This is how it works out West, on a Friday, after dark, after midnight in the East.
Any loss suffered by USC, especially this early, is considered the end of Pac 12 civilization.
It didn’t take long after Washington State’s thrilling, 30-27 win, in Pullman, for some pundits to eliminate the conference from playoff consideration.
It's almost an involuntary muscle reflex.
Washington, which made the playoff last year and hasn’t lost this year, was immediately put on notice for its weak non-conference schedule.
It’s basically the same Rutgers-based schedule that Washington used last year to make the playoff and give Alabama a pretty good game in the Peach Bowl.
Yet, to some, it’s all Pac 12 over now...on Sept. 30.
There’s no doubt the Pac 12 always suffers when USC loses a game. The Trojans are the only west-coast school that resonates nationally.
Washington State, in theory, could replace USC as contenders if only the Cougars could be trusted.
Washington State is 5-0 for the first time since 2001--that's great. The Cougars are an interesting, talented, team—undersized but not to be underestimated.
The nation is certainly ready to grace Mike Leach, a quirky, almost savant-like offensive mind who seems to spend more time tweeting than game-planning.
He is first-team, all-quote, for sure.
After Friday’s game, after thousands of Cougar fans stormed the field, Leach handed a gem to ESPN.
“It’s like Woodstock,” Leach said, “Except everybody’s got their clothes on.”
While many coaches choose plays off of giant, laminated placards, Leach works off what looks to be a folded-up grocery list.
Milk, eggs, shovel pass.
He called a brilliant game against USC, keeping the Trojans off balance with his vast array of formations.
Yet, the bigger story was the improvement of the Wazzu defense, led by Alex Grinch, which held USC to 327 yards.
If you take away the 86-yard scoring run by Ronald Jones, USC rushed 28 times for 77 yards.
If Washington State can play defense…watch out.
Here’s the problem, though. [membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]While Leach’s team avoided the opening-day stumble this year, Cougar momentum is probably not sustainable.
Washington State recorded its first five wins at home, but must now play five of its last seven on the road.
USC should NOT be punished too harshly for losing for the first time in more than a year, but the Trojans were asking for this. They were lucky to beat Western Michigan and Texas.
Sam Darnold, the hero of last year’s Rose Bowl, is clearly in a fundamentals funk. The Trojans were also out-coached by the entire Washington State staff.
The Trojans blew two huge opportunities. They couldn’t score a touchdown from the WSU three after linebacker Uchenna Nwosu’s incredible interception of Luke Falk’s pass.
USC then came away scoreless after a bad punt set the Trojans up at the Wazzu 27.
But, of course USC is not out of anything unless it loses again. The Trojans played Friday night without three starters on the offensive line. They were also missing a starting receiver (Steven Mitchell) and star linebacker Porter Gustin.
“Got a bunch of hurt kids right now in that locker room,” USC Coach Clay Helton said.
USC has the name, and the schedule, to get back in contention. Last year, the Trojans lost three games and finished No. 3 in the final AP poll.
This year, though, it’s going to take a few miraculous, training-table recoveries and some soul-searching from Sam Darnold.
Oh, the Trojans don’t have a bye week until after Nov. 18.
The big loser, short term, is Washington.
The Huskies look like the Pac 12’s best team but are going to have to soon shove that non-conference schedule—Rutgers, Montana, Fresno State—in front of the College Football Playoff selection committee.
Last year, remember, the committee so little believed in Washington it put Texas A&M at No. 4 in the first ranking.
Washington has the least amount of Pac 12 schedule punch and doesn’t play USC in regular season. The Huskies still need to root for a USC bounce-back so they can play the Trojans in the Pac 12 title game.
Washington has another interesting date looming: Nov. 25 vs. Washington State.
The Apple Cup.
Washington had no issues with the Cougars last year, winning a 45-17 runaway in Pullman.
Washington State, though, looks different.
And Mike Leach is certainly a different cat. [/membership]