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Grip on Sports: The mystery of WSU’s All-American Cody O’Connell is hard to unravel

Tue., Dec. 13, 2016, 9:15 a.m.

A GRIP ON SPORTS • Christmas is just around the corner. There is enough snow on the ground to give the area a winter feel. And it’s going to get colder than a gravedigger’s nose – as my dad sort of used to say – out there. Which means it must be time to think about football awards. Read on.

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• All-American teams are announced just about every day in December, in an Advent calendar sort of way.

Each day America wakes up and opens the Walter Camp flap, or the Football Writers Association of America flap or whatever. Yesterday it was the Associated Press team America pried open and lo and behold, it contained one of the same guys every other team did.

Washington State guard Cody O’Connell.

First team. Again.

The 6-foot-8, 355-pound O’Connell has become something of a legend since coming across the state from Wenatchee. He’s worked himself from a project to a pro-prospect, which is, basically, the goal of every college football player, right?

But he wasn’t able to turn himself into an All-Pac 12 player, which is sort of a mystery.

You could argue, and some have, O’Connell shouldn’t be an All-American, being the coaches that know him best, the 11 guys at the other Pac-12 schools, didn’t feel he was one of the best 10 offensive linemen in the conference. 

See, O’Connell, if you didn’t know, wasn’t first- or second-team All-Pac-12 this season. And yet he is a consensus All-American.

The difference of opinion here is hard to ignore. And no one I talked or texted with this week had an idea why there is such a wide chasm between O’Connell’s perception in the conference and nationally.

However, during an intense, 22-minute investigation involving Julian Assange-like computer skills and Edward Snowden-like travel freedom, I came up with these possible explanations:

• O’Connell actually was named All-Pac-12 first team, but Russian hackers infiltrated the conference’s computer system and changed the team.

A shadowy figure of a man, who we will call "Dude," told me while meeting over a White Russian at Hugos, the Soviets – are they still called that these days? – wanted one of their agents to earn all-conference honors, so they added his name to the list. He didn’t know which player they have in their pocket – I have my suspicions – but was sure they dropped O’Connell because they didn’t think anyone would notice.

After all, he plays for Washington State. And, as "Dude" said, even the Russians know Pullman is the Siberia of the Pac-12.

• The conference has had a secret rule in place the past few years mandating a certain number of UCLA players on the all-conference team. It was written into the bylaws when the Bruins agreed to divvy up all the TV money equally a few years back. This was the quid-pro-quo.

But UCLA was so bad this season it was hard find spots to hide the players. What is the most anonymous position in football? Offensive line, of course. So Scott Quessenberry (first team) and Conor McDermott (second) were added to the squad.

I was told this by a fellow who called himself “Larry.” We met at in the lobby of Comcast’s Spokane office in Hillyard. He paid his bill – he said he refuses to use DirecTV because there are a couple channels he just can’t get – and then relayed this story. I didn’t believe him. We argued all the way out into the parking lot, where the last thing he told me was to follow the numbers – or the money, I’m not sure.

So I did.

UCLA was 12th – that’s last folks – in the conference in rushing offense. Some of that is the running backs and some is an emphasis from the since-fired offensive coordinator, sure. But most of it is on the offensive line.

The Bruins averaged 2.9 yards a run, by far the worst in the Pac-12. You would think with two stellar linemen up front, all-conference guys, UCLA could have done better than that. At least that was the thrust of “Larry’s” argument.

But as he drove away, I noticed a Coexist sticker on his BMW, calling his credibility into doubt.

• I heard one other theory, but the guy who told it to me seemed like a crackpot – and a bit paranoid. My phone rang the other day with a blocked number, though, for some reason, the 205 area code showed up.

When I answered, the voice on the other end was obviously scrambled, like one of the “60 Minutes” whistleblowers back in the day.

This person purported to know why O’Connell wasn’t on the All-Pac-12 team. After he explained it, I was skeptical. Still am.

“Kiff” told me the coaches, who actually study game tape and prep for games, felt there were 10 better offensive linemen. “Look at the Washington game,” this crazy guy said. “How well did anyone on WSU’s line run block around the goal line?

“The coaches had it right,” he continued. “Those national teams? They are all media creations. Those guys don’t know anything.”

I started to argue. He cut me off.

“Only guys who played, who study the game for a living, who can decipher a 3-foot-by-3-foot play-calling sheet, know who can really play,” he said. “You guys are either dunces or lemmings, I don’t know which.”

Then he hung up.

As I said, a crackpot.

•••

WSU: Going to a bowl game is the goal of every player in the FBS ranks. After all, the B in FBS stands for Bowl. There are lots of reasons bowl games are sought after, many of which Jacob Thorpe covers in this story today. … Around the conference in football, despite having the conference’s most prolific passing attack, the Cougars don’t have the best quarterback situation according to ESPN.com’s Pac-12 blog. … There were some highs and lows this season. … A Washington player’s football genes come from his mother’s side. …  Who could Oregon lose with the coaching change? The Ducks have already lost a key quarterback recruit (see Prep section below). … A former USC linebacker faces trial soon. … On the basketball side, Arizona State has lost a heralded freshman from Seattle, who will transfer, while an Arizona freshman is finding his role. … The Ducks will face a former teammate when Montana visits. … Where is Washington headed?

Gonzaga: Jim Meehan has a notebook this morning concerning the Zags one area of concern the first 10 games into the season. (Sorry I missed this earlier but added it at 10 a.m.) … A good week for the women’s team was rewarded with an award from the WCC. Whitney Ogden has the story. … Around the conference, Saint Mary’s dropped in the polls after its first loss. … BYU’s Erik Mika brings intensity to the court every game.

EWU: Youngstown State was a Division I-AA power. But after a few lean years, the Penguins are back as an FCS semifinalist. Jim Allen introduces you to Eastern’s opponent this Saturday in Cheney.

Preps: Coeur d’Alene’s Colson Yankoff, one of the pillars of Oregon’s 2018 recruiting class, has decommitted according to multiple reports.

Seahawks: Despite the awful loss Sunday, the Hawks are still in a prime spot as far as the playoffs are concerned. Home field and another Super Bowl will be a lot tougher though. … Is Russell Wilson starting to feel the cumulative effects of too many hits? … There is no time to look back. The Rams come to Seattle on Thursday without Jeff Fisher, fired yesterday.  … Is Cliff Avril a dirty player?

Sounders: There is a celebration parade this morning for the Sounders. … Before they could celebrate, however, Seattle had to give a few of its players their walking papers.

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• As you may have guessed, I was having fun with the O’Connell stuff this morning. But it is still odd. And almost impossible to figure out. Until later …



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