A GRIP ON SPORTS • Yes, it’s a pretty big deal Saturday in college football, even in this area. But that’s secondary to us this morning. We have other things to cover.
• We were not being entirely truthful. Yes, we do have other things to cover. But we’ll take a minute or two here to delve into the make-or-break aspects of today’s local college football games.
It starts in Pullman, though the game is the final one on the Spokane-area schedule. The Cougars host Stanford, which just happens to be in the conference cellar at 1-5. But only a half-game behind 1-4 WSU.
Heard of no-shave November, haven’t you? Well, the Cougs had a no-win October, with all four losses coming against conference foes. At 4-4 overall, their bowl chances in this last go-round against current Pac-12 foes hinges on winning twice more. Actually, it hinges on winning today. Drop the game against the team sporting the nation’s worst pass defense and there is little chance of getting to the magic number of six wins.
At the FCS level, Idaho and Eastern Washington have games with different make-or-break aspects.
The Vandals play the worst team in the Big Sky, winless Northern Colorado. Lose on the road today and not only does the road to a conference title nearly disappear, any chance of earning a bye in the playoffs drops off a cliff.
For the Eagles, respectability is on the line, as are bragging rights. Though we’re sure Aaron Best would love to hold the latter against his mentor, Cal Poly head coach Paul Wulff, he’s probably a lot more concerned about the former. Both teams are 3-5 overall, which means the loser will have no chance of finishing with a winning record.
Even the local Division III program, Whitworth, has a make-or-break game today. At first glance, that might seem a bit odd. After all, the Pirates are 7-0, their visitor today, George Fox, is 3-5. But Whitworth is playing for something more. An undefeated season, sure. An NCAA Division III playoff berth too. And, with a win today, the Pirates would head into next Saturday’s showdown at Linfield (also 7-0) with a clean slate.
• OK, on to the other stuff for today. More specifically, from last night.
It’s hard to see Gonzaga taking a huge step back this season. No matter how many pieces have to be replaced, and this year there were a lot, Mark Few and his staff seems to find the right parts.
Does that mean the Zags will have a top-four seed when the NCAA Tournament draw rolls around? Maybe not. After all, the new players don’t have a lot of time to acclimate themselves before a gantlet of a nonconference schedule hits high gear. Heck, the season opener at home against Yale – 21-9 last season – next Friday isn’t easy. But that’s just an appetizer with such teams as Purdue, whatever other Maui Invitational opponents loom and USC all on deck in the next month.
It’s early season success against respected names that has allowed GU to solidify its place in the college hoops pantheon each season – and helps it overcome the anti-WCC bias. Such success may be tougher to come by this season.
But by the time the NCAA tourney rolls around? We wouldn’t bet against the Zags making it to the Sweet Sixteen again. After all, no matter the roster, it’s just what Gonzaga does.
WSU: Are you ready for tonight? If not, grab your rain jacket and settle in. It’s expected to be raining in Pullman tonight and even if, like us, you will be watching from home, you might as well have the jacket ready in a show of solidarity with those brave souls sitting in the Gesa Field stands. Greg Woods has everything you need to be informed, with his preview (focused on the defense), his keys to the game and, most importantly, his pick. Yep, Greg believes Washington State will win. We aren’t as sure. … Need info on Stanford? In that we can help with a few stories from the Bay Area on the Cardinal in their first season under former EWU offensive coordinator Troy Taylor. … Elsewhere in the Pac-12 and the nation, Jon Wilner went in-depth in the Mercury News on next season’s Big Ten schedule. He also passes along a recruiting summary, which focuses on Oregon’s success attracting high profile defensive linemen. … We can pass along Christian Caple’s weekly Pac-12 picks. Not too many more of those left. … In basketball news, John Canzano wrote about Bobby Knight in a personal way. … Utah is led by its big man in the middle. … Arizona has built itself a tough nonconference schedule.
• Now back to the rest of today’s football games …
• Arizona State at No. 16 Utah (11 a.m., Pac-12 Networks): Everyone in the Pac-12 wants to be like Utah, in at least one way. After all, the Utes have won the last two titles. And still have a shot at a last one. ASU stands in the way. And, unlike earlier in the year, the Sun Devils are a decent obstacle.
• California at No. 6 Oregon (2:30 p.m., Pac-12 Networks): Cal coach Justin Wilcox is ticked off. Ticked off with the way the Bears have played. And really ticked because of the way the Pac-12 is ending. The deep Ducks just want to keep winning and advancing toward a possible CFP berth.
• No. 5 Washington at No. 20 USC (4:30, ABC): A 50-49 game would suit ABC just fine. The Huskies? No way. They want to grind USC into the Coliseum turf. The Trojans, on the other hand, probably know with their leaky defense, they may have to score half-a-hundred to win.
• No. 16 Oregon State at Colorado (7, ESPN): The Beavers’ shot at a berth in the conference title game may have evaporated in the desert last week. But that doesn’t mean they are giving up. Neither is Colorado, which will throw a new play caller, NFL veteran Pat Schumur, at Oregon State. It may not be enough.
• No. 19 UCLA at Arizona (7:30, FS1): Chip Kelly and Jedd Fisch know each other well. Tonight’s game in Tucson might resemble chess, as both teams need to make adjustments throughout. The Bruins are better defensively, the Wildcats have the more explosive offense. It should be fun.
Gonzaga: Looking for a flaw after last night’s blowout win? The Zags hit less than 25% of their 3-pointers against Lewis-Clark State in their 96-58 exhibition victory. How will they shoot against long, rangy defenders? We’ll see, won’t we? Anyhow, Theo Lawson has the game story from the Kennel, with Jim Meehan writing about Graham Ike’s debut (it was pretty much what everyone expected) and Colin Mulvany covering the game visually.
Idaho: The Vandals’ road to the Big Sky title makes a stop in Greeley this season, against a Northern Colorado squad that has lost five games by double digits. Colton Clark has his three things to watch.
EWU: It will probably be raining out at Eastern today as well, which should make Wulff right at home. Dan Thompson has the three things to watch in today’s contest. … Elsewhere in the Big Sky, rain is expected in Missoula for the showdown with Sacramento State. … Montana State will try to bounce back from the Idaho loss against feisty Northern Arizona. … Weber State has dominated Idaho State over the years. Will it continue today? … In basketball news, it’s a new look Montana State team under new coach Matt Logie and featuring a new scheduling philosophy. … Northern Arizona, which begins this season at defending national champion UConn, had a great finish to last season.
Preps: Football dominated both sides of the border Friday night, with Dave Nichols covering Gonzaga Prep’s 38-28 victory over visiting Sunnyside. The win earns the Bullpups another trip to the State playoffs. … In Idaho, Liam Bradford has this coverage of Coeur d’Alene’s 24-8 revenge 5A quarterfinal playoff win over Rocky Mountain. The Vikings move on to play at undefeated Eagle next week. … Dave also put together a roundup of the other games.
Chiefs: Spokane won an overtime battle on the road, topping Seattle in Kent 3-2.
Seahawks: Tyler Lockett is the Hawks’ best receiver. And has been for years. More years, in fact, then even he expected. … Can Seattle cut down on their penalties? We ask every year. … The trades the Seahawks and 49ers made show the different ways the teams like to build their defenses.
Kraken: Now that the tough start is over, Seattle can begin to climb back into the conference race.
• See you tomorrow. Don’t forget about Daylight Savings Time ending. We don’t want you to waste that extra hour. Until later …