COLTS RELEASE UNOFFICIAL DEPTH CHART FOR WEEK 18 GAME VS. HOUSTON TEXANS
» WR: Michael Pittman Jr., D.J. Montgomery
» LT: Bernhard Raimann
» LG: Quenton Nelson
» C: Ryan Kelly, Wesley French, Jack Anderson
» RG: Will Fries, Josh Sills
» RT: Braden Smith, Blake Freeland
» TE: Mo Alie-Cox
» TE: Kylen Granson, Will Mallory
» WR: Josh Downs
» WR: Alec Pierce
» QB: Gardner Minshew II, Sam Ehlinger
» RB: Jonathan Taylor, Zack Moss, Trey Sermon, Tyler Goodson
Moss (forearm) missed last Sunday’s game against the Las Vegas Raiders.
During that game, Pittman became just the fourth player in franchise history to record 100+ catches and over 1,000 receiving yards in a season.
» DE: Kwity Paye, Tyquan Lewis, Jake Martin
» DT: DeForest Buckner, Adetomiwa Adebawore
» NT: Grover Stewart, Taven Bryan, Eric Johnson II
» DE: Samson Ebukam, Dayo Odeyingbo, Isaiah Land
» WLB: E.J. Speed, Ronnie Harrison Jr.
» MLB: Zaire Franklin, Segun Olubi
» SAM: Cameron McGrone, Grant Stuard
» CB: JuJu Brents, Ameer Speed
» FS: Rodney Thomas II, Trevor Denbow
» SS: Nick Cross, Henry Black
» N: Kenny Moore II, Chris Lammons
» CB: Jaylon Jones, Darrell Baker Jr.
Moore (back) missed last Sunday’s game against the Las Vegas Raiders. It was the first game he’s missed this season.
Brents had a season-high three pass deflections in that game.
» P: Rigoberto Sanchez
» PK: Matt Gay
» H: Rigoberto Sanchez
» LS: Luke Rhodes
» KR: Josh Downs
» PR: Josh Downs
ANALYSIS: OFFICIALS, COACHES HAD CRUCIAL WEEK 17 CALLS THAT COULD HAVE HUGE PLAYOFF RAMIFICATIONS
The NFL is approaching the 5-year anniversary of a non-call on a blatant pass interference in the NFC championship game that helped the Rams advance to the Super Bowl over the Saints.
It’s a black eye the league would like to forget, a difficult task in a season that’s been shaped to a significant degree by the men in stripes, particularly the debacle in Dallas Saturday night that kicked off Week 17 and has ramifications that could ripple through the road to Super Bowl 58.
Crucial choices by coaches also proved pivotal over the weekend.
Denver will miss the playoffs for the eighth straight year but the Broncos’ quarterback carousel continues its perpetual churn with Sean Payton benching nine-time Pro Bowl QB Russell Wilson in favor of journeyman Jarrett Stidham, who didn’t look like a significant upgrade in Denver’s 16-9 win over the Chargers. Still, the move forecasts a whopping $85 million in dead cap charges for the Broncos over the next two seasons with a costly divorce from Russell seemingly inevitable.
The Rams are returning to the playoffs after a year’s absence thanks to a 26—25 win over the Giants highlighted by Brian Daboll’s decision to go for 2 backfiring when Tyrod Taylor missed a wide-open Saquon Barkley on a rollout to the right in the closing minutes at the Meadowlands.
Former Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon returned to Philly and made some risky calls that paid off Sunday with the Cardinals stunning the Eagles 35-31.
Philadelphia was sitting pretty at 10-1 a month ago but four December losses mean they’ll likely have to hit the road for the postseason and hope to follow in the path of the 2012 Ravens, who also lost four games in December only to get hot in January and win it all.
