Pac-12 Stumbles Out of Gate; Dorrell Returns; Notre Dame Books It; Harbaugh Craters; ESPN Cuts
The Pac-12 made its debut over the weekend in a football season that started two months late and really shouldn’t have started at all.
It wasn’t exactly what they had planned.
Both the Cal-Washington and Utah-Arizona games were cancelled because of COVID cases. In fact, Utah didn't have enough healthy players to field a team. Cal cancelled because of a positive test and the resultant quarantine requirements.
Stanford played Oregon in the nationally televised encounter on ABC that was diminished by the absence of the Cardinal’s starting quarterback, Davis Mills, and starting receiver, Connor Wedington, due to COVID.
Cal, Washington, Arizona and Utah are now limited to a five-game regular season, plus a matchup on championship weekend. The cancelled games can’t be made up, because there are no bye weeks.
Last week we wrote that the Pac-12's playoff chances had gotten a boost from the absence of an undefeated team in the Big 12, early losses absorbed by perennial powers Oklahoma and Penn State, and the cancellation of two Wisconsin games.
But the conference's slim hopes can't withstand cancellations. The Pac-12's only long shot is a team that wins six straight conference games and then captures the league championship. No one on the playoff committee is going to seriously consider a team that's played five regular season games.
Our choice for the league standard bearer, USC, escaped with a 28-27 win against tough Arizona State by scoring two late touchdowns, the winning score coming after a recovered onside kick.
Dorrell Returns: New Colorado coach Karl Dorrell won his first game as head coach of the Buffaloes with an impressive 48-42 win over UCLA.
Victory was sweet.
Dorrell was head coach of the Bruins for five years before being sent packing in 2007 despite going to five straight bowl games. I got to know him when we hosted UCLA and Florida State in the 2006 Emerald Bowl. He's a good man.
After bouncing around as an assistant with several pro teams, Karl was hired by Colorado just as the pandemic hit last spring. In his debut in Boulder, the Buffs took advantage of three early turnovers by UCLA to build a 35-7 lead and hung on for the win.
Bruin Misery: Speaking of UCLA, when the Bruins hired former genius Chip Kelly three years ago, we predicted it would be a disaster.
It's been all of that.
Under Kelly, the Bruins have fumbled, stumbled and bumbled their way to a 7-18 record. The program is in disarray and Kelly often seems not to care. On the sidelines, he looks like a man on the beach in Maui.
Harbaugh Update: Michigan took it on the chin again Saturday, losing to Indiana 38-21. A week earlier the Wolverines were upset by Michigan State. With Ohio State, Penn State, Wisconsin and improving Maryland still ahead on the schedule, head coach Jim Harbaugh may be looking at a losing season. That just might be a firing offense in Ann Arbor.
Irish Uprising: The Notre Dame-Clemson game Saturday night is the game of the year so far in this crazy, truncated season. The Irish beat the Tigers, who were playing without star QB Trevor Lawrence, in double overtime, 47-40. It was a signature win for coach Brian Kelly and his team.
I found myself rooting for the Irish, despite their disgraceful treatment of my old friend Tyrone Willingham, who was dispatched as head coach after three years in favor of the legendary failure Charlie Weis.
The excesses in the Clemson program are almost beyond belief in terms of salaries, recruiting, and player luxuries. Notre Dame, meanwhile, is the closest Power 5 team to Stanford in terms of admissions requirements.
Book It: Notre Dame's Ian Book is the best quarterback you never heard of. Book, an escape artist who excels at buying time, keeping plays alive and threading the needle with his passes, was a revelation against Clemson. Playing against the nation's number one team he rushed for 68 yards and threw for 310, including the game-winning TD.
In three years as a starter, Book has led the Irish to a 40-6 record and passed for 61 touchdowns with only 14 ints. He's also rushed for over 1300 yards and 13 TDs.
Trouble at ESPN: Facing mounting expenses and declining revenues, the worldwide sports leader eliminated 500 positions—300 staffers were given pink slips and 200 open jobs will not be filled.
The four-month COVID shutdown was responsible for big losses, but the major factors were rising rights fees and falling cable subscriptions.
ESPN’s contracts with the NFL, NBA, MLB. college football and tennis majors have risen to $7.5 billion annually. At the same time, cable cutting and streaming have cut into the revenue stream…big time. At its height, in 2011, the network had more than 100 million cable subscribers. They’re now down to 83 million.
Consider that ESPN’s average per cable subscriber fee is $7.69 per month. Subtract 20 million subscribers and you’re looking at a loss of over $153 million per month, which translates to over $1.8 billion per year.
Among the cuts was the one of the very best college football writers in the land, Ivan Maisel, who’d been with ESPN for 18 years. That’s a huge loss for the network and for college football in general. Hopefully, he’ll surface elsewhere.
College Draft Picks: Roger Noll, the legendary sports economist, shared with me a 247 sports article that ranked the top 50 colleges in terms of players drafted by the NFL since 2000.
Ohio State, no surprise, was No. 1 with 141, including an astounding 31 first rounders. The next five included four SEC teams—Alabama at 2, LSU at 3, Florida at 5 and Georgia at 6. The ACC’s Miami was No. 4.
The top ranked Pac-12 team was No. 7 USC, with 109 picks, including 24 first rounders. Stanford was second in the conference at No. 19, with 74 picks and 7 first round selections.
Three other Pac-12 schools made the top 25—Oregon at 22, Cal 24 and UCLA 25.
Here’s a link to the complete list: