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Pac-12 Confidential

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

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August 29, 2014 at 3:15 PM

A day later, WSU’s loss still looks every bit as ugly . . .

Just got done reviewing the game tape of Washington State’s 41-38 defeat to Rutgers Thursday night at CenturyLink. It was every bit as grim for the Cougars the next day as it was live.

There are a lot of reasons why this one stings for WSU, but for starters, how about these: In six of Rutgers’ final eight games of 2013, the Scarlet Knights scored 17 or fewer points. You have to go back to its opener of ’13, against Fresno State, to find a game when Rutgers had more total yards than the 496 it rolled up against WSU.

Four times last season, Rutgers was held to total offense of less than 300 yards.

And Rutgers coach Kyle Flood made a handful of staff changes in the off-season, while WSU’s remained stable.

Thoughts:

* So forgiving was the WSU defense that it had but three tackles for loss. There was never any consistent defensive force. Rutgers was invariably running downhill as Cougars blew gaps or missed tackles. Six-foot, 230-pound fullback Michael Burton had his way with the WSU defense, especially against middle linebacker Darryl Monroe.

* The inability to match Rutgers physically raises the question: Did WSU hit enough in fall camp? The four practices I saw were pretty moderate in that department, certainly not heavy. I tend to think you err on the side of keeping people healthy rather than beating them up, and this is no knock on that preparation. But Rutgers was far more physical.

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August 28, 2014 at 8:55 AM

Pac-12 picks, week one

College football may do a lot of things wrong, but this isn’t one of them: It doesn’t have preseason games. I’ve never met anybody yet who covered a fall camp who wasn’t ready for the season to start. So let’s start it. Thursday night Idaho State (no line) at Utah –  Big season for the Utes and…

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August 27, 2014 at 9:24 PM

Josh Shaw’s end run at USC, and does any of this sound familiar?

By now, you’re probably aware that USC and defensive back Josh Shaw have been caught with their pants down. Shaw was a figure of national admiration Sunday when the school revealed that his two high ankle sprains were suffered when he leaped from a balcony into a pool to save his seven-year-old nephew from drowning.

At least that was the story until, by Tuesday, USC was getting calls claiming the account was bogus. And the heat apparently got too intense by Wednesday, when Shaw admitted he made the story up.

According to reports, multiple sources at USC were skeptical of the tale Shaw told, but they were between a rock and hard place. As far as media covering the Trojans knew, Shaw was healthy and ready to start for them. Then he was going to show up with two high ankle sprains. There needed to be some explanation. And unfortunately, Shaw provided it.

What it reinforces: The coverup is always worse than the crime. And in today’s crackling, Twitter-Instagram-Facebook world, there are no secrets.

Washington fans with long memories will recall a yarn with strikingly similar details. Remember the Rashaan Shehee incident in 1996?

Some of the particulars are eerily the same. But there’s one big difference between today and 18 years ago — the time it took for the story to fall through. More than anything, that’s our times.

To refresh: This was in the middle of the Jim Lambright regime, and practices were closed to the media. After a bye week, the Huskies cruised past Stanford, 27-6, on Oct. 5, 1996. Shehee didn’t play in the game with what I recall being described as a foot injury (could have been an ankle) that Lambright said was sustained in practice.

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August 26, 2014 at 1:26 PM

What they were saying on the first Pac-12 conference call . . .

Tuesday is Pac-12 football coaches conference call day, and this was the first one of the season, with each team in action starting Thursday. Some snippets of what was discussed:

Arizona

Coach Rich Rodriguez has named redshirt freshman Anu Solomon to start the UNLV opener ahead of Jesse Scroggins and Jerrard Randall.

“The reason he’s getting the nod for the first game is he’s played the best over the last three weeks,” says Rodriguez. “I told him, ‘Don’t look over your shoulder for every little thing you do wrong. You just can’t make the egregious (mistakes).’ He’s a cool customer. He’s hard to get rattled. I’m sure he’ll be a little nervous Friday night, but I’m anxious to see what he can do.”

Arizona State

Todd Graham says he’s excited about the development an offensive line that allowed a league-leading 41 sacks in 2013, saying “it’s probably the most improved unit on our entire team. It’s bigger, stronger and faster. I’m excited about what they can do.”

Meanwhile, Graham, whose team opens with Weber State Thursday night, says walk-on Jordan Simone of Skyline, brother of ex-WSU receiver Gino Simone, will start at safety. Jordan began at WSU but transferred and walked on at ASU when secondary coach Chris Ball departed with the Paul Wulff firing and landed in Tempe.