Even the calls that appeared to backfire ended up working out for Gannon, who was much maligned in Philadelphia for a defense that collapsed in the second half of last season’s Super Bowl loss to Kansas City,
Tied at 28, Gannon called for an onside kick. Although the Eagles recovered it, they only got a field goal and James Conner’s touchdown with 22 seconds left on the next drive was the winner as Kyler Murray led Arizona to TDs on all four of its second-half possessions.
“I wanted to make sure at all costs Kyler had the ball in his hand,” Gannon said.
In Dallas, Lions coach Dan Campbell went for 2 three times instead of kicking the extra point to all but certainly force overtime. That aggression paid off briefly but a late flag changed everything and the Lions left Dallas feeling they would have won the game had it been officiated correctly.
Detroit’s 20-19 loss allowed the Cowboys to stretch their home winning streak to 15 games and leapfrog Detroit into the second seeding in the NFC playoff race. That means that while the Lions will host the first playoff game at Ford Field, which opened in 2002, they’ll likely be hitting the road after that.
Referee Brad Allen’s officiating crew missed a call on the previous drive by Dallas that may have prevented the wacky ending altogether. See, a tripping penalty on Cowboys tight end Peyton Hendershot turned a second-and-3 into a first-and-25 at the Detroit 44. The tripping penalty should’ve been called against Lions defensive end Aidan Hutchinson instead of Hendershot.
After initially ruling that the Lions had taken a 21-20 lead with 23 seconds left on Jared Goff’s 2-point conversion toss to left tackle Taylor Decker, the officials threw the flag and Allen announced, “There was illegal touching by No. 68. Did not report as eligible. Five-yard penalty.”
The Lions insisted it was a case of mistaken identity, that Decker (No. 68) did indeed report as eligible and that tackle Don Skipper (No. 70), never reported.
There’s video of Decker approaching the referee as tackle Skipper runs onto the field. Allen announces Skipper, who routinely enters the game as a sixth lineman, as an eligible receiver on the mic before the play. He never mentions Decker.
“I did not say a word to the ref,” Skipper said in the locker room afterward.
When the officials ruled Decker hadn’t reported as eligible and erased his go-ahead 2-point conversion catch, Campbell could be seen hollering, “I told you!” at Allen.
Coaches routinely let the officiating crew in on any complex, tricky or unusual plays before the game so that no one is caught off guard in the heat of moment, and Decker said he understood Campbell talked to the officials about that very play before kickoff.
Campbell confirmed as much at his emotional postgame news conference, saying, “I explained everything pregame, to a T. OK? I did that.”
Allen said after the game to a pool reporter that “No. 70, who had reported during the game a couple of times, reported to me as eligible. Then, he lined up at the tackle position. So, actually, he didn’t have to report at all. No. 68, who ended up going downfield and touching the pass, did not report. Therefore, he is ineligible touching a pass that goes beyond the line, which makes it a foul. So, the issue is No. 70 did report, No. 68 did not.”
Only, the Lions insisted Allen got it backwards.
Decker said he did exactly as he’d been coached and reported to the referee as eligible.
“What I do know — and I don’t know if I’ll get fined for this — but I do know that Decker reported, and I do know that Dan Skipper did not. And I do know that they said that Dan Skipper did,” Goff said. “So, it’s unfortunate.”
It also could prove hugely consequential when the playoff picture finally shakes out next weekend —- and when officiating crews are assigned for the postseason.
CHIEFS HOPING THAT BUMPY REGULAR SEASON PREPS THEM FOR ANOTHER PLAYOFF PUSH
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Clark Hunt tends to remember the euphoria that comes when the Kansas City Chiefs have hoisted championship trophies.
The team’s chairman admittedly forgets about the challenges along the way.
But there’s a good chance Hunt will remember the bumps that Kansas City overcame on the road to an eighth consecutive AFC West title, if only because they have been so pronounced: Injuries to key players, penalties at crucial times and dropped passes that have plagued their wide receivers all made it a chore just to reach the playoffs yet again.
“I tend to forget how hard certain seasons have been,” Hunt said after a 25-17 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday that clinched the division and secured the No. 3 seed. “You sort of block out the tough parts of the season.
