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Grip on Sports: The bowl blues envelop Washington State fans one more time

Michigan State celebrates as time runs down against WSU during the second half of the 2017 Holiday Bowl Thursday, December 28, 2017, at SDCCU Stadium in San Diego, Calif. Michigan State won the game 42-17. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Michigan State celebrates as time runs down against WSU during the second half of the 2017 Holiday Bowl Thursday, December 28, 2017, at SDCCU Stadium in San Diego, Calif. Michigan State won the game 42-17. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • Maybe it’s just us, but Washington State’s recent history in bowl games seems to mirror the time of year. And, no, this isn’t one of those columns about the weather. Read on.

••••••••••

• We’re talking the Christmas season. See, Cougar fans look forward to a bowl game all year. Whether or not it will happen is the subject of numerous questions from August on. The sixth win is celebrated like a visit to the North Pole. Heck, I’m sure there are Cougar boosters who sit on Santa’s lap and ask for a bowl win.

Alas, the big guy brings them a lump of coal almost every year.

Which brings about their personal version of post-holiday depression.

It happened again. Oh sure, Cougar Nation received a holiday surprise yesterday, but it came in the form of all-everything-recordwise quarterback Luke Falk not playing. His left wrist, wrapped in a brace or a cast or whatever, didn’t allow him to participate as anything other than a cheerleader. 

That left Washington State’s offense in the hands of sophomore Tyler Hilinski. A competent backup, sure, but a backup nonetheless. To make matters worse, Hilinski was dealing with a receiving corps missing two of its three most experienced targets.

And then there was the pesky defense across the way. You know, Michigan State, a team that forced three-and-outs on about a third of its defensive possessions this season.

So maybe the 42-17 defeat shouldn’t look so bad. But it does. Under Mike Leach, now the $20 million man, the Cougars have earned four bowl berths. That’s good, especially considering they went more than a decade without one. But in those four games they have won once.

The three defeats include: Losing to Colorado State in the last seconds after an ill-advised handoff; losing to a Minnesota team that went through a player revolt before the bowl; and getting blown out last night.

Bah, humbug indeed.

A season that began 6-0, which included a nationally televised upset of No. 5 USC, once again ended with an Apple Cup rout and a bowl loss. It’s enough to leave a sour taste in a Cougar fan’s mouth.

• On the opposite end of the spectrum, Gonzaga opened the WCC season with a win, just like its done since Mark Few was an assistant.

The Zags haven’t lost a conference opener since 1996.

It helps when the lid-lifter, as it may have been called back before the turn of the century, is against a team like Pacific. The Tigers’ last nonconference game was a 41-point defeat at No. 3 Arizona State, so they know what’s expected.

And they didn’t disappoint, especially after the Zags initiated their typical second-half explosion.

The 81-48 win put Gonzaga right where it always is after one conference game: atop the standings.

•••

WSU: If you really want to relive last night’s 42-17 loss, then we have the links for you. We will start with Theo Lawson’s game story, which covers all the details. Theo also covered the postgame press conference in which Leach answered some questions sarcastically and ignored others. … John Blanchette was in San Diego, witnessed the game live and has a column. … Jim Allen was there as well and has the difference makers and two stories from the Spartans’ postgame, one on the quarterback and another on coach Mark Dantonio’s 100th win. … Tyler Tjomsland has the photo report. … I put together some thoughts in the second half and they appeared online right after the game ended. … There is coverage from the Times too, with Matt Calkins’ column and Stefanie Loh’s game coverage. … The Michigan media has more on the game and there are whole sections of stories from San Diego, which probably won’t be the Cougars’ bowl destination next season.

Elsewhere in the Pac-12, it’s been a disaster of a bowl season for the conference. It suffered another loss last night, as TCU rallied late to get past Stanford 39-37 in the Alamo Bowl. That makes the Pac-12 1-5 thus far in bowls. … USC and Arizona State will try to reverse that trend today. The Sun Devils playing in the Sun Bowl under lame duck coach Todd Graham. And the Trojans face maybe their toughest test of the year, facing Ohio State in the Cotton Bowl. The Buckeyes are either really ticked off for being left out of the playoffs or unmotivated after missing out on the ultimate prize. You pick. … Arizona has some things to work on in the offseason. … Washington will finish the Pac-12’s bowl slate in the Fiesta Bowl against Penn State. … On the basketball courts, conference play begins tonight. The favorites are in the desert, though Arizona and Arizona State don’t meet until Saturday. … USC and UCLA expect to contend. They host the Washington schools this weekend. The Huskies have exceeded expectations thus far. … Oregon was also expected to be a contender but hasn’t played that well yet. The Ducks host Utah tonight. … Colorado is struggling a bit as well.

Gonzaga: Jim Meehan was in McCarthey to document the Zags’ easy win with a game story, a sidebar on Rui Hachimura’s effort off the bench and the three keys to the victory. … Whitney Ogden was also in attendance and has a story on Josh Perkins’ big night, the Christmastime visits of a few families and the latest roster addition getting some playing time. … Dan Pelle took care of the visuals with this photo gallery. … (In case you are wondering, with the WSU game overlapping, we didn’t have a TV Take last night. The feature will return Saturday.) … The Gonzaga women nearly reached triple digits in a 27-point win at Pacific. … Elsewhere in the WCC on opening night, the best game may have been in San Diego, where the Toreros handled USF, 73-63. USD has 10 wins, all keyed by its defense. … The other contenders also won, with Saint Mary’s having little trouble with visiting Loyola-Marymount and host BYU rolling over Portland. … Santa Clara got past Pepperdine at home.

Idaho: The Vandal women opened Big Sky play with a comeback win over North Dakota. … Around the Big Sky in mens’ action last night, Montana and Montana State handled Northern Arizona and Southern Utah, respectively.

Preps: The holiday basketball tournaments continued last night, with the biggest game at Central Valley. That’s where the Bears avenged their only defeat in the last two girls basketball seasons, routing Bellarmine Prep 67-31. Dave Nichols was there and has this story. … We also can offer roundups from boys and girls action around the area.

Seahawks: Not only do the Hawks have to win Sunday, they have to hope Atlanta loses at home to Carolina. … The Seattle passing game has to rebound this week. … Bobby Wagner is the leader of the defense. … Injuries and illness are limiting practice time again this week.

•••       

• Let’s hope the roads are better than they look from my home-office perch. We have to be out and about this morning. And no, I’m not Christmas shopping for next year. Until later … 

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