Stanford coach David Shaw already was an opponent of late-night kickoff times, and then he found out what he was missing.
The Cardinal hosted Arizona State last Saturday in the Pac-12 Networks’ weekly 1 p.m. PDT slot, enabling him to spend the evening and the next morning like “a regular human being,” he said.
That won’t happen this weekend. Stanford visits Utah in an 8:15 p.m. MDT kickoff, so the team will arrive home well into Sunday morning. Asked to cite the biggest drawback of the late starts, Shaw laughed. “It’s hard to pick one,” he said. He pointed out how players get one day off each week, and it’s often just spent sleeping after a long night.
“It gets difficult. Most of us are zombies Sunday morning,” Shaw said.
The Pac-12 has staged a regular schedule of late games for most of this decade. The issue was revived this week when Washington coach Chris Petersen apologized to Husky fans about a 7:45 p.m. kickoff vs. California and said the schedule “hurts us tremendously in terms of national exposure,” with games lasting well after midnight in the East.
Petersen said during Tuesday’s Pac-12 teleconference that the Seattle media overplayed his comments, but he didn’t back down from them.
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said he would complain if he thought anything would change. “Nothing you can do about it,” he said. “That’s why I’ve never really addressed it or made a big deal about it. … One thing I can say is we’re used to it.”
The conference’s TV deals also help finance coaching salaries of $3 million or more. Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott knows his football inventory is valuable to ESPN and Fox, filling programming slots as only a West Coast-based league could do and the league likes it “Pac-12 after dark” slogan.
Fans in Colorado and Utah get hit harder, because games start an hour later in their time zone. Unscientific polling suggests Ute fans are split on this subject. Some like the late kickoffs because of youth sports and family activities during the day. Ute fans generally have shorter commutes than fans in other Pac-12 markets, so they get home earlier. Even so, others clearly are tired of late-night kickoffs that affect their Sunday church schedules and often keep young children from attending the games.
The Pac-12 Networks no longer stage a late-night game, as a concession to the schools. The network’s latest games start no later than 7 p.m. MDT. But this Saturday, the conference has three kickoffs at 8:30 p.m. MDT or later on ESPN, ESPN2 and Fox Sports 1. Next week’s schedule has games at 8:45 p.m. and 9 p.m. MDT.
Only one solution seemingly is available to the schools. If they don’t like playing late at night, they could lose more often. The TV partners with the late slots choose the most attractive games, leaving others to the Pac-12 Networks in earlier windows.
Logan High School graduate Luke Falk of Washington State produced one of the most meaningful performances of his career last weekend, passing for 340 yards in the Cougars’ 30-27 victory over USC.
The Cougars (5-0) moved to No. 11 in the AP Top 25, continuing their climb throughout Falk’s five years in coach Mike Leach’s program. He has been rewarded for coming to WSU as a walk-on. “The biggest thing is they gave me an equal opportunity, so that was appealing to me,” he said on the Pac-12 teleconference. “The stars kind of aligned here at Washington State.”
Falk is scheduled to make the only home-state start of his college career Nov. 11 at Utah.
Reserve quarterbacks are expected to play for each team in Saturday’s Utah-Stanford game, but the replacements are proving to be capable players and the injuries of the original starters are unlikely to derail their teams’ seasons.
The outlook is much different in the state of Oregon, where there’s a big drop-off from No. 1 to No. 2 (or lower) on the QB depth charts of the two Pac-12 programs. In Oregon’s case, the loss of Justin Herbert to a fractured collarbone is a major setback in the Ducks’ recovery this season. As for Oregon State, Jake Luton’s absence is making a bad year even worse.
Herbert was injured during the Ducks’ win over California last weekend. Coach Willie Taggart is not not ruling out Herbert’s return this season, but the significance for Utah is that he’s almost certain to miss the Utes’ Oct. 28 visit to Eugene.
Oregon hosts Washington State this week, and freshman Braxton Burmeister is expected to start because senior Taylor Alie, a career backup, also exited with an injury vs. Cal.
Utah State transfer Darell Garretson is now Oregon State’s starter, after Luton’s spinal injury. Not quite three years after passing for 321 yards and three touchdowns in USU’s win over BYU in Provo, Garretson was held to 74 yards in a 42-7 loss to No. 6 Washington. He missed the second half of OSU’s 2016 season after breaking his ankle against Utah. The Beavers are five-touchdown underdogs this week at USC.
Pac-12 power rankings
1 • Washington (5-0)
Huskies’ total score in Pac-12 play is 79-17.
2 • Washington State (5-0)
Cougars are 5-0 (all at home) for the first time since 2001.
3 • USC (4-1)
Utah no longer is the last team to have beaten the Trojans.
4 • Utah (4-0)
Utes have eight straight weeks of conference games ahead.
5 • Stanford (3-2)
Bryce Love has outrushed 111 FBS teams this season.
6 • Oregon (4-1)
Kani Benoit: Fill-in RB posted 138 yards vs. Cal.
7 • UCLA (3-2)
Bruins rank No. 1 in FBS in passing yards (435.8).
8 • Arizona State (2-3)
Manny Wilkins: Interception-free streak ends at 192 passes.
9 • Colorado (3-2)
Buffaloes scored one TD in five red-zone trips vs. UCLA.
10 • California (3-2)
Coach Justin Wilcox is former Washington defensive coordinator.
11 • Arizona (2-2)
Wildcats list 61 freshmen/redshirt freshman on 120-player roster.
12 • Oregon State (1-4)
Beavers’ last win in L.A. Coliseum came in 1960.