Popping the tab on another 12-pack of stories from the Pac-12 (and beyond!), starting with the league’s officiating scandal du jour ...
1. One good part about writing a weekly Pac-12 roundup is the endless supply of material. Even by the Pac-12’s standards, though, this latest controversy sets a new bar for Pac-12-ian dysfunction.
Yahoo Sports got a hold of an internal report in which Pac-12 replay officials complained about interference from the conference office during a game between USC and Washington State.
I wrote about this game in a previous installment of the 12-pack, noting the controversy around the no-call of an obvious targeting penalty against USC. The internal Pac-12 report references a different play in which Washington State’s Logan Tago delivered a helmet-to-helmet hit after USC quarterback JT Daniels had already slid to the ground.
The report, written by replay official Gary McNanna, states that officials in the Pac-12 command center agreed that targeting should have been called. “Unfortunately a third party did not agree,” McNanna wrote, referring to Pac-12 vice president/general counsel Woodie Dixon, who oversees football for the conference.
2. So basically, you have a higher-up from the conference office intervening to overrule the judgment of trained officials who were hired for the specific purpose of reviewing these calls and getting them right. (Or that was the officials’ interpretation, at least.) Adding to the embarrassment for the Pac-12 is the fact that commissioner Larry Scott, when questioned about the other egregious no-call in that game, used the opportunity to praise the Pac-12’s wonderful replay system.
Scott backtracked on that in the wake of the Yahoo report, acknowledging mistakes in the conference’s replay procedures. Even if Dixon was simply chiming in with an opinion, as the Pac-12 seems to be saying, there’s no reason why the conference office should be involved in real-time reviews.
3. To explain why this is a big deal, I’ll reference a rant that might not be familiar to you if you didn’t grow up following Big 12 football in the mid-2000s.
Back in 2004, before Kansas football was the smoking crater it is today, the Jayhawks were playing a top-10 Texas team that had Vince Young playing quarterback. Texas won 27-23 after Young threw a touchdown pass with 11 seconds remaining. After the game, KU coach Mark Mangino was livid about an offensive pass-interference penalty called against the Jayhawks on their final possession, which allowed Texas to get the ball back and win the game.
“You know what this is all about, don’t you? BCS. That’s what made a difference today in the game,” Mangino said. “That’s what made the difference in a call in front of their bench. Dollar signs.”
The implication was that officials were conspiring to help the Big 12 put another team in a BCS bowl. It may have been complete nonsense, but that little sliver of doubt was enough for the conspiracy theorists.
Let me state the obvious and say that if the Pac-12 has been trying to engineer outcomes to put a team in the College Football Playoff, it has been failing miserably. But from now on, the Pac-12 can expect to hear those accusations every time a controversial call goes in favor of a perceived frontrunner.
4. Rather than trying to aid either team, maybe Dixon was trying to keep star players from getting ejected. Maybe he doesn’t like the targeting rule. Whatever the case, there’s no good rationale for having the conference office involved in the replay process.
For Scott, this is another embarrassing faux pas that occurred on his watch. Coupled with the revelations coming out of the college basketball corruption trial in New York City, you’d think Scott might be feeling some heat. But as Yahoo’s Pat Forde writes here, Scott was his usual chipper self in speaking to reporters at Pac-12 media days this week.
5. Let’s talk about what’s happening on the football field, which is also ... not great. The Athletic’s Stewart Mandel led his weekly mailbag with a question about why the Pac-12 has fallen so far behind its peers, and I think that’s a valid concern. A lot could change, but with Alabama, Georgia, Clemson, Ohio State, Notre Dame and West Virginia unbeaten, the Pac-12 faces the real possibility of being left out of the CFP for the third time in four years.
6. The Pac-12’s best shot is for Washington to win out and a couple of the aforementioned teams to pick up a loss or two. You can make a strong case that the Huskies’ toughest remaining hurdle is Saturday at Autzen Stadium.
Chris Petersen wasn’t going to add any fuel to the Oregon-Washington rivalry this week, and he made sure none of his players did, either. As Matt Calkins writes here, the less the Huskies say, the more you know they’re aware of the big-game stakes.
7. Lots of good stuff in the Seattle Times this week, including this piece from Adam Jude about Washington’s efforts to recruit Justin Herbert. It turns out Herbert’s uncle is a Husky fan and brought Justin for an unofficial visit to Washington in 2015, when Justin was a lightly recruited prospect.
The Huskies were interested but didn’t offer a scholarship. Washington isn’t the only school that regrets dragging its feet.
8. For a different-yet-similar angle, our guest this week on the Duck Pod was former Washington quarterback Hugh Millen. His son, Cale, is committed to play for the Ducks. Hugh talked about those divided allegiances and explained why he felt comfortable sending his son to Oregon.
Millen likes Mario Cristobal’s commitment to the trenches and his approach to discipline, as he observed when he watched an Oregon practice and saw Cristobal light into a player for talking back to a coach.
“He was taking a harsh tone, but he didn’t cross over the (line),” Millen said. “He was very, very firm. That made a huge impression on me. Of course it was Cale’s decision but I related to Cale, ‘I’ve got a really good feeling about the fact that Mario Cristobal is going to raise the discipline level.’ It was very sincere and raw and very impressive.”
8. The Huskies have been a hard team to figure out this year. With Jake Browning and Myles Gaskin back for their senior years, I expected Washington’s offense to be really efficient. So far it’s been kind of ... meh.
Two years ago, when Washington went to the CFP, Browning threw 43 touchdowns and nine interceptions. This year he has nine touchdowns and five picks. So what changed? Maybe the Huskies miss John Ross and Dante Pettis, and maybe they also miss Jonathan Smith, who was Browning’s QB coach the past three seasons.
I’m encouraged by what Smith has done with Oregon State’s offense this season. It’s also encouraging that he’s attracting some high-profile transfers to Corvallis, including three ex-Cornhuskers who played for Mike Riley.
Nebraska coach Scott Frost publicly accused Oregon State of tampering and blocked the Beavers from contacting another NU transfer, running back Greg Bell. (A moot point, as far as I can tell, because schools no longer need permission to contact transfers as of Monday.)
I agree with the Oregonian’s John Canzano, who says it’s a good thing that Oregon State is pushing the envelope.
9. I’m not sure what to make of Colorado. The Buffs are 5-0, but the teams they’ve beaten are a combined 6-21.
We’ll learn more when CU visits USC on Saturday. One thing we know: Wide receiver Laviska Shenault is a heck of a player.
Writing for the Denver Post, Mark Kiszla invokes the name LeBron James when writing about Shenault’s exploits. Kiszla believes Shenault is a legitimate Heisman Trophy contender, but for the nation to take notice, Shenault and the Buffs need to play well the next two weeks against USC and Washington.
10. More on Shenault here from Ross Dellenger of Sports Illustrated, who writes about how Shenault and his twin brother coped with their father’s sudden death.
11. It was a year ago this week that Gary Andersen abruptly resigned at Oregon State. He’s now an assistant at Utah under Kyle Whittingham, coaching the Utes’ defensive tackles.
Utah made Andersen available to the media this week, and Kurt Kragthorpe of the Salt Lake Tribune wrote this column. Doesn’t sound like Andersen had much interest in discussing what happened at OSU, with isn’t a surprise. I don't think Andersen is the most popular guy in Corvallis these days.
12. And finally, in your weekly reminder that there’s more to life than sports, read this heartfelt story by Ryan Wood of the Green Bay Press-Gazette about his wife’s battle with mental illness.