Pac-12: Washington State Cougars
- Running backs are the storyline in Arizona's bowl game.
- It's been a memorable season thus far for the Sun Devils.
- How are your favorite Bears doing in the NFL?
- Saying goodbye to the Buffs seniors.
- Hroniss Grasu is a finalist forthe Rimington Trophy.
- A first look at Oregon State-Boise State.
- The Cardinal are waiting on Michigan State prep.
- UCLA-Virginia Tech by the numbers.
- Athlon asks whether USC or Washington made the better hire.
- All in all it was a frustrating year for the Utes.
- Justin Wilcox could still end up at Washington.
- Washington State opens as favorites over Colorado State.
- Athlon ranks the bowl games.
Sports Business Daily has done its annual accounting of bowl gifts, and let's just say there's a reason players like bowl games, beyond another chance to play and win.
The NCAA allows each bowl to award up to $550 worth of gifts to 125 participants per school, so this is all within the NCAA's complex web of rules.
You'll see "gift suite" over and over. Here's what that is, per SBD:
SportsBusiness Journal’s eighth annual analysis of the gift packages provided to bowl game participants by the committees that host the games reveals that half of those organizations will stage a gift suite or shopping spree in the coming weeks. Gift suites are set up as private events prior to the game in which game participants, and often bowl VIPs, are given an order form and allowed to select a gift, or gifts, up to a value that is predetermined by each bowl, not to exceed the NCAA limit.
So what do Pac-12 players get this bowl season. Glad you asked.
Sheraton Hawaii Bowl (Oregon State vs. Boise State)
Tues., Dec. 24, 8 p.m. (ESPN); Honolulu
Gift suite; Oakley sunglasses; Tori Richard aloha shirt, Pro Athletics shorts and performance T-shirt; Ogio backpack; beach towel
AdvoCare V100 Bowl (Arizona vs. Boston College)
Tues., Dec. 31, 12:30 p.m. (ESPN); Shreveport, La.
Gift suite; Timely Watch Co. watch; New Era skull cap; football
Gildan New Mexico Bowl (Washington State vs. Colorado State)
Sat., Dec. 21, 2 p.m. (ESPN); Albuquerque, N.M.
Gift suite, portable mobile device charger, 8 GB USB; Oakley Breadbox sunglasses; cap, Oakley Fine Knit beanie; Oakley Flak Pack XL backpack; Gildan stadium blanket
Fight Hunger Bowl (Washington vs. BYU)
Fri., Dec. 27, 9:30 p.m. (ESPN); San Francisco
Soundmatters wireless portable speaker system; Fossil watch; Maxx HD Wayfarer sunglasses; messenger bag; Macy’s gift card
Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl (USC vs. Fresno State)
Sat., Dec. 21, 3:30 p.m. (ABC); Las Vegas
Samsung Galaxy Tab 3; beanie, cap; Oakley Flak Pack XL backpack; football, Zappos gift card
Hyundai Sun Bowl (UCLA vs. Virginia Tech
Tues., Dec. 31, 2 p.m. (CBS); El Paso, Texas
Gift suite; Timely Watch Co. watch; Top of the World cap, Majestic fleece pullover; Ogio backpack; coin, Helen of Troy hair dryer
National University Holiday Bowl (Arizona State vs. Texas Tech)
Mon., Dec. 30, 10:15 p.m. (ESPN); San Diego
$305 Best Buy gift card; Reactor Meltdown watch; Maui Jim sunglasses; cap
Valero Alamo Bowl (Oregon vs. Texas)
Mon., Dec. 30, 6:45 p.m. (ESPN); San Antonio
iPad Mini with retina display, Apple gift card; Fossil watch; panoramic photo, Schutt mini helmet
Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio (Stanford vs. Michigan State)
Wed., Jan. 1, 5 p.m. (ESPN); Pasadena, Calif.
Gift suite; Fossil watch; New Era 59Fifty cap; Ogio backpack
Gildan New Mexico Bowl
Albuquerque, N.M., Dec. 21, 11 a.m. PT, ESPN
Washington State (6-6) vs. Colorado State (7-6)
Colorado State Rams
Coach: Jim McElwain (second year)
Record: 7-6, 5-3 Mountain West
Combined opponents’ record: 62-95 (.394)
Common opponents: None, though Colorado State did lose to Colorado in the season opener.
