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Sunday, December 16, 2018  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883


Grip on Sports: It’s been so long since the Pac-12 has been on top in football, it’s hard to remember when

USC quarterback Sam Darnold, right, celebrates with guard Toa Lobendahn, left, and center Nico Falah after a touchdown run by Darnold in the second half of an NCAA college football game against Colorado Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017, in Boulder, Colo. USC won 38-24. (David Zalubowski / Associated Press)
USC quarterback Sam Darnold, right, celebrates with guard Toa Lobendahn, left, and center Nico Falah after a touchdown run by Darnold in the second half of an NCAA college football game against Colorado Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017, in Boulder, Colo. USC won 38-24. (David Zalubowski / Associated Press)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • Want to schedule your Apple Cup watch party? Good luck with that. The start time won’t be announced for a few more days. If, however, your favorite Washington Pac-12 school makes the conference’s championship game, you know when that will be. Friday, Dec. 1. It will start at 5 p.m. at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara. The opponent will be USC. The Trojans will be coming off a bye. Read on.


• Isn’t that scheduling swell? Maybe if the NCAA handed out one of its trophies for best football scheduling, the Pac-12 would actually try to make things easier on everyone. You know, the Conference of Champions and all that.

But until then, the conference’s football schedule resembles a Rubik’s Cube, making no sense at all unless you are a savant or something.

We’ve beaten this drum so much there’s a hole in the middle, but it bears repeating. Want a great example of the idiocy? Just take USC vs. Washington State.

The regular season matchup came on a Friday night in Pullman. Not the easiest place to get to in the Pac-12. The Trojans played on the road the Saturday before, albeit at California in a day game. But the same combination (road Saturday, road Friday) has led to a 0-4 record for the traveling team this year. And USC did its part, losing 30-27 to the Cougars.

But there could be a rematch.

If Washington State wins the Apple Cup – on a Saturday on the road – they will face the Trojans for the conference title. On a Friday night. That’s OK, right? Both teams will have a short week to prepare? Well, sort of. Both teams will have a short week to prepare for their opponent. The Trojans will be coming off a bye. You know, a week without a game? The week every player and coach always says comes at the exact right time.

It certainly does for USC, if the Trojans’ goal was only winning the conference title. But they had higher aspirations when the season began. They wanted to play for the national title. A 12-week slog without a break didn’t help that at all. Neither did a Friday night road game in the Inland Northwest.

Oh well. The Conference of Champions will have a football champion. Just not one in the national sense. That hasn’t happened in more than a decade – 13 years in fact, the longest stretch since World War II between national titles.

The last title came in 2003, back when it was the Pac-10 and Pete Carroll coached at USC. Back when Tom Hansen was commissioner – and everyone’s favorite punching bag. Before Larry Scott and his plans of world domination.

This conference expansion thing has worked out well, don't you think?

• Gonzaga is back at McCarthey tonight, hosting a team from our nation’s capitol. Georgetown? George Washington? American? Nope, Howard.

The Bison aren’t a traditionally strong program – they last made the NCAA tournament in 1992 – and play in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, whose champion last won an NCAA game in 2012.

Tonight’s game is part of the Zags’ least attractive non-conference home schedule in a while, with only the Dec. 1 matchup with Creighton the type of game that excites fans. But it's on television and we will be watching. Then we will have our TV Take when it's over. You've been warned.


WSU: Mondays of a bye week are usually pretty lazy days, but not yesterday. Nope, there was a lot of news, including two Cougars earning Pac-12 player of the week honors. Theo Lawson has that news as well as this nugget: the Apple Cup kickoff time will be either around noon or 5 p.m. That’s narrowing it down a lot. … He also has a story on a basketball signing and another on his Associated Press Top 25 basketball ballot.

Elsewhere in Pac-12, San Jose’s Jon Wilner has a proposal to help the conference fix some of the problems we mentioned above. There is also the TV problem, but that’s another whole commentary in itself. … He also sums up the last weekend. … There is a small chance there could be a three-way tie for the North title, which would get Washington into the Pac-12 title game. However, if Stanford defeats California in Saturday’s Big Game, there is no chance for UW to win the North. Chris Peterson is only focused on Utah, this week’s opponent in Seattle. The Utes’ offense isn’t all that good and hasn’t been. Neither has Washington’s at times. … Arizona State may play Oregon State this weekend but both teams already know the kickoff times for their rivalry games next week. … Oregon faces Arizona with a lot going on, including on the injury front. … It doesn’t matter all that much in the grand scheme, but UCLA vs. USC always matters, no matter what the sport. In football, it’s really important. … Colorado also has a bye. … On the basketball courts last night, favorites Oregon, Stanford, Utah and USC won while Oregon State lost at home to Wyoming. Meanwhile, the President got involved in the UCLA basketball shoplifting case. Maybe that's why they are headed home.

Gonzaga: Jim Meehan does what he does, preparing you for tonight’s basketball game. He has an advance of the game and introduces us to one of Howard’s best players. … Jim also has a poll story, focusing on where the Zags ended up (spoiler alert: they are 17th). … The women’s basketball team opened its season with a road loss at Colorado State. … They also signed a recruit, Post Falls’ Melody Kempton. Jim Allen has that story. … The school’s long-time men’s soccer coach is retiring.

EWU: It doesn’t look good for Eastern’s playoff prospects, at least right now. Jim Allen analyzes the prospects in this piece. … He also has a look at winless Portland State, this week’s opponent. … Around the Big Sky, North Dakota is already looking toward next season. … This is an historic season around Southern Utah. Same goes for Weber State. … The rivalry game between Montana State and Montana is always bitter, though there isn’t always a home-field advantage. … There was a huge basketball win last night for the conference, with Montana edging Pitt in Pittsburgh. There was also a tough loss, with Northern Arizona falling at home. … Utah State handled Montana State.

Idaho: The Vandals hosted George Fox, a member of the Division III Northwest Conference, last night. They won, 101-62. Peter Harriman has the game story.

Chiefs: Portland has been receiving great goalie play recently.

Seahawks: It’s all but official. The Hawks are re-signing Byron Maxwell to help with the void left by the loss of Richard Sherman as they strive to make the playoffs. … Speaking of Sherman, should he have played Thursday night? He was hurting going into the game. … Next up is the Falcons. Kam Chancellor may not be available this week. Jimmy Graham will be. The Jimmy Graham everyone wanted to see from the beginning.


• Tomorrow is trash day at our place. And today seems to be pretty nice. So guess who will be outside with a rake this afternoon? In a perfect world it would be the neighbor kid and I would pay him to clean up the last of the leaves. News flash. The world isn’t perfect. It’s going to be me. And to whoever invented the leaf blower, I send you my thanks. Until later … 

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