A Grip on Sports: It’s New Years Eve, which means it’s time for college football in El Paso … and other places


INFLUENZA IN SPORT • Surprise is not a word we use a lot. But we are really surprised this morning. Surprised, so many college sporting events went as planned last night. In fact, we would probably have been surprised and there were many more.

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• The way things are done in the world these days, just getting to the start line is pretty impressive. Take the Las Vegas Bowl last night. Let’s go. With Wisconsin winning 20-13 over Arizona State. It’s a win for the Big Ten, a loss for the Pac-12 and a no-show for new Sun Devil appetizers.

That’s almost half of their starting group.

But given that neither Gonzaga’s basketball team got to play last night (and both were scheduled) nor Whitworth’s men (they lost a game due to travel issues for their opponent, Wisconsin-River Falls), so just being able to turn on ESPN and watch a little football seems like a win.

Or CBS this morning. In less than two hours (as of this writing), Washington State should face (check notes in case there are any last minute changes) Central Michigan in the Sun Bowl. We can say with some confidence that an El Paso, TX event has never been so anticipated in the Interior Northwest.

Make no mistake about it. The kick-off road was paved with broken glass – for both teams. Central Michigan was scheduled to play in Tucson, until Boise State had to retire. The WSU was supposed to play in Miami, until the Hurricanes blew that game to pieces. And the Cougars enter the field this morning without a handful of the usual starters themselves, including both offensive tackles and 67 percent of their running back body.

Again, however, just the act of playing sounds awesome. Ask UCLA. Or a handful of other schools.

Or any WCC or just about any Pac-12 basketball team this week.

This December has been cut into pieces. Will January be the same? We wouldn’t be surprised.

• The two semifinals of the college football playoffs should be played this afternoon and tonight. Perennial favorite and seed Alabama team up with No.4 Cincinnati, the first underdog to pull off the Power 5 exclusive dance. This Cotton Bowl battle begins just before 1 p.m. on ESPN. Then Georgia’s No.3 against Michigan’s No.2 of the Orange Bowl will follow shortly thereafter.

We expect both games to be played. However, we cannot predict how many players the virus will sideline. It seems likely that at least a few will be released. And that could decide who wins.

Our hearts would love to see Michigan play Cincinnati in the final, but our heads are sure this game will match both SEC schools. Damn, we’re not listening to you today. We go with our heart.

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Gonzaga: Both men and women have been affected by more COVID-19 postponements – when will there be so many to become cancellations? – with Jim Allen telling us the women lost a home game on Jan.8 to Loyola Marymount and Jim Meehan sharing the news of Saturday’s game at LMU was pushed back due to GU virus issues.

WSU: Yes, the Cougars are starting in a moment. Colton Clark is in El Paso and has a bunch of stuff, including a game preview, the two-minute drill, and his pick of which team will win. After today, the 2021 football season will be over. While this will resonate over the years, we’re pretty sure it will. … John Blanchette made the trip and spoke with Central Michigan head coach Jim McElwain, who cut his teeth at Cheney. … Theo Lawson is also in Texas and his great story hits all the right notes (sorry, I couldn’t resist). This is the high school fanfare accompanying the Cougars this week. … This story is accompanied by these photographs of Tyler Tjomsland, one of three photo galleries that Tyler owns and which we pass on. … There is another story of Theo for you. This is about the (Robb) Akey clan and how they came together for this ball game. … Before leaving Pullman, Jim Allen got this preview of the upcoming conference basketball season for Cougar women. … Elsewhere in Pac-12 and college football, 2021 has been a year of upheaval for the NCAA. … Utah (and to a lesser extent the WSU) will carry the conference banner as the rest of the Pac-12 schools have been whitewashed in bowls. … The Utes still have a sleep until his first appearance at the Rose Bowl. Now all they have to do is bring their physical nature into their clash with Ohio State. … Oregon was one of those losing teams, but that doesn’t matter now. The Dan Lanning era is all that matters to the Ducks. … As we mentioned above, Arizona State lost to Wisconsin. … Colorado is rebuilding its coaching staff. … In basketball news, Oregon State and Utah were able to play Thursday night with the shorthanded Beavers winning their first conference game, 88-76.

EWU: The Eagles took eight players to Portland last night and found a way to beat host Portland State 63-58. Dan Thompson watched and put together this story on their first conference victory. … Around the Big Sky, Weber State managed the state of Montana at Ogden. … Montana used a balanced attack to dominate the state of Idaho. … In football, the Bobcats switched quarterbacks ahead of the playoffs and it paid off.

Preparations: A bunch of holiday tournaments ended yesterday and Dave Nichols has this roundup which includes basketball and wrestling.

Chiefs: Spokane was back in action Thursday night against Seattle. The Chiefs lost 6-2 at the Arena. Kevin Dudley was there and has this story.

Seahawks: Tyler Lockett missed time with COVID-19. He is back. And he wanted to share his experience. A quick summary: it was horrible. … Russell Wilson yesterday dropped a few bombs that seemed to almost disappear into the ether. He’s aiming to win three more Super Bowls (good) and isn’t sure that could happen in Seattle (not so good). … The Hawks are the worst third-down team in the NFL.

Sailors: If you have questions about M’s, we’ve found a few answers, including one on a New Years Resolution.

Kraken: A back-and-forth third period led to a typical Seattle result. The Kraken lost again, this one 6-4 in Calgary.

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• We will be back here tomorrow for several reasons. We don’t go to bed later on New Years Eve. And there is no morning SR delivered to the gates of Spokane. We want to fill that void with the Cougar game (fingers crossed) and the college football playoffs (ditto). And we want to start 2021 like we did in 2020, with a column hoping that the year will see the end of this pandemic. We didn’t get our wish a year ago. Until there …


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