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

A Grip on Sports: The view in September was golden but as we wind down the college football season, the luster has faded a bit

A GRIP ON SPORTS • If only Mr. Peabody was available. He could dump that Sherman kid at daycare and take us back to late September in his Wayback Machine. Back when college football in this area was, well, hopeful.


• That’s our theme for today. How much things have changed since summer’s last month exited stage left. Heavens to Murgatroyd, Snagglepuss. September was exciting.

Washington State left the month undefeated. So did Idaho, at least against FCS competition and the Vandals came this close to drawing up a win at Cal. Eastern Washington was only around .500 but that’s where it is now and its Big Sky dreams were somewhat alive back then. Up north, Whitworth was undefeated. OK, the Pirates still are, they’re playing Linfield in Oregon today with the Northwest Conference championship on the line and are proving our rule, or some stupid cliché like that.

The college football world around here may not have been perfect in September but it certainly was better than it is today. Then again, looking at the wet leaves on the ground, the gray skies and the thermometer hovering around freezing, what wasn’t?

The lesson Mr. Peabody would want us all to learn as we got ready to step back into that wonderful concoction of tubes and wires? You can’t change what’s happened, you can only do your best with what life throws at you. Enjoy the moments. Live each day to its fullest. And Napoleon was a little jerk.

What does today offer? Funny thing. That school UI almost upset back on Sept. 16 in Berkeley? It’s on the Cougars’ schedule. In the same place. And offers a chance for WSU’s redemption in a make-or-break contest.

Win and every Saturday since the calendar turned to October is, well, not washed away. But whitewashed a bit. A five-game losing streak gone. Bowl eligibility remains within the realm of possibility – even with fifth-ranked Washington, in Seattle, looming as the season-ender for the final time. Lose? Well, let’s wait until after the game to deal with that possibility.

• Football controls today and tomorrow – the Seahawks welcome Washington to our Washington for Sunday’s late-afternoon game – but college hoop controlled us last night.

It was the season-opening day the sport needed, albeit four days late. And Gonzaga’s second-half surge was part of it. The new-look Zags – we will use that phrase until they lose, which probably will come in Hawaii – played like a bunch of veterans in that half against a veteran-ladened Yale squad on Veterans Day.

The game of the holiday, however, was supplied by former Gonzaga assistant Tommy Lloyd’s team in North Carolina. His Arizona Wildcats went into Durham, took on the Cameron Crazies and the Blue Devils and emerged with a 78-73 victory. Score one for the about-to-be-blown-apart Pac-12. And put another scratch in the ACC’s long-gone invincibility.

We, however, didn’t watch much. We were glued to the ACC Network, which was showing Virginia’s neutral-site matchup with former USF coach Todd Golden’s Florida team. And our gaze will be on the Yahoos most of the season.

The Inland Northwest we represented last night in Charlotte, with Lake City High freshman Blake Buchanan leading Virginia to a 73-70 win with 18 points and seven rebounds and Shadle Park High standout and former EWU walk-on Jake Groves adding 12, including 10 key second-half points. That’s 41% of the Cavaliers’ points – Virginia’s first 15 of the second half – coming directly from the Inland Northwest and its premier high school travel club, Hooptown Elite.

Heck, we’re pretty sure even Mr. Peabody didn’t see the Spokane area emerging as a college basketball hotbed this century and he had an unfair advantage. But it’s what it has become. In more ways than one.

• One last note. Larry Stone has been around a long time. Made friends all over the Northwest. Wrote stories and columns about the region’s biggest and most important events. The Seattle Times columnist is calling it a day. Retiring. Riding off into the sunset, though we’re pretty sure he doesn’t have a horse. Or a cowboy hat.

He takes one more spin around a career that started at the University of California, which we will forgive because he grew up a Sandy Koufax fan. His good judgment showed even then. Don’t miss Larry’s final column. Indeed.


WSU: Before we get to today’s crucial football game at We’ll Never Pay Off The Debt Field, we have to acknowledge the Cougars raised their basketball record to 2-0 with an 83-65 win over visiting Prairie View A&M. The game was part of the Pac-12/SWAC Legacy Series, which means it had to be played but make no mistake. Kyle Smith has put together, for the most part, a nonconference schedule that eases Washington State into a tough Pac-12 slate – and allows the Cougars to pick up some wins. Colton Clark filled in last night for Greg Woods, who is in Berkeley, with this story. … Speaking of Berkeley, Greg has his game preview (it begins at 1 p.m. on ESPN2), keys to the game and his reasons why he feels the Cougs won’t win this one. Something about past performance being indicative of future results. Say that to your September self and see how it plays out. … We can pass along a preview and more from the California perspective. … Elsewhere in the Pac-12 and the nation, the college football schedule starts off fast today in State College, Penn. Will Jim Harbaugh be on the sidelines? … Jon Wilner answers other questions in the Mercury News and passes along a recruiting summary. … In basketball news, we talked a bit about Arizona’s win at Duke above. The stories? We have them here. … UCLA struggled but rallied for a win. … Oregon rode Nate Bittle’s effort past visiting Montana. … It took two overtimes but Oregon State got past Troy, who had to high tail it to Portland to catch a plane after. … Colorado rolled past Grambling. … Utah had an easy one as well. … Arizona State has its home opener today. … The Arizona women won their home opener.

