The instant the matchup was revealed, the game was called the Chris Petersen Bowl. But that’s not even the half of it. The less-than-epic Las Vegas Bowl Saturday (4:30 p.m., ABC) between the Washington Huskies and the Boise State Broncos should be called the Awkward Bowl.
You know, like when you’re in the neighbor’s tool shed, and he comes in and asks why you didn’t seek permission. You would, um, rather be somewhere else.
As you may have read, Petersen, the state’s highest-paid employee, stunned the Western world Dec. 2 by walking away from millions of dollars gladly paid him by one of the more prestigious shops in the industry. Yet he shall linger under his headset along the sidelines Saturday, trying to beat in his final UW game the school that launched his career to a pinnacle, from which he now leaps because he no longer likes the job.
Jimmy Lake is head coach-designate, but is not in charge Saturday, instead working with fellow assistants, one or more of whom he could fire as soon as Sunday. Make sure the plane ticket is R/T, fellas.
Two team stalwarts, LT Trey Adams and TE Hunter Bryant, didn’t think enough of the event to bother showing up. Junior QB Jacob Eason is present, but is draft-eligible and may not be present for long. So too for DL Levi Onwuzurike, who said last week he made up his mind about his future, but is not yet publicly sharing his decision.
Waiting until after the bowl, Levi? “Not necessarily,” he said. Maybe he’s waiting to join Petersen at the Buddhist temple session on kick/run/pass mindfulness at 4th and 1 at the 33-yard line.
Just to top off the awkwardness, the 7-5 team is favored by 3.5 points over the 19th-ranked 12-1 team.
If you enjoy the sound of hiking boots in a clothes dryer, you must also savor postseason college football.
No matter the clumsiness, it is important to keep smiling. Hell, it’s a free trip to Vegas.
“We love coming to this game,” Petersen told reporters this week. “I think this is my fifth time here as a coach. It’s awesome for the players. I think the date is awesome because kids get to go home for Christmas.
“To play a team like Boise State, that’s what guys want to do is play good teams. This is a really good situation.”
Well, if you say so. Obviously, Adams and Bryant disagree.
Since both players are likely NFL draftees, they have become the first Huskies to join the growing national trend among premier college players of intentionally skipping the meaning- and prestige-free bowls. The trend might have started sooner at Montlake, but for the past three seasons, UW qualified for one of the cool-kids New Year’s Day bowls. But at 7-5, the Huskies must settle for the $1 taco lunch truck.
The arrival of such choices for players likely is part of what was grinding at Petersen’s enjoyment of coaching. With each liberalization of NCAA rules that brought bits of fairness into an unfair system, old-schoolers such as Petersen felt their temples throb. And wait until the new California state law that allows for player compensation erodes the NCAA’s corrupt foundation of amateurism.
“Certain guys have to do what they have to do,” Petersen said, skirting dismissively the absences of Bryant and Adams. But the decision seems to have worked for Christian McCaffrey, Leonard Fournette, N’Keal Harry, Ed Oliver and other successful NFL players who made the easy risk/reward choice.
Were you tempted, Jacob Eason, to join Adams and Bryant?
“I respect those guys because they put in a lot of blood, sweat and tears here,” he said, echoing sentiments of several teammates. “Trey and Hunter have both done a lot of great things here, done a lot and sacrificed a lot for the team. We love ’em to death. No hard feelings at all.
“Everyone has their own personal choices. Health reasons, things like that. I’ve always been one to finish what I start. I started this season, I’ll finish no matter what the case is. I’m ready to have fun on Saturday.”
Whoa. If you’re a finish-what-you-start kinda guy, that means you’re going to finish your senior year at Washington, right?
“Right now, I’m just focused on Boise State,” he said. “Just on the game, and finishing out with my guys.”
Oh. If situational ethics are good for the coach, they must be good for the player.
Pragmatically, and ironically, Eason needs this game to show out, in order to help justify skipping his senior season. Heralded upon his transfer from Georgia as a premium talent, Eason’s QB efficiency rating was seventh in the Pac-12 at 144.8, more than 40 points behind leader Tyler Huntley of Utah. The Huskies’ receivers and pass-protectors contributed to that low number, but he’s stuck wearing it.
Even if pro scouts rely much more on the results from the combine and pro-day workouts than a bowl game, Eason wants to be on an uptick that helps squelch the one-more-year-for-a-bigger-payday talk.
Unfortunately for him, Boise State’s best player is a 6-3, 265-pound linebacker named Curtis Weaver, a three-time All-Mountain West Conference selection and defensive player of the year whose 33 career sacks is a MWC record.
Eason will face this guy without his most rust-worthy receiver in Bryant (52 catches) and best backside protector in Adams, a four-year starter and all-Pac-12 choice.
As was mentioned: Awkward.