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

A Grip on Sports: Once again college football comes through for us even as WSU comes up just short on an upset-lacking Saturday

A GRIP ON SPORTS • What a Saturday. The end of a conference. The beginning of mayhem. The continuation of so many traditions. Thank you, college football, for once again giving us week after week of entertainment.

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• Upsets? Not so much. Upset fans? Always. Upset stomachs? It’s Thanksgiving weekend, with its mounds of leftovers and left-behind athletic programs, so, sure. Honestly, though, we are having trouble processing all that happened in about 18 hours yesterday.

• Everything had to go right for Washington State to win the last Apple Cup that, you know, actually fits into the tradition of the event. Last weekend in November. Conference title on the line for at least one school. A major event in college football’s schedule.

From now on none of that will matter. But it did Saturday. And the Cougars came this close to upsetting the apple cart one last time. There were just a few moments that made the difference. A missed field goal. A dropped interception or two. A key fourth-down. And, as can be expected whenever you turn on a Pac-12 football game, a couple of egregious officiating decisions in the favor of the favorites.

Enough didn’t go the Cougs’ way. An upset for the ages wasn’t happening. And the 12-0 Huskies, once again, did just enough to win.

The fourth-down call and execution? Exquisite. The way the UW receivers turned defensive backs at key moments? Impressive. Kalen DeBoer’s trust in his team? Inspiring. Yes, Washington State lost. But not really. The Huskies did what they have done to 12 opponents this year, nine of them – for the first time ever – in the Pac-12. They figured out a way to finish on top. Whatever way was needed. And that is a skill only the best teams have.

• Down the interstate in Corvallis, another underpinning of what Washington State and Oregon State are trying to do was stolen away by the Big Ten early in the day.

Jonathan Smith leaving his alma mater for a non-descript, middle-of-the-pack job in the nation’s No. 2 conference is another body blow for the Left-Behind Two.

The future is cloudy for those schools. Has been ever since Washington and Oregon decided to walk away over the summer. But one thing seemed in place at both schools: strong leadership in the football programs.

No longer. And Smith’s move to Michigan State (really?), no matter how appropriate it could be for him personally, is a body blow. It has the potential to strip Oregon State’s program of its key pieces, from experienced assistant coaches to the guys who actually play the game. It also casts more doubt on the 2-Pac schools’ future viability, which makes Jake Dickert’s job in Pullman that much harder.

For every piece of good news the Cougars and Beavers hear, a corresponding scream of anguish echoes through their halls. With the transfer portal now open in Corvallis – players losing their head coaches have been given an early pass by the NCAA – and opening for all, including those at WSU, Dec. 4, the two schools have to do something this week to calm the waters. But it’s somewhat out of their hands, as they wait for the Washington courts to make a decision on who is in charge of the Pac-12 assets.

That ticking sound you’ve been hearing in the background recently just gets louder now the games are done.

• Michigan wins. Ohio State loses. And the College Football Playoff committee is put in a bind. Or potentially could be.

If Ryan Day’s Buckeyes had reversed a recent trend and won in Ann Arbor, the committee’s week would have been easier. After all, with all the noise ­– and controversy – out of Michigan, excising a one-loss Wolverine team from the four-team playoff would have been easy. The other way? A conundrum.

What if Oregon defeats Washington? Or even more unlikely, Alabama finds a way to get past Georgia? Ohio State probably finishes next Saturday with the best loss among a handful of one-loss contenders.

Oregon, Washington, Alabama, Georgia, Texas (if it tops deeply flawed Oklahoma State). All with one defeat.

Even if Georgia wins its 174th consecutive game (give or take a handful), there easily could be three one-loss contenders battling possibly undefeated Florida State (without its starting quarterback) for the final couple spots. No matter who is picked, the committee is going to be lambasted.

We could actually envision a scenario in which the four playoff teams are Michigan, Ohio State, Georgia and Alabama. The Big Two conferences. Millions of dollars flowing to their overflowing coffers. But no apologies to anyone else.

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WSU: Ok, on to the coverage of Apple Cup No. 115 – The End of an Era. We start, as appropriate, in Seattle, where Greg Woods covered his first AC. He has this analysis of the near-upset as well as the recap of the 24-21 UW win. … He also has this piece on edge rushers Brennan Jackson and Ron Stone Jr. It was their final game in a WSU uniform. … Theo Lawson was also in Husky Stadium and he contributes a story on the Cougar defense as well as the difference makers. … Tyler Tjomsland was on the field and he caught every bit of the importance of the game with his camera in this photo gallery. … Jacob Thorpe was in attendance and he tells us why this rivalry game needs to continue even if the circumstances are changing so dramatically. … Finally, we sat at home, watched Brock Huard and the Fox gang present its second Northwest rivalry game in two days and wrote our TV Take. Quick thought: Huard’s emotions were raw, from before the game and, even more so, when an ill-advised flag undercut the Cougars at a key moment near the end. He obviously loves the game of football, loves the Apple Cup and loves the Northwest. He’s entering regional treasure territory. … Three games in three days – in a foreign country, no less – can wreak havoc on your legs. And your outside shooting. It certainly did the 23rd-ranked Cougar women Saturday as they couldn’t buy a basket and lost to Green Bay. … Before we get to the rest of the conference football items, we have to share all that was written in Montlake, from our buddy Christian Caple’s thoughts to those of the Times staff. And even some from the Washington Post’s Jerry Brewer, who happens to still live in Seattle. The Huskies were one of Saturday’s winners. As was their kicker. … Elsewhere in the Pac-12 and the nation, Jon Wilner covers Smith’s departure from Oregon State in the S-R this morning. He also covers Saturday’s action in the Mercury News. … The Smith news was big enough to be front and center throughout the nation. With conjecture on his replacement. … Saturday’s results? Way too chalk for our liking. And way too chalky for any CFP clarity. … If you were voting for Pac-12 coach of the year, for whom would you vote? Our choice is Kalen DeBoer for guiding the Huskies to the first undefeated nine-game conference season. Others might pick Oregon’s Dan Lanning, who has the Ducks poised to use their anger for revenge Friday night. And there will be a lot of calls for Arizona’s Jedd Fisch, as the Wildcats wildly exceeded expectations. … In basketball news, Colorado hosts Iona today. … Arizona is 18-0 in November under Tommy Lloyd. … Oregon lost to No. 17 Alabama. … The Washington women downed Air Force.

