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A Grip on Sports: It’s appropriate Idaho and WSU face off in hazy conditions as college football begins

Washington State Cougars running back James Williams (32) runs the ball against \25d\ Idaho Vandals wide receiver David Ungerer (2) during the second half of a college football game on Saturday, Sep 17, 2016, at Martin Stadium in Pullman, Wash. WSU won the game 56-6. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Washington State Cougars running back James Williams (32) runs the ball against \25d\ Idaho Vandals wide receiver David Ungerer (2) during the second half of a college football game on Saturday, Sep 17, 2016, at Martin Stadium in Pullman, Wash. WSU won the game 56-6. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • The first big football Saturday is upon us. And, as if it is programmed in some odd way, wildfire smoke permeates the region. Thankfully, it is not enough to postpone games. As of now anyway. Let’s hope it stays that way.

•••••••

• At least our mission today is clear. Watch as much college football as our day allows. Oh, sure there is a lot of work to do, including during tonight’s Idaho at Washington State game. We’ll be watching that one with our journalist hat on, as the S-R has asked us to write our TV Take column again this season. Lucky us.

Before then, however, there is so much to enjoy. We are especially looking forward to that always great rivalry between Tulsa and Wyoming in the high altitude. We’re sure to see a few Hurricane players gasping for breath.

Today’s games – and, yes, we were joking about caring one iota about that early afternoon game – will unfold against the backdrop of another sea change in the sport announced Friday.

The FBS playoff system will be expanding. Maybe even as soon as next season but no later than 2026. For once, the pursuit of money isn’t evil for those conferences not named the SEC or Big Ten. The presidents who preside over the playoffs, including Washington State’s Kirk Schulz, got together yesterday and decided to implement a 12-team format. And not just any 12-team format. One that gave automatic berths to six conference champions (there are 10 currently) based on rankings. With only six at-large berths, the value of being one of 20 in a super conference just went down, while winning a title in a 10-team league went up by more than a corresponding amount.

That’s a big deal for the Pac-12 (or whatever number it will end up being) and others.

There might be more money for a Washington or Oregon in the Big Ten – if they could wrangle an invite – but getting into the postseason will be more difficult. At least while it’s a 12-team tournament.

Change is constant, sure. Driven by what drove this one: money. There is so much more to be made with a 12-team format than the current four-team model. It was a no-brainer to make the switch. It also changes the realignment model, at least in the short term. Call it a deep breath as everyone needs to re-evaluate financial impacts and long-term goals.

We have this vision of some Pac-12 employee named Bartleby, an ancient scrivener in a dank San Francisco office, getting the news yesterday and throwing his outdated computer against the wall. He’ll have to start over. We’re sure he would have preferred not to. But here we are. The Pac-12, and most every school associated with it, may need to recalibrate.

Once again, there is more haze obscuring the sport’s future. At least this time it doesn’t look to be unhealthy for the schools in the West.

• You know what is unhealthy? Trying to predict what will happen to the M’s.

It doesn’t matter that computer models are predicting they have about a 92 percent chance of making the playoffs – based mainly, we believe, on their remaining schedule, other contenders’ schedules and the way they are playing.

That leaves something in the neighborhood of 8 percent. And it’s that number longtime Mariner followers stress over.

We’ve been here before. Well, not precisely. This team has better pitching than most of the past two decades. But close. And watched as they came up short. You would think everyone would have grown some sort of protective exoskeleton against the pain and disappointment. You would be wrong.

The past makes it mandatory that when the M’s build an early three-run lead, as they Friday, the Mariner fan moans about missed chances. The past also informs a worry about blowing a six-run ninth-inning lead in Cleveland, because the franchise has done worse before. There is no rest until the final out. Between those two events, there are the moments of sheer terror, as when Cal Raleigh, he of two home runs yesterday and 21 on the season, dives for an errant and ill-timed Julio Rodriguez throw and comes up holding his left wrist.

Cal out? The season is doomed. That the catcher turns out to be OK only slows the heartbeat a little.

