Special Friday night insta-reaction to the Apple Cup, and what the result means to the conference …
1. Goodbye, playoff.
Washington State had a narrow path to the CFP, but with two weekends remaining, at least the Cougars had a path.
They were part of the conversation, albeit the outskirts of the conversation, and for that the conference owes WSU, Mike Leach and Gardner Minshew a debt of gratitude.
Had they lost a second game along the way — to Stanford or Cal, for instance — the Pac-12 would have been as much a part of the playoff discussion throughout November as Conference USA.
But the Cougars made the Pac-12 somewhat relevant, which is better than completely irrelevant.
That said, the Pac-12 title game (Washington vs. Utah) will be devoid of playoff implications for the second consecutive year.
The conference won’t be a part of the debate when attention peaks, in the week that matters most.
That’s a problem folks.
It’s a problem because it contributes to the narrative that the Pac-12 has fallen behind its Power Five peers — and perception is reality.
2. Then again, two bright spots for the conference (if you could call ’em that).
Weird bright spot No. 1: Washington State’s loss gives the Pac-12 an excellent chance to send two teams to the New Year’s Six.
The Cougars should land in the top 12 of the selection committee’s final rankings, thereby securing a spot in the at-large pool and a (likely) date in the Fiesta Bowl.
That at-large berth is worth $4 million to the conference, split 12 ways, and it would allow everyone below the New Year’s Six to move up one rung in the bowl ladder.
Weird bright spot No. 2: Washington did the conference office a huge favor.
By handing the Cougars a second loss, the Huskies remove the potential for WSU to finish 12-1 and miss the playoff — in other words, for the controversial loss at USC (ThirdPartyGate/targeting no-calls) to be the game that kept the Cougars out of the CFP.
That would have been a nightmare narrative.
3. Completely different and yet exactly the same.
This was more competitive than previous Apple Cups and deeply impacted by the weather, but the end result, and the means to that end, were the same as the past four in the Petersen v Leach era.
Washington’s defense shut down the Air Raid, its running game produced the biggest play of the game (and a few huge first downs in the final eight minutes), and WSU fell far short of the turnover-free game it needed.
Yes, it was a brilliant gameplan by UW co-defensive coordinators Jimmy Lake and Pete Kwiatkowski, but it was also similar to their plan every week:
Deny chunk plays, tackle soundly in the open field, and force the opponent to go 70 yards, five at a time against a secondary stocked with future pros.
That’s kryptonite for the Air Raid, especially in that weather.
We can’t help but draw a connection between WSU’s low production against Cal’s stout pass defense and the problems tonight.
When facing the top-two pass defenses in the conference — and two of the top 20 in the country — the Air Raid produced four combined touchdowns and 34 total points.
That’s not to suggest the Air Raid is anything but the perfect system for WSU.
It works with the type of players the Cougars are best equipped to recruit; it makes them different; and it gives them a chance to compete, and beat, the best teams in the conference.
4. The circle comes full.
Through all the ups and downs, the injuries and the benching, the angst and the disappointment, the Huskies are exactly where we thought they would be:
Champions of the North, favorites to win the conference title, and steaming toward their first Rose Bowl in 18 years.
No doubt, the defense was instrumental, but we couldn’t help but notice the impact of a healthy trio of left tackle Trey Adams, tailback Myles Gaskin and tight end Hunter Bryant.
Bryant, with his 59-yard catch-and-run (on third-and-16), and Gaskin, with his 80-yard touchdown, produced the two biggest plays of the game.
September and October didn’t go as the Huskies planned, but November couldn’t have been scripted any better for UW:
The tough win over Stanford, a desperately-needed bye, a blowout of Oregon State, the return of key personnel, the Apple Cup win …
The football gods taketh, and giveth back.
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