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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

New Pac-12 teams approach rivalry week

PULLMAN – It’s rivalry week in the Pac-12. At least for two schools. The two newest schools. Although Utah and Colorado joined the conference together this season, and are paired in a lot of ways, including scheduling in some sports, they aren’t natural rivals. Neighbors, maybe, but not rivals. First off, in recent years the Buffaloes were members of the Big 12 Conference, the Utes the Mountain West. They used to play nearly every year until 1962, when the two went separate ways. They haven’t played since. But both have rivals. For the Utes it’s BYU. The game even has a name – the Holy War – and a trophy. And a lot riding on Saturday’s outcome. “I believe it’s the single biggest sporting event (in Utah) during the course of the year,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said Tuesday. “It’s the biggest thing that happens in the state as far as that goes.” And it divides the Beehive state. “Like any other great rivalry, you’re either red or blue,” Whittingham said. “There is no middle ground.” Nor is there in Colorado this week, when the Buffs take on another Mountain West school, their rivals from Colorado State. “My first time I ever played in Folsom Field as a player was against CSU in ’83,” said new Colorado coach, and former Buff player, Jon Embree. “This has always been a special rivalry to me and always meant a lot. “As a player, playing against old high school teammates, and as a coach, knowing what this game means to the local people. I think it’s a special rivalry.” But neither rivalry is a conference game. And that takes a bit of the luster off the matchups. “It puts it in a different perspective,” Whittingham said. “And of course the timing of it. It will no longer be played in the last game of the season time slot.” No, that is reserved for the Colorado game. A Pac-12 game. Part of a whole new experience for the two schools. “Taking nothing away from the Mountain West Conference,” Whittingham said, “it’s good football in the Mountain West, but this is a different ballgame now. Essentially, it’s a bowl game every weekend.” Four from the Pac-12: 1, Finding the right guy to return kicks isn’t easy. Unless of course you are Stanford and you have Chris Owusu. Cougars fans might remember Owusu’s 85-yard kickoff return in Pullman two years ago when he finished fifth in the nation, averaging 31.5 yards a return. But last year was injury-saddled so Owusu is just starting to get back into the groove. “The thing with kick returners is, No. 1, you have to have a feel,” Stanford coach David Shaw said. “You have to have some level of patience. And, No. 2, you have to have speed, the speed to get to the hole when it’s there. Chris does a good job of catching the ball, getting moving, feeling the blocks happening and then knowing when to accelerate.” 2, There are so many good quarterbacks in the Pac-12, some are bound to get lost. Stanford’s Andrew Luck, Oregon’s Darren Thomas and USC’s Matt Barkley seem to receive the lion’s share of publicity. But Arizona coach Mike Stoops thinks his guy, Nick Foles, deserves to be in the same category. “They’re elite players, I can’t say anymore than that,” Stoops said. “Nick gets kind of overshadowed. He’s thrown for over 800 yards, six touchdowns, no interceptions and really, he’s an afterthought.” Foles gets to show Luck what he’s got this week when Arizona hosts the Cardinal. 3, On Saturday, California will play the first of five games at the San Francisco Giants’ home field, AT&T Park. The Bears’ remodeling project at Memorial Stadium not only forced a change of venue but some adjustment in their game as well. “There are some strategic elements there, because of the infield,” coach Jeff Tedford said. “From what I understand, it’s only going to be for this week. They are going to put grass in there when baseball season’s over.” Luckily for the Bears, the Giants’ season will probably end quite a bit earlier than last year, when they won the World Series. San Francisco was 61/2 games back in the National League wild-card race going into Tuesday night. 4, It’s not really true Dennis Erickson knows everyone in American football. It just seems that way. Erickson faces off with another close friend in the business Saturday night, when his Sun Devils travel to Illinois, whose offensive coordinator is Paul Petrino. “I’ve been around the Petrino family many, many years, when I was a college player (at Montana State) and Bob Petrino was the high school coach at Butte Central,” Erickson said. “That’s Paul’s dad.” Erickson actually coached against Bob when Erickson coached at Billings Central. “I got to be very good friends with him,” Erickson said. “And I watched Bobby and Paul grow up and playing, when they played at Carroll College. I followed them in coaching through the years.”
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