Pac-12: Jeffrey Solomon
That has many believing third-year coach Paul Wulff is on the hot seat, even though it's been widely acknowledged that he was handed a monumental rebuilding job in 2008 when he returned to his alma mater from Eastern Washington.
The expectations outside the program aren't just low: Many tweak the Cougars as among the worst BCS programs in the nation.
What does he keep saying? "We're going to surprise some people."
The Cougars face a tough opener at Oklahoma State on Sept. 4, so it seemed like a good time to check in and see how the rebuilding is going on the Palouse.
The pundits have you guys pegged at 10th in the conference: How do you deal with that negative outlook when you address your team?
Paul Wulff: A lot of that is based on what happened in past years. It's a new year. We're a new team and we've changed a lot. The players know we've worked hard and we know we are getting better. The people predicting don't know what's happening in the offseason. But it is what it is. We probably deserve to be picked there. I don't know if that's a surprise. It doesn't mean that's where we're going to end up. We sure don't think so. We'll keep working hard. And we believe we will be able to put ourselves in position to surprise a lot of people and win a lot of ballgames and take that step to a bowl game.
I know we've talked about this before and I know you are tired of the topic but there's a general perception that you are on the proverbial coaching hot seat: What's your feeling on that perception?
PW: My feeling again is that's a natural thing for people on the outside that don't understand the situation to think when you have a major rebuilding job. It's never pretty. You go back to Mack Brown, who was 1-10 his first two years at North Carolina. There are a lot of examples: Randy Edsall and Connecticut. We [Eastern Washington] actually beat them as a I-AA school in 2001. We went back there and beat them. We've had to build something here, and like John Wooden says 'good things take time.' We're trying to build something special for the long haul. We're not trying to bring in a bunch of transfers and JC kids to try to win a few games one year. I'm not here to do that. I'm here to build a program that can compete for the Pac-10 title and be in the Rose Bowl and win one and put ourselves in position for a national title. Those programs in those situations didn't get there in one night. It's a five- to six-year building process. You've got to climb a ladder. I care about this university because it is my school. I came here to do that. If I have to take the bullets, as [former WSU basketball coach] Dick Bennett told me I would, I'm just going to have to do that. He was a guy who knew the situation. So I'm doing it and I'll continue to do it. But it's going to turn and when we turn we're going to be an awfully good football team.
On the football side of things: What is better about QB Jeff Tuel in Year 2 after he was forced into action as a true freshman?
PW: His comfort level with the offense and comfort level with some of the players who he's had the offseason to work with. There's a little better continuity there. He's making better decisions, he stronger. Things are happening at a quicker pace for him in his own brain. Obviously that helps our offense. We think highly of Jeff, but he's still got to prove lot of things in ballgames on a consistent basis. But there's no question in practice we see flashes of some really great things.
Where are some prime areas of competition on your team that have yet to be resolved?
PW: Running back is definitely one. We feel like a lot of guys are battling in there. We're hoping two or three really emerge come game day. Because we've got a lot of guys, no one has gotten a tremendous amount of reps. We're hoping that kind of sorts itself out in the first few games. At wide receiver, we're still battling through there, getting a lot of guys time, trying to see who's going to make the plays when the games are live. But we like the young nucleus we have. We think we have a couple special ones that are going to great players here the next four years.
The comeback of James Montgomery is pretty cool: How is he doing?
PW: He's doing great. I think it's got be one of the best stories in the country to do what he's done. He didn't just battle compartment syndrome. He battled a knee surgery that was a pretty extensive one. To do both and to come back and to perform where he is right now is impressive. He's not 100 percent, not in shape and as crisp, as sharp, as he's going to be. We're hoping by the time he gets to Game 3 or Game 4, he'll have caught back up with all that. But where he is today, he's a very good player. He's going to play and be our starter in the opening game and were hoping he progresses from there.
Who are your playmakers in the passing game?
