Leach picks his man to run offense: Halliday

todd.dybas@thenewstribune.comJuly 27, 2013 

CULVER CITY, Calif. — Following a discussion about his summer reading, Washington State coach Mike Leach touched on a more salient topic: Who will be running the Cougars’ offense this fall?

Leach said if the Cougars had to play a game Friday, junior Connor Halliday would be the starting quarterback.

“What I’ve been impressed with is as a leader he takes the team on his shoulders, and he’s one of the guys I think brings people together,” Leach said Friday at the Pacific-12 Conference’s football media day on the Sony Pictures Studios lot. “The most significant role that a quarterback plays is enhancing the skills of the other players around him.

“I mean, each team you go out there with has an arsenal of weapons and (Halliday’s) ability to utilize most effectively those tools in a sharp, crisp, timely manner is huge as far as maximizing offensive effort.”

Leach, who was first on the dais with safety Deone Bucannon and offensive lineman Elliot Bosch, also said he liked what he saw from freshman quarterback Austin Apodaca in the spring.

Halliday, who is from Ferris High in Spokane, threw for 15 touchdowns, 1,878 yards and 13 interceptions last season while splitting duty with the departed Jeff Tuel. He was sacked 22 times as part of a Cougars offense that was devoid of a running game.

In addition, Leach assured his regular contrarian view would come to media day.

He’s upset, and he’s not alone, about the new “targeting” rule put in place by the NCAA this year. Players who are deemed to have targeted and contacted

defenseless players above the shoulders will automatically be ejected.

“Rules in order to be effective have to be enforceable, and you’ve got to be able to see it,” Leach said. “If I get these (players next to him) across the room and I have them run full speed at each other, and I ask you in a split second to tell me which one lowered their head first, I bet you can’t do it.”

POLL POSITIONS

Washington may feel it’s poised for a big year, but the media disagreed.

The Pac-12 media preseason poll was released Friday and has Oregon on top of the North Division with UCLA leading the South. The Huskies were picked to finish fourth in the North behind Oregon, Stanford and Oregon State.

Oregon was picked to win the Pac-12 championship game. Stanford and UCLA were the only other schools picked to win the title game.

SUN DEVILS A DARK HORSE?

Arizona State defensive tackle Will Sutton took the center seat at the Sun Devils’ interview table with flowing dreads and swelling shoulders. Arguably the conference’s best defender, Sutton is a smiling menace who is up to 305 pounds from 285 last year.

With Sutton was quarterback Taylor Kelly, who threw for 3,039 yards and 29 touchdowns with nine interceptions last year. Arizona State was narrowly picked second in the South Division by the media and those two players are large reasons why.

“We got simply one goal at our place, and that’s to be champions,” ASU coach Todd Graham said.

LOSSES BITE USC

USC was the top-ranked team in the land prior to last season, then the Trojans stumbled to a 7-6 record after losing their final three games of the season.

According to recruiting services, USC was also set to have the top-ranked 2013 recruiting class. That didn’t happen once several recruits changed their minds prior to February’s signing period.

USC coach Lane Kiffin sid he feels the losses were the catalysts for signing day defections.

“As we’re seeing now in college football, commitments don’t mean a whole lot,” Kiffin said. “So I think what happened was we ended the season poorly by the way that we played, and also whenever you have job security questions come up, like they did at the end of the year, that’s going to impact your recruiting because kids, especially a lot of those kids were national guys that those families are saying … ‘Our kid is choosing USC and that coaching staff,’ so I think it was a combination of those things.”

NO INJURY REPORT

Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said last season the conference would consider mandating a uniform injury report from all schools.

Friday he said that idea is dead after it gained no traction nationally.

The concept would be to force coaches to release injury information for the week in a standard way, similar to what the NFL does, because different coaches in the conference take a different approach.

Washington coach Steve Sarkisian previously discussed injuries with the media, but stopped last season, citing a “competitive disadvantage” when playing other coaches who did not disclose injuries.

Washington announced it will not discuss injuries this season, either. It has also reduced media access to practice. Last season, media members could watch entire practices and in each of Sarkisian’s previous four years. This year, they will only be allowed to view the first 20 minutes of practice.

todd.dybas@thenewstribune.com @Todd_Dybas

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