Leading passer: Garrett Grayson, 266-428 (62.2) for 3,327 yards with 21 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
Leading rusher: Kapri Bibbs, 254-1,572 (6.2 yards per carry), 28 touchdowns.
Leading receiver: Rashard Higgins, 64-795, six touchdowns.
Leading tackler: Max Morgan, 129. Though it's worth noting Shaquil Barrett has 20.5 tackles for a loss and 12 sacks.
What to know: Colorado State is bowl eligible for the first time since 2008. The Rams were worried they might be the odd men out of the Mountain West, which had seven bowl-eligible teams and six contracted agreements. In a six degrees of Kevin Bacon turn of events, it was the San Jose State Spartans who were left out. That’s Mike MacIntyre’s former team, and he picked up his first win as Colorado’s coach by beating the Rams in the season opener. So it all comes full circle.
Once regulars in the postseason under Sonny Lubick -- when they went to nine bowl games in a 12-season stretch -- the Rams hit a postseason dry spell.
Their resume isn’t particularly sparkling, but it’s hard to ignore Bibbs’ numbers. They only played one ranked team this season and it was No. 1 Alabama. And they lost 31-6. Their marquee win is probably a 38-17 win at home over Nevada. And they should be plenty familiar with Albuquerque, having won there on Nov. 16 when they topped New Mexico 66-42.
Key matchup: Stopping Bibbs has to be the top priority. The last time he was in New Mexico he rushed for 291 yards and six touchdowns. He leads the nation in rushing touchdowns and is top 10 in rushing yards and top 15 in carries. That puts the pressure on the Washington State front seven, which has yielded 22 rushing touchdowns and allows 184 rushing yards per game. But playing in the Pac-12, the Cougars are no strangers to elite backs. They gave up 132 yards and a touchdown to Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey and 200 yards and a score to Washington's Bishop Sankey. Both are Doak Walker finalists.
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Washington State Cougars (6-6) vs. Colorado State Rams (7-6)
Dec. 21, 2 p.m. ET, Albuquerque, N.M. (ESPN)
WASHINGTON STATE COUGARS BREAKDOWN
Welcome back, Wazzu.
Those days are over.
In his second season, coach Mike Leach brought the program back to respectability, re-energized the fan base and now has a chance to take another step forward against Colorado State, which is led by another second-year coach, Jim McElwain. Leach’s Air Raid offense, paired with the expectation that WSU will travel well, was enough for bowl officials to select the Cougars instead of Arizona or Oregon State.
The Cougars finished the regular season with a loss in the Apple Cup, but recorded consecutive wins at Arizona and home against Utah in the weeks prior to reach bowl eligibility. Before that, the season saw its fair share of ups and downs.
Looking back, the Cougars’ 31-24 loss at Auburn in the season opener looks even better now than it did then. Granted, both teams have changed a lot since August, but WSU -- which finished 4-5 in the Pac-12 -- was a few plays away from beating the eventual SEC champion. The next week, WSU went to Los Angeles where it contributed to coach Lane Kiffin’s dismissal by beating then-No. 25 USC despite not scoring an offensive touchdown.
COLORADO STATE RAMS BREAKDOWN
After four years without a bowl game, the Rams are back in the postseason.
While the Cougars will throw the ball nearly every down, Colorado State, under second-year coach Jim McElwain is the epitome of balance. The Rams rank No. 39 in the country in passing (258.5 ypg) and No. 31 in rushing (202.7).
Despite its seven wins, Colorado State was far from a lock to reach a bowl. The six FBS opponents it beat were a combined 17-55. The Rams best showing of the year might have been their 31-6 loss at then-No. 1 Alabama.
Several junior college prospects made immediate impacts in the Pac-12 this season, including Jaelen Strong at Arizona State, Steven Nelson at Oregon State and Vince Mayle at Washington State. The 2014 crop of junior college standouts will undoubtedly reveal a number of instant-impact players in the conference. Looking at the ESPN JC 50, five prospects stand out as important targets for conference teams.
