow in Los Angeles, this news couldn't come at a better time.

Price is quoted in the RealDawg story saying he "had a great time'' at UW's camp earlier this month and thought about committing then but held off because he wanted to talk with family.

Price gives UW another QB in the "dual-threat'' mode, and would give them five for next season, assuming status quo with the current roster. UW's starter is obviously Jake Locker, with redshirt freshmen Ronnie Fouch behind him, and then true freshmen Dominique Blackman and Luther Leonard.

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July 23, 2008 9:37 AM

Poll time

Posted by Bob Condotta

The Pac-10 media poll will be out by this time tomorrow, so time for me to unveil mine --- as well as provide a space for you to present yours, as well.

In fact, one reader had a good idea after reading the link the other day from the Spokesman-Review, where Cougar fans almost unanimously had the Huskies last. He said I should solicit the views of UW fans to see how they think the Pac-10 will do, thinking Husky fans might see the league a little more fairly. So go ahead and give me yours below and I'll tally them up and provide a consensus.

As for my poll, faithfully submitted to the Pac-10 home office a few days ago, here it is:

1, USC --- Really just no other team makes sense to put here, boring as it is to pencil in the Trojans every season (though I'm told at least one person in the Pac-10 poll has voted for someone else). USC has some questions on offense, but the defense should be all-world, and that should be enough to win the Pac-10 again, though I envision another stumble somewhere along the way in conference play.

2, Oregon --- Sorry UW fans. But hey, I heard even Dave Mahler say he had put Oregon here in his poll the other day. The Ducks admittedly have a QB issue, but I don't think they have a lot of others. The RB spot should be just fine with the platoon of Jeremiah Johnson and LeGarrette Blount, the O-line will be one of the best in the conference as should the secondary, and the front seven should also be solid --- it's nothing but juniors and seniors who have all played a lot. And for those who say Oregon's offense fell apart last year after Dennis Dixon got hurt, I'll point out it scored 87 points in its last two games against two bowl games --- OSU and South Florida. This is a coaching staff that has shown it can adapt to its personnel well. I do see Oregon losing a few games --- I think there's a pretty big gap from USC to everyone else --- but assuming a QB is found who is at least serviceable, I don't see a huge dropff in the Ducks.

3, Arizona State --- My biggest trepidation in putting ASU here is the offensive line, which was bad last year and essentially loses four starters. But Dennis Erickson is also one of the best I've ever seen at adjusting to his personnel, and after getting an in-action view of this unit last season, I think he'll have done some things to make it better. Rudy Carpenter gives ASU the Pac-10's most experienced QB, the receivers are great, and the defense should also be pretty dynamic. Going to Cal and USC on consecutive weeks in October will tell the tale on the Devils.

4, Cal --- Sure, the Bears folded a bit at the end of last season --- though I'd resist a little bit the notion that they do it every year. But they also rallied to win their bowl game, and Jeff Tedford then made some pretty significant changes to his coaching staff after a disappointing 7-6 season. There do seem to be some holes here --- not a lot of experience at RB, none at all at WR, and while a lot of the defense is back, it wasn't very good last season. But injuries also played a role in what happened to Cal last season and the Bears have recruited well of late. The O-line could be dominating, to help make up for some of the offensive inexpererience, and the defense can't help but be better.

5, Arizona --- Here's where picking the Pac this year really gets challenging. I think Arizona could be picked anywhere from fourth to ninth. Arizona has tended to underperform the last few years,and has some significant holes to fill on defense. But the offense could be one of the best around after finally settling in late last season, and it was something of a hard-luck year for the Wildcats last season --- they lost four games by seven points or less, three by three points or less. The heat is on Mike Stoops, but he has the schedule to make it work, with Idaho, Toledo and at New Mexico to start, then games at UCLA, home to UW and at Stanford to begin Pac-10 play. A 6-0 record isn't out of the question and anything less than 4-2 and Stoops will be all but fired by mid-October. Here's thinking Arizona will finally get over the hump and save Stoops.

6, Oregon State --- The Beavers are another enigma, having lost a lot off of last year's team, but also with a track record of recent success. But a lot of the losses are on defense --- just three starters officially return. And one thing that gets lost is that OSU tends to rotate players quite a bit on defense, meaning a lot of the new guys have played quite a bit, particularly the linebackers. I know the feeling in Corvallis is that the dropoff won't be what everyone assumes on that side of the ball just because of the lack of starting experience. The offense was a struggle at times last year, but OSU returns seven starters from a unit that averaged 35 points in its last four games. Mike Riley always seems to figure out a way to keep the Beavers afloat.

7, Washington --- As a beat writer for a team, you sometimes worry that you are almost too close to the situation to make adequate comparisons with teams on the outside, one reason I like hearing the viewpoints from elsewhere. When things are going bad, for instance, you can forget everyone else has injuries or defections, as well. Conversely, when you hear about all the excitement over new players, it's easy to forget that everyone else thinks all of their new guys are really good, as well. So in trying to find a middle ground on the Huskies, I've settled here. The defense has to be better, and Jake Locker gives the Huskies a puncher's chance in every game they play. But the lack of experience at RB, WR and DL can't be ignored. I think the D-line is the biggest issue heading into the first few games as I can envision teams like Oregon just trying to ram it down UW's throat, a strategy that on paper would appear to work. Depth in a lot of spots also has to raise some concerns, and in 12-game college seasons, it's bound to come up. What happens if Locker gets hurt, even for a game or two? Or one or two more of the O-linemen? And the much-discussed schedule obviously won't make it easy to build early momentum. That said, I do like the O-line and the fact that Locker in year two should be a lot more consistent, and if the defense shows the expected improvement, a few more wins will come. But against that schedule, just hard to see enough to move UW much past this spot.

8, UCLA --- Certainly a new way for Rick Neuheisel to take over a college team. At Colorado and UW, he inherited fairly veteran teams and provided a complete change in approach that worked fabulously in the short term. He doesn't get that here as the Bruins officially have just nine returning starters and are battling personnel issues all over the place. One thing the Bruins have going for them will be the low expectations --- UCLA is often accused of underperforming, something that won't likely happen this year. And this is still UCLA, where the recruiting classes are always pretty good, meaning a lot of the new faces might turn out to be pretty good. The defensive front seven could be particularly good, and if the Bruins can find a running game, maybe the Bruins can turn into a ball-control type team. The key will be a three-game home stretch early featuring games against Arizona, Fresno State and WSU.

9, Stanford --- There are actually a lot of things I like about Stanford, particularly nine returning starters on a defense that quietly got a lot better as last year went on (with the stats sometimes not showing it due to an anemic offense that kept the defense on the field too long). Stanford could also have a pretty good O-line --- four players who have at least nine starts return. But the QB situation is uncertain, there aren't a lot of proven offensive playmakers, and this is still a team that needs to learn to win. Stanford could also be 0-2 in Pac-10 play before many teams even play one game, opening at home against Oregon State and then at ASU. Still, I wouldn't be shocked if Stanford finished higher than this.

10, Washington State --- The general word on the Cougars is pretty good front-line talent, maybe better than everyone thinks. But it's pretty scary after that, and with 13 games and just one bye, depth is bound to become an issue at some point. It's also hard to know how Paul Wulff's no-huddle offense will take in the Pac-10, though the early vibe on everything else Wulff-related seems pretty positive. You could make a case for picking WSU a little higher if the QB were proven. But he's not, so for now, the Cougars are looking up.

So there are my picks. Now give me yours and we'll add them up.

Later, I'll also compare how I picked them the last few years with how things actually turned out.


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