PULLMAN – The Pac-12, we hardly knew ye.
As the events of the past week have shown, the college sports landscape is about as anchored as a palm frond in a hurricane.
The tossing and turning began last year. It seemed to have slowed. But with Texas A&M announcing its intent to leave the Big 12, Oklahoma president David Boren talking as if the Sooners were next and Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott in Dallas last Saturday for the Oregon game with LSU, the past few days have been pelting us with news.
And the guys doing their best Jim Cantore impersonation and leaning into the driving rain? The Pac-12’s football coaches. Right in the middle of their season. Well, the beginning of it, actually.
“It’s amazing the time of the year,” Oregon State coach Mike Riley said on the coaches’ usual Tuesday conference call. “I’m surprised by the timing of the talk, because we’re just beginning our season. There appears to be a lot going on out there on this topic.
“We’ve already had some big changes and I think there is still more to come. Whatever that is, I’m not knowledgeable enough to say, but I know something more is coming.”
But no matter the timing, none of them are surprised about the storm clouds surrounding Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas and Texas Tech once again leaving the Big 12 and heading west, possibly as soon as next year.
“It’s prudent,” UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel said of Scott saying he’s willing to listen to schools that might want to join the conference. “As this thing get divided up, it’s better to be a have than a have-not. I think Larry Scott has proven he’s wily in these affairs and I’m expecting he’s right on the cutting edge of whatever is going on.”
If the change does come, it is going to force changes among the Pac-12 schools.
“It’s going to make people wake up and continue to grow their facilities,” Washington State coach Paul Wulff said. “You start looking at the Oklahoma States and those programs back there, they’ve got big-time facilities. There’s a correlation of big-time facilities attracting better players.”
And no one thinks the storm’s end is in sight.
“I think it’s inevitable that there is going to be four superconferences in Division I football, with 16, maybe even 18 teams in each conference,” said Utah’s Kyle Whittingham, who will coach his first Pac-12 game Saturday at USC. “I’m not saying I’m in favor or I’m against it. I’m just saying that’s where it’s headed and I don’t see any way around that.
“And I also see a playoff system being implemented once those super conferences are in place. That’s just where I think it is headed and it could be as soon as the next couple years.”
Four from the Pac-12
1. The Utes are not only dealing with USC this week, they are dealing with real life. Junior Ron Tongaonevai’s wife, Janelle, died in an auto accident Thursday night right after Utah defeated Montana State, 27-7. “That’s a black cloud hanging over our program,” Whittingham said. “It really puts things in perspective. … That’s been a focal point, giving our support and love to Ron and helping him through this time. It’s been the main priority.”
2. Oregon State quarterback Ryan Katz went into the season opener against Sacramento State considered one of the better players at his position in the conference. But that didn’t mean much Saturday. He was replaced in the second half of the Beavers’ 29-28 overtime loss by redshirt freshman Sean Mannion. Riley said Katz is still the starter, but Mannion will probably play this week against Wisconsin. “There’s no doubt, we had a much better rhythm in the second half,” Riley told reporters Monday. “The first half, we really did nothing very well. We just kind of sputtered around and weren’t playing with much confidence on either side of the ball at times in the game.”
3. Arizona ended the 2010 season on a five-game losing streak, with the worst of those losses the final one, a 36-10 defeat to Oklahoma State in the Alamo Bowl. The Wildcats (1-0) get a chance to avenge that defeat quickly this season, as they travel to Stillwater to play the Cowboys on Thursday. “We had a great opportunity (to win) a year ago,” coach Mike Stoops said. “We made way too many mistakes to beat a team like that. We have to correct those mistakes in a game like this. We’re going to have to score points … (because) they are a top 10 football program, without question.” The Wildcats had six first-half possessions in Oklahoma State territory in the bowl game and scored just one touchdown. Nick Foles struggled, throwing three interceptions.
4. There’s a quarterback controversy brewing in Westwood, but the play of Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut wasn’t foremost on Neuheisel’s mind after UCLA’s 38-34 loss to Houston last Saturday. The defense was expected to be a strength and wasn’t. “For whatever reason, we didn’t play fast,” Neuheisel said. “These are kids that are fast, athletic and we did not play that way. I don’t know if it was because of indecision, first-game stuff, but we did not look as quick as we looked the year before.”