Fans, coaches and players remember Pac-12 football in its final Saturday

Nov 25, 2023, 6:36 AM

Dennis Erickson, Arizona State football...

Head coach Dennis Erickson of the Arizona State Sun Devils watches warm ups before the college football game against the Arizona Wildcats at Sun Devil Stadium on November 19, 2011 in Tempe, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The final football season for the Pac-12 with its current membership is coming to a thrilling conclusion.

The conference wraps up regular-season play this week before the title game in Las Vegas on Dec. 1.

Even though there is plenty of excitement on the field, there remain some who are sad about the breakup of the conference, along with 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.

Former Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson ‘sad’ Pac-12 set to fold

As the former coach at Oregon State, Washington State and Arizona State, Dennis Erickson has strong feelings about the demise of the Pac-12 as we know it.

“To me it’s sad, and I think it’s ridiculous, to be very honest. This whole move is about money. We’ve got 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 just blows my mind.”

After a career spanning 47 years in college football, Erickson is retired and lives in Idaho. He still actively follows college football, frequently going to games throughout the region and keeping an eye on son Bryce, an assistant at Montana. Erickson recently attended Oregon State’s 62-17 thrashing of Stanford.

As head coach at Washington State in 1987 and ’88, he led the Cougars to a 9-3 record in his second season before departing to become the coach at Miami. After a stint in the NFL with the Seattle Seahawks, he became coach at Oregon State in 1999 and remained there for four seasons. He took the Beavers to the 2001 Fiesta Bowl, where they beat Notre Dame. Current Oregon State coach Jonathan Smith quarterbacked that team.

He also had a five-year tenure at Arizona State from 2007 through ’11.

“All that history, it’s all being pushed aside,” he said. “It’s just confusing to 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.”

ASU fan laments end of rivalries

Rudy Burgoz has been an Arizona State football fan since he started attending the school in 1959.

The 82-year-old has missed only six home games since then – due to illness or emergency – and has been a regular at many road games through the years, including against UCLA this season.

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 just unfortunate and I hated to see it,” Burgoz said. “I can understand why. It’s a money situation. The LA schools started it and they broke up what I think is a great conference.

“I’m going to miss the trips to Oregon, but I’m not going to miss the rain or the cold in Washington. I enjoyed going to the Stanford games — it was quite an atmosphere. The Cal games, the climb up Strawberry Hill was a bear. But I’m really sorry to see it break up because I think we’ve got a great conference.”

Emotional weekend

Despite growing up on the west side of the state and eventually entering a pipeline that fed into the Washington football program, Brock Huard’s childhood memories of the Apple Cup were rather crimson in nature.

“Family friends? Lot of Cougs. Teachers? Lot of Cougs,” Huard recalled.

Huard eventually went on to wear the purple and gold of Washington, just like his brother Damon and like his nephew, Sam. All three quarterbacked the Huskies in the Apple Cup with varying degrees of success.

Sam was the most recent, thrown into a terrible situation two years ago of making his first college start against the Cougars. Damon won two of the three Apple Cups he played in.

And Brock? He went 2-1 against Washington State, winning twice in Pullman. But Huard and the Huskies lost at home in 1997, and Washington State advanced to the Rose Bowl, in perhaps the most famous Cougars victory in the history of the rivalry.

“At that time, it was deeply personal. Oregon has grown into the more hostile, personal rivalry, but at that time it was all personal,” Huard said. “Coming out and hearing things from the student body I wouldn’t hear anywhere else. Like, ‘Wow, that’s creative.’ What an awesome, deep-cut shot right there.”

Now 25 years removed from last playing in the game, Huard has a different forum as a college football analyst for Fox Sports and a radio host in Seattle. He’s been open with his anger and disappointment over the collapse of the Pac-12.

“Absolutely hate it. I’ve made that very clear from day one of all of this chaos and all of this mess, it stinks,” Huard said.

Huard’s emotions will be raw as he’ll be calling the Apple Cup on Fox less than 18 hours after calling the last scheduled Oregon-Oregon State matchup. Washington and Washington State have agreed in principle to continue the Apple Cup through 2028, but this Saturday is their last as Pac-12 members.

“I’m not going to hide my emotions,” Huard said. “I think they will be raw. I think the stadium will be real and raw.”

Sentimental journey

Chip Kelly owes a lot to the Pac-12.

His rise to prominence in football began while he was coaching at Oregon from 2009 through 2012, which included an appearance in the BCS title game in the 2010 season.

After a four-year stint in the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers, and one year as a TV analyst, Kelly returned to the Pac-12 in 2018 when he was hired by UCLA.

Kelly’s Bruins will play the conference’s final regular-season game Saturday night when they host California. Now that the final week has approached, Kelly is getting wistful about the end of the conference as it exists now.

“For this to be the last game this league has, it’s sad,” Kelly said. “I grew up in this league as a head coach. I think there’s some sentimental things about just the league in general. There’s so much history and tradition that for the fact that we’re not going to play Stanford or Cal anymore in the foreseeable future. We’re not going to play Utah, Oregon State, Washington State or the Arizona schools. I think that’s the reality that we’re living in, but it doesn’t mean you have to like it.”

The band plays on

The Spirit of Troy’s annual senior road trip to San Francisco during football season will end after this year, but the Southern California band will continue to go on the road for all football games, even though it will require more logistics to travel.

“A lot of the feelings that I have had this year are cherishing the moments and every little tradition that we do. The trip to San Francisco meant a lot to the seniors knowing that our underclassmen won’t have the chance to experience that,” said senior Jacobo Herrera, who is in his second year as the band’s drum major.

The band has traveled to all Trojans games since 1987, something that will continue with the move to the Big Ten. Some of USC’s road conference games next year include Michigan, Minnesota and Maryland.

“It’s pretty crazy being on the phone with Southwest and figuring out how to get 16 tubas across the country,” said Herrera, who doubles as the band’s general manager.

Colorado’s superfan

Around these parts, Colorado superfan Peggy Coppom, who turned 99 this month, is royalty. She’s a fixture at Buffaloes football and basketball games and couldn’t be more elated that after 13 seasons in the Pac-12, the school is making the switch back to the Big 12 next year.

“I think we have more in common with sunflowers and corn than we do with the ocean,” Coppom said of the Big 12 switch. “I feel more closeness with the states in this area.”

Coppom has been attending football games since her family moved from eastern Colorado to Boulder around 1940. She has prime viewing for football games with her seats at Folsom Field located near the 45-yard line.

She’s missed only a couple home games since she said she and her late husband bought season tickets in 1966.

For so long, right next to her and rooting on the Buffaloes was her twin sister, Betty Hoover, who passed away in 2020. “The Twins,” as they’re known, have long been iconic figures.

The twins were front-and-center at the Orange Bowl in Miami when Darian Hagan helped guide the Buffaloes to their lone national title following the 1990 season. She said that also happened to be one of the first times she and Betty were on TV.


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