Pac-12: Madonna

Best case-worst case: Washington State

July, 31, 2013
7/31/13
7:00
PM ET
This is the second in a series looking at potential dream and nightmare scenarios for all Pac-12 teams.

Understand: These are not predictions. They are extreme scenarios and pieces of fiction. You can read last year's versions here.

We're going in reverse order of my post-spring power rankings (which might not be identical to my preseason power rankings).

Up next: Washington State

Mike Leach exits the Holland-Terrell Library at Washington State with professor Buddy Levy, his co-author for a book about Geronimo. It's 11:50 p.m. Leach takes a left on Wilson and another left on Stadium Way. An early fall chill is in the air. Martin Stadium rises in front of Leach.

Leach pauses and looks toward the field. He hears the faint sound of drums and wooden flutes. He shakes his head. He's not sure if the music is only in his mind, but it grows louder as he nears the stadium. He follows the sounds past the 11-foot, bronze Cougar and walks through the main gate.

The field is full of Cougars. Not animals. The fan kind. Draped in crimson, they are dancing in perfect unison. The music reaches a frantic crescendo. And then stops. All the fans look up at Leach. They are very serious, other than Coug-A-Sutra, who is jumping around going, "Mike Leach! Mike Leach! I know him!"

A man appears.

"Mike, how are you? Name's GoyaaBé," the apparition says walking up from behind Leach. "But you can call me Geronimo. I have some concerns about chapter nine, but we can talk about that later. This here is Wovoka. Your fans are doing their own version of the 'Ghost Dance'."

Leach, who exchanges a fist bump with Geronimo and Wovoka, doesn't seem surprised in the least to be talking to spirits of Native American heroes.

"They are summoning Cougars legends, the ancestors who led this football program to great glory," Leach says. "Makes sense. There's Lone Star Dietz! And Mel Hein! That must be Ryan Leaf before he lost his way."

"It is time for the Cougar spirit to rise again," Geronimo intones. "You must take your team on a vision quest. Your 'Air Raid' must be as one with the Palouse. You and the land are one. And, Mike, one more thing..."

"Yes," says Leach.

"It must be fun," Geronimo says with a mischievous grin and coy eyebrow raise.

Auburn fans pretty much knew the game with Washington State was going to be screwy when Nova, Auburn's six-year-old golden eagle, lands on Leach's shoulder before the opening kickoff, the two seeming to engage in a lengthy conversation, one that ends with Leach cracking up and the new fast friends appearing to trade cell numbers.

Cougs win 31-20.

After a 27-24 loss at USC, Washington State thrashes Southern Utah and Idaho. Following QB Connor Halliday's 10th TD pass, the Martin Stadium PA system clicks on some music that captures Coug fans fancy.

"Halliday... celebrate! It would be so nice... Halliday!"

"Guys, I really think Madonna is singing, 'Holiday,' not 'Halliday,'" Halliday says to a disbelieving media contingent. "But she did call me the other day, so I can ask her when we go out to Rico's on Tuesday. She might be moving to Pullman."

Washington State loses to Stanford 24-21, whips California 30-17 and upsets No. 10 Oregon State 27-24. The Cougs first appearance in the AP poll since 2006 though is short-lived after a 45-24 loss at Oregon.

"The thing with us is we have to be at our best every play to beat a team like Oregon," Leach says. "That didn't happen today, but the guys played hard and fought until the end. We never lost our edge, and I like that. That's different than last year. These guys believed until the final whistle, and I like what I saw in the locker room afterwards. Darryl Monroe got up and asked everybody to think only about what they can do to get better during our off week."

Ten inches of snow and 17 degree weather greets No. 15 Arizona State. A pleasant breeze -- a Coug phrasing -- brings the chill to negative numbers. Washington State dumps its friends from the desert 28-20.

Wins at Arizona and over Utah push the Cougars to 8-3 on the season. Up next: A trip to 7-4 Washington. The winner likely will earn a Holiday Bowl berth.

Leach gathers his players at the team hotel before the bus to fancy, renovated Husky Stadium.