Up until that day there is an “x” to the left of the “Seattle” in the standings, such things will happen. The blood pressure will rise, the games will be terrifying to watch and the worst will be presumed.

In the Northwest, it is the way.

•••

WSU: We probably should have titled this section “WSU and Idaho” this morning. It serves both. Colton Clark has this preview of the game, as well as his two-minute drill and his pick. Our prediction? Whatever happens, the two coaches will have a more pleasant meeting at midfield than the one between Mike Leach and Paul Petrino back in the day. That is our Lock of the Week. … Elsewhere in the Pac-12 and college football, the playoff decision has ramifications. Deep ones. Jon Wilner looks at what they are for the Pac-12 and we can offer thoughts from other sources. … He also answers questions in the Mercury News as well as serving as a conduit for recruiting news. … The weekend didn’t start well for the Pac-12. Colorado collapsed against TCU, losing 38-13 at home. The Buffs had chances early but obviously Karl Dorrell had picked the wrong starting quarterback. … Washington hosts Kent State today. The Huskies should win but, in Kalen DeBoer’s debut, style points matter. … Oregon has the second-most important game of the day for the conference, traveling to Georgia to take on the defending national champions. Winning would be great but a close game would be just fine. … Utah has the most-important assignment, as well as the most pressure. The conference needs the most-highly touted Utah team ever to win at Florida. That’s not easy. … Oregon State isn’t without pressure either. The Beavers host Boise State tonight and a loss would be bad for the school and its conference. … There is pressure on Stanford. Not just to brush off Colgate – sorry – but to do it convincingly. … California has the same expectations against UC Davis. … There are even more expectations at USC but that shouldn’t hurt the Trojans against Rice at home. … Ditto for UCLA in its game against Bowling Green in the Rose Bowl. The Bruins should roll. … Arizona has its work cut out for it at San Diego State, though the Wildcats’ don’t have to do more than play well. … That’s what Arizona State did in their win over Northern Arizona the other night.

EWU: The Eagles open by hosting Tennessee State. Dan Thompson has three things to watch, including how often they run the ball. … Elsewhere in the Big Sky, Montana hosts Northwestern State to kick off a highly anticipated season. … Montana State begins with McNeese State trying to get back to the FCS title game again. … Houston Baptist is at Northern Colorado. … Weber State won Thursday night. We can pass on a story today. … Northern Arizona had a tough opener.

Whitworth: The Pirates had a tough one to start as well, traveling to Pittsburgh to play Carnegie Mellon. While the offense did well, there were too many mistakes and too much offense from the home team, which won 35-17.

Preps: An on-campus game? At Ferris? Well, that’s rare. So rare in fact, it was only the fourth ever – and the first Greater Spokane League game. There probably won’t be another as the host Saxons were routed by South Hill rival Lewis and Clark, 38-6. Dave Nichols and Colin Mulvany were there, Dave handling the game story and Colin the photo gallery. … Dave also put together this roundup of the first Friday of games in Washington.  

Indians: It isn’t over until it’s over – thanks, Yogi – but it’s close. Spokane lost 7-5 to Vancouver at Avista last night and trail the Canadians for the final playoff spot  by 4.5 games with eight remaining.

Tennis: We asked a question yesterday about Serena Williams’ U.S. Open run. It was answered last night. It is over. But it doesn’t mar her legacy. It might even have enhanced it a bit.

Seahawks: Myles Adams earned his spot on the roster with a big game in Dallas, in front of a lot of family and friends. … What is the team’s best position group? Well, we know the answer isn’t quarterback. … There were more roster moves yesterday.

Mariners: As we said above, the M’s rolled 6-1 over Cleveland last night. … George Kirby was the American League Rookie Pitcher of the Month. Former Mt. Spokane star Drew Rasmussen won the league’s award for the best overall pitcher.

•••       

• Phone tag. Hold. If we had all the time back in the past year we’ve wasted on those while making appointments, we would have enough to, well, watch another college football game. Here we are, not even done with the first week, and we’ve watched games blow past the four-hour mark. Routinely. It’s time to ask for a raise. Not sure we are getting the federally mandated minimum anymore. Until later …

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