November 22, 2011 in Sports

Pac-12 notebook: Rivalry games won’t be the same

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Christopher Anderson photo

Apple Cup fans enjoy the Washington State-Washington game as the regular season finale, but many of the future rivalry games may have to make a calendar shift.
(Full-size photo)

PULLMAN – The biggest Pac-12 story of the week came Monday, when Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne tweeted the news he had a new football coach.

It is Rich Rodriguez, formerly coach at West Virginia, where he was successful, and Michigan, where he wasn’t.

Rodriguez was introduced to the Arizona faithful Tuesday and told them he wants to take the Wildcats someplace they have never been: the Rose Bowl game. And he wants to win it.

A great goal, but no matter how well Rich Rod, as he’s known, does in Tucson, there’s little chance he’ll match the Territorial Cup winning percentage of his immediate predecessor, interim coach Tim Kish.

After last week’s come-from-behind 31-27 upset of Arizona State in Tempe, Kish will always be perfect in the Wildcats’ rivalry game. He, for one, appreciates that.

“(It was) phenomenal, especially when the outcome turns out the way it did,” he said Tuesday on the Pac-12 coaches’ media call. “That’s a bitter rival as far as we’re concerned in the state here, and to bounce back after having a disappointing effort the week before … it was a great feeling on the sidelines.”

The rivalry games in the old Pac-10 had a perfect symmetry, with three state and two urban-area rivals squaring off, usually in the final week or two of the season.

But like most elements of the Pac-12, the rivalry games may change a bit. The $3 billion media deal the conference brokered this year will see to that.

Even the Apple Cup will change, beginning next year. Washington State athletic director Bill Moos let slip the news last week that the game would be played in Pullman on the Friday after Thanksgiving  next season, sparking a storm of vitriol from Cougar Nation.

It’s the wave of the future, though it’s not all that popular with Pac-12 veterans.

“I hope we never have it in the middle of the year,” said Oregon State coach Mike Riley, who qualifies as a veteran not only because of his coaching tenure in Corvallis but from having grown up in the town watching Ahmad Rashad (then Bobby Moore) for the Ducks and “Earthquake” Bill Enyart for the Beavers.

“It’s fun for the fans to look forward to it being the last game, it’s special for the teams as the season draws to a close. Just a couple of years ago we played down in Autzen for either team to go to the Rose Bowl. … You talk about building up toward a special event, that was really neat to be involved in.”

The two newest Pac-12 members will line up against each other this “rivalry” week, wondering what all the fuss is about.

“I kind of feel like we’re on the outside looking in,” Colorado coach Jon Embree said.

That’s because Utah and Colorado haven’t played in 50 years and rivalries are made, though not manufactured.

“I don’t think you can put a timeline on it,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. “It could be anywhere from this year to never. That’s something that has to happen naturally.”

Four from the Pac-12

1. The search for Mike Stoops’ successor in Tucson was a one-man stealth project, with Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne keeping his contacts under wraps. It was so secretive, Kish had no idea who the hire would be and Byrne’s tweet caught him off guard. “They called this a stealth project by Greg Byrne and it was all that,” Kish said. “This was a one-man performance.”

2. The hire also was a subject asked of many of the coaches but few really knew him well. Rodriguez has spent much of his career in the East and has had little interaction with Pac-12 coaches. “I know him, met him, visited with him some but don’t know him real well,” ASU coach Dennis Erickson said, echoing many of the responses. “All I can look at is the things that he’s done and his resume and obviously he’s been very successful. … I think it was a very good hire.”

3. So is Andrew Luck, who has looked almost human in a loss to Oregon and the Cardinal’s Big Game win last week, slipping in the Heisman race? “I think it’s an absolute joke,” Stanford coach David Shaw said. “There is nobody in college football that is doing what Andrew Luck is doing.” Shaw went on to say that, after nine years in the NFL evaluating college quarterbacks, he’s never seen any quarterback in college – and few in the NFL – that do as much at the line of scrimmage as Luck.

4. If Luck is slipping, USC’s Matt Barkley is rising, especially after leading the Trojans to a 38-35, BCS-hope-killing upset of Oregon last week. A Los Angeles radio station asked every coach in the conference if Barkley deserved to be one of the Heisman finalists invited to New York. They uniformly answered yes. But, really, what conference coach would say no to a question like that?

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