"Hemingway's 'The Snows of Kilimanjaro' is one of the greatest short stories ever written," Leach says. "I'm not going to talk to you about the story, though. Here's the epigraph before the story begins: 'Kilimanjaro is a snow-covered mountain 19,336 feet high, and is said to be the highest mountain in Africa. Its western summit is called the Masai 'Ngaje Ngai,' the House of God. Close to the western summit there is the dried and frozen carcass of a leopard. No one has explained what the leopard was seeking at that altitude.'"

Leach pauses. "Critics have debated this epigraph for decades. But I know its meaning. Not only that. I feel it in my bones," he says.

"Perseverance," safety Deone Bucannon says.

"The heroism of the act isn't about reaching the summit but about seeking it," receiver Gabe Marks says.

Announcer: Well, it all comes down to this. The Huskies have a fourth and goal on the Washington State 1-yard line with 22 seconds left. Cougars lead 28-24.

Leach to his gathered defense: "Man, is this not the greatest thing? Enjoy this! Dreams are made of this. Unleash your barbaric yawp on these guys!"

The Huskies later express bafflement about the Cougars dancing around, yawping and yelling about Kilimanjaro after Bishop Sankey is stopped inches short of the goal line.

Washington State beats No. 13 Texas 31-10 in the Holiday Bowl to finish 10-3 and ranked 15th.

"Geronimo" By Mike Leach and Buddy Levy spends eight weeks atop the New York Times Best-Sellers list.

The Kraken awakes in Lake Washington, apparently grumpy and hungry, and eats fancy new Husky Stadium in one bite.

"Yummy!" says the Kraken.

"No, I didn't release the Kraken," Leach says. "... as far as you know.

"But I cannot speak for Geronimo."

Worst case

It was deja vu all over again.

It was supposed to be different in year two under Mike Leach, just as it was supposed to be different in year one. But a 38-17 opening loss at Auburn felt just as demoralizing as what happened at BYU the year before.

"We've still got those hangdog expressions on the sidelines," Leach says. "We still don't look like winners, guys who can handle adversity."

USC pounds the Cougars 45-13, but they get on the winning track with wins over Southern Utah and Idaho. Yet that's the end of winning in 2013, as the schedule toughens up, with no patsies over the final eight games.

The biggest indignity is the 50-10 shellacking from No. 10 Washington in the Apple Cup, with Steve Sarkisian leaving his starters in for the entire third quarter.

"I'm sorry," Sarkisian says, laughing to reporters. "But we've got to get ready for the Rose Bowl and I wanted our guys to get as much football in before they take a month-long break. And, well, I've heard a lot of about the Cougars 18-point fourth-quarter comeback last year. Who's to say they couldn't have come back from 30 down?"

Leach is asked if the Cougars resemble the same "empty corpses" and "zombies" he compared them to in 2012.

"No," he says. "I've seen several zombie movies since then, and zombies are much better football players than our guys."

He's then asked if the Cougs 2-10 finish is better than their 3-9 mark from a year before.

“Football seasons are funny things,” Leach says. “They’re very satisfying ultimately, but then there’s a point where it gets kind of tedious and you get tired of the same stuff over and over. … Football seasons almost go a little beyond even the confines of, say, a marriage. You coach a season, that’s there forever in the record book. There’s no divorcing a football season.

"Though I'd like to do just that to my two years here in Pullman."

Leach decides to resign and concentrate on writing and saying interesting things at cocktail parties.

"I know things didn't work out like we planned with Coach Leach -- and we wish him well on his latest work, 'A Breathtaking Work of Staggering Genius: The Pac-12 Blog Story' -- but I think we've got the right guy coming in now," athletic director Bill Moos says at a news conference.

"Ladies and gentlemen, your next Washington State head coach... Nick Holt!"

Washington wins the Rose Bowl.

Seattle Times headline: "Every Washington State fans found unresponsive and in fetal position."

Fan mail from Kansas State

October, 25, 2012
10/25/12
1:30
PM ET
We have a special delivery, single-topic mailbag today: Did Kansas State cancel its game with Oregon this year or was it, ahem, "mutual?"

Nathan from Kansas City writes: Kansas State "chickend out" on game with Oregon? Get your facts straight Ted...your readers deserve better.

Mike from Great Bend, Kan., writes: Sounds to me per Oregon AD that you need to get your facts straight on cancelled KSU/Oregon home and home! Mutual decision my man!