“There definitely was some adversity this year,” Hunt continued. “Every year is different, and we’ve had adversity in some other years where we’ve won the West as well. I do think adversity can be beneficial by the time you get to the playoffs, because the playoffs are never going to be easy.”
Especially this season. The Chiefs won’t have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, as they’ve had in past years. In fact, they might well have to hit the road for the divisional round for the first time with Patrick Mahomes at quarterback, assuming they get past a wild-card game that will take place at Arrowhead Stadium in a couple of weeks.
At least they can rest some of their starters as they have in the past. The Chiefs made their visit to the Chargers this Sunday meaningless with their win over Cincinnati, though coach Andy Reid could be tempted to play them all in an attempt to build on some of the positive momentum that they generated against the Bengals.
“I kind of just let Coach Reid make all of those decisions and then I roll with it,” Mahomes said. “If he wants us to get out there and kind of build off this momentum we have, I’ll be ready to go. And if he wants to give us some rest then I’ll get that rest, prepare for whoever we’re going play and be ready to go in the playoffs.”
The Chiefs’ pass rush has been hit or miss all season, but it spent Sunday hitting Bengals quarterback Jake Browning. They had six sacks, including four on the final Cincinnati drive, when Browning was trying to rally his team for a tying touchdown.
“I was just chilling back there watching them,” Chiefs cornerback L’Jarius Sneed said.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Kansas City needs more production from its tight ends, which sounds bizarre when Travis Kelce is on the field. But he had only three catches for 16 yards, and fellow tight end Noah Gray had three for 17. It’s not entirely their fault, though Kelce had a drop on Sunday. He was open deep downfield more than once and Mahomes failed to spot him.
Chiefs safety Justin Reid has been consistently good all season, but he was excellent against Cincinnati. Reid had two of those late sacks on consecutive plays while blitzing from the defensive backfield, and he was second on the team with eight total tackles.
“We were executing really all game and in the biggest moments your biggest players — in every situation — your players have to make plays,” Reid said. “Everyone played their role to give me enough time to get home.”
Left tackle Wanya Morris has taken some rookie lumps the past couple of weeks. The Raiders’ Maxx Crosby roughed him up in a loss to Las Vegas, and the Bengals’ Trey Hendrickson got around him Sunday for a strip-sack that led to a Cincinnati touchdown.
Kadarius Toney was inactive because of a lingering hip injury, and with Skyy Moore already on injured reserve, the wide receiver group is getting thin. Justin Watson was briefly knocked out of Sunday’s game with a chest injury, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling proved once again that he cannot be trusted with another egregious dropped pass.
9 — While the Chiefs have won eight straight division titles, they also have qualified for the postseason in nine straight years. That is second only to the Patriots, who made the playoffs 11 consecutive years with Tom Brady at quarterback.
The Chiefs visit the Chargers in Los Angeles next Sunday before returning home for the wild-card round of the playoffs.
PICKETT RIPS REPORT THAT HE REFUSED TO BE BACKUP VS. SEAHAWKS
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett strongly denied reports that stated he refused to be the backup to Mason Rudolph for the team’s Week 17 win over the Seattle Seahawks.
“I saw reports out there that I felt like were attacking my character and how I am as a person, not even getting into a player standpoint of it,” Pickett said on Tuesday, according to ESPN’s Brooke Pryor. “There was no talk of me being a backup quarterback this week in terms of being a two.”
Pickett added that he would’ve received the nod over Rudolph last week had he recovered enough from an ankle injury that’s sidelined him since early December.
“If I was healthy enough to play and the trainers and coaches felt like I looked good enough to play, I was going to start and play,” he said. “If they believed that I was not, which they believed I was not, I was not going to dress and suit up for the game.”
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin announced Monday that Rudolph will start the crucial regular-season finale Saturday against the Baltimore Ravens despite Pickett returning to full health.