PW: I think Jared Karstetter will be back -- there's no question we can rely on him. We're taking a hard look at Marquess Wilson, a true freshman. He's as dynamic a true freshman receiver as I've been around. Even coach [Mike] Levenseller, who's been here for 19 years, thinks Marquess is a special talent. I think Isaiah Barton and Gino Simone, our slot receivers, will make a difference, along with Jeffrey Solomon and Daniel Blackledge. Those guys will be good players for us. I'm excited to see how they will perform for us.
What have you seen out of your offensive line this spring? How close are they to breaking through as a quality unit?
PW: They're close. Coach [Steve Morton] has done a great job melding those guys together. We're getting better, no question. I'm excited. I think we have some raw talent. It's a relatively young unit -- we really have two seniors who will be contributors on a consistent basis. We have 15 others who are younger. If we can stay healthy there, we're going to surprise a lot of people with our production on the offensive front.
Let's look at defense: How are things stacking up at linebacker?
PW: The thing that's hurting us is two players who aren't playing this fall, who we have high hopes for, and that's Louis Bland, who we're going to redshirt, and Andre Barrington, a redshirt freshman for us, who is academically ineligible this fall. But I do like Alex Hoffman and Myron Beck, those guys have done well. Mike Ledgerwood, Hallston Higgins, Arthur Burns and CJ Mizell -- he's come along. We feel like we've got some makings there. It's a young unit from an experience standpoint, but I like our speed there. If we can stay healthy, it will be a big improvement from where we've been.
And the defensive line: Has tackle Brandon Rankin continued to impress?
PW: He has. He's a good player. He has a chance to show a lot of people what he's all about this fall. He's already doing things in practice that make it pretty obvious. We need him to have a big year. I think he's going to do extremely well. Bernard Wolfgramm is back and it's the first time he's healthy for us. Those two at defensive tackle are probably as athletic at pass rushing as we've had here in years. They will be quality pass-rushing D-tackles that you don't get a lot. They are not just pluggers, they're fairly active guys. I'm very encouraged about those two guys.
You guys are pretty salty on the defensive line. There's four pretty good players.
PW: I think our front four is right up there right now with most people in the Pac-10. We got two fifth-year seniors and a fourth-year junior in Brandon Rankin and a second-year kid, an excellent player, in end Travis Long. It's our most experienced group on our football team. It's probably the best unit we have right now. It goes back to having fifth- and fourth-year players in your program. When you have that consistently throughout, you have a chance to be pretty salty. Right now, if those guys can stay healthy, they give us the most experienced group on our football team.
Finally, the secondary: It sounds like there's some depth back there.
PW: It's been good -- good, healthy competition. It's a young, young group, but there's some really good football players. We've kind of been hit a little bit over the last couple of days with the injury bug. LeAndre Daniels is going to battle a neck issue that we're still working through. We don't know that he'll be healthy at safety. Nolan Washington has been a little nicked up with his hip at cornerback. If those guys can come back, I'm not sure, but I like our talent there. It's a young and green group but we have some kids who can run for the first time in a while. We need to stay relatively healthy because we're youthful back there. I like the group. Our team speed on defense is far and away faster than we've been. I think people are going to notice that pretty quickly.
What is your expectation for this team: What would be a successful season?
PW: I don't want to put any limitations on them. These guys have trained so hard since the end of last season. They've done everything right to get better. We finally got the culture changed to what we expect. So when you work that hard, I refuse to put a limitation on what they are capable of doing. Right now we truly are trying to take it just one game at a time. But we're going to break this thing up into four segments. We've got 12 games, with three games in each quarter. We're going to take it one quarter at a time. We're going to block it like that, and move our way up the chain. I think this team is capable of surprising a lot of football teams, a lot of people out there. I really believe people are going to see a much improved team from what you saw last year. How many wins that's going to equate to, I'm really not sure. It just depends on a few breaks here and there and staying healthy at the right spots.
Some of these are proven veterans. And some are new guys we just have a feeling about.
