Popping the tab on another 12-pack of stories from the Pac-12 (and beyond!), starting with everyone’s favorite hashtag, #Pac12refs ...
1. In my experience, fans in every conference think the officials who work their games are the worst. The Pac-12 seems to have more than its share of controversial calls, though, and it had another one last week when USC linebacker Porter Gustin wasn’t flagged for a helmet-to-helmet blindside shot against Washington State quarterback Gardner Minshew.
Porter Gustin missed the 1st half tonight due to targeting in the last game... and now he's doing this??pic.twitter.com/RMym4s5rZA— CFB Gif'er (@CFBgifer)September 22, 2018
This piece from Yahoo Sports lays out the definition of targeting, which includes “a player leaving his feet to attack an opponent by an upward and forward thrust of the body to make forcible contact in the head or neck area” and “leading with helmet, shoulder, forearm, fist, hand or elbow to attack with forcible contact at the head or neck area.”
When you watch the clip, Gustin’s hit appears to be a textbook example of targeting. Yet Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said the play was reviewed both by replay officials in the stadium and the Pac-12’s command center, and neither deemed it a personal foul.
2. If you need a refresher on Pac-12 replay procedures, this piece from Jon Wilner lays it out. The Pac-12 has a command center in San Francisco where a group of officials, led by Pac-12 VP for officiating David Coleman, conducts reviews simultaneously with replay officials in the stadium. That means there were (or should have been) multiple sets of eyes on this play, and somehow no penalty was called.
“You can certainly assume that play got a lot of looks, not just from the replay booth at the stadium, but we’ve got our command center back in San Francisco with our head of officiating and a bunch of experienced replay guys, who absolutely would have looked at that play,” Scott said.
Scott went on to say the call was “very, very close” but supported the officials’ call. Which makes you wonder: What was the Pac-12 looking at here?
3. I think a lot of football fans are disgusted by the inconsistency in how dangerous hits are officiated. If you’ve been watching the NFL, you’ve seen a bunch of hits that look innocuous — even unavoidable — by comparison, yet resulted in the 15-yard penalties.
I understand that the NFL and college have different sets of rules. Maybe that’s part of the problem. The definition of a dangerous hit seems to depend on whatever serves someone’s agenda at that point in time, and every time an egregious hit goes unpunished, it adds to the perception that all the talk about player safety is nothing more than window dressing.
I don’t blame Washington State coach Mike Leach for being ticked off. In this piece from the Spokesman-Review, Leach referred questions to the Pac-12 but made his position clear.
“I respectfully decline to comment on the grounds that I may be incriminated and get a $10,000 fine,” he said. “(The explanation) was so mixed I can’t entirely say what their position was because it varied a little bit. But as far as any specifics beyond that, you’ll have to call them and ask them.”
4. Is Scott doing a good job as the Pac-12 commissioner? Does anyone know? He takes heat from fans over the late kickoff times, which he says aren’t going anywhere. I think those who dislike the late kickoffs tend to be a vocal minority, which is not to minimize the inconvenience they create. It’s a case of catering to TV audiences over those watching games in the stands.
That makes more sense when you listen to Scott describe his role as Pac-12 commissioner. Wilner laid that out recently in a piece examining Scott’s testimony in an ongoing antitrust lawsuit involving the NCAA.
Former West Virginia running back Shawne Alston and former Cal center Justine Hartman are lead plaintiffs in a lawsuit that alleges the NCAA is violating antitrust laws by capping the amount of grant-in-aid athletes can receive. Testimony has been ongoing in the U.S. District Court of Northern California, and Scott was called to testify last week.
Scott testified that his $4.5 million annual compensation comes from his dual roles as commissioner of the Pac-12 and executive chairman of Pac-12 Enterprises, which controls the Pac-12 Network. If you want to know why TV dictates so many decisions in college sports, there’s your answer. The people in charge are media executives as much as they’re sports administrators.