The 2022 first-round pick confirmed he’ll be the backup to Rudolph for the game versus Baltimore.
“So whoever reported that, I dunno where it started, it’s kind of crazy what people will write and put out there to try to prove their point or help their standpoint or their careers and what you guys do,” he said. “But disappointed to see that without any proof or basis of it.”
Rudolph has powered Pittsburgh back into playoff contention with back-to-back wins. The Steelers have struggled for much of the season on offense but have their two highest-scoring games of the year with Rudolph under center.
After a poor rookie season, Pickett failed to take a sophomore leap in 2023 before his injury. He’s completed 62% of his attempts for 2,070 yards and just six touchdowns against four interceptions.
Pittsburgh must beat Baltimore – which has clinched the No. 1 seed and could rest its starters – and hope other AFC wild-card contenders falter in Week 18 to earn a postseason spot.
49ERS’ MCCAFFREY HAS CALF STRAIN, WON’T PLAY WEEK 18
San Francisco 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey is dealing with a “mild calf strain” that will sideline him in Week 18 against the Los Angeles Rams, head coach Kyle Shanahan announced Monday, according to Matt Barrows of The Athletic.
Shanahan added that the team is “real confident” McCaffrey will be available in the playoffs, per Nick Wagoner of ESPN.
McCaffrey sustained the injury in Sunday’s win over the Washington Commanders. Shanahan said postgame that the ailment didn’t look serious and that they “think he’ll be alright.”
The 49ers clinched the No. 1 seed and a playoff bye in the NFC by beating the Commanders. The star tailback will now have an extra week to recover before playing a home divisional-round matchup.
“It could have been a lot worse,” Shanahan said, according to Wagoner. “We’re happy that they’ll take care of him this week, and hopefully, he’ll start getting to go during our off week.”
McCaffrey has put on a show this season and leads the NFL in touches (339), scrimmage yards (2,023), and total touchdowns (21). The 27-year-old has also rushed for a league-high 1,459 yards (5.4 per carry) to go along with 14 TDs on the ground.
Injuries have afflicted McCaffrey throughout his career, as the 2017 top-10 pick played just 10 games in 2020 and 2021 combined as a member of the Carolina Panthers. The two-time Pro Bowler, however, hasn’t missed a game since joining the 49ers as part of a blockbuster trade midway through the 2022 season.
The 49ers enter Week 18 with a 12-4 record. The Rams, who’ve also clinched a playoff berth, are 9-7.
REPORT: OT LA’EL COLLINS WORKING OUT WITH COWBOYS
Veteran offensive tackle La’el Collins could rejoin the Dallas Cowboys this week, NFL Network reported.
He arrived for a workout on Tuesday and could sign with the practice squad if he passes a physical, per the report.
The 30-year-old free agent has not played since tearing his left ACL in Week 16 of 2022 while playing for Cincinnati.
Collins started 15 games for the Bengals that season after playing in 74 games (71 starts) with Dallas from 2015-21.
SEAN MCVAY ‘PROMISES’ RETURN TO RAMS IN 2024
Retirement conversation with Sean McVay can be put on hold after the Rams’ head coach confirmed he will be on the Los Angeles sideline again next season.
At this time last year, McVay said he was wrestling with how long he would remain in the profession as he started a family. He and his wife welcomed their first child in October.
But with his Rams on the doorstep of the playoffs, and McVay seven wins from setting the team record for victories as head coach (John Robinson, 75), he doesn’t want to leave any doubt about his status for 2024.
“That I can promise you,” McVay told host J.B. Long when asked if there would be a “Coach McVay Show” next season.
McVay turns 38 later this month. He was hired in 2017, guiding the Rams to a Super Bowl LVI win while building a 69-45 regular-season record (7-3 postseason) for a total of 76 career wins.
In 2022, McVay and general manager Les Snead signed contract extensions that expire after the 2026 season.
With one more win this season, McVay will have the Rams (9-7) back in the playoffs and move ahead of Chuck Knox into sole possession of second on the Rams’ all-time wins list, which counts regular-season victories.
