BY Art Thiel 05:51PM 11/14/2011

Thiel: Huskies’ bowl party could be subdued affair

Bowl eligibility has been secured, but unlike last season’s late rush to San Diego, the sagging Huskies could go to the game on a four-game losing streak.

Holiday Bowl trophy 2010

The Huskies' joy at the Holiday Bowl was partly a reflection of four wins in a row, momentum that has not appeared the final month of 2011. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

The plan a couple of weeks ago was only to close down Husky Stadium. You don’t suppose the Huskies accidentally closed the season, too?

After losing consecutive games by a combined 74-34 score to conference powers Oregon and USC, with a road game at Oregon State Saturday probably featuring replacement quarterback Nick Montana in his first Huskies start, followed Nov. 26 by a CenturyLink Field “home” game against revitalized Washington State, Washington could finish 6-6, same as the past season.

They still get to go to bowl game, but the feeling would be nothing like a year ago, when three consecutive wins put the season in bold-face type. Four consecutive losses would leave things in agate type.

On the Pac-12 Conference front, if underdog USC wins at Oregon Saturday — a more plausible idea after seeing the fast-improving Trojans batter Washington — the Trojans will be the best team in the league. But because of NCAA probation, they will be unable to prove it in the conference title game or a bowl game.

Meanwhile, their conference cousins, the Bruins, could be in that first title game if they win out to finish 5-3, despite losing 31-6 Saturday to mediocre Utah, provoking a growing growl at UCLA for the coaching head of Rick Neuheisel.

How’s that for upside-down crapple cake?

Ah, but it beats having to be the bowl game that has to invite Penn State.

Just a week ago, it seemed embarrassing enough that Ohio State (aka Tattoo U.), which fired longtime head coach Jim Tressel over a rules scandal and is under investigation from everyone except Interpol and Mossad. But after the Penn State sex abuse scandal, the Buckeyes’ problems are the equivalent of shoplifting a candy bar.

Think about it. Even if Penn State loses its final two games at Ohio State and at Wisconsin, the Nittany Lie-ins will still be 8-4. Does a middling bowl offer them and their boosters a reward of a week’s partying in the sun? And if offered, does Penn State accept? Or is it best to stay home and clean house?

In light of the tragic events in Happy Valley, football awkwardness is the least of the problems. But it illustrates just a part of the dilemma of trying to conduct a big-time football program when nothing and no one can be believed.

In a column last week, I advocated the forfeiture of the Nebraska game Saturday as a demonstration that Penn State grasped the gravity of the situation. I didn’t expect that school or NCAA officials would take action, especially since they had one good excuse – why make Nebraska and its traveling fans pay for Penn State’s misdeeds?

But a bowl game invitation offers no such fig leaf. Bowl bids won’t be offered until after conference championship games are played, so no customers will be out money. The bowl game is an invitation, not a contracted obligation.

If rumors become true that there is much more to come in the scandal from the testimony of other victims as well as witnesses, the news will dominate Penn State’s bowl coverage, ruining the occasion for everyone.

Best to not look silly sitting poolside wearing Penn State ballcaps while more indictments are being handed back home in the snow and dark.

Somehow I keep seeing the the end of “Die Hard 2,” where the bad guys are celebrating aboard an airliner as it lifts off the runway, only to have the plane blown up by Bruce Willis’s cigarette lighter.

Meanwhile, in the more mundane precincts of Montlake, the Huskies are planning at the moment to operate with young Montana in charge, the presumption being the knee injury to starter Keith Price will keep him out at least a week, if not more.

Despite his inexperience, a healthy Montana may prove more effective than a hobbled Price. But if that doesn’t happen, and the rest of the Huskies continue to flail as they have for most of the past four weeks, the reward of a bowl will be far more of a consolation gift than the Holiday Bowl prize in San Diego.

Nobody would begrudge the Huskies the bid, but neither would they be hailed.

The best outcome would be that the Huskies draw a scandal-free opponent (not an easy search) in the Las Vegas Bowl, where no one in Sin City would have reason to take attention off the craps tables to ask what’s wrong (morally, legally or athletically) with the team.


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