Popping the tab on another 12-pack of stories from the Pac-12 (and beyond!), starting with desperate times for a pair of Pac-12 coaches ...
1. The award for best use of a press conference prop goes to Colorado’s Mike MacIntyre, who brought a framed photo of a snow-covered buffalo to his media luncheon this week.
“The buffalo is the only animal that walks into the storm. All the rest of them run,” MacIntyre said, as quoted in this column by Mark Kiszla of The Denver Post.
MacIntyre was saying — well, I’m not sure exactly what he was saying. I assume it was some kind of analogy about confronting adversity head-on. The Buffs have experienced plenty of that during MacIntyre’s six seasons, including their current five-game losing streak.
2. Colorado denied a Denver TV’s station’s report that the school had decided to cut ties with MacIntyre following the season. The story may have been premature, but when speculative reports about a coach’s future begin to surface, it generally means the end is nigh.
No one can say the Buffs haven’t been patient with MacIntyre. Most coaches with a .269 winning percentage in conference games don’t get six years to figure things out. Complicating matters for CU is the five-year contract MacIntyre signed after leading the Buffs to the Pac-12 title game in 2016 — basically his one good season in Boulder.
Pat Rooney of the Boulder Daily Camera says MacIntyre deserves to coach the Buffaloes on Saturday against Utah and try one more time for bowl eligibility. Beyond that, nothing is guaranteed.
3. If the Buffs move on from MacIntyre, where do they go?
Les Miles settled accounts with LSU this week, a sure sign the 65-year-old coach expects to land a job. He would be an interesting choice for Colorado, having been the Buffs’ offensive line coach under Bill McCartney in the 1980s. Miles’ quirky personality would play well in Boulder, but I’m not so sure about his offense.
Jim Leavitt is well regarded in Boulder after his work with the CU defense. Would he be willing to take a pay cut to be a head coach again? (That’s a joke, but barely.)
Matt Wells is having a great season at Utah State. Is that a hire that’s going to fire up the CU fan base? Perhaps. I do think it’s important to reiterate my first rule of coaching changes: If you’re going to fire the guy you have, you’d better be confident you can hire someone better.
4. That rule also applies to USC as it considers the fate of Clay Helton. It seems like the Trojans would like to give Helton more time, but he’s not making it easy. Scoring 14 points in a home loss to Cal — after demoting his offensive coordinator and taking over playcalling duties — is the kind of thing that gets a Trojan coach fired.
Bill Plaschke of The LA Times took the temperature of the USC fan base and found it red-hot. Things have gotten so bad that some USC fans are rooting for a loss to UCLA if it expedites the end of the Helton era.
5. I’m not sure where the Trojans turn if they cut ties with Helton. The Times’ Dylan Hernandez says they need to look beyond the USC bubble, and I think that’s true. But where?
Matt Campbell has done a terrific job at Iowa State and is in line for a big-time job if he wants one. Otherwise, the Trojans might need to get creative. If John Harbaugh’s tenure has run its course in Baltimore, that would be an intriguing name. And if USC really wanted to think outside the box, I’m sure Mike Leach is available.
6. Leach is a terrific coach, as he’s proven this year at Washington State. But if you want to know why he’s had trouble landing a bigger job, here’s an example: His tweet of a doctored video of Barack Obama reportedly cost Washington State $1.6 million in donations.
7. The Cougars should recoup that and more if they end up winning the Pac-12 and playing in the Rose Bowl. Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News spoke to WSU AD Pat Chun, who’s already looking for ways to capitalize on the Cougars’ success through continued facility upgrades.
“I remind everyone that Washington State has the ability to compete at the highest level, but sustaining it is the goal,” Chun said. “And the fundraising piece is what will allow us to sustain it.”
Chun said the Cougars’ failure to invest after their last Rose Bowl trip contributed to the program’s downward slide. I agree that facilities are important, though hiring (and keeping) the right coach is what ultimately allows a program like WSU to compete. If an indoor facility helps Washington State keep Leach from jumping ship, it’s probably money well spent.
8. While most outlets are projecting Washington State in the Rose Bowl, Wilner has Washington beating the Cougars and earning the Rose Bowl berth as the Pac-12 champion.
Wilner has Oregon emerging from the pack to play in the Redbox Bowl, which looks like a best-case scenario for the Ducks. They’re one of eight teams with a shot to finish 5-4, and they likely need to win their final two games to avoid slipping down the Pac-12 bowl hierarchy.
If the Ducks lose to Arizona State or Oregon State, they’re guaranteed to finish behind Washington State, Washington, Utah and the Arizona State/Arizona winner. There’s also a good chance they’d finish behind USC and either Stanford or Cal. That means they’re probably looking at the Cheez-It Bowl, or maybe an unaffiliated game like the Independence Bowl.
9. Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated raises an interesting question: Why aren’t the Pac-12’s Larry Scott and the Big 12’s Bob Bowlsby leading the charge for an eight-team college football playoff?
Both leagues have come out as losers in the playoff era, at least relative to the SEC, ACC and Big Ten. Guaranteeing a spot for each Power 5 conference champion would even the playing field a bit and keep the Pac-12 and Big 12 from being stuck on the outside.
Frankly, I’m not sure how much the Pac-12 cares. The league seems content to be kind of a high mid-major: a step above the Mountain West but a step below the SEC and Big Ten. If someone in the Pac-12 takes issue with that statement, I’d encourage them to do something about it.
10. I’ll say this for the Pac-12, though: The parity (or, if you prefer, mediocrity) in the middle makes for some interesting games.
The Pac-12 has several on tap this weekend. Cal-Stanford is one, though air quality concerns in the Bay Area could force the game to be cancelled or postponed.
The Bears haven’t won a Big Game since 2009, but they appear to have a great shot. They have the Pac-12’s best defense, and Stanford’s only victories since September have come against Arizona State and Oregon State.
(UPDATE: The game has been officially rescheduled for Dec. 1.)
11. Oregon-ASU is an intriguing game, too, with arguably the two best receivers in the league in N’Keal Harry and Dillon Mitchell.
The stats are similar, but otherwise, Mitchell and Harry are very different players. Harry is a 6-foot-4 physical specimen; Mitchell is 6-2 and elusive. Harry is the guy you’d want on a jump ball, but Mitchell might be the one you’d trust to get open on third down.
12. And finally, in your weekly reminder that there’s more to life than sports, I dare you to read this New York Times expose about Facebook and not feel an overwhelming urge to delete your account.