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John Blanchette: Let’s boost Washington State’s status by packing it in with Pac-12

It sounds as if Mike Leach and athletic director Pat Chun are going to the mattresses to try to rub out the Barzinis, Tattaglias and Cuneos – otherwise known as Florida, LSU and Penn State – muscling in on what they believe to be Washington State’s New Year’s bowl turf.

Both were on the horn nationally on Wednesday to beef about the latest College Football Playoff rankings, which dropped the Cougars five spots after their Apple Cup thud.

That leaves the 10-2 Cougs behind four three-loss teams – one of them Washington, which is sort of inevitable when you get smoked head-to-head on the season’s last weekend – and, mathematically, bumped from the bowl season’s business class and back to coach.

Now, San Antonio’s a swell spot and all, but …

All the Cougs can hope for is a little help from Utah in the Pac-12 championship game and for Oklahoma to beat Texas. Or for the 13-member selection committee to barter back its soul from the Southeastern Conference.

Only kidding. Try to keep a straight face while suggesting oddsmakers would make the Cougs favorites in a game against Florida or LSU – never mind Alabama or Georgia. And those Vegas guys are way smarter than any committee.

Still, whatever gains Wazzu has made in stature over the past four seasons, you have to think the way this year unfolded made for its best shot at one of the chichi bowls, even with the same old pratfall against the Huskies. Really, how often can you expect to pass this way 10-2 again?

So maybe it’s time for the Cougs to take the nuclear option.

Maybe it’s time to serve papers on the Pac-12.

Yes, of course, it’s crazy – not just crazy, but institutional suicide. Pac-12 membership means too much to an outpost on the Palouse. There’s the prestige and the TV money and the rivalries and the TV money and the academically like-minded schools and the TV money – and it should be mentioned the Cougs are $68 million in debt and can’t live without the TV money.

And besides, who else would have them?

But really, at this point, does it matter?

Would the Cougs have been served any worse this season marooned in one of the Group of 5 conferences like the Mountain West than they were by both their Pac-12 brethren and the conference leadership – if that’s what you can call what Champagne Larry Scott provides for the $4.8 million a year he banks.

Wazzu can wail about SEC/Big 10 infatuation all it wants, but with a Pac-12 athletic director (Oregon’s Rob Mullens) chairing the CFP committee and two other members from within the footprint (former USC player Ronnie Lott and Arizona State instructor Paola Boivin, a longtime sports writer) involved, there’s plenty of West Coast representation.

The ugly truth is this: The Cougs were let down by the company they keep.

Start with competitiveness. The Pac-12 may be at its lowest ebb relative to the rest of the FBS world. The 1-8 bowl record last year was just the beginning. This fall, the conference went 3-6 against other Power 5s – the wins coming against 7-5 Michigan State (ASU), 4-8 Nebraska (Colorado) and 2-9 North Carolina (Cal). Leach is a good soldier to trumpet that the low end of his league is better than the low ends of the other leagues, but is that the trophy you really want on the mantel? And shall we mention the 0-6 report card against other CFP Top 25 teams?

And there’s sabotage, accidental or conspiratorial. Bad enough that officials on the field missed the targeting incident that could easily have changed the outcome of WSU’s loss at USC, but the buttinski ways of Scott’s lieutenant, Woodie Dixon, with the replay center may have dissuaded them from even thinking about a flag.

Finally, there’s the nine-game conference schedule.

This one is maybe not as persuasive. Nine’s a grind, yes, and the SEC and ACC play just eight. But the Big Ten also plays nine. And the fact is, all of the three-loss teams ahead of the Cougs in the CFP rankings played a Power 5 nonconference opponent. Penn State – on top of its nine conference games – beat ACC Coastal champ Pitt. LSU beat Miami. And if Florida State is down this year, surely its game with Florida approximates the intensity of a Pac-12 Conference game.

That said, it doesn’t make their schedules any more impressive than the one Wazzu played, except for this:

The Cougs played in the Pac-12. Whatever they achieved, people attached an asterisk.

So maybe they should threaten to leave. Start up some talks with the Mountain West. Hey, look what it did for Gonzaga last spring. Got the Zags some scheduling concessions from their league and a pile of back pay.

Who knows? Maybe Champagne Larry will kick in a mil of his salary toward the Cougs’ debt service – just to change his own sorry narrative.


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