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Sunday, May 26, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Grip on Sports: Playoff semifinals expose the gaps in college football

Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith  scores a touchdown during the second half of the Orange Bowl  on Saturday  in Miami Gardens, Fla. (Wilfredo Lee / AP)
Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith scores a touchdown during the second half of the Orange Bowl on Saturday in Miami Gardens, Fla. (Wilfredo Lee / AP)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • The gulf between the haves and the almost-haves in college football seems to be getting wider. At least it looked that way Saturday afternoon and evening. Read on.

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• Forgot all this talk about the Power 5. There is only a Power 2 right now: Alabama and Clemson.

OK, so Oklahoma made it a game in the second half of the Orange Bowl CFB semifinal against the Crimson Tide yesterday, but that was more on Alabama than on the Sooners. Disinterested can take many forms, and it sure seemed to for the Alabama players after they blitzed out to a four-touchdown lead.

Notre Dame didn’t get that lucky in its Dallas semifinal, but it may not have mattered. The difference in speed between the Fighting Irish and Clemson was palatable – and the decisive factor.

How many times did a Clemson receiver just blow by a markedly slower Notre Dame defender? It reminded me of Washington State’s win against San Jose State earlier this season. And therein lies college football’s problem right now.

Washington State had a talent (and speed) advantage over some of their FBS opponents. And the Cougars had a talent (and speed) gap with others, including Washington. Yet the Huskies were a step or two behind Auburn throughout their matchup early this season. The same Auburn that struggled to keep up with Alabama.

The chasm between the best – make no mistake about it, Alabama and Clemson are markedly better than anyone else – and the next in college football might be wider than it’s ever been.

Not all that long ago there were four, five, maybe even 10 teams that had a legitimate shot at the national title. Recently that number seems to have shrunk to two, maybe three (if Georgia is included).

It’s not a this-year thing. It’s a been-building-for-a-while thing. And, as always, money is at the root of it. Alabama spends as much as it takes to build on the tradition the school has. Clemson spent as much as it took to rebuild its tradition. Now the two programs are like Ford in the 1930s, turning out winners likes Model Ts.

While everyone else is still riding horses.

• We go into this some below, but can anyone remember a time when the Pac-12 (or Pac-10 or Pac-8) was struggling this much in men’s basketball?

From the top to the bottom, the conference is just average against others. That’s not the way it is supposed to be.

For most of my lifetime, the Pac-12 was the gold standard, if not often nationally after the mid-1970s, at least in the West. That’s not the case anymore. A case could be made the Pac-12 is second, third or even fourth-best in the West.

That’s a long fall. But not a quick one. The conference has slid the past few years, finally hitting rock bottom this season.

But has it? Oregon and UCLA seemed to have recruited well heading into this season, but for a variety of reasons both have disappointed. The conference's future may not be any better. And that’s scary.

•••

WSU: While Theo Lawson is taking a roundabout way back from San Antonio, Jason Shoot filled in with the coverage of the Cougars’ loss to Santa Clara in Spokane yesterday. It marked Washington State’s sixth loss this season away from Pullman. The Cougars have yet to win outside of Beasley. … Kathy Plonka also has a photo report. … Theo didn’t skip a day, however, as he took a look back at the Alamo Bowl victory. It was the Pac-12's first bowl victory in more than a year.

Elsewhere in the Pac-12, it was an awful day for the conference in hoops, part of the worst December in a long, long time. It's probably not a good time for the conference to sell itself. … Besides WSU losing to Santa Clara, UCLA lost at home to Liberty, the Bruins’ fourth consecutive defeat. … Utah competed with Nevada for a while but faded late. … Arizona State followed up its big win against then-No. 1 Kansas with a home loss to Princeton. … California lost at home to Seattle, the Redhawks second win against a Pac-12 school this season. Former Eastern coach Jim Hayford has Seattle 12-3 in nonconference play. … Stanford won but lost point guard Daejon Davis to injury. … Both Oregon and Oregon State picked up wins. … In football, Utah, Oregon, Stanford and Washington – especially Washington – hold the conference’s future in their hands over the next few days.

Gonzaga: The Zags had little trouble with North Alabama on Friday. Jim Meehan had little trouble pinpointing why as he looked back at the game. … The women opened WCC play yesterday in Los Angeles, though it took until the second half for the Bulldogs to really get started. From there, they rolled Loyola-Marymount. … Around the WCC, the conference’s biggest win yesterday came in Stockton where Pacific held off UC Irvine in overtime. … The most-lopsided defeat occurred in Mississippi, where BYU lost to Mississippi State 103-81. … Saint Mary’s ran San Jose State out of the gym in the first half and then coasted to an easy victory.

EWU: For the Eagles to win the FCS title next month in Frisco, Texas, they will need their receivers to come up big. Ryan Collingwood takes a look at that position group’s success. … The Big Sky basketball season began yesterday and the Eagles started conference pretty much how they played throughout much of the nonconference, with a loss. Ryan was in Cheney and has the story of Eastern’s 84-72 defeat against Weber State. … Elsewhere in the Big Sky, the favorite, Montana, rallied in the second half to get past host Northern Arizona. … Montana State picked up a road win at Southern Utah. … Northern Colorado defeated Sacramento State.

Idaho: The young Vandals learned a lesson in intensity, taught by Idaho State’s veteran group yesterday. Peter Harriman was in Moscow and has the game story.  

Whitworth: The Pirates bet on Jordan Lester at the end and he came up big, with his layup lifting Whitworth to a 76-74 win over Johns Hopkins in Las Vegas.

Chiefs: Jake McGrew also came up big as time was winding down, with his goal with 3 seconds remaining lifted Spokane past visiting Tri-City 2-1. Kevin Dudley was in the Arena and has the particulars.

Preps: The last weekend of 2018 was filled with basketball tournaments. We have roundups from the GSL girls and GSL boys play – and a summary of the Les Schwab Invitational in Portland, where G-Prep finished third – as well as in area boys and girls action. … We also have a wrestling roundup and news about local alums doing big things.

Seahawks: The Cardinals are in Seattle today. The outcome doesn't mean a lot, except maybe in the way of momentum toward the playoffs.

•••       

• Yesterday’s weather was welcome around these parts. Cold in the mountains – we know of a lot of people on the slopes – and warmer in the valleys. So warm here, in fact, almost all the snow melted. We still have grass in the backyard, which is a good thing. Just think. It’s less than three months until spring. But before we get there, we need to look back on 2018. That's what we do as the year ends, right? Until later …

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