1. DT Alfonso Hampton (Chula Vista, Calif./Southwestern College): The No. 10 overall prospect and No. 3 defensive tackle is only just tapping into his potential, as this is only his second year playing football. Hampton won't be a mid-year enrollee, so a number of schools are waiting to offer until they are sure that he will be academically ready to leave next spring. Arizona State, Oregon and USC have expressed interest and it wouldn't be surprising to see that interest turn to offers in the coming weeks.
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No. 1: A victory would make the Huskies 8-4, thereby ending a streak of three consecutive 7-6 seasons that provided mocking fodder for Washington's rivals and Sarkisian's critics.
No. 2: He can vanquish the memory of the epic collapse in last season's Apple Cup, when the Cougars overcame an 18-point deficit and won in overtime.
Sarkisian is fully aware of the stakes, for him and his team. Eclipsing the 7-win mark?
"I think it’s big because it’s on paper," he said. "You can say, ‘They improved because the number says they improved.’ I think it’s big for the veterans on this team -- the seniors and juniors -- for them to walk off the field Friday after the Apple Cup. If we can get to that eighth win, they know they improved this program."
And about that 2012 Apple Cup? Sarkisian called the fourth quarter, his team suddenly plagued by turnovers and penalties, "a comedy of errors."
"It still leaves a bad taste in our mouths -- I can tell you that," Sarkisian said.
On the visiting side of the field at Husky Stadium on Friday, there will be a team that already has hit a notable benchmark -- winning a sixth game and becoming bowl eligible for the first time since 2006 -- one that has a much different feeling about the decisive fourth quarter of the 2012 Apple Cup. What the Huskies see as a collapse, the Cougars view as an assertion of will, one that provided solace for a disappointing debut for coach Mike Leach.
"I thought it did energize our offseason," Leach said. "It was a win over a quality opponent. I was telling our players, I think it most definitely revealed some of the potential that we have."
Leach, however, didn't see some definitive moment of transformation with his team. He sees more of a sometimes painful accumulation over the past two seasons that is starting to pay off.
"I think we're a young team and we've just steadily improved," Leach said. "The think I'm most happy with is no body gave up or flinched. Everybody just kept working."
The linger questions over this game is the health of Washington quarterback Keith Price, who missed the Huskies' win over Oregon State last weekend due to a shoulder injury. He's throwing again but is decidedly questionable. Sarkisian said it was "very clear" that Price isn't close to 100 percent. If he can't go, Cyler Miles will make his second consecutive start.
Miles played well at Oregon State, though he was helped by 530 yards rushing and an "Olé" effort from the Beavers.
"I thought he looked like a Pac-12 quarterback," Sarkisian said. "It didn’t look new to him; he just looked comfortable."
While the stakes aren't of national interest and the game won't affect the Pac-12 race, it's been 11 years since both teams arrived at the Apple Cup with winning records. Both programs are trying to become nationally relevant again, and the rivals certainly appears closer to being so than in recent years. That's a good thing for both schools, according to Sarkisian.
"The better the two teams are performing, the better the environment for the game, and I’m hoping in the near future this game is deciding who is playing for the Pac-12 Championship," he said. "I think our fans -- theirs and ours -- deserve that."
Of course, while sharing a nationally relevant stage is something both programs aspire to, they certainly don't want to yield top billing on the marquee.
The weekend didn't offer as much recruiting action in the Pac-12 as the hectic days of early last week, but there were still several commitments in the conference and a number of big performance's from Pac-12 programs and recruits. Despite Arizona State grabbing the most important win and sending a message to recruits across the region, UCLA was a big winner on the recruiting trail, getting a number of top prospects to the Rose Bowl and reeling in a commitment from a 2015 standout that ranks No. 1 at his position.
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You guys are one game away from bowl eligibility. Was that a team goal? Or was it one of those situations where if it happens, it happens?
Elliott Bosch: I think it was in the back of everyone’s mind. But at the same time, one thing we preached in camp was just play every week and win every week and don’t give ourselves a ceiling.
What would a bowl game mean? Not just for the seniors, but for the program, the fans and the school?