Knox’s record with the Rams was 69-48-1; Robinson was 75-68.
LAST RIDE? BILL BELICHICK STILL GIVING ‘MY BEST EVERY DAY’ TO PATRIOTS
Considering his track record for discipline and consistency, it would be a surprise if Patriots coach Bill Belichick prematurely rode off into the sunset as he prepares for what is rumored to be his final game in New England.
Sparked by reports of owner Robert Kraft’s decision on Belichick’s future with the team, speculation mounted in November that New England was ready for a change at the position.
With six Super Bowl titles in 24 seasons with the Patriots, Belichick is regarded as one of the greatest coaches of all-time. But at 4-12, the Patriots are headed for their third losing season in four years since Tom Brady left in free agency.
Belichick, 71, rarely engages in discussions around hypothetical or speculative topics in his media sessions, and kept that usual nose-to-the-grindstone portrait intact on Tuesday in an interview aired on WEEI in Boston.
“It’s a lot of hypotheticals, a lot of ‘in the past’ and ‘in the future.’ I’m really focused on what’s going on right now,” he said.
Belichick said he doesn’t have any big announcements at the moment, joking he would take it to “Twitter or MyFace so everybody could see it.”
“Each week, get ready to go for that week, do the best you can to help your team win, and after that game move on to the next one. And at the end of the season, that’s the end of the season,” Belichick said. “But on a week-to-week basis, I don’t want to spend time, or get caught up in what happened five years ago, or what’s going to happen two years from now, and a bunch of other random stuff. Just working on the Jets.
“I’m committed to the team that I’m coaching right now — the players that are here. They deserve my best every day and that’s what I’m going to give them.”
The Patriots host the New York Jets (6-10) on Sunday afternoon.
CFP CHAMPIONSHIP GAME MATCHES PENIX’S PROLIFIC PASSING AGAINST MICHIGAN’S BEST-IN-NATION DEFENSE
Michael Penix Jr. hasn’t faced a defense like Michigan’s, and the Wolverines certainly haven’t faced a quarterback like the Heisman Trophy runner-up from Washington.
The matchup will be the most intriguing in the College Football Playoff championship game at NRG Stadium in Houston next Monday. That much was assured after the performances of Penix and Michigan’s best-in-the-nation defense in the CFP semifinals Monday.
Penix threw for 430 yards and two touchdowns in the Huskies’ dramatic 37-31 win over Texas in the Sugar Bowl. Michigan harassed Alabama quarterback Jalen Milroe most of the afternoon and stopped him short on fourth-and-goal at the Wolverines 3 to finish a 27-20 overtime win in the Rose Bowl.
Michigan-Washington will be the third all-time meeting between 14-0 teams. The Wolverines are listed as early 4 1/2-point favorites, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.
Washington will give the disintegrating Pac-12 a chance to go out in a blaze of glory. Ten of the Pac-12 programs are dispersing to three of the four remaining power conferences next season. The Huskies will join Michigan in the Big Ten.
Penix, who suffered major knee injuries at Indiana before transferring to Washington last season, became the first quarterback since Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes in 2015-16 to pass for 4,500 yards in back-to-back seasons.
“I said it before the season started: Our goal is to win the national championship,” Penix said. “Now we’ve got the shot to do it. Husky Nation, stand up. We’re going to the natty. Let’s go!”
The most recent Pac-12 national champion was 2004 Southern California. The Huskies’ only championship was split with Miami in 1991. That was the Huskies’ last unbeaten team. College Football Hall of Fame member Don James was the coach, Mark Brunell was the quarterback and Steve Emtman was one of the most dominant defensive players of the era.
The Huskies will carry a 21-game winning streak — the longest in the nation — to Houston. Each of the last 10 have been decided by 10 points or fewer.
The Wolverines will play for their first national championship since they shared the title with Nebraska in 1997, the year team leader Charles Woodson won the Heisman Trophy and Tom Brady was the backup to Brian Griese.
