Commentary on Pac-12 developments …
Rising: Washington State football
Last week, after the NFL draft early entry deadline, we published an assessment of the Pac-12 winners and losers. The Cougars were one of several teams not mentioned, in part because of a dearth of information on stay-or-go decisions.
Clarity arrived a short time after publication when right tackle Abraham Lucas revealed he would return for 2021.
Lucas is arguably the top offensive tackle in the conference and will be one of four returning starters up front for WSU.
Also due back in Pullman: quarterback Jayden de Laura, tailback Max Borghi, receivers Renard Bell and Travell Harris and many others.
All in all, WSU’s offense appears well-positioned for coach Nick Rolovich’s second year, which is really his first full year given that the Cougars only played four games in 2020.
Falling: Arizona State basketball
This has to end soon, right? The Sun Devils (4-8, 1-5) cannot possibly continue their free fall to the cellar.
Honestly, we’re far less confident in a turnaround after they were swept by Arizona, with a close loss in Tempe followed a few days later by a no-show performance in Tucson (at least in the first half).
The Sun Devils have dropped six in a row, they haven’t won since Dec. 13, and they’re entering a grueling stretch with seven games in 19 days (two of them at altitude and two of them in Los Angeles).
If the trajectory doesn’t change, ASU will produce one of the most disappointing seasons in conference history.
We aren’t sure how many teams slotted for second place in the Pac-12 preseason media poll have finished last, and it’s probably a few weeks early to begin the research.
But it could very well be less than one.
Rising: Utah’s fiscal footing
The Utes released their financial results for 2019-20 and were in the black again, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.
It wasn’t a dominant victory, so to speak: Revenue exceeded expenses by about $2 million. But a win is a win, especially when the final quarter is interrupted by a pandemic.
Utah has long been one of the most fiscally responsible departments in the conference with spending habits and revenue generation that fit perfectly within the local market dynamics.
Salt Lake City is like a college town when it comes to interest from fans (high) and competition from pro sports (limited).
But it’s also a city, with 1.2 million people in the metropolitan area – basically, the same size as New Orleans – and that environment creates opportunities for partnerships with the business community.
Economically, it’s the best of two worlds for the Utes, and they have maximized their advantages over the years.
The current fiscal climate is the most challenging, obviously, and Utah is staring at an FY21 shortfall of $30 million or more.
But once a semblance of normalcy returns, the Utes will undoubtedly head back into the black.
Falling: Oregon basketball
The Ducks announced another COVID-related pause on Tuesday, their second in 2021.
Our hope is that Oregon’s players and staff experience mild symptoms (at worst) and that transmission is halted immediately.
But were we to assess the situation from a purely competitive standpoint …
The timing of the COVID interruptions couldn’t have been worse for the Ducks, with the postponement of several key conference games: Arizona earlier this month; USC later this week; and a series of duels with UCLA, the current conference front-runner.
The Ducks (4-2) and Bruins (8-1) were supposed to collide before Christmas in Eugene, but testing issues with the game officials intervened.
The makeup date, on Jan. 19, was postponed because of Oregon’s first pause.
Now, the makeup-of-the-makeup has been delayed by Oregon’s second pause.
So, too, has Oregon’s regularly scheduled appearance in Pauley Pavilion.
That’s four Oregon-UCLA dates, derailed. And time is starting to run short.
Rising: Arizona basketball
In the most unusual season, under the most difficult circumstances, Sean Miller might be producing the best coaching job of his Tucson tenure.
With an overhauled roster, a disrupted schedule and no path into postseason (the result of a self-imposed tournament ban), the Wildcats (6-3) are nonetheless stalking the regular-season title.
They’re two back of UCLA in the loss column with six of their last 10 at home.
Miller has been named Pac-12 Coach of the Year three times and, on each occasion, had more talent than his current roster possesses.
Arizona’s performance – and the damage the Wildcats cause within the conference by beating NCAA hopefuls – will be one of the most interesting subplots to watch over the next month.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.