Pac Tracks: Washington losses leave best playoff chances to you-know-who

The last Washington anyone fully trusted probably answered to "George."

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Never count on Wash-outs to get the job done, under pressure, when it counts, ranked in the top 10, in the heat of a playoff race.

It is still next-to-impossible for me to fathom that Washington and Washington State, with those offenses, could combine to score 10 points against Cal and Arizona State.

And you wonder why, every week, half the nation falls asleep on Pac 12 After Midnight.

This could have been their years. They could have been contenders. They could have been somebodies.

There was heightened optimism in Pullman because Washington State finally got through a season opener without losing it—a first in the Mike Leach era. The Cougars raced out to 6-0 before Friday the 13th in Berkeley—a freak-show scenario if ever there was one.

The game was touch-and-go with people wheezing on smoke and ash from those horrific, deadly, nearby wild fires. The Air Quality Index “dipped” to 159, which might have choked a horse but was palatable enough for the Pac 12 office to issue a “release-and-insist" order.

Washington State should have protested by donning surgical masks for the national anthem.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]

What resulted was a display of Leach’s “Crappy Air (Quality Index) Raid” offense. The Cougs left with a field goal on the scoreboard and a stat-line from hell: seven turnovers, nine sacks with Leach spewing “We’re pathetic, front-runners.”

The only thing better than Leach quotes after victories are Leach quotes after defeats.

The capper to a god-awful weekend was Sunday news that Athletics Director Bill Moos, a WSU grad and former player, was leaving to take a similar position at Nebraska.

Washington followed Wazzu off the plank with a 13-7 loss at Arizona State. The Huskies changed field goal kickers and watched the new one miss two“chippies’ that ended up being the margin of victory.

“Tough day at the office,” Coach Chris Petersen said after the loss.

Petersen’s team was clearly not ready to play against an Arizona State team, tanned and rested, coming off a bye week.

Petersen, normally cautious and tight lipped, caused a self-inflicted distraction by saying late-night Pac 12 kickoffs were causing “tremendous” harm to his team.

Then he went out and proved it.

Washington quarterback Jake Browning, who was not at his best last year in a home loss to USC, the Pac 12 title game, or the national semifinal against Alabama, accepted responsibility after the loss.

“There is definitely going to be a fire lit under the offense’s ass,” he said.

It’s going to have to start with his ass.

Ok, admittedly, this obituary has been over-cooked and a bit reactionary. All is never lost in college football.

Wipeout losses in the top 15 that included Clemson and Auburn keep the door open for any one-loss, power 5 champion.

Washington State is a bigger long shot because it was blown out in defeat. Washington could recover to make the playoff but, because of the Huskies’ weak non-conference schedule, needs more losses to pile up among contenders in the Big 12, ACC and Big Ten.

Which brings us to USC, the "most trusted name in West Coast football news."

The Trojans’ nail-biter win over Utah, in which the Utes failed on a two-point attempt in a 28-27 loss, keeps them VERY much alive in the four-team playoff race.

In fact, write this down: USC will be in the playoff if it wins out. The Trojans’ combination of pedigree and fierce nonconference scheduling—Western Michigan, Texas, Notre Dame—will make them a very attractive one-loss conference champ.

Also mark this down: the chances of USC winning out, at its present state of dysfunction, is not likely. The Trojans can’t beat Notre Dame next week with quarterback Sam Darnold fumbling three more times.

“You’re not supposed to win games when you turn the ball over,” Darnold said.

If USC wins out and makes the playoff, it can send a box of chocolates to Utah Coach Kyle Whittingham.

His decision to go for two are the kind that make-or-break seasons.

“I would not have switched the decision at the end,” Whittingham said of going for two. “We played about 80 snaps on defense and had major problems stopping them, Darnold was on fire, and I thought that was the percentage play…”

Pac Moons Rising

Stanford (4-2) looks like a different team than the one that lost to San Diego State and USC. The Cardinal was impressive in Saturday’s 49-7 win over Oregon. I had unique, spectator’s view of the game while in town for my wife’s Stanford reunion. As a Heisman Trophy voter it was fun from my end-zone seat to watch Bryce Love, the nation’s leading rusher, work his wiggle magic.

Love, folks, is the real deal. His first five runs went for 34, minus-1, 10, 5 and 67 yards. He finished with 147 yards on 11 carries and didn’t play most of the second half. Love got banged up a bit and Coach David Shaw said “no reason for us to put him back in with the score the way it was.” Love has 1,387 rushing yards in seven games.

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--The rise of the suddenly-respectable Arizona schools changes the entire Pac South paradigm, particularly for USC, which leads the division at 4-1 but faces Arizona State and Arizona in consecutive weeks after this week’s trip to Notre Dame. The Sun Devils and Wildcats are both 2-1 in conference play. Arizona State holding Washington to seven points may have been the most impressive home defense performance since shutting out national-champion Nebraska in 1996. Phil Snow was ASU’s defensive coordinator then, Phil Bennett is the coordinator now. Sun Devils’ Coach Todd Graham is starting to get snarky again. He said the win over Washington was not a surprise. “They aint coming in here and winning.”

Meanwhile, in Tucson, Rich Rodriguez has a young quarterback who is striking fear in the hearts of opposing defense. Chew on this: Khalil Tate, a QB, has rushed for 657 yards in his team’s last twin wins against Colorado and UCLA.

“That young man is dynamic and he changes the game,” UCLA coach Jim Mora said.

--Cal. Two thoughts on the 4-3 rise of the Berkeley Bears. 1) Cal notched wins over the ACC (North Carolina) and SEC (Mississippi) this season before it earned its first Pac 12 win (Washington State). 2) It’s still a mystery to me how first-year coach Justin Wilcox has enjoyed success everywhere (Boise, Washington, Wisconsin) except USC, where he failed as defensive coordinator.

Pac Moon Falling 

UCLA had a bye week to prepare for Arizona, yet turned in a horrific effort in a 47-30 loss. The defeat should start anew the questions about Jim Mora’s future. UCLA allowed 457 more rushing yards and now ranks next-to-last (behind only Tulsa) nationally. Quarterback Josh Rosen took another step back with three interceptions and no touchdowns. UCLA is 3-3 with remaining games against Oregon, at Washington, at Utah, Arizona State, at USC, Cal. Wow. Good luck with all that. UCLA has committed 11 turnovers in its three road losses. “We are resilient,” Mora insisted. “There is a lot of football left to play and a lot of great things can happen.”[/membership]

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