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Grip on Sports: Will WSU be the big Pac-12 favorite that has a tough time today?

A GRIP ON SPORTS • There are four football games in the Pac-12 today. All of them, including the one in Pullman this afternoon, include a double-digit favorite. What happened to parity? Read on.

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• The guess here is it still exists. And one of the double-digit underdogs, whether it be Oregon, Oregon State, California or, sorry Cougar fans, Arizona, will tighten their metaphorical hands around a favorite’s throat. The question is, which one.

The least likely are the Beavers, playing on the road against a team (Stanford) that is getting its act together. So under the Pac-12’s tortured-logic codicil, that means the Beavers are the most likely to pull an upset.

But my vote goes to the team in the Palouse. Arizona has not played well this season on either side of the ball. The Wildcats have been sieve-like on defense and on the offensive line. Injuries have piled up faster than cars on I-5 in a Seattle rush hour. And yet I wonder if the Cougars are in for a catfight.

Arizona has gotten healthier at the most important position: quarterback. And anyone the Wildcats trot out, be it Brandon Dawkins – Luke Falk’s old high school teammate – or someone else, can run the ball as well as – probably better than – pass it. Duel-threat quarterbacks have tested the Cougar defense under coordinator Alex Grinch, even those without the athleticism of Dawkins.

Most of those tests occurred last season, however, and WSU hasn’t really faced a run-first guy at all this year. So we don’t know how the defense will react. Gage Gubrud, Eastern’s quarterback, mixed in a few runs in the opener – they helped EWU pull the now-all-but-forgotten-in-the-Palouse upset – and Oregon State tried a few times last week.

So maybe Dawkins won’t get going. Maybe he will. The answer to that may just determine how tight the fingers get.

• Another often overlooked aspect of this week is focus. There has been a lot of exterior noise around the team due to the Robert Barber situation. That came to a head yesterday with a Board of Regents meeting that included a bizarre response by a regent to a Gabe Marks statement, a state legislator getting ticked off and the announcement Barber can finish his studies right away via an on-line class.

Jacob Thorpe covered all the news aspects of the hearing, including playing the role of videographer. Tom Clouse covered the school’s filing in Whitman County disputing Barber’s request for a stay. And John Blanchette sums up all of the happenings recently with this well-written and succinct column.

There is also more coverage of the Barber situation from Stefanie Loh in the Seattle Times and other WSU off-field news.

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• WSU: On the field, the Cougars have a few keys to winning. Jacob covers them as well as an advance of today’s possible trap game. … The WSU volleyball team was upset at home by Oregon State. … Arizona, which played Stanford last week, has to adjust to a diametrically different type of offense today.

Elsewhere in Pac-12 football, it’s Saturday, so we can pass along ESPN.com’s mailbag and things to watch in today’s games. … Washington tries to keep its playoff hopes alive while California tries to extend its home winning streak. … Oregon travels to the Coliseum to face a USC team on a roll. … Stanford and Oregon State both have inexperienced quarterbacks starting. … UCLA and Colorado played Thursday night. The responses to the game tell you who won. … Arizona State and Utah have byes.

• Gonzaga: The Zag women opened their season last night with an exhibition rout of Corban College. Jim Allen has that story. … The men open their season tonight with an exhibition as well, though this one should be closer. West Georgia is coached by a GU alum, something Jim Meehan covers in his advance and John wrote about in a recent column.

• EWU: The Eagles are on the road in San Luis Obispo to face the team with the most unique offense in the Big Sky, the triple option. Jim Allen has an advance of tonight’s contest. … The women’s soccer team won again and will compete in the Big Sky tournament final. … Cal Poly is focused on Gubrud and Cooper Kupp, as it should be. … Around the Big Sky in football, North Dakota tries to stay undefeated on the road at Northern Colorado. … Montana expects to right the ship against Idaho State. … Struggling Montana State travels to Southern Utah

• Idaho: The Vandals are in Louisiana for today’s game. Josh Wright has a preview. … The basketball team won its exhibition game last night over Lewis-Clark State.

• Whitworth: The Pirates have a chance to rewrite their offensive record book the next two games though it looks as if the Division III playoffs aren’t in the picture. Tom Clouse has this story and a preview of today’s final home game against Willamette. … The women’s basketball team lost an exhibition against its alumni.

• Chiefs: Spokane returned home last night after a long road trip, rallied to tie late but lost in overtime to Red Deer. Tom has the story.

• Preps: The GSL 4A schools are out of the playoffs, including defending state champion Gonzaga Prep. The Bullpups were eliminated at home Friday night by Chiawana, 37-35. Kevin Dudley has that story and Colin Mulvany this photo report. … Greg Lee was in Kennewick where Richland routed Central Valley 30-0. He has this story. … Coeur d’Alene was eliminated from the Idaho 5A playoffs by Eagle, losing 48-39. … We also have a roundup of the football action last night. … St. George’s girls moved on in the soccer playoffs.

• Seahawks: The Hawks tried to get Russell Wilson to sit for a while after his injuries, but the veteran quarterback was having nothing to do with it. Now he believes everything is going to work out for the best. … It’s funny how NFL rosters work sometimes. … Don’t expect to see Kam Chancellor on Monday night.

• Mariners: CEO John Stanton says the goal is to win a World Series. Great. Words are cheap.

• Sounders: Newly installed coach Brian Schmetzer is known as a players’ coach. He developed that philosophy over the years.

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• A busy day today. But I will be on the Washington State postgame show this afternoon with Derek Deis about an hour after the Cougar game ends. In thses parts you can listen on 920 KXLY or, if you are out of the area, on either the TuneIn Radio app or the WSU Gameday app. Until then …

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