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Drumbeat Louder For UW And WSU To Have Bowl-Worthy Seasons

Elaine Thompson
AP Photo
The Washington Husky band heads off the field before a game between Washington and California Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015, in Seattle.

A big college football rivalry plays out Saturday night in Seattle, when the Washington Huskies take on the Oregon Ducks at Alaska Airlines Field at Husky Stadium. The Ducks are coming off an upset loss to Washington State last weekend.

KPLU sports commentator Art Thiel says that was just one of the big events that put the Pac-12 conference in the national spotlight this past week.

Pac-12 Making Headlines

"Last week was a big week for college football, especially in this state," Thiel said.

"The University of Washington went down to Los Angeles and beat the USC Trojans 17-12 Thursday night on national TV - ESPN.

"And the Cougars went to Eugene and beat the Ducks 45-38 in double overtime and, really, turned out to probably save Mike Leach's job," Thiel continued.

"He's the head coach who's been in a lot of trouble. A couple of weeks ago, he lost a game to a lower-tier team, Portland State. And there were people who said, 'This guy is in trouble.' Well, now he's not.

"And the Cougars are really looking forward to, I think, a season that might include a bowl game now. It's a big turnaround for them. And the Huskies are also on the rise."

UW vs. Oregon: Break The Streak?

The Huskies will be back in the spotlight Saturday night when they host Oregon.

"The Oregon Ducks have dominated Washington," Thiel said. "Eleven wins in a row and, man, are Husky fans upset about this. There is no one on the calendar that is more important to defeat, at least for Husky fans, than the Ducks.

"The Ducks are operating with a quarterback problem and a very weak defense. They're 3-3 right now - this is just 10 months after they were in the national championship game."

Ducks Feeling Loss Of Mariota

The Ducks are trying to find their next superstar quarterback, after the departure of Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota, who is now the starting quarterback for the Tennessee Titans.

Thiel said the Ducks have a good quarterback in Vernon Adams, who is recovering from a broken index finger.

"Vernon Adams transferred from Eastern Washington after completing his eligibility there. And last year he played with Eastern when they nearly beat Washington [in Seattle]," he said.

"He's a very good quarterback, both running and passing. And he's been hurt. So, the Huskies really don't know which quarterback is going to show up for Oregon.

"If it's Vernon Adams, this is going to be a very difficult endeavor. I think Oregon is still stinging from the Washington State loss. It's going to be a big deal for them to beat Washington."

No Quarterback Problem For WSU

WSU has been making headlines with their upset victory over Oregon and outstanding performances from quarterback Luke Falk.

"Luke Falk is the perfect quarterback for Mike Leach's offense," Thiel said. "He's really a dynamic passer. He lit up the Ducks and I think he is going to be a force in the Pac-12 for quite a while."

Sarkisian Firing

One piece of negative news regarding the Pac-12 happened last week. Former UW coach Steve Sarkisian was fired Monday as head coach of USC. There are reports showed up intoxicated to a team meeting on Sunday. He was placed on indefinite leave and then fired.

"That was not a surprise, necessarily, but the actual firing was a shocker. This is a big program," Thiel said.

"Sarkisian entered an alcohol rehab facility. The reports are it's a minimum 30 days and it could be longer. Who knows on these sorts of things.

"The key is he's getting help for an alcohol problem that was a part of his tenure at Washington, but it never impacted his job. It did impact his job [at USC]. That's why he was fired there.

"I think a lot of people are supportive of him. There's a lot of criticism for both USC and Washington for their handling of it," he said.

Pac-12 Powerhouses Weakened

"The remarkable thing [about the Sarkisian firing] from a football standpoint is that his assistant coach, Clay Helton, will now be the fourth coach in four years against the big rivalry they have with Notre Dame," Thiel said.

"They play on Saturday. Helton succeeds Sarkisian, who succeeded Ed Orgeron, who succeeded Lane Kiffin in these last four years. Lots of tumult at USC."

Thiel also pointed out that UCLA has lost a lot of players. In fact, the Utah Utes are the No. 1 team in the Pac-12 right now.

And Thiel said that bodes well for the Washington teams.

"Things are wide open for both the Huskies and the Cougars to advance their station this season."


You can find Art Thiel's work at Sportspress Northwestand

Kirsten Kendrick hosts Morning Edition on KNKX and the sports interview series "Going Deep," talking with folks tied to sports in our region about what drives them — as professionals and people.
Art Thiel is a co-founder and writer for the rising sports website Sportspress Northwest. In 2003 Thiel wrote the definitive book about the Seattle Mariners, “Out of Left Field,” which became a regional bestseller. In 2009, along with Steve Rudman and KJR 950 afternoon host Mike Gastineau, Thiel authored “The Great Book of Seattle Sports Lists,” a cross between and Mad Magazine that has become mandatory reading for any sports fan who has an indoor bathroom.