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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

A Grip on Sports: Sunday’s headlines carry us into a week of decisions for college football and its fans

A GRIP ON SPORTS • It’s funny how Sunday’s stories become Monday’s perspectives this time of year. Football has a way of making that happen.


• Washington State’s season is finished. Same with Whitworth’s and Eastern Washington’s. Idaho, which had the weekend off, is the only college in this region still lacing it up. Which puts a lot of pressure on the Vandals – at least from us – as they embark on their FCS playoff journey Saturday. After all, we love to write about college football.

Oh, sure, the third-ranked University of Washington (according to the Associated Press poll voters) has a somewhat-important game Friday night – which is one wildly understated way to put it. The final Pac-12 title game against No. 5 Oregon, held in Las Vegas again, is the end of an era. And more.

The Huskies win and the conference exits the stage with a College Football Playoff berth. The first in years. How long? UW lost to Alabama in the 2016 season. Since? Nothing.

The only other appearance came in the first year, when Oregon lost to Ohio State in the title game following the 2014 season. Ironically, if the Ducks earn their revenge this week against Washington, it could be the same Buckeyes who knock them – and the disintegrating conference – from the final four.

Why? Sixth-ranked Ohio State isn’t playing this week. Instead, No. 2 Michigan faces 18th-ranked Iowa in the Big Ten title game. The Ducks’ future home decided to keep its divisional format, something the Pac-12 ditched as it started its death throes. Which means the Buckeyes don’t get a second shot at UM. But they do, if Michigan wins as expected, get to carry the mantle of having the “best” loss of any school with just one.

That might play well with the only voters that matter, the CFP committee members.

Most pundits are certain an Oregon win Friday propels them into the four-team invitational. We’re not.

Even if there is chalk in the Big Ten, the SEC – top-ranked Georgia plays eighth-ranked Alabama – and the ACC – fourth-ranked Florida State, without its starting quarterback, against No. 15 Louisville.

Those results would leave Georgia, Florida State and Michigan seemingly in. An undefeated season in a Power 5 conference? Tough to throw that into the dumpster.

But who is the fourth school? Oregon, with the one loss at UW and dominance down the stretch in the Pac-12? Ohio State, with the one loss at UM and a member of one of the surviving conferences? Or No. 7 Texas, with an early season win at Alabama and a 12-1 record, assuming the Longhorns handle mercurial Oklahoma State?

It should come down to the OSU and UO. When the committee reveals its penultimate rankings Tuesday night, we should have a better idea. If Oregon is ahead of Ohio State, the Ducks’ fate would seem to be in their hands. If the Buckeyes just drop to five, ahead of UO, only domination Friday would lift the Ducks into contention. And only contention, as it may be impossible to leapfrog a team that didn’t play.

Which means one thing. The Pac-12 is only guaranteed a berth, and the millions that go with it, by a Washington victory. Anything else opens the door to foolishness. And, over the years, the CFP committee has always chosen foolishness as it relates to the conference-that-is-about-to-disband.

• By the way, just how much is a playoff berth worth for the Pac-12?

If either Washington or Oregon are in the final four, the conference not only gets $6 million for that, they earn another $4 million if the other school is ranked high enough to be in one of the other affiliated bowls.

It is possible, if Oregon wins and doesn’t make the CFP, both schools will make one of the runner-up bowls, which would lessen the blow a bit. Otherwise, the math is simple. A CFP berth alone (Rose and Sugar bowls): $6 million. A CFP berth and one of the New Year’s Six bowls (Fiesta, Orange, Peach and Cotton): $10 million. Two non-CFP New Year’s bowls: $8 million.


