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July 28, 2004LOS ANGELES -- The Pac-10 Conference held its annual football media day at the Sheraton Gateway hotel Wednesday. Representatives from all of the schools in the conference and various members of the media gathered to get an early glimpse of the 2004 season. USC was well represented as quarterback Matt Leinart and head coach Pete Carroll answered various questions for about 20 minutes.
After being picked unanimously to win the conference, the Trojans on hand certainly got more than their share of attention from the media.
One of the first questions asked was about Mike Williams and Carroll appeared positive about the standout wide receiver's chances of coming back. Carroll also mentioned some of the young guys on the team who could emerge as major contributors, as well as incoming freshmen Dwayne Jarrett, Fred Davis and Derrick Jones.
On the subject of opening with Virginia Tech, Carroll and Leinart compared the challenge to playing a first game like the Trojans faced at Auburn last year because it causes the players to be in the spotlight right off the bat and get focused right from the start. Carroll also liked the fact that after that game they have a bye to try and get back to the West Coast and get in school and prepare for the next game.
Leinart was asked about choosing between Oklahoma and USC and how kids on the West Coast are staying at home more than they were before. Leinart said West-Coast football is gaining recognition for its improved levels of play and some players, like Williams, are now looking to head west.
Leinart was asked about the difference from being a first-year starter last year to being a Heisman Trophy candidate this year. He called it "night and day," going from fighting for a position to being the starter, but added that his confidence is very high and that this has been a life-changing experience for him, one he never expected to happen.
Carroll was asked about the BCS and if he likes the changes, but he had a wait and see attitude to see how the system works. He wants a playoff, but he said the same problem would happen with the selection process.
Talking about going into the season being ranked high and a title contender coming off a National Championship, Carroll said it is the ultimate challenge as a coach.
On running back Whitney Lewis, Carroll did not specifically say what the situation was. He did mention there are a couple players with academic issues and that their situations have not been ruled on yet and therefore he would not comment.
On Alex Holmes, both Leinart and Carroll said the senior tight end had lost about 40 pounds to get down to 257 and that he had a great spring and is a great leader for the team. Carroll said Holmes is faster now, still has great hands and will help out with a young offensive line.
Leinart also was asked about his block against Hawaii on the Reggie Bush run and how he felt. The quarterback simply smiled and said it was just what it looked like. He said he never really hits anyone and is always getting hit so he just tried to make the best of the opportunity.
Finally, Leinart was asked about the connection between his coach at Mater Dei High School, Bruce Rollinson, and his success at USC. Leinart praised his coach and talked about a point in his career when his confidence was way down playing behind Carson Palmer. Rollinson took him and showed him some film of his game against De La Salle and asked where that player was. Leinart then was able to shake off his disappointment and turn his career around at USC.