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Originally published Thursday, October 29, 2009 at 12:11 PM

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Bud Withers

These aren't your father's Ducks — or Trojans

Oregon and USC are doing what they can to attract recruits. It seems to be working.

Seattle Times colleges reporter

Not so long ago, there was a time-honored prescription for the tone set in a college-football program.

As in: All business. No frills. Lockers had metal doors and coaches had steely faces. Not that you saw the coach away from the football field. His office wasn't a place you strayed.

Somewhere, it changed. The workplace had to be made more appealing to 18-year-old recruits, who, after all, were going to underwrite the success or failure of a multimillion-dollar program.

And so, Saturday night in Eugene, we have USC and Oregon, a game with Rose Bowl and national-title implications.

Don't get the connection?

Increasingly, the game has evolved into one in which programs have tried to look into the soul of prospects and players. They've looked to find a way to relate, so that coaches who might have grown up listening to We Five can get to the same level as young people into Ludacris.

Once the Oregon football program began catching the fancy of Nike co-founder Phil Knight in the mid-1990s, it began pouring money into facilities upgrades. Eventually came the gaudy dressing-room amenities: Three 60-inch plasma TVs, ventilated lockers, Internet hookups, thumbprint-activated lockboxes and a lavishly appointed training room.

Then there's USC under Pete Carroll. He not only has the better players almost every week, it's safe to say no coach in the country tries harder to be as hip as his guys.

Carroll is heavy into Facebook and Twitter. He issues an SOTD — song of the day — regularly, this week offering up stuff from the Foo Fighters and Michael Jackson.

On the USC Web site is the Trojans' blog, "USCRipsIt," which is about as revealing into a college program as it gets. At midweek, one photograph showed a staffer standing above deep-snapper Cooper Stevenson, shooting water onto the football Stevenson was about to snap — preparation for what could be a wet night in Eugene.

Then there are the loopy stunts Carroll has orchestrated, like the Slip'N Slide — without the plastic runway — two assistants simulated after practice on a wet field recently.

A few years ago, LenDale White feigned a practice argument with coaches, "quit" the team and a few minutes later, his teammates watched in horror as a dummy wearing White's uniform was pushed off a nearby building.

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In August, Carroll enlisted singer-songwriter Bill Withers to pose as a public-health officer and address the team about a mysterious "fungus" sweeping the country. Alongside him, the singer's assistant said, "We're working on a prototype of a shower shoe that comes up to the knee."

Players squirmed and looked at each other. And then, Withers: "You guys have been punked, big-time."

Practice visitors have included Snoop Dogg, Spike Lee and comedian Will Ferrell, who appeared once as "Captain Compete," wearing a Speedo with a Trojan bandsman's top and demonstrating at practice his penchant for saving people.

"I fear nothing," the masked Ferrell told the Trojans, "except for one thing: small dogs. Anything like a lap dog. I lose complete control of my bowels ... other than that, you can't stop me."

A recent Esquire Magazine profile characterized USC's football staff meetings as "part frat-house, part locker room and part battlefield HQ."

On the morning of a football camp, the magazine quotes Carroll imploring his staff to demonstrate the program's trademark enthusiasm: "Let's come out of our shoes today on these kids, man. Let's just coach the [expletive] out of these guys. I want lots of enthusiasm. I want you frickin' screamin' and yellin' and makin' 'em feel it."

Not to suggest either Oregon or USC was built on gimmicks. But as the Ducks and Trojans are squaring off, ask yourself: Would Bob Devaney or LaVell Edwards have done it quite the same way?

The end around ...

• In the other big game Saturday night, No. 3-ranked Texas, which has won 11 straight over Oklahoma State, visits the 13th-rated Cowboys.

• Ohio State QB Terrelle Pryor, 54th in NCAA pass efficiency, had a solid game against Minnesota last week. Maybe he was motivated by comments from ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit on College GameDay. Said Herbstreit: "You don't see him progressing to become a complete quarterback — knowing down and distance, knowing about the play clock, knowing what hash you're on, being able to read defenses ... listen, we've watched Tate Forcier, as a true freshman, have a better understanding of what it means to be a quarterback than Terrelle Pryor. We've seen Matt Barkley, as a true freshman, have a better understanding of being a quarterback than Terrelle Pryor. So he is not advancing as a quarterback."

• Colorado coach Dan Hawkins began his regular news conference this week with a lengthy defense of his tenure there, saying, "I'm not a quitter, I'm a fighter. We'll see it through. We'll make it happen."

• ESPN analyst Bob Griese got himself in hot water last week with an ethnically insensitive comment, for which he apologized twice and was suspended a week. Aside from that, Griese, once ABC's lead commentator, seems ill-prepared and past his best days.

MiQuale Lewis and Cory Sykes became the NCAA's first 300-200 backs in Ball State's 29-27 win over Eastern Michigan, totaling 301 and 203 rushing yards. It's also the biggest two-back total in history.

• So, in a Knight Commission finding released this week, a majority of university presidents at big schools say current athletic spending levels are unsustainable. And which one will be next to throw $3 million at a new football coach in December?

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or bwithers@seattletimes.com

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About Bud Withers

Bud Withers gives his take on college sports, with the latest from the Huskies, Cougs, and the rest of the Pac-10.
bwithers@seattletimes.com | 206-464-8281

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