Pac-12's Sweet Swan Song; Seminoles Snubbed; SI's Sad Decline; CMC for MVP
Pac-12 Conference football ended with a loud bang, not a soft whimper, on Friday night with a classic donnybrook between No. 3 ranked Washington and No,. 5 Oregon.
The Huskies won, 36-33, capping an undefeated 13-0 season and advancing to the College Football Playoff.
It was a fitting end for the conference that showed the rest of the country how to throw the football, consistently beat higher-ranked Big Ten teams in the Rose Bowl, and produced legions of great players, particularly at the skill positions.
It was also a painful reminder that the demise of the 108-year old conference is a real tragedy, one that was caused by the surrender of control of college football to the television networks and the incompetence of two commissioners, Larry Scott and George Kliavkoff.
Innovation, upsets, and wide-open football were the hallmarks of the league that so many of us followed and loved for decades.
Indeed, Friday was an emotional night for this Jersey boy who grew up watching the Pac-8, viewing the Rose Bowl as the Shrine of college football, worked at Stanford for 15 years, and later directed a bowl game involving teams from the Pac-10 and Pac-12.
It breaks my heart that there will never be another Pac-12 football game.
The Championship match exhibited the excitement, creativity and high scoring teams that the conference was known for. And like so many Pac-12 games, the underdog rose to the challenge.
Going into the championship game, undefeated Washington had won its last eight games by 3, 2, 7, 10, 9, 8, 3 and 7 points...eight games by 49 points. Oregon had won its last six by 24, 36, 9, 44, 29 and 14...six games by 156. And even though the Huskies had prevailed 36-33 when the teams met on Oct. 14, that loss could be attributed to the Oregon coach Dan Lanning's foolish decisions to go for it on fourth down three times...failing all three times to cost his team six points and field position in the final minute.
That's why the Ducks were 10 point favorites, and most of us thought they'd win a tight, exciting game. Instead, the Huskies showed the toughness and resilience that had enabled them to win all those close games, and Michael Penix, Jr. might have won himself the Heisman Trophy.
Penix is Mr. Clutch. He completed 27 of 39 for 319 yards and a touchdown and made several big-time third-down throws to keep drives alive, including one in the closing minute to run the clock down.
Bo Nixed: Oregon's Bo Nix, who should also get invited to New York for the Trophy presentation, is another of the conference's stable of great quarterbacks. He was the favorite going into Friday night's game, but now will likely finish third behind Penix and LSU's Jayden Daniels.
OSU, WSU Departures: Earlier in the day on Friday, the star QBs from the two Pac-12 schools left behind, Oregon State's DJ Uiagalelei and Washington State's Cameron Ward, entered the transfer portal.
Who could blame them?
Next year their schools will play seven Mountain West Conference opponents, meet each other twice, and try to schedule three games against other Power Five opponents.
DJ may follow his coach, Jonathan Smith, who also left Oregon State last week to accept the head coaching job at Michigan State.
Ward will be highly sought after by any team looking for a star quarterback.
Heisman History: If he wins the Heisman, Penix will join a distinguished ist of other winners from the Pac-8, 10 and 12, including quarterbacks Terry Baker (Oregon State), Gary Beban (UCLA), Jim Plunkett (Stanford), Carson Palmer (USC), Matt Leinert (USC), Marcus Mariota (Oregon) and Caleb Williams (USC). Stanford's John Elway and Andrew Luck were runners-up, as was USC's Rodney Peete.
Official Blunder: It seems no game would be complete anymore without a couple of horrific calls from the officials. Not to mention some awful commentating by ESPN rules analyst Bill Lemonnier.
After the officials blew a call on the field, ruling Penix's pass attempt a fumble, Lemonnier defended it on the air. Fortunately, after watching the replay, play-by-play announcer Chris Fowler said "it looks to me like his arm was moving forward."
Lemonnier weakly responded, "well if it was moving forward it's an attempted pass." To which Fowler replied, "it was moving forward Bill."
Oh how we yearn for Mike Pereira.
Kliavkoff sighting: Disgraced commissioner George Kliafkoff made a cameo appearance during the trophy presentation. ESPN 's Holly Rowe, who did a nice job hosting the awards ceremony, quickly intoned that "Commissioner George Kliavkoff presents the championship trophy to Washington coach Kalen DeBoer." Kliavkoff, sporting a new beard and looking very uncomfortable, executed a quick handoff and then vanished to the back of the stage.
Let's hope that's the last time we see him.
Seminoles Screwed: With all due respect to Alabama and coach Nick Saban, Florida State deserved to get the No. 4 spot in the College Football Playoff. The Seminoles won the ACC championship and went 13-0, crushing SEC stalwart LSU by 21 points and beating Florida in the Swamp while playing with its second string quarterback.
The SEC has no bragging rights this year, going 7-9 in games against Power 5 Opponents. Alabama lost at home to Texas and only beat a 6-6 Auburn team with a last-minute Hail Mary on fourth and 31.
I know the Seminoles were unimpressive in beating Louisville with their third team QB, but when you go undefeated and win a Power Five Conference championship, you should get in.
Perhaps rather than downgrading them because their star QB is out, Florida State should have been rewarded for winning two important games, including the conference championship, with backups.
Fortunately, with next year's 12-team field, we won't have these kinds of issues. Any controversy over No. 12. vs. No. 13 will be far less intense, and far less meaningful.
SI's Decline: Though not as tragic as the death of the Pac-12, the sad decline of Sports Illustrated has been another casualty of the pursuit of the almighty dollar.
Last week we learned that SI, the magazine most of us grew up revering, has been publishing AI-written stories under the bylines of journalists who do not even exist.
SI has even created fake bios for these imaginary authors. One story was bylined by a non-existent "Drew Ortiz", who according to the website, "has spent much of his life outdoors and is excited to guide you through his never-ending list of the best products to keep you from falling to the perils of nature."
How things have changed! As an aspiring young journalist, I eagerly waited for the delivery of my copy of Sports Illustrated each Thursday. Along with the great reportage of big games, there was the incredible photography, the in-depth masterpieces by Frank Deford, Dan Jenkins, Rick Telander, Gary Smith, Kenny Moore, Grant Wahl and so many others.
The back page wit and wisdom of Rick Reilly. The thrill of occasionally getting a letter published, or recognizing someone in the "Faces in the Crowd" page.
In the digital age, with so much available in an instant via social media and the internet, subscribership at SI--and most other magazines--plummeted, but the SI brand was still respected and still has featured a number of respected writers, like Pat Forde.
In recent years, however, new owners have continued to dismantle what was once the gold standard of sports journalism. Venture capitalist owners from New York have attached the SI name to products unrelated to sports, employed mostly freelancers, moved to more of a fan blog format and published computer-generated stories with bylines of phony writers.
It's just the latest blow from new technology and corporate greed to the value of the written word and the profession of journalism.
CMC for MVP: Brock Purdy played great, and Deebo Samuel's explosiveness was jaw-dropping in the 49ers' 42-19 win over the Eagles yesterday.
But my MVP is Christian McCaffrey. He rushed 17 times for 93 yards and caught three passes for another 40. He scored his inevitable touchdown and caught a 33-yard pass that set up Samuel's first score. All he's done so far this season is lead the NFL in rushing with 1,032 yards, score 17 touchdowns and catch 51 passes.
Yesterday the 49ers had consecutive three-and-outs in the first quarter with a net of minus six yards.
Why? Because McCaffrey never touched the ball. Once the 49ers' brain trust remembered him, in the second quarter, the NFL's best offense started to roll.
In my book, he's the man.