This year’s Wolverines are built around a defense allowing FBS lows of 243 yards and 10.2 points per game. Their pass defense gives up just 150 yards per game and has surrendered just seven touchdowns, the fewest in the country.
Michigan is the only Big Ten team besides Ohio State to reach the CFP championship game.
The Wolverines are 8-5 all-time against Washington and most recently won 31-10 in Ann Arbor in 2021.
Michigan turned in disappointing semifinal performances against TCU and Georgia the past two years. The Wolverines’ breakthrough came after a tumultuous regular season. Coach Jim Harbaugh missed six games because of suspensions, three for recruiting violations and three in connection to a sign-stealing scandal.
Michigan’s strength of schedule also was questioned until it knocked off a top-10 Penn State and beat Ohio State for a third year in a row.
“The fight started Week 1,” quarterback J.J. McCarthy said. “Everything we’ve been through, all that adversity … A team that goes through that adversity, it can’t get to the heights we’re trying to reach. We did a tremendous job of responding through all that and pushing through. We’ve got one more game, so the job’s not finished yet.”
MICHIGAN’S DEFENSE READY FOR CFP TITLE GAME AFTER RISING UP WITH ROSE BOWL GOAL-LINE STAND
PASADENA, Calif. (AP) — All those 9-on-7 drills paid off for Michigan.
The Wolverines built their return to national relevance on a live tackling, good-on-good, run-blocking vs. run-stopping drill that became the cornerstone of their practices. And when that very situation came up on fourth-and-goal at the 3 in overtime of the Rose Bowl on Monday, Michigan’s defense turned preparation into reality.
“I knew we were gonna win ’cause we prepare for that,” running back Blake Corum said. “We do 9-on-7 all the dang time, and we have such a stout defense, and I knew we were gonna win.”
No. 1 Michigan (14-0) will need another resolute showing from its rugged defense to win its first national championship since 1997 in the College Football Playoff title game next Monday. The Wolverines will face No. 2 Washington (14-0) and its high-powered passing offense at NRG Stadium in Houston.
How the Wolverines fared against No. 4 Alabama indicated they will be up for the challenge. When Jalen Milroe tried to run up the middle on a keeper to extend the game, edge rusher Josaiah Stewart barreled through right tackle JC Latham, allowing edge rusher Derrick Moore to knock the quarterback down after a 1-yard gain.
Every Michigan defender assumed the ball would be in Milroe’s hands on the decisive play, whether as a runner or passer.
“I think everybody was expecting him to get the ball, to be honest with you, so the fact that everybody was able to bow up, everybody knew the situation and blocked the shrug block in, and the play played out how it did,” defensive lineman Kris Jenkins said.
It was the same as in practice, only with the highest stakes imaginable. It was the culmination of a drill that has gone through many names, starting as “Beat Georgia” after Michigan was manhandled on both sides of the line of scrimmage by future NFL draft picks in the 2021 Orange Bowl, and then evolved into “Beat Ohio” to get past rival Ohio State.
“And I guess tonight it turned into ‘Beat Alabama,’” cornerback Mike Sainristil said.
“You know, we put so many hours into those 9-on-7 drills alone, from spring ball to here, and now you really see like in the biggest moments how that takes shape,” Jenkins said. “We’re all being able to throw linemen like it’s nothing.”
Sainristil had absolute confidence the defense would be able to make the stop.
“We didn’t hope,” he said. “We knew. I feel like hope is when you can’t see, hope is when you don’t have enough belief, but we trusted everything. And we’re able to go out there and get it done.”
The defense delivered throughout the afternoon, even as its counterparts on Michigan’s offense and special teams struggled. The Crimson Tide had touchdown drives of 44 and 55 yards, the first of which came after a muffed punt and the latter following the third of four Wolverine three-and-outs.
