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Originally published July 29, 2010 at 7:31 PM | Page modified July 30, 2010 at 5:58 PM

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Cougars predicted for Pac-10 cellar, but they're not sitting idle | Notebook

The Cougars could be getting a commitment from a defensive tackle in Utah — 6-foot-3, 280-pound Al Lapuaho.

Seattle Times staff reporters

PASADENA, Calif. — A couple of days ago, Washington State announced the loss for most of the season of backup defensive tackle Dan Spitz for violating the NCAA's banned-substance policy. But in the finest tradition of the waiver wire, the Cougars might have help coming at that position.

The Cougars can't announce it because letters of intent aren't binding at this point in the year, but websites have reported they have a commitment from a product of Snow Junior College in Utah — 6-foot-3, 280-pound Al Lapuaho. Having completed only one year there, he would have four years to play three at WSU.

Lapuaho was a 240-pound high-school player in Utah who was lightly recruited. He then grew two inches and gained 40 pounds at Snow and is believed to have been an academic qualifier out of high school, meaning he doesn't have to earn a JC degree to transfer.

Because Lapuaho chose the JC route early, he didn't pursue approval from the NCAA clearinghouse, a process being undertaken now.

As for Spitz, a third-year sophomore from Mead High in Spokane, Wulff said, "I feel pretty confident about our (tackle) depth right now.

"It's a great learning experience for our football team. We've been saying this stuff over the years and then something like this happens. All of a sudden, everybody kind of stands to attention a little bit."

Spitz failed the test late last fall, and has to sit out a calendar year. He'll be able to practice but not play until the Cal game Nov. 6.

The Cougars also announced this week that Andre Barrington, redshirt-freshman linebacker from Federal Way, is academically ineligible this season. Meanwhile, Wulff, here for Pac-10 media day, says two high-school players who signed in February — running back Devontae Butler of Grant High in Sacramento and Robert Jiles, a wide receiver from Pittsburg, Calif. — are freshman non-qualifiers.

Wulff said defensive lineman Xavier Cooper of Tacoma's Wilson High is close to qualifying, but likely would "grayshirt" in any case.

To the surprise of just about nobody, WSU was picked 10th by Pac-10 media.

"It happened the last two years, and with a one-win season, of course people are going to pick us last," said defensive end Kevin Kooyman, who accompanied Wulff here. "People don't believe in us, but we believe in ourselves. That's all we care about."

Said Wulff, 3-22 in two years at WSU, "This team is going to win some games this year. I don't know how many, but if we stay healthy, and we get on a roll, we can surprise a lot of teams."

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Pac-10 athletic directors to discuss divisions

Pac-10 athletic directors are meeting to discuss, among other things, how to divide the conference once Utah and Colorado join (which could happen next year and definitely will by 2012).

However, Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott indicated that no decision will be made Friday — it's likely to come in the fall.

One idea for dividing the league is a "zipper" approach, going East-West instead of North-South, allowing for every team to still be aligned with a school from Los Angeles. However, Scott confirmed that that would necessitate the playing of rivalry games — such as the Apple Cup, Civil War, etc. — in the middle of the season instead of the final week to avoid the possibility of potentially playing each other on consecutive weeks should each advance to a conference title game.

"I think there are probably a lot of people having some heartburn over that," he said.

Around the conference

ARIZONA: The Wildcats were bolstered in the offseason when Puyallup High grad Adam Grant was granted a sixth year of eligibility after missing three seasons due to knee injuries. He's slated to start at left tackle and UA coach Mike Stoops said "he's just a much more polished and stronger player, so we are very grateful to get him back. That's why they have those hardship rules — he had three seasons taken away from him."

• ARIZONA STATE: Former Seahawks coach Dennis Erickson is thought to be on the hot seat entering his fourth year after seasons of 5-7 and 4-8. Erickson was accompanied by kicker Thomas Weber, who was hurt much of last year. Erickson said that might have been the difference in the team's season as ASU was just 11 of 17 on field goals last year, losing four games by five points or less.

CAL: The Bears' 3-4 defense could be fronted by Garfield High alum Deandre Coleman, who redshirted last season. He's listed as a backup end but could also play some tackle. "I think he has the potential to be one of the best players we've had at Cal," said coach Jeff Tedford. "He looks great and played great in the spring."

OREGON: The only hesitation about the preseason favorite Ducks is the team's quarterback situation following the dismissal of Jeremiah Masoli after legal issues. The contenders are senior Nate Costa and sophomore Darron Thomas. Coach Chip Kelly said he will name a starter at least by the week of the opener and that the great thing is that basically the rest of the offense returns "to help them grow as a quarterback."

OREGON STATE: The Beavers will also be breaking in a new QB with sophomore Ryan Katz of Santa Monica set to start. Like the Ducks, OSU has an experienced offense otherwise, and Mike Riley said Katz has "a big-time arm, good athletic ability and he's had good preparation to hopefully make this a very smooth transition."

STANFORD: After finishing ninth in the conference in defense last year, Stanford overhauled its coaching staff. One addition was line coach Randy Hart, who worked at UW from 1988-2008 before being fired along with the rest of Tyrone Willingham's staff. He spent last year at Notre Dame, which played Stanford late in the year. "They didn't have the best defensive line, but I thought they were the best-coached defensive line we played last year," Harbaugh said.

UCLA: Bruins coach Rick Neuheisel said he had no "ill will" toward Washington or Josh Shirley for the fact that Shirley is now a Husky after Neuheisel dismissed him from the team in June. Shirley and two other players were arrested on suspicion of theft. Neuheisel said he had "irrefutable evidence as to what happened" and felt it important to "make a statement on behalf of the program" in dismissing the three players. He said he "wasn't concerned" that Shirley ended up at a competing conference school such as UW. "I don't regret at all my decision," he said. "It was more about making sure the kids in our program understood what was acceptable behavior."

USC: Due to transfers and other issues, USC is down to 71 scholarship players, coach Lane Kiffin said. But while there has been a handful of transfers since the NCAA sanctions, Kiffin said all left largely due to playing-time issues, and said "(our) front-line guys, none of them left. They all stayed." USC QB Matt Barkley sat next to Kiffin and said he never once thought of leaving.

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