Pac-12 Alums Shine, But Conference Hypocrisy Abounds
The Pac-12 doesn't begin play in this crazy 2020 season for another five weeks, but the conference made quite a statement Saturday afternoon.
The Mississippi State Bulldogs, coached by former Washington State head man Mike Leach and led by former Stanford quarterback K.J. Costello, upset the reigning national champion LSU Tigers 44-34 in Baton Rouge.
All Costello did was throw for an SEC record 623 yards and five touchdowns in his first game directing Leach's famed Air Raid offense. He also threw two interceptions, one a pick six, and lost two fumbles, but came up big in the clutch after LSU had rallied to tie the game, 34-34, throwing a beautiful TD pass and then leading a long drive for the field goal that put the game out of reach.
Costello had an up and down career at Stanford, earning second team All-League honors (ahead of future NFL first-round draft pick Justin Herbert) in 2018 before apparently losing his starting job to Davis Mills after a series of injuries in '19.
No official announcements were made, but Costello read the handwriting on the wall that the coaching staff was planning to go with Mills and was also enamored with Tanner McKee, just returned from a Mormon mission.
So he took advantage of the NCAA's graduate transfer rule and headed for Mississippi State, where he'd have the opportunity to throw the ball 50-60 times a game. At Stanford, truth be told, he was often frustrated by the Cardinal's conservative run-first attack.
We've chided Costello for going from the top school in the country to a school ranked #206 in the latest US News rankings to pursue graduate studies, but his football motivation was valid and he's not responsible for the NCAA's silly grad transfer rule. We've long believed that athletes should be able to transfer without penalty—like the men who coach them—rather than having to manufacture some story about graduate study opportunities.
We've also been critical of Leach, a very strange dude who has in the past exhibited bizarre behavior, made a series of wacko comments, and mistreated players. But the man can coach, and as LSU found out, his offense is particularly difficult to defend when you're seeing it for the first time.
It's going to be an interesting year for both men, as Costello—barring injury—may emerge as one of the top offensive players in the country, and Leach will cause nightmares for the SEC defensive coordinators attempting to stop him.
One side note: Speaking of defensive coordinators, the DC who was embarrassed on Saturday, LSU's Bo Pellini, is the same fellow who was dispatched as head coach at Nebraska, in large part due to his legendary temper and verbal abuse of his players. Pellini is a lout who only seems to know words that begin with "f". It was poetic justice to see him humiliated.
Conference Caves: Like the Big Ten before it, the Pac-12 caved to the almighty dollar last week, as presidents and chancellors unanimously voted to play football this fall. Five weeks earlier, they'd cancelled the fall season because of coronavirus concerns and potential heart problems associated with the disease.
But the prospect of losing hundreds of millions in TV money while the other four Power Five conferences were raking it in was a cross too heavy to bear.
In what will certainly go down in college football history as one of the most absurd and dishonest comments ever uttered, Oregon president Michael Schill, the chair of the Pac-12's CEO group, said, with a straight face, that money "was never once mentioned as a consideration" in the Pac-12's deliberations and that the issue of TV rights fees "had no effect on our decision."
You might say Schill has become a shill for embattled conference commissioner Larry Scott, the man humbly described in his bio as a "bold, innovative leader with a vision for transformative change."
And so the Pac-12 will keep up with the joneses and choose wealth over health, checkbooks over textbooks, and hypocrisy over integrity.
This despite the fact that COVID cases in Oregon have reached their highest level. Despite the fact that gatherings of people between the ages of 18 and 22 are not permitted in Boulder County, Colorado. Despite the fact that Los Angeles Health officials report that young people are driving the surge of new cases in the county. And despite the fact that no other students will be allowed on the Stanford campus because conditions are too risky.
So I hope you'll forgive me if, the next time I hear the term "student-athlete” from an athletic director, conference commissioner or school president, I find a safe place to throw up.