Arizona: WR Juron Criner
Criner led the Wildcats receivers with 12.9 yards per catch and nine TDs, which tied for first in the conference. He's got good size -- 6-foot-4 -- so he can go and get a jump ball and he's athletic enough that he ran a handful of fly sweeps in 2009.
Arizona State: RB Deantre Lewis
Lewis is a true freshman, but you keep reading things like this about him in news reports: "Deantre Lewis continues to make defenders miss in a way that not many of his teammates can." The Sun Devils seem to have a better-than-you'd-think collection of skill players, but Lewis sounds like a guy that can make things happen on his own.
He's accumulated 19 TDs over the previous two seasons as a backup. He can run with speed (see an 81-yard TD vs. Michigan State in 2008 and 61-yard TD vs. Arizona in 2009) or power (see 42 carries for 193 yards in the win over Stanford last year). Vereen is as good an all-around player -- running, receiving, return game -- as you'll find outside of Corvallis.
Oregon: RBs LaMichael James & Kenjon Barner
These two might form the nation's fastest backfield tandem. James led the nation last year with 21 carries over 20 yards, including four over 50. Barner had 420 all-purpose yards over his final two games and set a single-season school record with 1,020 yards in kickoff returns.
Oregon State: WR James Rodgers
Rodgers ranked seventh in the nation and No. 1 in the Pac-10 in all-purpose yards with 179.1 yards per game. He led the Pac-10 with 1,034 yards receiving and 91 receptions with nine touchdowns. He also rushed for 346 yards and ranked third in the conference with an average of 11.6 yards per punt return.
Stanford: WR Chris Owusu
The speedy Owusu ranked fifth in the nation with a 31.5-yard average on kickoff returns, including three taken to the house for TDs. He led the Stanford with 18.4 yards per catch, the highest average among Pac-10 receivers with 10 or more receptions.
UCLA: WR Josh Smith
If Smith can stay healthy -- a big "if" so far since he transferred from Colorado -- he is going to be a playmaker on special teams returning punts and as a receiver. He returned a punt for a 60-yard TD Wednesday, inspiring a fan to shout "don't get hurt," according to the Orange County Register.
USC: WR Ronald Johnson
Johnson's 2009 season was mostly ruined after he broke his collarbone, but his 12 career touchdown receptions average 26.3 yards. He's probably the most dangerous deep-threat receiver in the Pac-10
Washington: WR Jermaine Kearse
Among the Pac-10's top-10 receivers in 2009, Kearse's 17.3 yards per reception ranked No. 1. His eight TDs tied for second. He figures to be Jake Locker's No. 1 target this fall.
Washington State: Marquess Wilson
Wilson is a true freshman who has made numerous plays in preseason camp. He's not a burner -- Jeffrey Solomon is probably the Cougs fastest receiver -- but his 6-foot-3 frame allows him to go up and get the ball over smaller defensive backs.
- The Cougars are much healthier this spring than last: 24 players missed offseason workouts last year. This year, just four will sit out spring practices: running back James Montgomery (knee, calf), defensive tackle Josh Luapo (knee), linebacker Louis Bland (knee) and cornerback Anthony Houston (knee).
- As for Montgomery, he had knee surgery in addition to his scary episode with "acute compartment syndrome" with his calf. Wulff said he won't be cleared to start full-speed running until June. As for the depth at running back Wulff listed Marcus Richmond, Chantz Staden, Logwone Mitz, Carl Winston and Leon Brooks, a walk-on who's made a positive impression.
- Wulff said there's no hope for receiver Johnny Forzani returning to the program: "He's going to try to play in the CFL." The Cougars have four receivers back who caught at least 20 passes: Jared Karstetter, Gino Simone, Jeffrey Solomon and Daniel Blackledge. Wulff said he expects JC transfer Isiah Barton and perhaps a couple of the four incoming freshmen receivers to contribute, most particularly Marquess Wilson. "Most everybody in the Pac-10 was trying to go on him," Wulff said. "He's a big-time, big-time player."
