Pac-12 stock report: UCLA’s COVID woes derail the Holiday Bowl; pressure mounts on Utah; a twin collapse in Oregon

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Commentary on Pac-12 results on and off the field …

Falling: UCLA’s postseason

After backing out of the Holiday Bowl hours before kickoff because of COVID, the Bruins were summarily skewered on social media and elsewhere — by NC State coach Dave Doeren, for example.

The Hotline understands the frustration, especially given the timing. But playing the blame game with COVID cancellations is a fraught process, one bound to result in unfair and erroneous accusations.

First and foremost is the suggestion that the Bruins kept NC State in the dark about their precarious status.

We aren’t aware of teams providing opponents with regular updates on the daily ebb and flow of COVID matters. That just doesn’t happen. Cal didn’t give USC updates on positive tests and isolated players prior to determining it couldn’t make the mid-November kickoff.

But for anyone paying attention, it was obvious UCLA was on the edge. The following sentence appeared in the L.A. Times on Christmas Eve:

“The Bruins (8-4) are holding their breath for the next four days pending results from additional tests before the game that could knock a player out at the last minute.”

Within the article was a clear indication the Bruins could have a manpower problem on the defensive line.

Everyone involved should have started pondering Plan B right then and there.

Meanwhile, the suggestions on social media — or from NC State — that UCLA was unable to handle its business misses critical nuance. Other than perhaps USC, there is no program in the country more COVID battle-tested than UCLA.

The Bruins and Trojans have spent 22 months navigating the L.A. County wargames, with 1.6 million cases and perhaps the most restrictive protocols in the country. The teams are close to 100% vaccinated. No coach takes COVID more seriously than Chip Kelly, who was stricken with the virus early in the pandemic.

We’d argue the opposite, in fact: The cancellation of the Holiday Bowl was caused, in part, by the enforcement of COVID protocols that simply aren’t applied universally across college football.

For example — and in adherence with athletic department policy — UCLA tests asymptomatic players if they are considered high-risk contacts of known positive cases. In other words, roommates.

When you test asymptomatic players, guess what you find: cases.

That’s exactly what happened to Cal two months ago, when a handful of positives prompted multiple rounds of testing for the entire team, and it’s exactly what happened to UCLA this week.

(Also part of UCLA’s policy, and not to be overlooked: If a player tests positive, then any unvaccinated close contacts must quarantine for 10 days even if they test negative.)

What’s more, the Bruins use the same, hyper-sensitive, rapid-testing device as the NBA.

So again, they’re more likely to find cases.

That’s exactly what you want in the inferno of L.A. County, but not ideal for participation in sporting events.

When the positives are clustered within a single position group, because asymptomatic roommates must be tested and those players tend to live with each other, it can become a problem.

When that position group is either the offensive or defensive line, a last-minute cancellation can result.

The Bruins were left with two options:

Use a mishmash of inexperienced and/or undersized players on the line of scrimmage, or call off the game.

They chose the latter.

Yes, the timing was awful. And we get the frustration,

But if you were paying attention in the days leading up to the game and had a working knowledge of UCLA’s policies — or have been closely tracing the plight and protocols of the California schools for two seasons — the outcome was hardly surprising.

Rising: Pressure on Utah

The postseason results across the Pac-12 have been less than ideal:

— Oregon State lost by double-digits to Utah State

— UCLA canceled on the Holiday Bowl hours before kickoff

— Oregon was beaten decisively by Oklahoma in the Alamo Bowl

That’s not the kind of postseason destruction that we have witnessed in the SEC, which is 0-4 thus far.

Then again, the Pac-12 doesn’t have two playoff teams. For that reason, the conference could use a victory in the Rose Bowl, where Utah is a 4.5-point underdog against Ohio State — a notable drop from the original spread (7 points) after several Buckeye stars opted out.

At the intersection of poor results by the conference and a more winnable Granddaddy, we find enormous pressure on Utah to carry the Pac-12 banner.

And if there’s one team the collective should trust in that endeavor, it’s the Utes.

Combine Kyle Whittingham’s steady hand with the players’ unbreakable bond (forged by tragedy) and the program’s style of play — it’s comparable to Michigan, which pummeled the Buckeyes — and the Utes are well equipped to handle the pressure and rise to the occasion.

We expect a victory.

Falling: Oregon state football

At one point, it appeared both Oregon and Oregon State were headed for breakthrough seasons:

— In late October, the Beavers were 5-2 overall and in control of their fate in the North division.

Then the defense collapsed, they lost in Berkeley and Boulder, and OSU never fully regained momentum.

The end came with an abysmal performance against Boise State in the LA Bowl, the Beavers’ fourth loss in their last six games.

— In the middle of November, the Ducks were 9-1, ranked No. 3 and on the verge of a playoff berth.

Then came the blowout loss to Utah, a win over Oregon State, the other blowout loss to Utah, and a brutal first half against Oklahoma in the Alamo Bowl.

The Ducks finished with three losses in their final four games. They haven’t been the same since the first Utah loss, after which we offered the following assessment:

“The magnitude of the loss in Salt Lake City cannot be understated — and we’re not talking about the margin of defeat, folks. That was a trajectory-changing, tenure-altering result …”

It’s more clear now than ever before.


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