Tim from Topeka writes: Just wanted to advise you to check your facts about before you spout off about KSU chickening out. Oregon was the one that asked to get out of the game. If you don't believe me ask Ivan Maisel. He said the same thing till he researched it and then corrected it the next day. I'll be looking for your apology on line.

Ted Miller: Before I answer these questions/statements of "fact"-- a small sampling of popular sentiments from our Kansas State friends -- it seems like a good time to tell you about something else: My date with Madonna in 1984.

We were going to go out -- movie, pizza -- on a Friday, but I had to call her on a Tuesday to tell her my grandmama was sick and required me to feed her chicken soup that night. I asked to reschedule for Saturday.
Madonna: Can't do it. Busy.

Me: Sunday?

Madonna: Washing my hair.

Me: Any day this year?

Madonna: Booked. Sorry.

I later explained to my friends that we mutually agreed not to go out.

Nathan, Mike and Tim: Funny you guys should write. Remember that time we were all out in Brazil and that dude bumped into us and didn't say, "Excuse me?"
Nathan: Sir, I will have know you have been rude to the finest and toughest Kansas State fans there are. We surely now must schedule a showdown for tomorrow at high noon. Just who do you think you are?

Anderson Silva: My name is Anderson Silva. See you tomorrow.

Alas, Silva called and said he was running late for the high noon showdown. He offered to meet at any other time, but Nathan, Mike, Tim and I, after availing ourselves of a fancy new thing called "Google," suddenly were very busy.

Of course, the cancelation of the fight was mutual.

It seems that many Kansas State fans are trying to muddy the waters of something that ACTUALLY HAPPENED with extraneous details. Namely this from Ivan Maisel's "Three-point stance."
Oregon executive assistant AD Dave Williford told me that when the 2011 Cowboys Classic offered a slot against LSU, Oregon asked Kansas State to reschedule. Kansas State, needing to go to a nine-game Big 12 schedule, said, let’s just call off the home-and-home, and Oregon agreed. Parse that as you will.

The operative word there is "parse."

What ACTUALLY HAPPENED: Oregon asked to reschedule the series. Kansas State said no. Oregon wanted to play. Kansas State did not. And, no, everyone who knows anything about college football knows that "schedule's full!" line is just a cop-out.

It was "mutual" only in the idea that Oregon acted in a businesslike and collegial fashion, as schools are wont to do in these situations. Know, by the way, that there was some grumpiness behind the scenes on the Oregon end because it left the Ducks scrambling to fill out their schedule. It's simply not de rigueur among athletic directors to tweak other schools on the record about scheduling issues.

Further, there is some irony in this response from our friends at Kansas State when you consider what Oregon was doing: The Ducks wanted to reschedule a series with Kansas State in order to add a game with LSU.

The Ducks wanted to make things tougher on themselves, thereby giving Kansas State an exit strategy to do the opposite.

Further, Pac-12 fans surely got a kick out of the "needing to go to a nine-game Big 12 schedule" excuse. As if that were a revolutionary concept, one that proves Big 12 -- and by extension, Kansas State -- robustness.

Welcome to our world, Big 12. The Pac-10 and now Pac-12 has been playing nine conference games since 2006. Yet teams like Oregon -- and just about every other Pac-12 program -- still actively seeks out tough nonconference foes. Thirteen of the Pac-12’s 34 nonconference opponents have been from a BCS AQ or Independent conferences.

What's the nonconference schedule in the Big 12 look like this year? Just six of the Big 12’s 29 nonconference opponents were from BCS AQ or Independent conferences.

I realize we live in an age of spin. The word "facts" and term "fact checking" now are often used cynically as weapons to mislead, remove context or just restate anything in a way that suits an agenda.

I also understand fandom, which supports the home team, right or wrong. I realize Kansas State fans are just trying to defend the program they love from an embarrassing bit of reality. It's not like Kansas State broke a law or did something corrupt. This has become a news item only because of surprising circumstances: The Wildcats and Ducks are both unbeaten, national title contenders jockeying for poll position.

But there is a reality here, folks. Kansas State did explicitly and without question decide not to play Oregon when Oregon still wanted to play.

In conclusion, at least we can all agree that Madonna really blew an opportunity, right?

 

 
 

 

 

 

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