Here are the results from Saturday, the final full one of Pac-12 football …

• Utah 23, Colorado 17: Remember September? Neither do Buff fans. Deion Sanders’ first year in Boulder resulted in a last-place conference finish. Saturday, neither the Buffaloes nor the Utes had their starting quarterback available. Heck, Utah was down to its fifth-string guy. No, not Peter Roberts. But it didn’t matter. What a weird way for both schools to end their Pac-12 tenure.

• No. 15 Arizona 59, Arizona State 23: It was a special year for the Wildcats. Not only did they finish third in conference play, and will play in a decent bowl, they also crushed their archrivals on their field. What now for the Sun Devils, who finish Kenny Dillingham’s first season 3-9, 2-7 in conference?

• No. 18 Notre Dame 56, Stanford 23: The Cardinal had no chance. After all, they were at home. And the home-field disadvantage is real. For them. They finish 3-9 in Troy Taylor’s first season, same as David Shaw’s last two. Next year, the ACC. The Irish await whatever bowl wants to make a bunch of money.

• California 33, UCLA 7: The Bears exploded in the second half after knocking the Bruins’ one competent quarterback from the game on the first series. Cal is headed to a bowl game, which is nice. UCLA? A crossroads. Will Chip Kelly and his .500 record, return to Westwood?

Gonzaga: Ah, a respite from football. Jim Meehan looks at the offense for the Zag men and sees balance. … The women were in action again yesterday – Greg Lee tells us they started fast and held off previously undefeated Alabama 68-58 – and will play again today against 20th-ranked Louisville. In win in that one should propel Gonzaga into the rankings this week. … Filip Petrusev is looking for work.

Idaho: The fourth-seeded Vandals learned who they will host next weekend as the FCS playoffs started Saturday. Their opponent? Southern Illinois, a 35-0 winner over visiting Nicholls State. … Elsewhere in the Big Sky, only two visitors won first-round games. One of them was Sacramento State, who went into Fargo and outscored North Dakota 42-35. The Hornets head to third-seeded South Dakota in the second round. … Montana, seeded second, will host Delaware, which edged Lafayette 36-34. … Perennial power North Dakota State, which defeated Drake 66-3, will be in Bozeman to play sixth-seed Montana State again. … In basketball news, the Montana State women lost to James Madison. … Weber State also lost, to UC Santa Barbara.

Whitworth: The Pirates’ best season ended Saturday with a 42-20 snow-covered loss to one of the best Division III schools in the nation, Wartburg. Ethan Myers watched and has this coverage.

Preps: Lakeside played its first State 1A football semifinal yesterday. Now, thanks to a 24-23 overtime win over Nooksack Valley, the second-seeded Eagles will play in their first 1A title game Friday afternoon. Dave Nichols was at Union Stadium yesterday and has this story. … We also have a roundup of the other local playoff games.

Chiefs: Dave drove downtown later and covered a rout in the Arena. Spokane scored eight times and trounced – Dave’s word – Victoria 8-1.

Seahawks: We linked a couple Times stories on the Hawks yesterday. They ran in the S-R today. One on Riq Woolen’s status (and Abe Lucas’), the other on Pete Carroll espousing “maximization” of his players as the Cowboys loom.

Kraken: No, Seattle is not happy with its performance thus far.

Mariners: Shohei Ohtani to Seattle? Not likely.

Sounders: Bringing in Albert Rusnak has been a good move for Seattle. And may pay more dividends today against LAFC.

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• No Seahawks today. But we do have a birthday in our family. Thirty-six years ago, Kim put the pies in the oven for Thanksgiving, said “uh-oh” and we headed off to the hospital. We dropped her off at the emergency room door, parked the car, ran upstairs and Jack was already on his way into the world. Talk about being in a hurry. And he’s never slowed down. Don’t let anyone know this, but between somehow attracting the perfect spouse and having two incredible sons, we are the luckiest guy in the world. And don’t even get us started on all the ancillary items, from career to avocations to friendships. Wow. Until later …