EB: It would be huge. It’s been a decade since we’ve gone. To be part of the group that gets it back and sets the standard for the program for upcoming years would be big.
EB: We couldn’t have done it without guys like Travis Long. Even though he’s gone, he still left his mark on the program. He’s still remembered for all the good things he did for us. We couldn’t have done it without all of those guys who came before.
Last year, you were worst in the league in sacks allowed. Significant improvement this year. What’s been the difference?
EB: I think we’re a little more experienced as a group. We grew up. The biggest thing is we bought in as a group and worked our tails off. We didn’t want to be that group again – the reason this thing wouldn’t go. As a group, we made that decision that we were going to be better and we weren’t going to be the reason.
What about as a team? Is there something different from a mentality standpoint? Or is it just another year in the system?
EB: Part of it is another year in the system and everyone knowing their job and what is expected. But we’ve also grown up a lot as a team. We’re not as mentally fragile. When bad stuff happened last year, it put us in the tank. Bad stuff is still happening this year but we’re able to come back from it and not let it affect us and not let it determine the outcome of a game.
You guys are a bit of an anomaly in the fact that all three of your conference wins have come on the road and you have no conference wins at home. Normally it’s the other way around. What are you guys doing on the road that you aren’t doing at home?
EB: I don’t know. I don’t really have an answer to that. It is an anomaly. We do take a lot of pride playing at home. It just hasn’t gone our way this year and it has gone our way on the road. I think we play good on the road and I think we’re good at just focusing on ourselves as a team and not the atmosphere and getting bug-eyed. We’d like to play better at home. It means something to play well at home.
What have you seen out of Connor [Halliday] from last year going back and forth with Jeff [Tuel] to being the full-time guy. Are you seeing week-by-week improvement from him?
EB: Definitely. Every week he gets better in every aspect. Each week he learns more. He’s preparing better. I think it was big for him to be the guy. He’s one of those guys who needs to know it’s his responsibility and he needs to prepare as the leader rather than not knowing each week what his role is.
What have you seen from Utah on film?
EB: Last year they gave us problems, but we’re trying not to focus on last year. I know they are a tough group and they play hard and they go out and do their job. We’re going to have to play great and match their effort and their intensity.
What’s next for you? A run at the NFL?
EB: I don’t really know. I’ve always taken a realistic stance on it. If I have an opportunity, I’ll take it. But I don’t want to be the guy chasing a dream that’s not there. And I’m not the stereotypical NFL offensive lineman size-wise (6-4, 280). We’ll see. I don’t know.
In your time there, what’s the lesson you take away from working with Mike Leach?
EB: You learn stuff from him every day. But the one big thing is he demands excellence out of his players and he shows you that you have more in you than you think you do and he’s able to get that out of people. In every aspect. In school, off the field, in all aspects of life. I think that’s the one thing I’m going to take away.
- Arizona receiver Trey Griffey is earning his shot.
- The Sun Devils made a run at Myles Jack in recruiting, now they have to prepare for him on both sides of the ball.
- Cal is addressing its academic flaws with student-athletes.
- A pair of Colorado linemen will play their final home game against USC.
- Ducks keying in on ways to stop Ka'Deem Carey.
- Oregon State defensive end Dylan Wynn is getting reps at fullback.
- A complete Stanford breakdown of all you need to know for Big Game week.
- ASU's defense poses a stiff test for UCLA's offense.
- Ed Orgeron could add coach of the year to his resume.
- Adam Schulz is having a strong week of practice.
- Bishop Sankey is continuing a record-setting pace.
- Practice conditions are getting chilly in Pullman.
- Athlon offers up its Week 13 storylines and predictions.
It has been a wild week of recruiting in the Pac-12, with ups and downs for over half the programs in the conference. There have been six commitments and four decommitments since Monday afternoon, with one prospect decommitting and committing to the same school. And with this kind of momentum generated early in the week, there's a good chance it could continue through Sunday, with several programs hosting big recruiting weekends.
Washington and Cal post up and down weeks
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Oregon is the Rose Bowl favorite: For the first time all year, Oregon seems destined for the Rose Bowl -- the game, not just the stadium. The Ducks were pegged for the national title game before losing to Stanford last week, which figured to have shipped them to a BCS bowl elsewhere. But after USC’s upset win over the Cardinal, Oregon again stands to host the Pac-12 championship game, which will send the winner to the Rose Bowl.