WSU: The Cougars, who finished 5-7, won’t be bowling this year. It’s been a while we’ve had to write that in a year not disrupted by a pandemic. Why? Greg Woods looks at the Apple Cup near-upset as a microcosm of the season as a whole. One play might have been the difference. In other words, so near, yet so far. … One Washington State team in the postseason? The 11th-ranked volleyball team will be a four seed in the NCAA tourney and host a four-team pod this weekend. And, yes, the math shows the selection committee valued the Cougars, on a five-match winning streak, less than the coaches’ poll does. They are the leading four seed – atop their regional is Pitt, the fourth No. 1 seed – which means the NCAA rated them 13th. … The women’s basketball program, and its loss in Cancun, is mentioned in this ranking story. … The men host EWU tonight. … Elsewhere in the Pac-12 and the nation, Jon Wilner takes another look at the weekend and he saw the end of the Apple Cup exactly as we did. A great play by UW followed by an awful call by the officiating crew. … The death of the Pac-12 is the biggest indicator yet college athletics is in the midst of a sea change. That and the end of the regular season’s importance in football. … Who will Oregon State hire to replace Jonathan Smith? John Canzano has his favorite and we believe he’s made the right choice. Defensive coordinator Trent Bray. … The Beavers still have a bowl game to play and will need a coaching staff to run the team. … Some things Smith said when he landed in Michigan got the OSU faithful riled up. … Washington will be riled up to play Oregon on Friday. But the Huskies are also aware they haven’t played all that well recently. … The Ducks have the nation’s top ranked passer in Bo Nix, are favored by more than a touchdown and are coming off another big win. … What? Colorado needs to be decent before it can become a national power. And the Buffs haven’t been decent for a while. … Utah has, and the Utes will probably step into the Big 12 and win big. If they have a healthy quarterback room. … California surged down the stretch and became bowl eligible. … Stanford has to continue its rebuilding project as it enters the ACC next season. … UCLA has to get its quarterback issues ironed out. … What’s next for the beat-up Arizona State football program? … We know Arizona’s near-future. A good bowl game. … In basketball news, the Washington women won the Wahine Showdown. … Stanford has a new outside threat. … On the men’s side, we can offer this power ranking. … Colorado got back on track with a win over Iona. … Utah plays at Saint Mary’s tonight.

Gonzaga: We happened to see a bit of Alabama’s win over Louisville on Friday and was struck by how tight the game was being called. The 20th-ranked Cardinals were hit early with a bunch of whistles and never played aggressively on defense. Fast-forward to Sunday, when they played Gonzaga in the final game of the Betty Chancellor Classic in Katy, Texas. A let-them-play philosophy seemed in vogue. And that led to a physical contest favoring Louisville. So physical in fact, that even when the Cardinals were tagged with an aggressive, intentional foul, the officials balanced it out with a technical on GU. Never let anyone tell you the third team on the court doesn’t influence the outcome. Greg Lee has this coverage of GU’s 81-70 loss.

EWU: Former Eastern star Samson Ebukam teamed up with former WSU star Gardner Minshew to lift the Colts into playoff contention yesterday. That news leads off Taylor Newquist’s weekly look at NFL locals. … Elsewhere in the Big Sky, Sacramento State defeated UC Davis in a nonconference basketball game.

Chiefs: Spokane is playing better lately. Case in point, last night’s 5-2 victory over the Winterhawks in Portland. Dave Nichols has the coverage.

Seahawks: Back-to-back Thursday games means Seattle is working off a strange calendar. But the same number of days to get prepared. … The Hawks’ playoff hopes are slipping away. … DK Metcalf feels the main culprit is a lack of execution.

Sounders: We mentioned a game above in which how the game was officiated made a difference in the outcome. Most Sounders fans in attendance at Qwest Field last night felt the same way about Seattle’s 1-0 Western Conference loss to LAFC. The Sounders’ MLS season is over, done in, more importantly, by the lack of a dynamic goal scorer.


• With so much money on the line in sports, whether collegiately or professionally, one would think the people supervising it would make consistent, professional officiating the No. 1 priority. Or not. Did you watch any NFL games yesterday? College games Saturday? The MLS over the weekend? It’s hard not to assume “or not” was the choice. Until later …