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Pac-12 Confidential

Bud Withers offers an inside look at the Pac-12 Conference and the national college scene.

June 18, 2012 at 2:38 PM

On the Apple Cup, 4-star QB recruits, and playoff intrigue . . .

After a couple of weeks of unabated drudgery around the homestead, I’m back catching up on proceedings in and around the Pac-12. The development of most interest recently was the networks’ assignment of games and starting times for football games in the fall.

There’s still no breakthrough on more cable carriers — no DirecTV, no Dish — but it didn’t figure to happen until the 11th hour, anyway. Also still to be clarified is distribution when games are simultaneous on the Pac-12 Networks.

A 12:30 Apple Cup

What do we think about this? (I mean, aside from the massive inconvenience of having the game the day after Thanksigiving in Pullman, which we already knew about.) I’ve weighed in previously that I think it’s a rotten idea for state-of-Washington fans to have the game on Thanksgiving weekend in the Palouse, but in these do-it-for-TV times, that doesn’t matter.

At least the decision on the game time was made early. Aside from the fact the game is Thanksgiving weekend, I believe the next-most nettlesome aspect might have been the possibility of an unknown kickoff time until a couple of weeks before the game. That’s important, because if you believe in the notion that a reasonable approach to the road trip from the west side mandates at least one night in a motel, you need to know early which night that is — night before or after the game — because motel space is about as scarce as Mariners with an .800 OPS. So at least fans have a lot of lead time to plot a course.


I tried to ponder whose fan base the 12:30 start might favor, and came up with this — if it helps anybody’s crowd, it probably helps WSU’s, but logically, not a lot. My reasoning is, the further the game time gets away from the Thursday Thanksgiving holiday, it seems to me more likely it might pull some UW fans away from the west side. You know, a 4 p.m. or 7 p.m. Friday start could be accommodated with a day-of-game drive, assuming the weather is passable (not a bad choice of adjectives, huh?). But with a 12:30 start, UW fans would probably be more likely just to say, it’s not worth the hassle, especially if they’re having a Thanksgiving dinner in an evening hour. Game’s on TV, long drive in the morning, etc. On the other hand, a WSU fan might be more prone to figure, hey, it’s my school’s home game, I’ve made the drive before, and make the cross-state trip. But I doubt the number would be so overwhelming — strictly from that group — to tilt the home-field advantage even more.
What seems clear to me is, this crowd will be determined more than usual by the two teams’ seasons, especially if tickets stay available (and I can’t believe they wouldn’t). If both teams are having bowl-bound seasons, it could be surprisingly appealing. In that scenario, the game could be seen as the first in a long while when the two programs are back on their feet, collectively. But if, say, the Huskies are only average at 6-5 and WSU is struggling to adjust to the Mike Leach regime with a losing record, it could be a really meager crowd.
My wife, who’s way better at figures than I, contends they won’t get 30,000 under any circumstances. I say they will. It is the Apple Cup, after all.
Leach gets a big boost
In the past two weeks, both Washington and WSU got commitments for 2013 from four-star quarterback recruits — Troy Williams of Los Angeles to the Huskies, and Tyler Bruggman of Phoenix to WSU.
For the Huskies, this is pretty much de rigueur, not to downplay Williams’ talent. Washington already welcomes two four-star guys this year in Mercer Island’s Jeff Lindquist and Cyler Miles of Denver.
But Bruggman’s choice of WSU is an eye-opener, and possibly an indication of where Leach can take the Cougars. All he did was go into the backyard of a Pac-12 rival, one with the early buzz of a new coach (Todd Graham), and gain a victory. Bruggman was widely sought, including by Arkansas before Bobby Petrino spilled his bike and his mistress.
I’m not a fan of attaching too much to recruiting rankings. If Bruggman proves to be a complete washout, he won’t be the first highly touted recruit to do so. But his commitment can be hugely symbolic for WSU — a sign that the new regime can run with the big boys — and it may also be a factor in enticing other prospects to consider WSU.
The Playoff Conundrum
Within about a week — possibly next Tuesday in Washington, D.C. — executives of the BCS will likely reveal what kind of college-football playoff format they’ve settled upon, and I can’t tell you which way they’re going to go.
Two weeks ago, the Pac-12 presidents emerged from their conference meetings, and commissioner Larry Scott didn’t issue any sort of mission statement about where the league was pushing.
What there was, was a lot of talk about allegiance to the Rose Bowl — which is either lip service to the Granddaddy, or a sign that the league isn’t going to fall neatly for the four-team playoff format advocated by the SEC and Big 12.
It’s impossible to say which.
Like the Big Ten, whose commissioner, Jim Delany, looks askance at the concept of a system that would include an “outlier” like Alabama, 2011, to make a four-team field, Scott said he wouldn’t sanction any notion that would have put Stanford in a playoff ahead of Oregon last year (though most models proposed now would have done just that).
Scott and Ed Ray, the Oregon State president who chairs the Pac-12’s CEOs, spoke reverently of the Pac-12’s relationship with the Rose Bowl after those league meetings. Typical was Scott’s statement that “our relationship with them (the Rose Bowl) dates to 1902 . . . they want to make sure the game is equally relevant 50 years from now and 100 years from now.”
It’s a knotty issue: The gut says what the Pac-12 would accept is a four-team playoff, but one that retains a Big Ten-Pac-12 relationship with the Rose Bowl.
But is that even possible? If you assume that most years, the four best teams in the nation would include one from either the Big Ten or Pac-12 (and it would if those two leagues have their say on how the field would be chosen), can the Rose Bowl flourish in that diminished role?
The SEC and Big 12 want a four-team playoff based not on conference winners, but the top four in a rating system. The Big Ten and Pac-12 would favor conference winners making it — a not-so-subtle slap at the SEC’s vaunted depth.
BCS director Bill Hancock has said that not everybody is going to get everything they want. Nor is anybody likely to get everything he wants. What’s intriguing for Pac-12 watchers is how it can possibly be reconciled while maintaining any sort of strong tie with the Rose Bowl.

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