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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

A Grip on Sports: Washington heads to CFP as Pac-12 champs, more changes in Pullman and Zags visit Vegas again as the weekend rolls on

A GRIP ON SPORTS • Let’s see. What can we cover on this snow-covered Saturday? Washington clinching its spot in the College Football Playoff invitational? Cam Ward leaving Washington State and becoming a free agent? Gonzaga visiting Las Vegas to play another Pac-12 school, this time USC? Yes. All of the above.

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• “Take Washington and the points Friday night.” That’s what we wrote Tuesday morning. Of course, we then cautioned against using us as a betting guru, as we rarely get anything right. But it just seemed to us anyone who had watched the Huskies all year and thought, ya, in the most important game of the season UW is going to lose by double digits, had to be wearing Nike sunglasses.

Not that Washington and Oregon didn’t make it interesting. A 34-31 game is usually interesting. (In an another, unrelated note, the over/under was set at 65.5 points. It’s just another reason why betting seems to be a fool’s errand.)

Heck, when Oregon, down 10 with time running out, scored a touchdown in less time than it takes to walk to the fridge, it opened the door for one more Dan Lanning mistake against the only Pac-12 team he couldn’t defeat in his short tenure.

With three timeouts in his pocket, he decided to try an onside kick. A 1-in-50 chance of getting the ball back. Instead of kicking deep. You might argue it didn’t matter where UW got the ball. We would beg to differ – for a couple reasons.

By taking the longest of shots, Lanning told his defense he didn’t believe in them. Didn’t believe they could hold the Huskies and give Bo Nix one more shot. He became, in a sense, the anti-Ted Lasso. Besides, kick it deep, show faith in his favorite side of the ball, and maybe Washington’s play-calling changes.

After the failed onsides kick, the Huskies faced a third and four in Oregon territory. They threw the ball. Michael Penix Jr. connected with Jalen McMillan. First down. Game over.

Same play from the UW 31? Maybe UW throws it. Maybe. But the risk/reward has changed. A miss would have been so much more of a gamble. Clock stopped, facing a punt that will give the ball to UO in good field position. From the Oregon 49? If the pass hadn’t worked, Kalen DeBoer could have gone for the first down or decided to pin Oregon deep. Better options.

Sure, maybe DeBoer allows Ryan Grubb to roll the dice wherever the ball is. He’s got enough grit to make the call. We’ll never know will we? But we do know one thing. The best Oregon team since Chip Kelly’s fingerprints were still all over the program couldn’t solve its Husky problem. Even with two chances.

• College athletics has always had a pyramid structure. Especially football. But the top of the darn thing has never been as sharp as it is these days.

The marriage of NIL money used as a recruiting inducement – despite the impotent NCAA saying that it is not allowed – and the transfer portal has sharpened the tip to a needle-point.

Wednesday, Nebraska football coach Matt Rhule broke the code. He let everyone in on a secret.

“Make no mistake: A good quarterback in the portal costs $1 million to $1.5 million to $2 million right now,” Rhule said.

Friday, that truism hit home on the Palouse.

Ward, who has a year of eligibility left and a degree in his pocket, announced he was leaving Washington State. The NFL is a possibility. But so is a huge payday playing for Oregon or Washington or somewhere not with the best logo in college sports.

The Cougars not only don’t have a power-conference home next season, they also don’t have the financial wherewithal among their NIL collectives to pay a quarterback that type of money.

Only a couple dozen schools do. And, according to many sources, Ward is the current frontrunner among available quarterbacks.

He has options. A third year in Pullman wasn’t really one of them.

• We have a friend who decided to spend this weekend in Las Vegas. She and her family took in the Pac-12 title game last night. They are headed to the MGM Grand Garden Arena tonight to watch Gonzaga face USC in one of those made-for-money nonconference games the Zags seem wired into.

That’s a pretty decent sports weekend. Even if it means leaving the thrill-a-minute snow-and-ice-covered roads of Spokane to do it.

