College Football: Welcome to the Pac-10, er, 12

September 2, 2011 by  

SEATTLE — Hey there, Utah and Colorado, welcome to our world. We get why you’re so excited to come west to make it a Pac-12 Conference.

Utah, you’re soon going to make about 15 times the TV revenue you were getting in the Mountain West Conference. And Colorado, well, let’s put it this way: Would you rather be making road trips to the Bay Area and Eugene and Seattle, or do the Stillwater-Ames-Waco swing in the Big 12?

You probably know this is quite the league you’re joining. Great diversity, colorful history, more geographic chops than any other conference in the nation. We’ve got mountains, ocean, desert, wheat fields and Telegraph Avenue. To win the thing, you might have to play in 110 degrees in Tempe in September and 15 in Pullman two months later.

But there are things you need to know, because, well, the seller occasionally keeps secrets from the homebuyer. We’re here to tell you where the bones are buried.

You knew already that USC was the alpha dog in this league. The Trojans claim 11 national championships, they’ve gone to 33 Rose Bowls, and they’ve won seven Heisman Trophies, some of which they’ve actually been able to keep.

O.J. Simpson might be the best back in college-football history, but his most riveting move was in a white Bronco in 1994. Now he’s one of the better players at the Lovelock Correctional Center in Nevada for his shakedown of a memorabilia dealer in 2007.

Oh, and get used to the Trojan band plunging into another rendition of “Tribute to Troy.” It’s almost as annoying as Nancy Grace.

At least the Trojans win. Across town, UCLA won a national title in 1954 and pretty much called it quits. Well, there was a glorious stretch in the ’80s when the Bruins won seven straight postseason games. But lately, it’s been a battle just to make the Handi-Wipes Holiday Classic.

“Girls football” is what Brian Bosworth once alleged of the Bruins, and nothing against girls, but the program has pretty much spent years living down that image.

In a lot of areas, UCLA and USC are where it’s at in this league. Like, at the top of the Pac-12 in times busted for major NCAA football violations, at six apiece.

Thirty-three years ago, Arizona and Arizona State were the newbies in the league. The coach at ‘Zona then was Tony Mason, who was quotable, fat and, as it turned out, crooked.

Funny thing, a 1975 Sports Illustrated carried this quip from Mason, then at Cincinnati: “Ninety percent of colleges are abiding by the rules, doing things right. The other 10 percent are going to bowl games.”

Mason opted for the bowl games at Arizona, got whacked for major violations, and to this day, the Wildcats haven’t been to the Rose Bowl. Now the coach is Mike Stoops, and you’ll know him by his feverish behavior on the sideline, like there’s 40-grit sandpaper lining his boxers.

Not to say Arizona hasn’t been salty. It’s easier to run on the border police at Nogales than it was on ‘Zona’s Desert Swarm teams of the early ’90s.

Up the road, Arizona State produced one of society’s iconic figures, Pat Tillman, who chucked a career in the NFL to pack an assault rifle in Afghanistan and died for it. Then the government war machine got involved, and you know the rest.

Way before that, it was the merciless Frank Kush who put the Sun Devils on the map, wildly successful first in the old Border Conference, then in the Western Athletic Conference. “I treat my players all the same: terrible,” Kush said. No kidding. A player once alleged that “he hit me with pipes, boards and a ship’s rope.”

Last time California went to the Rose Bowl, in 1959, Ike was butting heads with Khrushchev. Next year never gets here for the Bears. Well, back in 1982, they had The Play, the five-lateralpalooza to beat Stanford. Even that had a somber side, because Mariet Ford, who tossed the ball last, is doing hard time for killing his wife and 3-year-old son.

Strange things happen to Cal on its way to Pasadena. The Bears had a rough-and-tumble quarterback and coach, Joe Kapp, who once unzipped his pants during a postgame interview in Seattle. Pretty soon he was ex-coach Joe Kapp.

Most of the time, Stanford seems above this football business. Its fans didn’t even turn out for its best team ever last season.

If nothing else, they should show up for Stanford’s anti-marching band, which has offended more people than Chris Rock. One time, it used a white Bronco and parodied O.J.’s ride. It got banned in Oregon after a Eugene performance mocking logging that endangered the spotted owl, complete with a formation of a chain saw. And it got under Brigham Young skins when, as a band manager proposed one by one to members of Stanford’s dance team, the band announcer celebrated marriage over the P.A. system as the sacred bond “between a man and a woman … and a woman … and a woman … “

Speaking of Oregon, the Ducks took a long time getting it right. The alumni once fired a coach because they didn’t like his staff, which included George Seifert (who later won two Super Bowls), John Robinson (who would win four Rose Bowls) and Bruce Snyder (a head coach in the Pac-10 for 14 years).

Now the Ducks move the chains faster than a third-world virus, and when they need something, they speed-dial Nike. Or, if you believe the news lately, they call Texas scout Willie Lyles. Panicked when they didn’t have anything to show for their $25,000 payment to Lyles and prying media were onto it, the Ducks beseeched Lyles for scouting materials. He responded with, essentially, old family snapshots and receipts of his last few oil changes.

Back in the day, Oregon State had its moments. Terry Baker is still the only guy to win the Heisman and play in the Final Four. In 1967, the Beavers had the “Giant Killers,” so named because they beat No. 2 Purdue and tied No. 2 UCLA, after which Dee Andros, the rotund coach, bellowed, “I’m tired of playing No. 2 teams! Bring on No. 1!” They did, and OSU beat top-ranked USC.

Then it turned ugly, as the Beavers had a record 28 losing seasons in a row. That’s a tradition almost as long as Illinois governors going to prison.

Like everybody else, OSU has a few skeletons. On Google, one of them is headlined, “Drunk Beaver Found With Stolen Ram From Gay-Sheep Project.” You can’t make this stuff up.

In Seattle, Jim Owens and Don James are legends. At various times, the Huskies have been the baddest team in the West. The 1991 team was as good as any, ever.

They take their football very seriously up here. Hugh McElhenny, the great running back, used to say he took a pay cut when he went to the NFL.

Then there was Olin Kreutz’s early exit to the League in 1997, when he said, “Everybody talks about school, but we want to be football players. We really don’t want to do school.” The shudder on Upper Campus rattled the Richter scale.

Finally, there are the Cougars. They went 67 years without a Rose Bowl, then clicked off two in six years under Mike Price. He was one of many colorful characters who have marked the program, but there have been a few sketchy ones, too, like running back Deon Burnett, who, at halftime of the 2000 Apple Cup, took off his uniform and left, never to be heard from again.

WSU hatched the term “Couging it,” which means blowing a lead and losing. Lately, the Cougars have taken care of that — they just never get ahead of anybody.

So there’s your new family, guys — loving, caring, welcoming, and at times a bit dysfunctional. Everybody has a crazy uncle, right?

— Bud Withers/The Seattle Times

Filed under * Washington Huskies, * WSU Cougars, All, College

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