| Jermaine Green rushed for 112 yards on 13 carries in WSU's Rose Bowl-clinching win over UCLA. AP
By Bob Condotta, Special to CNNSI.com
It finished just how everyone expected, with
Washington State -- the preseason pick to win the
Pac-10 title -- actually winning it, even if it wasn't
in the manner anyone anticipated.
And it will continue in a manner no one saw coming
with WSU taking on Oklahoma instead of a Big Ten team
in the Rose Bowl.
Washington State coach Mike Price called himself a
traditionalist shortly after his team clinched the
Rose Bowl berth with a win over UCLA Saturday, saying
he hoped the Cougars would face Iowa.
A day later, when the announcement was made that
Oklahoma would be in the game instead, Price had
changed his tune, calling it "great for the Rose
Obviously, Price wasn't going to let a little thing
like the opponent spoil his Rose Bowl, which will be
the culmination of one of the most successful -- but
also one of the most grueling -- seasons in WSU
When the Cougars advanced to the Rose Bowl in 1997,
the first time in 67 years, it was a fairy-tale season
in which a team picked to finish in the lower half of the
conference got on an early roll and never let up. The
team had few injuries, little controversy and no
This season, however, was different, as a 10-2 record
in 2001 led many to expect the Cougars to win the
Pac-10 this year. WSU did, but not before suffering a
multitude of injuries, suspending two star players
after the Ohio State game for drinking, and losing two
more in a fight in the locker room the week before the
Arizona State game. Not to mention the myriad injury
struggles of QB Jason Gesser, which helped lead to the
stunning home loss to Washington that delayed the Rose
Bowl clinching by two weeks.
"1997 was an exhilirating feeling," said Price. "This
was more of a relief."
That wasn't exactly the feeling in the Pac-10 office,
however, where the conference felt blindsided by the
moves of the Orange Bowl that resulted in a USC-Iowa
Rose Bowl-like matchup in Miami instead of Pasadena.
Pac-10 officials feel they had been left to believe
they would always be assured of a Pac-10-Big
Ten matchup when the Rose Bowl wasn't hosting the
national title game. But as WSU's recent success
shows, times have changed, as have the rules governing
At least the Pac-10 will be paid handsomely for
its sense of tradition gone awry, getting an extra
$4.5 million for landing two teams in the BCS.
The Pac-10 also earned a record seven bowl
berths. The total likely would have been eight had Cal not
been on probation.
The Pac-10 has never had more than six teams in bowl
Five of the Pac-10 teams are favored to win their bowl
games -- all but WSU against Oklahoma and Arizona State
against Kansas State in the Holiday Bowl.
The Pac-10 could use that kind of success to help
perpetuate the image it likes to hold of itself as a
conference that doesn't get the respect it deserves.
Pac-10 coaches often complain during the season of an
"East Coast bias" that they feel leads to the
conference not getting the credit it is due.
But the reality is that much of the national
perception of any conference is based on the
postseason -- the one time the entire nation is
generally able to pay close attention.
And in recent seasons, the Pac-10 often has failed its
postseason test. Last year, the Pac-10 went just 2-3,
suffering upset losses by USC to Utah and Stanford to
Georgia Tech. The Pac-10 has had just two winning bowl
seasons since 1993 -- a 5-1 mark in 1997 and a 3-2 mark
Most important for the Pac-10 will be how it plays in
its two high-profile games, the Rose and Orange. The
Pac-10 has won just two Rose Bowls since 1991 -- USC in
1995 and Washington in 2000 -- and has just four other
New Year's Day bowl wins in that time.
It needs to get another one or two this year to
justify all the October ranting about respect.
Otherwise, the Pac-10 will have no choice but to
accept what it gets.
It didn't surprise too many of his teammates when
Washington State's Erik Coleman picked off a pass in
the fourth quarter at UCLA on Saturday and returned it
for a touchdown.
The interception came one play after
UCLA had stopped a WSU drive with an interception in
the end zone and put an end to any comeback hopes
the Bruins may have had. Coleman has had a knack for making the big
play at the right time throughout his WSU career,
beginning with his picking off a pass and returning it
for a TD against Oregon State a year ago, leading to an
easy win over the Beavers.
The 195-pound junior from
Spokane finished the season as WSU's leading tackler
HOT: Washington State
The Cougars are heading to their second Rose Bowl in five years, more
than any other Pac-10 team.
His long-rumored firing finally happened.
Who would have thought WSU could
become this consistent of a winner?
The Rose Bowl
No matter the spin, it will just be weird
seeing a nontraditional Rose Bowl that's not for the
Rick Neuheisel apparently just can't help himself. Or
maybe he really does want the UCLA job. Whatever. Most
in Seattle figured he would take himself out
of the running for the UCLA job when it opened up
Monday, especially after signing a six-year extension
earlier this season.