OK. On to today’s football games …

• No. 21 Arizona at Colorado (11 a.m., Pac-12 Networks): Hey, back in September if we told you one of these teams would be ranked, your money would have been the Buffs, right? The tide has turned. Deion Sanders’ squad is struggling and there is criticism in the Colorado media. Meanwhile, Jedd Fisch seems to have built a solid foundation in Tucson. Except, there is one problem.

• No. 18 Utah at No. 5 Washington (12:30 p.m., Fox): The Utes’ last stand. Their final chance to stay in the conference title hunt. Will they run all over the Huskies? That’s been Washington’s top defensive weakness. Maybe UW will put nine in the box and dare Utah to throw. Meanwhile, Michael Penix Jr. can show his Heisman wares once again against a respected defense.

• Stanford at No. 12 Oregon State (2:30, Pac-12 Networks): Just how high can the Beavers rise in the playoff rankings? We’ll only see if they get past suddenly resurgent Stanford, which is working on a winning streak. An Oregon State win today ensures OSU a two-game, winner-take-all, season-ending run.

• Arizona State at UCLA (6, Pac-12 Networks): What, no one is ranked here? Not even the Bruins? Well. It’s tough to be ranked if A) you only have two wins (like ASU) or, B) you don’t have a healthy quarterback (like both teams). Maybe this is the game the Bruin offense gets healthy, in the football sense.

• USC at No. 6 Oregon (7:30, Fox): The night’s final game has potential to be a fun one. Or destroy the Ducks’ playoff hopes. Then again, with one loss, Oregon has been dealing with that for a while. USC, though, offers more of a challenge with its Caleb Williams-run offense and a new play caller on defense.

Gonzaga: It was pretty much the regular season debut for most of the Zag roster, but Ryan Nembhard and Braden Huff had the most memorable ones. Well, those two and freshman Dusty Stromer, who made his first start, taking the spot of EWU transfer Steele Venters, out for the season with a knee injury. Jim Meehan wasn’t debuting – he’s sort of like Anton Watson in the sports writing scene – and he has the game story. … Theo Lawson writes the Stromer story, though it was the guard who supplied all the fodder with eight points, three rebounds, one assist and one steal. Plus, maybe most importantly, an unflappable attitude. … The folks in the office put together the recap with highlights, Colin Mulvany gave us a photo gallery and we watched from home, putting together the TV Take. … Theo also has this recruiting story as five-star guard Zoom Diallo, who grew up in Tacoma, included the Zags in his final four schools, all on the West Coast. … Both cross country teams had good regionals, with the men’s team qualifying for the NCAA Championship again, and the women sending a star.

EWU: The challenge is simple and complicated at the same time. Control host Montana State’s running game. Easy to say, hard to do. Dan Thompson has a preview of the Eagles’ matchup with the fifth-ranked Bobcats in Bozeman. … Dan watched the basketball game from Oxford, Mississippi last night, where the Eagles handed the ball to Ole Miss too many times. The turnovers played a big part in the 75-64 loss. … Elsewhere in the Big Sky, is Portland State a trap game for Montana? Sure. But will it matter? … Northern Arizona hosts Northern Colorado in its last home game of the season. … The UC Davis/Idaho State is more than the father-son matchup of coaches. … Sacramento State and Cal Poly meet in a key game for the Hornets. … In basketball news, Montana was close, but came up short in Eugene. … The Weber State women struggled at BYU.

Idaho: The Vandals’ defense is always the key. And that’s true today, part of three-game end to the regular season against teams deep in the Big Sky standings. Today it is Weber State in Ogden, Utah. Colton Clark has three things to watch.

Preps: Dave Nichols covered Lakeside’s 41-14 opening round State 1A football playoff victory over visiting Life Christian. The Eagles’ defense and special teams carried the day. Dave was joined by Jesse Tinsley, who has this photo gallery from the game. … There was other State playoff action Friday and Dave has the local events in this roundup.

Chiefs: One more from Dave, who was in the Arena as Prince Albert scored late to edge Spokane 3-2.

Seahawks: Another Shadle Park High graduate, Brett Rypien, signed with the Hawks this week, a week after he made a start for the L.A. Rams. … Third down has been a beast for the Hawks this season. They’ll have more opportunities to get better at converting Sunday. … There are always mid-season grades.

Kraken: Are the Avalanche playing the role of rival for Seattle?

Sounders: Survive and advance. That’s what Seattle did last night in the MLS playoffs, winning the best-of-three series with Dallas by prevailing 1-0 at Lumen Field.

Reign: The NWSL championship will be decided tonight in San Diego. It is New York against Seattle, as it should be.


• Feeling better today. Enjoyed watching sports yesterday. Enjoyed writing this morning. Enjoyed the smell of the coffee. Yes, we stopped and smelled it. Soaked it in. Treasured the moment. Thought we needed to do that more often. Then realized we have a deadline to hit. Crud. We’ll be back this afternoon with our Cougar TV Take. See you then. Is it a deal? Until later …