A look at the closing weeks of Pac-12 football
By The Associated Press
The final football season for the Pac-12 and its current membership is coming to a close.
Four teams still hope to advance to the conference title game in Las Vegas on Dec. 1, while Washington and Oregon still hope to clinch the Pac-12’s first College Football Playoff berth since 2016.
While there is plenty of excitement on the field, there are still people who are sad about the breakup of the conference, as well as the end of traditional rivalries.
The Associated Press is taking a look at the final weeks through the eyes of players, coaches, broadcasters and longtime fans.
Erickson: “It’s sad, and I think it’s ridiculous, to be honest”
As a former coach at both Oregon State and Washington State, Dennis Erickson has strong feelings about the demise of the Pac-12 as we know it.
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“To me it’s sad, and I think it’s ridiculous, to be honest. This whole transition is about money. We have all these school presidents talking about being together, learning, and doing all the right things as far as academics,” Erickson said. “And now they’re all about money. It blows my mind.”
After a 47-year career in college football, Erickson is retired and lives in Idaho. He actively follows college football, often going to games around the region and watching his son Bryce, an assistant at Montana. Erickson recently attended Oregon State’s 62-17 rout of Stanford in Corvallis.
As the head coach at Washington State in 1987 and ’88, he led the Cougars to a 9-3 record in his second season before leaving to become the coach at Miami. After a stint in the NFL with the Seattle Seahawks, he became the coach at Oregon State in 1999 and stayed there for four seasons. He led the Beavers to the 2001 Fiesta Bowl, where they defeated Notre Dame. Current Oregon State coach Jonathan Smith backed that team.
“All that history, it’s being pushed aside,” he said. “It confuses me. I don’t know what’s going on in college football. It’s just like the NFL anymore. That’s how I feel about it: It’s destroying a lot of the values you learn in college football.”
The Band Plays On
The Spirit of Troy’s annual senior road trip to San Francisco during the football season will end after this year, but the Southern California band will continue to hit the road for every football game, albeit with more logistics to travel .
“A lot of the emotions I’ve had this year are cherishing the moments and the little traditions we do. The trip to San Francisco meant a lot to the seniors knowing that our underclassmen won’t have the opportunity to get that,” said senior Jacobo Herrera, who is in his second year as the band’s drum major.
The band, whose final regular-season performance will be Saturday against crosstown rival UCLA, has traveled to every Trojans game since 1987, a move that will continue in the Big Ten. Some of USC’s road conference games next year include Michigan, Minnesota and Maryland.
“It’s pretty crazy to be on the phone with Southwest and find out how to get 16 tubs across the country,” said Herrera, who will serve as the band’s general manager twice.
Band director Jacob Vogel said one thing he noticed this season was that more USC fans were traveling because it could be the last trip to some of the stadiums.
“For Arizona State and Colorado there were a lot of fans. Oregon maybe not so much because of the results of the last few weeks. Other than that, there was great support from everyone,” he said.
Around these parts, Colorado great Peggy Coppon, who turns 99 on Sunday, is royalty. She is a Buffaloes football and basketball champion and could not be more elated that after a 13-season transfer to the PAC-12, the school is making the change back to the Big 12 next year .
“I think we have more in common with sunflowers and corn than we do with the ocean,” Coppon said of the Big 12 switch. “I feel closer to the states in this area.”
She mainly watches football games and her seats at Folsom Field are located near the 45 yard line. She also has a seat behind the basket for basketball games, where she always draws a crowd at halftime (fans showered her with happy birthday wishes on Tuesday during No. 25 Colorado’s win over Milwaukee).
She has become tight with coach Deion Sanders since his arrival. He even invited her into the locker room and they danced after she announced, “Give me my theme music” (it’s one of Sanders’ many sayings). She was named honorary captain for the spring game and even kicked the ball — with an assist from Sanders.
Coppom has been attending football games since her family moved from eastern Colorado to Boulder around 1940. She has only missed a few home games since she said she and her husband bought season tickets in 1966.
For a long time, right next to her and rooting for the Buffaloes was her twin sister, Betty Hoover, who died in 2020. “The Twins,” as they are known, have long been iconic figures.
The twins were front and center at the Orange Bowl in Miami when Darian Hagan helped lead the Buffaloes to their lone national title after the 1990 season. She said that also happened to be one of the first times she himself and Betty on TV.
Move to Pac-12 Helped Utah’s Rise
Kenneth Scott was entering his senior year of high school when he found out Utah was making the jump from the Mountain West to the Pac-12. Scott redshirted during Utah’s final Mountain West season in 2010 after breaking his ankle during fall camp and made his debut the following season. He played with the Utes from 2010-15 and had 1,464 receiving yards and 11 touchdown catches during his Utah career.
Scott, who now lives in Houston, sees striking similarities between Utah’s first Pac-12 season and last, especially at the QB situation.
Utah lost starting quarterback Jordan Wynn to a shoulder injury in 2011 and turned to former D-II quarterback Jon Hays to lead the team. Hays came to Utah after Nebraska-Omaha dropped its football program. He made 12 career starts with the Utes and helped Utah move into contention for a spot in the 2011 Pac-12 title game until a 17-14 loss in the regular season finale to Colorado.
Utah lost Cam Rebels to a knee injury in the 2023 Rose Bowl and turned to former walk-on quarterback Bryson Barnes to lead the team.
Utah won four league title games in five years and back-to-back Pac-12 titles validated the vision Scott and others had for Utah.
“I look at the Big 12 landscape now and the Big 12 is not the Big 12 it used to be. Like Texas and Oklahoma,” Scott said of the upcoming conference switch. “It’s still a great conference because of the history behind it. Looking at it (going) forward, you got Baylor, Houston, UCF. There is no UCLA, USC, Oregon, Washington, Oregon state.
ASU Fan Laments End of Competition
Rudy Burgoz has been an Arizona State football fan since he began attending the school in 1959.
The 82-year-old has missed just six home games since then – due to illness or emergency – and has been a regular at many road games over the years, including against UCLA this weekend spent
Burgoz will continue to be a fan when the Sun Devils leave the Pac-12 for the Big 12 next season, but it’s not going to be the same.
“It’s unfortunate and I hate to see it,” Burgoz said. “I understand why. It’s a money case. The UA schools started it and broke what I think is a great conference.”
Burgoz has been a fixture at Camp Totozona since 1961, a year after coach Frank Kush began taking the team to the camp nestled in the pines outside of Payson for fall workouts.
He has gone through the program’s highs and lows, watching quarterback Jake Plummer’s comeback against UCLA secure Arizona State’s trip to the 1997 Rose Bowl.
“I’m going to miss the trips to Oregon, but I won’t miss the rain or the cold in Washington,” said Burgoz. “I enjoyed going to the games at Stanford — it was an atmosphere. The Cal games, the climb up Strawberry Hill was a bear. But I’m really sad to see it break up because I think we have a great conference.”
Associated Press Sports Writers Anne Peterson in Portland, Oregon, Joe Reedy in Los Angeles, Pat Graham in Denver, John Marshall in Phoenix and freelancer John Coon in Salt Lake City contributed.
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