Washington sits at the nexus of philosophy and 21st century college football: If a national title contender is never on TV when half the country is awake, does it really exist?
Of course it does. But as Washington Coach Chris Petersen pointed out this week, when his team was dealt a 7:45 p.m. Pacific (10:45 Eastern) kickoff against California on Saturday and then another 7:45 Pacific start on Oct. 14 against Arizona State, the timing of the Huskies’ games is getting a bit ridiculous.
“I just want to say something to our fans: We apologize for these late games,” Petersen said. “And I’d also like to reiterate it has nothing to do with us or the administration. We want to play at 1 p.m. It hurts us tremendously in terms of national exposure. No one wants to watch our game on the East Coast that late, and we all know it. We haven’t had a kickoff before 5 p.m. this season. And so it’s painful for our team, it’s painful for our administration and we know certainly the most important part is for our fans.”
He isn’t wrong, and it will probably get worse with Washington (5-0, 2-0 Pac-12) facing Oregon, Utah and Washington State in November. A Nov. 10 game against Stanford is already set for a 10:30 p.m. Eastern start.
Credit Petersen for not playing the East Coast bias card on this front. In this case, it’s not bias, it’s biological clocks in play when games won’t end until 2 a.m. for viewers in one part of the country.
There’s also the matter that the Huskies’ schedule to date — Rutgers, Montana, Fresno State, Colorado and Oregon State — wasn’t attracting a throng of viewers regardless of start time. That three of them were on a Pac-12 Networks platform that is not well-distributed nationally doesn’t help.
(Full disclosure: I’m among the guilty who haven’t watched much of Petersen’s team, having seen only a couple minutes of the Washington-Rutgers game and a good chunk of the middle two quarters of the Huskies’ trip to Colorado.)
The Pac-12 could have a near-monopoly on late-night (by East Coast standards) time slots on ESPN and Fox Sports 1, and no other power conference can push its inventory so deep into the night. That said, the burden of late-night games could be spread among the league’s schools a little better.
It’s a relatively sleepy week for high-end games, with Louisville-North Carolina State (on Thursday) and West Virginia-Texas Christian the only contests featuring a pair of ranked teams. Of that group, only TCU is still undefeated.
Next week isn’t much better, with Utah-Southern California the only matchup between teams currently in the Associated Press top 25. Narrow the parameters to current top-20 teams, and there are only three games between such programs this month:
- Oct. 14: No. 20 Utah at No. 14 Southern California
- Oct. 21: No. 7 Michigan at No. 4 Penn State
- Oct. 28: No. 4 Penn State at No. 10 Ohio State
The upshot is there is a robust schedule of major showdowns in the final month of the regular season, by current rankings:
- Nov. 4: No. 3 Oklahoma at No. 15 Oklahoma State, No. 16 Virginia Tech at No. 13 Miami
- Nov. 11: No. 8 TCU at No. 3 Oklahoma, No. 5 Georgia at No. 12 Auburn, No. 11 Washington State at No. 20 Utah
- Nov. 18: No. 9 Wisconsin at No. 7 Michigan, No. 20 Utah at No. 6 Washington
- Nov. 25: No. 1 Alabama at No. 12 Auburn, No. 10 Ohio State at No. 7 Michigan, No. 11 Washington State at No. 6 Washington
And it’s not outlandish to think each of the five power conferences will have at least two undefeated teams heading into November (and the same can be said in the American Athletic, where South Florida and the winner of the Oct. 21 Central Florida-Navy game could both escape the month with a loss).
It’ll just take a little while to get there.
Law of unintended consequences, part infinity
One of last year’s more memorable in-season spats stemmed from the postponement and rescheduling of Louisiana State’s trip to Florida due to Hurricane Matthew. Neither school cloaked itself in glory; LSU offered to play at a neutral site before the postponement was announced, but Florida declined. Later, LSU also insisted on moving the postponed game to Baton Rouge to avoid a three-game road trip to close the regular season.
The price of that decision? This year’s LSU-Florida game will be in Gainesville. It just so happens to be this week, as the Tigers (3-2, 0-1) are coming off an ugly loss at home to Troy. Rather than rallying at home, LSU has an extra road trip to deal with.
Then again, it’s not as if playing Death Valley helped Ed Orgeron’s team a whole lot on Saturday, either.
Price is right in El Paso (again)
The item on the transaction list Sunday came as little surprise: Sean Kugler was out as Texas-El Paso’s coach after an 0-5 start and an 18-36 record over five seasons.
With a new athletic director coming soon and an ugly September that saw the Miners ranked in the bottom 10 nationally in a shocking number of categories — total offense and defense, scoring offense and defense, rushing offense and defense, passing offense, pass efficiency and pass efficiency defense among them — a change was coming.
The unexpected tweak came a day later: UTEP brought back Mike Price, 71, as the team’s interim coach for its final seven games, nearly five years after he retired.
It’s a no-lose scenario for the school. It knows who will be the program’s caretaker for two months, and it is clear it now has the chance to make a hire relatively quickly without an awkward conversation with an interim coach. It might not be the best strategy for a school trying to salvage a season, but it’s not a bad course of action for a team facing a considerable rebuild.
Four games to watch
No. 23 West Virginia at No. 8 Texas Christian (Saturday, 3:30 p.m., Fox Sports 1): Both teams come off a bye week. West Virginia (3-1, 1-0 Big 12) has hung half-a-hundred in three consecutive games, but might not have the ball enough to do half as much damage against the Horned Frogs (4-0, 1-0).
No. 1 Alabama at Texas A&M (Saturday, 7:15 p.m., ESPN): The Crimson Tide (5-0, 2-0 SEC) has outscored its first two conference opponents by a combined margin of 125-3. If that isn’t a recipe for igniting the Aggies (4-1, 2-0) into annual fade, it’s hard to know what is.
Michigan State at No. 7 Michigan (Saturday, 7:30 p.m., ABC): There were signs of the old Spartans last week when they won a 17-10 slugfest against Iowa. Michigan State (3-1, 1-0 Big Ten) would happily take another victory devoid of style points as they face the Wolverines (4-0, 1-0), who will start John O’Korn at quarterback with Wilton Speight injured and expected to miss multiple weeks.
No. 11 Washington State at Oregon (Saturday, 8 p.m., Fox): The Cougars (5-0, 2-0 Pac-12) landed the marquee victory they were looking for on Friday against Southern California. But they’ll play five of their last seven away from Pullman, starting with this test in Eugene. The Ducks (4-1, 1-1) lost starting QB Justin Herbert to a broken collarbone last week and will go with either senior Taylor Alie or true freshman Braxton Burmeister.
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