“His dad (Ronnie) did the same thing when he came here,” Graham said. “(Jordan’s) a great story, a great young man, great character. He’s an exciting kid to watch, to see how he’s grown.”

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August 25, 2014 at 5:27 PM

Rutgers-WSU tickets: Another glimpse into fan preferences

As of Monday afternoon, tickets were lagging for Washington State’s football opener with Rutgers Thursday night at CenturyLink Field. With the count at 26,000 scarcely 72 hours out, WSU athletic director Bill Moos says the crowd might top out in the mid-30s. That would make it the smallest gathering in the 12-year history of WSU’s game at this venue.

(It also would appear to cinch the notion that WSU will be saying sayonara to Seattle after this one, as Moos told me recently.)

Got to admit, the poor sales surprise me. I figured 45,000 was kind of the over/under on good gate/weak gate, and that mark now appears very unlikely. My reasoning was based on WSU being an entertaining, watchable team coming off a bowl game; Rutgers being a big-conference opponent (if not a big-name opponent) coming off a bowl game; and the general buzz that surrounds a season opener.

All those factors may be overstated. Or maybe I underestimated a couple of very strong indicators that can’t be ignored:

– Fans are creatures of habit, and a Thursday night, Aug. 28 opener at a neutral site certainly isn’t habitual.

– Having covered college football in the Northwest for a lot of years, I could go back to a lot of examples of the host schools drawing poorly on Labor Day weekend. It just doesn’t seem to be prominent in the mindset of fans (I’d exempt Seahawk-crazed fans from the phenomenon, even for exhibition games). If you don’t believe me, refer to the crowd at Qwest Field (then called) for the 2005 opener to the Tyrone Willingham regime at Washington against Air Force. The Huskies drew an official 26,482 that day.

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August 24, 2014 at 1:49 PM

TV for Cougar opener imperiled with Dish-FS1 dispute

Washington State’s football opener Thursday night with Rutgers at CenturyLink Field might not be televised to Dish subscribers because of an apparent dispute between the carrier and Fox Sports 1, the Fox outlet that’s airing the game. Also at risk is Friday night’s game between Colorado and Colorado State. We have few details on the status of…

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August 20, 2014 at 8:22 AM

Maybe this is the crux of the Pac-12: Which teams will be worse?

Had a conversation on the Pac-12 football outlook with my younger son the other night, and he stopped me with this question:

Who’s going to be worse? As in, which teams might figure to take a step back this year?

I hadn’t particularly thought of things in that light. But indeed, the conference appears to be stacked at a level perhaps unprecedented, with quality teams and a passel of returning quarterbacks. It has struck me that for some teams — Utah, Arizona, Washington State, perhaps even Washington — the notion of upward mobility is difficult. It seems possible to get better without any real evidence in the standings.

That’s where getting worse comes in. You know there are some teams out there that will regress from 2013. But with (a) the undeniable, prospective strength of the league, and (b) the optimism that engulfs every camp this time of year, it’s not easy to cull the pretenders from the rest.

So today . . . who might be getting worse, and how it might happen for each team. Not saying it will, but how it might (I’m removing injuries from the equation):

North

Oregon — I have some nagging doubts about the Ducks, and perhaps that’s merely because they’ve played at seemingly an unsustainably high level in recent years. Now they have to replace key wideouts, and how does Don Pellum, their longtime assistant, fare at stepping in for defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti? Is head coach Mark Helfrich a reasonable facsimile of Chip Kelly, who went 46-7 there? Here’s another reason to question: Have spread-option offenses become so prevalent that the Ducks’ advantage in running it — granted, they do it better than just about anybody — diminished? I think there’s a chance Oregon slips from the 11-2 of 2013.

Stanford — The Cardinal went 11-3, and must replace four first-team All-Pac-12 defenders. They have two new coordinators and four offensive linemen will be full-time starters. Beyond all that, they’ve probably got the toughest schedule in the league, everything considered. Slippage seems eminently possible.

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August 13, 2014 at 1:37 PM

This time, it’s for sure: College athletics will never be the same

I covered the 1991 NCAA convention in Nashville, which became known as the touchstone for president-driven reform in college athletics. It was the one that implemented the 20-hour rule for athlete commitment in a week’s time, it cut back on the size of coaching staffs and eliminated athletic dorms. It was the convention that would…

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