5. The Pac-12 schedule kicks off Friday night with winless UCLA visiting unbeaten Colorado.
The Buffs are trying to start 4-0 for the first time since 1998. The Bruins are trying to avoid their first 0-4 start since 1971.
As Ben Bolch of the LA Times writes here, Chip Kelly is drawing inspiration from a phrase he made famous at Oregon. “Water the bamboo” was the message he received this week from former Oregon coach Mike Bellotti. It's a metaphor for continuing to work, even when the payoff isn’t apparent.
6. The biggest game on this week’s Pac-12 slate is No. 7 Stanford at No. 8 Notre Dame. I tend to get annoyed by the excessive focus on the College Football Playoff — especially in September — but there’s no denying the stakes here. With wins against USC and Oregon, Stanford has the best early-season resume of any Pac-12 team. Washington and USC have already faltered in big intersectional matchups, so this is the Pac-12’s last chance to make a statement against someone from outside the league.
According to Steve Greenberg of the Chicago Sun-Times, this is the first time Notre Dame and Stanford have met with both ranked in the top 10, and the first time since 1925 they’ve squared off as unbeatens. He picks the Irish, 31-24.
7. I wanted to pass along this story from The Associated Press that added some data to the debate about Oregon’s decision to run the ball while protecting a three-point lead in the final minute of regulation against Stanford.
The story quotes former Montana State coach Rob Ash, who now works for a consulting firm called Championship Analytics Inc., that uses data to advise coaches on strategy. Ash says that based on the data, running the ball was safer than kneeling and punting, even though the play resulted in a fumble from CJ Verdell.
“We never like to say never, but there would be very few if any situations where we would advocate taking a knee and then punting,” Ash said.
That supports what I’ve been saying, that running the ball is a fine call as long as your running back understands the situation. CAI estimates one lost fumble for every 110 running plays in the FBS, which makes it a safer play than a punt, or even defending a Hail Mary from midfield.
8. The great unknown is whether Stanford would have used its final timeout and forced the Ducks to punt. Former Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti, now an analyst for the Pac-12 Network, told the Oregonian’s John Canzano that he thought Stanford had conceded the game when it didn’t call timeout after the first-down play.
David Shaw is a smart guy, so it’s hard for me to believe that he would have allowed the game to end with a timeout in his pocket. It’s an interesting question, though.
9. The state of Washington and the state of Utah have a score to settle this weekend.
Utah takes its No. 1-ranked defense to the Palouse for an intriguing contrast of styles against Washington State. After mustering only seven points in a home loss to Washington, the Utes are back to the familiar task of trying to get their offense up to snuff.
As Kurt Kragthorpe writes in the Salt Lake Tribune:
“The Utes believe they can win the Pac-12 South title. To do so, they’ll have to beat somebody from the North at some point. Beyond seeking their first conference win of the season, the Utes have plenty to prove in Pullman. The defense would like to validate its No. 1 national ranking. The offense wants to do something, anything, to justify its existence.”
10. The other game pits No. 20 BYU against No. 11 Washington. The Huskies are a big favorite, but BYU won’t be intimidated after beating Arizona and Wisconsin on the road.
It wasn’t quite Old Dominion over Virginia Tech, but BYU’s win at Wisconsin rates as one of the biggest upsets of the season so far. After going 4-9 last season, the Cougars have rebounded nicely under third-year coach Kalani Sitake, a former defensive coordinator at Oregon State.
The Cougars have two nice wins, but as Jay Drew of the Salt Lake Tribune writes here, Washington is a different beast.
11. Take some time to read this story by Adam Jude in the Seattle Times about the mysterious death of former Washington sack leader Daniel Te’o-Nesheim.
Te’o-Nesheim died last year at age 30 with a mixture of alcohol and pills in his system. The family has since determined that he had Stage 2 CTE, along with a host of ailments related to his playing career. It’s a sad story that, unfortunately, seems all too common for former football players.
12. And finally, in your weekly reminder that there’s more to life than sports, read this sweet essay by Nicole Chung about grieving with her family at Disney World.