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WSU: Other than the Ward news, which Greg Woods covers in detail (and made part of his portal tracker), it was a good day in Pullman. Next year’s football schedule was solidified, with Washington State and Oregon State announcing the long-rumored scheduling agreement with the Mountain West Conference. And yes, Greg has that story as well, as does other outlets around the nation. The agreement means, due to the Cougars’ nonconference games with San Diego State and San Jose State, they will play eight games against MWC teams next season. … There were also a couple of key competitions on campus. The volleyball team opened its NCAA quest with a hard-fought sweep of Grand Canyon and will face Dayton, with the nation’s longest winning streak, tonight. Peter Harriman has more in this story. … Over at Beasley, the women’s basketball team pulled away late to drop UC Davis 77-52. … The men welcome in Portland State this afternoon. … Elsewhere in the Pac-12 and the nation, we linked Theo Lawson’s game story up above, but we do it again here to make sure you don’t miss it. … There is, of course, coverage from Seattle and throughout Oregon, and we will start with Christian Caple’s thoughts as well as John Canzano’s look at the game. (Canzano also had some pregame thoughts.) … The Huskies’ victory proves once and for all they deserve to play for the national title. … The UW defense had to hang on and it did. … We can pass along more thoughts from the Puget Sound area, including Penix taking a page from the Mike Leach playbook to start the fourth quarter. … In Oregon, the coverage was a bit more subdued, as the national title hopes came to a sudden end for Bo Nix and the Ducks. … The run defense, statistically one of the best in the nation, couldn’t hold up at the end. … The game garnered a lot of national attention, including from one of our favorite sports writers. … After all the dust settles this weekend, the bowl games will be announced. Jon Wilner takes one more stab at how he believes it will play out for the Pac-12 schools. (He also has a mailbag and passes along a recruiting summary in the Mercury News.) But even the major bowls will feature less-than-stellar casts this year – and in the future. Heck, Oregon may be without Nix when it plays in – we are guessing – the Fiesta Bowl. … Trent Bray’s past make him the right guy for Oregon State in the present and the future. … Colorado is losing its starting left tackle, which is not surprising, since Deion Sanders publicly criticized his offensive line often. … USC moved to improve its defense by hiring an up-and-coming coordinator. And D’Anton Lynn doesn’t even have to move after working wonders at UCLA this season. … Arizona is reaping the rewards in awards for its special season. … In basketball news, Oregon hosts Michigan today in a home-and-home two-game series that began in Ann Arbor almost four years ago. … Shoring up the defense is a priority for Colorado. … Did UC Riverside give UCLA a wakeup call? … Purdue’s loss last night opens the door for Arizona to become the No. 1 team, if it gets by Colgate today. … Utah hosts BYU in a key women’s game. … Arizona State held off Pacific last night. … A freshman has been giving Arizona a spark off the bench as it prepares to face undefeated UNLV. … Finally, Stanford will play for the NCAA women’s soccer title.

Idaho: The Vandals’ first home FCS playoff game in 30 years happens tonight in the Kibbie Dome. And in your living rooms on ESPN2. Colton Clark has one final preview of the matchup with Southern Illinois of the Missouri Valley Conference. … Elsewhere in the Big Sky, going on the road to Montana State is something new in the playoffs for perennial power North Dakota State. … Delaware makes the long trip to face Montana in Missoula. … Sacramento State is the fourth Big Sky school playing, and the only one on the road. … UC Davis moved quickly to replace the retired football coach Dan Hawkins. Former Aggie quarterback Tim Plough moves up the road from California to take the reins. … In basketball news, we missed Northern Arizona’s loss at UCSB from Thursday night.

Preps: It’s State football title weekend and Dave Nichols was in Seattle to cover two games at Husky Stadium on Friday. He watched as Wilbur-Creston-Keller, the Northeast 1B champion, fell to defending champion Liberty Bell 68-22. … Lakeside followed, playing for its first 1A title. But the Eagles were no match for Royal, which won its seventh title in eight years 49-7. Dave has that story as well. … Dave also has a basketball roundup to pass along.

Kraken: The injury bug has bitten Seattle once more.

Seahawks: Dave Boling has been witness to Pete Carroll’s Seattle tenure since the beginning. Which gives him a unique perspective, which he draws upon for this column examining how the Hawks can save their season. … Here’s another perspective: The defense needs to pick it up. … So does the offense. … And the officials.

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• Not a big fan of having our Saturday planned out to a great extent. But here we are today. Lots of stuff on the schedule, culminating in working tonight. Yep, we’ll be back on this here website with a TV Take right after Gonzaga and USC finish their Las Vegas battle. Our only disappointment is Bill Walton isn’t doing the analysis. He can fill up the column himself in the first five minutes. Until later …