LOS ANGELES – Those edgy preseason media-poll results came to light Thursday, revealing obvious perceptions about the Pacific-10 Conference’s football pecking order.
Coach Pete Carroll and company at Southern California? Seven consecutive conference championships were probably enough of a tell-tale sign of how the voting would go, but the Trojans “slipped” – collecting 28 of the 32 first-place votes available. Of course, USC still was the runaway winner to claim the top spot.
The Washington schools? Awful and next-to-awful – the Huskies were picked ninth; WSU dead last.
Yet, the great thing about the conference media day and having all 10 Pac-10 coaches, their hand-picked player representatives and a horde of media members all in one hotel is that perceptions can be swayed.
Ask the coaches of the state schools, UW’s Steve Sarkisian and WSU’s Paul Wulff, and they’d tell you their programs, while not at the level of Southern California, California or even Stanford, are not that farremoved, from being contenders.
“The (poll results) bother me, no question, because it wasn’t that long ago it was the other way around,” Wulff said. “But it also means you have to get off your you-know-what and really get after it, and get ourselves going. We’re capable of doing that.”
Of course, all credit on how high the bar has been raised was given to Carroll’s Trojans, which in turn prompted the coach of the reigning Pac-10 champions to praise the conference.
“Year in and year out, without question, (Pac-10 games) are our most difficult games,” Carroll said. “I think it’s the best conference in the country, and we show it by the way we perform. ... It makes us so strong at the end of the year. It gets us ready to play in the bowl games.”
For Sarkisian, it was a return to the area where he coached for Southern California since 2005. He arrived early and spent an extra few days with family in nearby Torrance, including his parents, Seb and Sally.
“Been trying to turn a couple (USC) fans into Washington fans – my mom, first,” he said, chuckling.
And it was Sarkisian who, in his opening remarks at the podium, appeared the most upbeat about what he was doing at his school. He recently moved his family into a house in Bellevue, and relayed story of the rush he experiences coming across the Highway 520 bridge every day to work.
“I look at Husky Stadium, and make it a point to call somebody, whether it’s at 5:30 a.m. or 7,” Sarkisian said. “I remind myself, and them, what I’m doing.”
Later, amid a steady stream of reporters, especially those from the Los Angeles area he worked with for years, Sarkisian made sure to note that optimism wasn’t fabricated or misplaced.
“That’s just me. Not for a second did I come here to put on a front, or a face, for everybody,” Sarkisian said. “Sometimes, people are assuming, ‘Oh, it’s going to be USC North, or Pete Carroll North (at the UW).’ Really, I’m not trying to be Pete. I love Pete to death. He’s a great mentor to me, but ultimately I have to be Steve Sarkisian. When adversity strikes, the real me is coming out anyway, so I might as well be me from day one.”
And the state of his Huskies heading to the start of fall camp on Aug. 10?
“Taking this football program over, where we were at eight months ago, we are not the same football team,” Sarkisian said. “We look like a different football team.”
Hired almost a year earlier than Sarkisian, in December of 2007, Wulff thinks the worst of the rebuilding phase in Pullman is almost over. That doesn’t mean he’s ready to announce that the Cougars are ready to join the Pac-10 powerhouses.
“The weeding-out is still going on,” Wulff said. “By the end of next spring, after two complete seasons, we will probably be done with that portion of it. It’s a lot longer than people think. It takes time. I wish it didn’t, but that’s the way it works.”
The reigning Apple Cup champions have one mantra this season: Trust.
“We’ve come a long ways, we really have,” Wulff said. “People have to trust that this coaching staff is doing the right thing.”
Todd Milles: 253-597-8442