Instead, Neuheisel left the door
wide open, saying only he "didn't expect to be
contacted" but refusing to answer questions about
what he would do if contacted and also refusing to say
he was not interested in the job.
That wasn't exactly
what many in Seattle wanted to hear, given Neuheisel's
past wanderlust and the fact that many think
Neuheisel's perennial looking around hasn't helped
WSU coach Mike Price
A great motivational job to get his team ready for
UCLA after the UW debacle.
USC coach Pete Carroll
A belated honor for a great job with the Trojans this
WSU QB Jason Gesser
A truly Heisman-esque performance against UCLA.
At least the Pac-10 will get a chance to prove itself
against the Big Ten, though it won't come in the Rose
Instead, USC will uphold the Pac-10's traditional
honor against Iowa in the Orange Bowl, with the winner
having a chance to move as high as No. 2 in the
Not that motivation is ever needed for such a
high-profile bowl game, but USC has plenty in supply
if necessary. For starters, a win would help erase the
memory of what may be the biggest disappointment of
Pete Carroll's two years in USC -- the 10-6 loss to
Utah in the Vegas Bowl last year. USC looked
uninspired and gained just one yard rushing and 151
overall in being completely dominated. And this is
only USC's third traditional New Year's Day bowl
game since 1990 -- the 1995 Cotton Bowl and 1996 Rose
Bowl with Keyshawn Johnson are the only two
appearances in that time.
This, however, is a different team from a year ago,
one that appears to be playing as well as any in the
country. Carroll, also, has won over all the doubters
and is continuing the on-field success with some
fantastic recruiting work. Word is, USC's class for
2003 is almost full already.
A big Orange Bowl win would only cement the feeling
that USC may be ready to once again become the
dominant program in the Pac-10.
There was a lot of last-minute jockeying for bowl
position in the Pac-10 as the entire conference's fate
rested on the UCLA-WSU game. Arizona State ended up in
the Holiday Bowl after that bowl decided it didn't
want UCLA after watching the Bruins' poor performance
against WSU. It had been thought the Holiday Bowl
would take UCLA even if it lost a close game since the
bowl has never had one of the two L.A. teams and has a new sponsor that is based in Los Angeles.
Instead, ASU got the nod, which set off a domino
effect. The Sun Bowl had been eyeing ASU because of its
proximity to El Paso, but instead had to go with
Washington. The Sun Bowl picked the Huskies over UCLA
and Oregon State because of UW's fast finish to the
season. ... The Insight Bowl then had a no-brainer to
pick OSU ahead of flagging UCLA, which was then left
for the Vegas Bowl. ... Oregon ended up in the Seattle
Bowl to take on Wake Forest after that bowl and the ACC
agreed to a deal to switch teams with the Silicon
Valley Classic, which was where Oregon was
contractually headed to go. Oregon wanted to go to
Seattle instead, feeling it's a much better fit for the
school's fans to make the short trip up I-5. ... The
Seattle Bowl still had not been officially credited by
the NCAA as of Monday as it struggled to come up with
a $1.5 million letter of credit. There was speculation
that the bowl might have folded had it not landed a
Northwest Pac-10 team that will ensure at least decent
attendance. ... After Toledo's firing, the rest of the
Pac-10's coaches appear safe, with Arizona deciding to
keep John Mackovic despite the controversy of this
season. ... That Jason Gesser was able to play against
UCLA makes it clear he will play against Oklahoma in
the Rose Bowl. A more-interesting long-term question
is how the WSU QB situation will play out next year.
It was obvious there was little confidence in backup
Matt Kegel to do the job, which means he might not end
up the heir apparent to Gesser as has long been
assumed. ... UW QB Cody Pickett continues to say he
will come back next season despite rumors that he
may leave early. Those close to Pickett say he will
return in large part because the QB class next year
doesn't look as strong as this year. ... Oregon coach
Mike Bellotti has hinted he may play both Jason Fife
and Kellen Clemens at QB in the Seattle Bowl. Fife
started every game this season, but the junior
struggled down the stretch and Bellotti would like to
see what Clemens -- an athletic redshirt freshman -- can
do. ... Oregon State will be making its third bowl
appearance in four years. OSU had played in only four
bowl games before that stretch began in 1999. ... The
last Pac-10 team to play in the Orange Bowl was
Washington in 1985. The Huskies beat Oklahoma to
finish No. 2 in the country in one of the storied wins
in school history. ... Despite some recent bowl
struggles for the conference, the Pac-10 historically
has been a good postseason league. The Pac-10 is
60-46-2 in postseason games since teams were allowed
to play in bowls other than the Rose Bowl in 1975.