A GRIP ON SPORTS
Now that Christmas is starting to fade in the rearview mirror like the last gas station before the Mojave Desert, it's time for the sports world to get back to normal. And it is around here, with Gonzaga returning to the Kennel this evening to face a nationally respected program, prep basketball players getting back at it and a Pac-12 football team involved in a horribly officiated game. That's the sporting life I know. Read on.
• If you watched the Holiday Bowl last night and thought a Pac-12 crew was doing the game, I don't blame you. But you would be wrong. According to the ESPN broadcast, the group was from Conference USA, though it might have been hoping to move up to the Pac-12, where the pay is better. To do that, though, you have to be able to count. To be honest, it's hard to posit the officiating had anything to do with the outcome of a 49-26 rout (though, according to ESPN.com's Ted Miller, the final touchdown UCLA scored shouldn't have counted – I was in bed by then, so I can't vouch for it – and the score should have been 49-19) so I won't go there. But is it too much to ask for the officials to demand a team gain 10 yards to earn a first down - one of the most basic and easy-to-enforce of all the rules? They didn't Thursday night, at least in one case. Late in the second quarter, with the game still within reach for UCLA, Baylor earned a first down on its 38-yard line. Right on the 38-yard line. Two plays later the Bears were facing a third-and-long. And they moved the ball to the 47-and-a-half yard line, well short of the first down. ESPN color commentator Brian Griese opined the Bears would want to keep the ball and the momentum, so they would go for it on fourth down. Except there was no fourth down. The referee, Wayne Winkler, looked at the ball, the yard marker and somehow figured, though the Bears were a half-yard short, they had picked up the first down. The announcers were surprised, Baylor coach Art Briles seemed surprised and Jim Mora, UCLA's coach, must have really been surprised, because he left the red challenge flag in his pocket. How Pac-12 of him. Just to be sure, I went back and checked where the ball had been marked when the Bears had earned their previous first down. Yep, right at the 38-yard line, with the nose of the ball on the UCLA side of the 38. Then I stopped the DVR where the third-down play was spotted. Halfway between the 47- and 48-yard lines. Well short of the first down. That was enough for me. On top of a bunch of iffy calls earlier, this screwup was the one that broke my back. If I wanted to watch such incompetence, I would just wait for the next Pac-12 regular-season game. Bowl games are supposed to be better, featuring the crème-de-la-crème. Players, coaches and officials. Ya, right.
• Washington State: Talk about getting back to normal, Christian Caple returns with his morning post, featuring a bunch of other Pac-12 links. Because we wrote about it above, we also decided to include a few links from the LA Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune on the Holiday Bowl.
• Gonzaga: Hey, Baylor's basketball team is on the West Coast as well, with the Bears invading McCarthey tonight. Jim Meehan has an advance of the game in today's S-R. There is also an advance in the Waco Tribune, though some of the descriptions of this area are hilarious. And freelancer Howie Stalwick has this feature in the News Tribune. ... St. Mary's rebounded from a tough loss at Northern Iowa by dominating Rhode Island in Moraga. ... BYU routed the Big Sky Conference's Northern Arizona in Provo.
• Idaho: The Vandals picked up a JC quarterback yesterday, inking a former USC backup who didn't start at his junior college last season. Josh Wright has a short story and this blog post. ... San Jose State, in its last game representing the WAC, earned a 29-20 Military Bowl victory over Bowling Green.
• Chiefs: Spokane ends its Christmas break on the road.
• Preps: Tis the season for holiday tournaments – Kim and I took the short drive to Freeman yesterday evening to watch Pullman pull out a one-point victory over St. George's – and we can pass along roundups from girls and boys games.
• Seahawks: No, there wasn't a banner release from the NFL or the like. When Richard Sherman's appeal against his PED suspension was upheld Thursday, we learned the news from Sherman's Twitter account, the modern equivalent of shouting it from the mountaintop. Anyway it is disseminated, it is big news for the Seahawks, who need their star cornerback if they want to make a long playoff run. This Danny O'Neil story does a great job of covering the entire episode from start to yesterday. ... The emergence of a rookie offensive lineman has corresponded with improvement in the line's play. ... Some crucial players returned to practice Thursday.
• It's good to be back to normal. Or at least as close to it as we can get this time of year. Until later ...