Coordinator Jesse Minter’s unit allowed 288 yards on 66 plays, a miserly average of 4.3 yards per play. Michigan conceded just two plays of more than 20 yards, limiting an explosive Milroe-led pass game to a long of 29. They held wide receiver Jermaine Burton to four receptions for 21 yards after he came into the game averaging 22.2 yards per catch.
Facing the explosive passing of Huskies quarterback Michael Penix Jr., who threw for 430 yards and two touchdowns in the 37-31 Sugar Bowl win over No. 3 Texas, Michigan will need another strong outing from its pass rush. Five of its six sacks against Alabama came in the first half, and reliably constant pressure prevented Milroe from being able to unleash the vertical passing game that had been his best attribute.
Washington was able to keep Penix clean against the Longhorns, with its Joe Moore Award-winning offensive line holding the most productive pass rush in the Big 12 without a sack. Penix took advantage of the clean pocket to deliver five passing plays longer than 25 yards.
If Michigan can’t get to Penix, it will be on Sainristil, Josh Wallace and Will Johnson to blanket an electric trio of wide receivers in Rome Odunze, Ja’Lynn Polk and Jalen McMillan.
Johnson was ready for the challenge before he knew who the opponent would be next week.
“It’s on to the next one,” he said. “Our mission all year was natty or bust, so we know we got to finish the job.”
WASHINGTON GIVES PAC-12 CHANCE TO BE CONFERENCE OF CHAMPIONS IN FOOTBALL 1 MORE TIME BEFORE LEAVING
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The curtain will close on the Pac-12’s final season as a Power Five football conference on the biggest stage in the sport.
Washington, one of 10 schools leaving the conference this coming summer, beat Texas 37-31 in the Sugar Bowl to earn a spot in College Football Playoff national title game against Michigan on Monday in Houston.
Lack of playoff success, or even participation, was one of several issues that brought upon the Pac-12’s demise.
The second-ranked Huskies (14-0) snapped a six-year CFP drought for the Pac-12, winning the conference in its most entertaining and competitive season in years. The Huskies are just the second Pac-12 team to reach the championship game, and the first since Oregon lost the first to Ohio State after the 2014 season.
The last Pac-12 team to win a national title was Southern California in 2004.
“Happy for the kids,” Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff told Yahoo Sports! after the game. “They don’t deserve all the nonsense going on around them. We were focused on rebuilding football. Took 2 1/2 years. I wish it would have happened quicker. If some of our schools would have been a little more patient, it would have paid off.”
The damage, though, was already done.
Before the season even kicked off, the Pac-12 had been plundered by the Big Ten and Big 12.
Kliavkoff and the Pac-12 leadership’s inability to land a media rights contract competitive with it Power Five counterparts caused its members to look for a better deal and more money.
The decisions by Washington and Oregon in August to move to the Big Ten, joining USC and UCLA, drove a dagger into the Pac-12, prompting Arizona State, Arizona and Utah to follow Colorado to the Big 12.
A couple of weeks later, Stanford and California found a landing spot in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
The Pac-12 is down to two now, Oregon State and Washington State. Those Pacific Northwest rivals plan to keep the conference alive with only two teams for at least another year.
But its days of being the conference of champions appear to be going away.
“Surreal. It’s surreal,” Kliavkoff told Yahoo Sports! “It’s upsetting that some of our schools weren’t more patient because if they saw what we were building it would have paid off.”
LSU OT LANCE HEARD IN PORTAL AFTER SKIPPING BOWL
Former five-star offensive tackle Lance Heard is leaving LSU.
The top signing in the Tigers’ 2023 recruiting class is entering the transfer portal after one season, per multiple reports.
Heard played in 12 games for LSU, including one start at right tackle on Oct. 21 against Army.
He did not travel to Tampa, Fla., with LSU for Monday’s 35-31 win over Wisconsin in the ReliaQuest Bowl.
The 6-foot-6, 340-pound native of Monroe, La., was ranked 15th in the Class of 2023 by the 247Sports composite.