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Lack of Respect Doesn’t Sit Well

Times Staff Writer

Playing in the shadow of two-time defending national champion USC has not been a walk in the park for the other teams in the Pacific 10 Conference.

With the Trojans owning a conference-record 15-game winning streak, Pac-10 opponents have had to deal with the growing perception around the country that the league is filled with inferior teams.

On Tuesday, Pac-10 coaches and players responded to that claim at the conference’s annual media day at the Sheraton Gateway Hotel.

“I’m not sure they want to understand,” Oregon State Coach Mike Riley said about the criticism Pac-10 teams other than USC face. “I just know that I feel good about Pac-10 football and the reputation it should have around the country.”

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With the Pac-10 going 23-13 against nonconference opponents in 2004, including a 3-2 mark in bowl games, the league proved its strength. And in big games? The Pac-10 is 6-1 in bowl championship series games since 2000.

Washington State senior linebacker Will Derting said he took pride in USC’s blowout victory over Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl in January.

“We have competition during the year,” said Derting of conference play, “but come bowl games we always root for Pac-10 teams.”

Stanford Coach Walt Harris, in his first year after eight seasons at Pittsburgh, said the Pac-10 doesn’t get enough credit for its NFL-ready players on both sides of the ball.

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“There’s a lot of good athletes in the conference, along with outstanding coaching,” said Harris. He and Washington’s Tyrone Willingham are the Pac-10’s new coaches.

“It’s a great league the way it’s laid out, especially now that we will play everyone next season. It’s very, very competitive with West Coast athletes and great coaching.”

Derting said the conference’s most overlooked strength is defense.

“People always [criticize] the Pac-10, saying that our linebackers are smaller,” said Derting, who has 225 tackles in his career, including 30 1/2 for losses. “But out here we have to stop the run and the pass.”

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Oregon State senior receiver Mike Haas agreed.

“Defense [in the conference] does get a little shortchanged,” he said. “Guys get drafted every year out of our schools. We are a passing league, but people don’t understand how good our defenses are in the Pac-10.”

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For the second year in a row, USC was the preseason conference pick for all 41 West Coast media voters, who have correctly predicted the Pac-10 winner five consecutive years.

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But instead of placing the Trojans on a pedestal, the rest of the conference seems determined to use them as motivation.

“USC is off and doing great things across town,” UCLA Coach Karl Dorrell said. “But like any competitive person, you are looking to do great things yourself. If anything, this inspires me to be that much better at what I do. When you’re on top, it’s a great feeling. We’ve been there before, and we will get there again.”

Said Haas: “No one is invincible, everyone is beatable. 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.”

It’s a tossup when it comes to the No. 2 team in the league. In a tight finish, California was the media pick, followed by Arizona State, Oregon and UCLA.

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The Pac-10’s instant replay system, which will debut this season, was showcased Tuesday, and it’s different from the NFL system.

Only a replay official in the press box has the ability to review a call in the Pac-10. Unlike in the NFL, coaches will not be allowed to challenge a call and the referee and other officials on the field will not be involved in the final decision.

“Our instant replay is not designed to review every play,” said Verle Sorgen, coordinator of Pac-10 football officiating. “It’s for big-ticket items that have direct impact on the game itself. Scoring plays, turnovers....”

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Former UCLA quarterback Matt Moore has earned the starting job at Oregon State, according to Riley. California Coach Jeff Tedford said offensive lineman Mike Tepper is recovering well after he jumped in front of a car to protect a Cal volleyball player in June. Tepper, a 6-foot-6, 312-pound redshirt freshman from Garden Grove Pacifica High, suffered a broken fibula and torn ankle ligaments.

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Key dates

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Noteworthy dates for the UCLA and USC football teams:

UCLA

* Monday: First practice.

* Aug. 12: First practice in full pads.

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* Sept. 3: First game, at San Diego State, 7 p.m.

* Sept. 10: First home game, vs. Rice, 7 p.m.

* Oct. 1: First Pac-10 game, vs. Washington, TBA

USC

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* Thursday: First practice.

* Monday: First practice in full pads.

* Sept. 3: First game, at Hawaii, 4 p.m. PDT.

* Sept. 17: First home game, vs. Arkansas, 7:15 p.m.

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* Sept. 24: First Pac-10 game, at Oregon, 4 p.m.


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