The 9 a.m. thriller, COVID-19 cancellations, mystery teams, WSU and Colorado rise and answers arrive – The Denver Post

The 9 a.m. thriller, COVID-19 cancellations, mystery teams, WSU and Colorado rise and answers arrive – The Denver Post

Reaction to Pac-12 developments on and off the field …

1. Early kickoffs.

Two momentous forces — one at the start of the week, the other at the end — conspired to derail the grand 9 a.m. kickoff  experiment:

— First, FOX announced that its Big Noon on-air crew, which includes Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush, had been pulled from the broadcast and placed in quarantine because of COVID-19.

The two-hour pregame show starring the former Trojans from the L.A. Coliseum turned into a one-hour show in the Fox Sports studio with NFL analysts.

— Then, 30 minutes before USC and Arizona State opened the season, the networks called the election.

Instantly, everything else became back-page news.

The plan was sound, but what’s a conference to do when forces far beyond its control take over?

Welp, the Pac-12 was rewarded for stepping outside the box:

Arizona State and USC delivered a thriller, with the Trojans scoring twice in the final three minutes to beat the Sun Devils 28-27.

We don’t yet know the ratings, but they assuredly will be lower than planned because of the election.

And yet, it could not have worked out better for the conference under the circumstances.

This exchange between FOX announcers Gus Johnson and Joel Klatt captured the moment:

Klatt: “Here’s the bottom line, too. Everyone can claim, ‘Oh, I love Pac-12 After Dark.’ No, you don’t. It’s a punch line on Twitter. It is. And I know, because we see the ratings. 

“This is unbelievable exposure for these two programs, that they haven’t been getting in the last few years. They need this. They need to be featured like this. Herm Edwards knows it; he was excited about this. These players know it; they were excited about this. Clay Helton knows it; he was excited about this …

“When you’re a head coach, you need this. They’re trying to sell their programs.

“And the other part, and I would just remind everybody: Every coach and player in America always says, ‘We’ll play anybody, any time. We’ll go play in the parking lot if we have to.’ Well, then do it.”

Johnson: “I agree. (ASU co-defensive coordinator ) Antonio Pierce saying, ‘I can’t wait for my guys to get a chance to play in this prime-time matchup. And some people misinterpreted it because it was 9 in the morning, but as you mentioned for these teams, this is like a prime-time matchup.

Klatt: “Sure.”

Johnson: “It’s the featured game of the day in their conference.”

2. Late cancellations.

The success of the first 9 a.m. conference game in history was one of the two major stories from Week 1.

The other, of course, was the games that weren’t played.

As if the news Thursday that Cal was forced into a no contest (against Washington) wasn’t surprising enough, the shock value jumped an order-of-magnitude when Utah did the same (against Arizona) because of positive tests and quarantine trouble.

The conference couldn’t even make it to the Saturday of Week 1 without one-third of its teams getting sent to the sideline.

We don’t have enough information to offer a full explanation of each situation — for privacy reasons, the schools and conference office only provide the basics.

But the questions are endless: How could a single positive test prevent Cal from playing, and why was Stanford — located right across the Bay — able to play after quarterback Davis Mills was declared out due to COVID-19 issues?

How many Utah players are positive?

Will either the Utes or Bears be able to play next week?

(Utah is supposed to play Friday at UCLA, while Cal is scheduled for an appearance in Tempe.)

Here’s what we do know:

If the Pac-12’s elaborate testing plan does not provide some level of relief from state and local protocols governing close contacts and 14-day quarantines, there will be more games called off. And perhaps many more.

After all, the more you test, the more positives you’re likely to find (which is the point, of course).

Also, we know that the canceled games impact not only the team with positive cases, but also the opponent — the healthy opponent.

It’s an unfortunate situation for all involved.

There was some discussion early in the week about Washington and Arizona playing each other if Cal and Utah were unable to compete.

But several logistical issues, complicated by their scheduled meeting in Seattle in Week 3, derailed those plans.

3. Unknowns continue.

If you haven’t been paying close attention to results elsewhere, it’s worth noting that BYU has played eight games this season.

That’s eight more than Utah, which is 45 minutes away.

Meanwhile, the Mountain West announced its return after the Pac-12’s vote to restart, but most of its teams have played three games.

Yet we’re headed to the second weekend in November, and one-third of the Pac-12 has yet to take the field.

One-third of the conference remains a mystery.

Actually, it’s more: At least five teams have yet to show themselves in full form.

The loss of quarterback Davis Mills not only stripped Stanford of any chance to upset Oregon, it added a layer of uncertainty to the Cardinal.

It’s not the same team without Mills — not close to the same team.

So great is the drop from Mills to the backup, Jack West, that we’ll avoid drawing any conclusions about the Cardinal.

And for that reason, we’re not sure conclusions work for the Ducks, either.

4. Answers arrive.

Three teams carried more unknowns into the season than all the rest — three teams that had new coaches, new quarterbacks and no spring practice.

One, Washington, didn’t play.

The other two, Colorado and Washington State, delivered solid showings for new coaches Karl Dorrell and Nick Rolovich, respectively.

Colorado had considerable help from its opponent, UCLA, which committed four turnovers.

Credit the Buffaloes for taking advantage and making enough plays in the fourth quarter to repel the Bruins’ comeback.

Washington State, meanwhile, produced the most impressive performance of the weekend, relative to the expectations.

(At least, relative to our expectations.)

Playing on the road, with a true freshman quarterback and missing their best player, Max Borghi (injury), the Cougars were in mid-season form as they ran Oregon State off the field, 38-28.

WSU executed like it had already played a handful of games, while the Beavers looked like they hadn’t practiced in seven months.

Quarterback Jayden de Laura was poised and efficient. The Cougars gained 456 yards, scored on three big plays and received a sterling performance from tailback Deon McIntosh, who rushed for 146 yards in Borghi’s absence.

Suddenly, Oregon’s trip to the Palouse in Week 2 has next-level intrigue.

5. And answers depart.

The game of the year in college football thus far played out Saturday afternoon, evening and night in South Bend — it lasted more than four hours — with No. 4 Notre Dame outlasting No. 1 Clemson in double overtime.

The Tigers were without quarterback Trevor Lawrence, but no matter: His backup threw for 439 yards and two touchdowns.