WSU a bowl threat: Needing two wins with three games to go, Washington State snapped a three-game losing streak at Arizona to take a big step toward returning to the postseason for the first time since 2003. The 24-17 win marked the team’s most important victory since taking down the Trojans at the Coliseum on Sept. 7 and is arguably -- considering the circumstances -- the team’s most complete win of the season. Utah’s trip to Pullman next week will essentially serve as a semifinal game for each team’s postseason hopes. If WSU loses, it still has the Apple Cup the following week, but Cougars fans would like nothing more than to lock up bowl eligibility at Martin Stadium. Will students delay the start of their Thanksgiving break to remain in town?
Injuries unearth strength for UCLA: A week ago, the Bruins’ desperate need for help at running back led coach Jim Mora to call on freshman linebacker Myles Jack, who responded with 120 yards on six carries. Mora played coy throughout the week as to the chances that Jack would be back with the offense, but it became obvious early in UCLA’s 41-31 win against Washington that the former Bellevue (Wash.) High two-way star’s performance earned a bigger role. Four touchdowns later, it’ll be hard to justify leaving Jack on the sideline when UCLA has the ball if/when the health situation improves in the backfield.
Cal is conference’s worst: Someone had to win. Someone had to snap a double-digit conference losing streak. Not only did Colorado pull it off, it turned it into a lopsided affair, winning 41-24. With only Stanford remaining, Cal is all but assured to become the 19th team since the Pac-8 was formed in 1968 to finish conference play without a win. One of those teams was Cal in 2001, which led to the dismissal of Tom Holmoe and the hiring of Jeff Tedford. Tedford, of course, was replaced by Sonny Dykes this season.
Another step back for Washington: Since peaking at No. 15 in the AP poll after its 4-0 start, Washington has failed to meet expectations. The first big blow was the 53-24 loss to Arizona State, and Friday’s loss to UCLA again stamped the Huskies as a third-tier program in the conference. Next week’s trip to Corvallis will be another benchmark test for the Huskies before they try to reclaim the Apple Cup on Nov. 29. If the UW athletic department is looking for a positive byproduct of the recent 2-4 stretch, it’s that the Sarkisian-for-USC campaign has died down significantly.
Connor Halliday, QB, Washington State: Halliday completed 36 of 53 passes for 319 yards, none more important than a 25-yard strike to Isiah Myers for a touchdown with 2:15 left. The score stood as the game-winner as WSU improved to 5-5 -- one game shy of bowl eligibility.
Myles Jack, LB/RB, UCLA: After running for four touchdowns in the Bruins’ 41-31 win against UCLA, Jack maintained he’s “still defense all the way.” Could have fooled us. Jack became the first UCLA player since Maurice Jones-Drew to pull off the feat and is now tied with Jordan James for second on the team with five rushing scores despite playing offense in just two games.
Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona: Carey cracked the 100-yard mark for the 13th straight game, running for 132 yards on 26 carries and a score. The Doak Walker Award semifinalist came into the game No. 2 in the nation, averaging 152.6 yards per game.
Paul Richardson, WR, Colorado: Richardson caught 11 passes for 140 yards and broke the school’s single-season receiving record in the process. He surpassed the record previously held by Charles E. Johnson and sits at 1,201 receiving yards on the year.
Marion Grice, RB, Arizona State: Grice ran for 118 yards on 24 carries and scored a pair of touchdowns in the Sun Devils’ win against Oregon State. ASU remains in control in the Pac-12 South with an important showdown with UCLA looming next week.
Andre Heidari, K, USC: Heidari’s day didn’t start too well when he missed the PAT following USC’s first touchdown of the game. But he redeemed himself with a 47-yard field goal in the final minute to lift USC over No. 4 Stanford, 20-17.
Tyler Gaffney, RB, Stanford: Stanford’s loss won’t fall on Gaffney’s shoulders. The senior carried 24 times for 158 yards and a pair of scores, including a highlight-reel quality 35-yarder in the first quarter.