- Offensive lineman Brian Danaher, a 12-game starter over the past three seasons, won't be back because of recurrent concussions.
- Starting defensive tackle Toby Turpin's status is questionable due to an academic dispute, which Wulff said should be resolved -- positively or negatively -- within the next week or two. Turpin will be allowed to practice until his case is resolved.
- Wulff, perhaps surprisingly, said he believes the offensive line will be the strength off the offense. Andrew Roxas, who missed all of last season due to illness, will step in to fill the void at center due to the departure of stalwart Kenny Alfred. B.J. Guerra, Zack Williams and Steven Ayers will compete at guard. At tackle, two JC transfers will be in the mix this spring -- David Gonzales and Wade Jacobson -- along with Micah Hannam, Tyson Pencer and Alex Reitnouer. Wulff also said the he thinks incoming true freshman John Fullington might be ready to immediately contribute. "I think he was one of the best [high school] offensive linemen in the country," he said.
- Tight end Zach Tatman was granted a sixth year of eligibility, which means the Cougs will have three experienced tight ends with Skylar Stormo and Andrei Lintz.
- Redshirt freshman Sekope Kaufusi will see time as a hybrid outside linebacker-defensive end. Wulff said he's been impressed by redshirt freshman end Jordan Pu'u Robinson during the off-season.
- Touted JC transfer Brandon Rankin -- he was offered a scholarship by Alabama -- will play both end and tackle.
- Defensive tackle Bernard Wolfgramm continues to struggle with back problems, but Wulff said he was "moving around and participating in drills better since his back surgery. So that's promising." Still, it's likely his action will be limited this spring.
- Depth at defensive tackle is a question, but sophomore Dan Spitz, who started five games at tackle and end last year, redshirt freshman Justin Clayton and sophomore Anthony Laurenzi are promising prospects.
- Wulff said the defense will be much faster at linebacker. When he's healthy in the fall, Bland will move to middle linebacker. Mike Ledgerwood also is a top candidate in the middle, along with redshirt freshman Darren Markle. Alex Hoffman-Ellis will move from middle to weakside linebacker. Arthur Burns will move from running back to "Will" linebacker. Myron Beck and Andre Barrington will man the strongside. Incoming recruit C.J. Mizell also could be in the mix.
- The secondary, hit hard by injuries a year ago, should be much improved with LeAndre Daniels, Tyree Toomer, Chima Nwachukwu, Jay Matthews and redshirt freshman Anthony Carpenter, Casey Locker -- Jake's cousin -- and Jamal Atofau competing at safety and Daniel Simmons, Aire Justin, Terrance Hayward and promising redshirt freshman Nolan Washington at corner.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Based on news reports and this this useful Web site: The latest on injuries heading into week one.
TE Rob Gronkowski, back, questionable
OG Vaughn Dotsy, finger, probable
WR Delashaun Dean, hamstring, probable
OT Tom Njunge, biceps, questionable
C Garth Gerhart, toe, questionable
C Thomas Altieri, concussion, probable
OG Zach Schlink, knee, out
DT Lawrence Guy, biceps, probable
DE James Brooks, suspension, out
RB Jahvid Best, toe, probable
TE Tad Smith, knee, out
OT Mitchell Schwartz, leg, probable
S Marcus Ezeff, ankle, questionable
WR Michael Calvin, knee, probable
LB Robert Mullins, knee, out
TE Skylar Curran, ankle, probable
WR Rory Cavaille, shoulder, out,
OT Bo Thran, knee, questionable
WR Darrell Catchings, wrist, out
WR Markus Wheaton, NCAA Clearinghouse, questionable
WR Geno Munoz, abdominal, questionable
QB Lyle Moevao, shoulder, out
RB Ryan McCants, knee, out
CB Brandon Hardin, leg, out
OT Timi Oshinowo, knee, out
LB Tony Wilson, knee, out
S Josh LaGrone, knee, out
S Lance Mitchell, hamstring, probable
OT Allen Smith, knee, out
S Taylor Skaufel, knee, out
OT Chris Marinelli, shoulder, probable
LB Alex Debniak, knee, out
OG Micah Kia, knee, out
OL Nick Ekbatani, knee, out
DE Reginald Stokes, knee, out
DT Jess Ward, knee, doubtful
RB Christian Ramirez, ankle, questionable
DE Chinonso Anyanwu, hip, out
WR Gavin Ketchum, hamstring, questionable
OG Stanley Hasiak, stinger, probable
FB Chane Moline, hip, probable
CB Shareece Wright, knee, academics, questionable
WR Ronald Johnson, collarbone, out
DE Armond Armstead, foot, out
C Kristofer O'Dowd, knee, doubtful
DT Averell Spicer, ankle, questionable
OG Nick Howell, ankle, questionable
LB Luthur Brown, academics, out
TE Blake Ayles, heart condition, probable
QB Aaron Corp, leg, questionable
QB Mitch Mustain, illness, probable
CB Patrick Hall, knee, out
CB Justin Glenn, knee, questionable
DT Cameron Elisara, shoulder, probable
RB Johri Fogerson, ankle, probable
RB Chris Polk, concussion, probable
WR James Johnson, ankle, probable
DE Darrion Jones, illness, probable
TE Kavario Middleton, hamstring, probable
DE Everrette Thompson, ankle, questionable
S Jason Wells, Achilles, doubtful
WR Jeshua Anderson, hamstring, probable
RB James Montgomery, knee, probable
CB Brandon Jones, ankle, probable
WR Jeffrey Solomon, ankle, probable
LB Alex Hoffman-Ellis, foot, questionable
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
There was no news and good news coming out of Washington State's final scrimmage.
"We're going to make a decision on that in the next couple days," Wulff told the Spokesman-Review.
The season and Pac-10 opener against Stanford is just a week away.
Lopina completed 9 of 11 passes for 123 yards with a 7-yard touchdown pass to freshman wide receiver Gino Simone. Lobbestael completed 7 of 13 for 88 yards. Neither threw an interception.
The good news is on the injury front: Cornerback Brandon Jones, running back James Montgomery and receivers Jeshua Anderson and Jeffrey Solomon all seem to be coming around and should be ready to practice next week.
4:20 3rd Qtr 20 Fresno State 13 25 USC 38 0:21 1st Qtr Buffalo 0 San Diego State 7 9:00 PM ET Tulane Louisiana-Lafayette Final Washington State 45 Colorado State 48
6:00 PM ET Pittsburgh Bowling Green 9:30 PM ET Utah State 23 Northern Illinois
2:30 PM ET Marshall Maryland 6:00 PM ET Syracuse Minnesota 9:30 PM ET Brigham Young Washington
12:00 PM ET Rutgers Notre Dame 3:20 PM ET Cincinnati North Carolina 6:45 PM ET Miami (FL) 18 Louisville 10:15 PM ET Michigan Kansas State
11:45 AM ET Middle Tennessee Navy 3:15 PM ET Ole Miss Georgia Tech 6:45 PM ET 10 Oregon Texas 10:15 PM ET 14 Arizona State Texas Tech
12:30 PM ET Arizona Boston College 2:00 PM ET Virginia Tech 17 UCLA 4:00 PM ET Rice Mississippi State 8:00 PM ET 24 Duke 21 Texas A&M
12:00 PM ET Nebraska 22 Georgia 12:00 PM ET UNLV North Texas 1:00 PM ET Iowa 16 LSU 1:00 PM ET 19 Wisconsin 9 South Carolina 5:00 PM ET 5 Stanford 4 Michigan State 8:30 PM ET 15 UCF 6 Baylor
7:30 PM ET 13 Oklahoma State 8 Missouri 8:30 PM ET 12 Clemson 7 Ohio State