This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
If he leaves Washington State for the NFL after his junior season, former Logan High School quarterback Luke Falk never will have taken the field against Utah.
Then again, he could face the Utes in next month's Pac-12 championship game at Santa Clara, Calif. Even if the Cougars lose at Colorado this week, they could earn the Pac-12 North's berth in the title game by beating Washington at home Nov. 25.
WSU (8-2, 7-0) also could become the conference's first team in the 12-school era to go unbeaten in league play. Falk is the Cougars' driving force as a team leader and prolific passer, having completed 73.9 percent of his passes for 3,610 yards and 33 touchdowns with six interceptions in 10 games.
Due to the Cougars' 0-2 start, Falk has not received much Heisman Trophy consideration. But as a former walk-on, he's one of three finalists for the Burlsworth Trophy.
Opposing coaches keep raving about Falk and his NFL potential, possibly because they would rather not face him anymore. Whenever he departs from Pullman, Falk will face the scrutiny that comes with any "Air Raid" system product "things that aren't his fault, that he's going to get blamed for," said Stanford's David Shaw.
As a former NFL assistant coach, Shaw admires the 6-foot-4 Falk's decision-making, quick release and accuracy, besides being "more athletic than you think," he said.
UCLA's Jim Mora, a former NFL head coach, described Falk as "smart" and "unflappable" and able to make every throw. "He will be an outstanding NFL quarterback," Mora said.
Big Game memory
Judging by his responses on the Pac-12's weekly teleconference, Shaw is the most media-savvy coach in the league. His answer was rehearsed, thanks to an often-asked question, but Shaw came through again Tuesday with his favorite story about the Big Game rivalry with California.
As an assistant to Stanford coach Dennis Green in 1990, Shaw remembers Ed McCaffrey (Christian's father) catching a touchdown pass with 12 seconds remaining, only to have the Cardinal fail on a go-ahead, two-point conversion try. But after Cal was penalized for fans' rushing the field, Stanford recovered an onside kick, then was helped by a roughing-the-passer penalty and won 27-25 via John Hopkins' 39-yard field goal as time expired.
"An unbelievable game, from start to finish," Shaw said.
Bowl projections for the Pac-12's top-tier teams are all over the map, with titles in each division coming down to the Washington-Washington State and Utah-Colorado games next week. The biggest variable is whether the conference will have a College Football Playoff contestant, with Washington in the best position to make the top four.
In any case, the conference will have trouble filling its eight bowl slots. Six teams are bowl-eligible, with Arizona State (5-5) likely to join the list by beating Arizona next week. Oregon State (2-8), Arizona (2-8) and Oregon (3-7) are out, while UCLA (4-6) and California (4-6) need upsets in their rivalry games Saturday.
Gary Andersen's two-season record as Oregon State's coach is 4-18 overall and 1-15 in Pac-12 play, but the Beavers are improving. And if they can beat Arizona and Oregon at home, they'll have respectable records of 4-8 overall and 3-6 in the league in 2016.
Judging OSU's growth is both objective and subjective. Last season, the Beavers allowed 44 or more points in seven of their nine conference games. That's happened only once this season in their victory over California. The adverse weather in Corvallis for Utah's visit helped, but OSU ranks eighth in the Pac-12 in total defense and scoring defense in conference games.
Andersen has succeeded in keeping the Beavers engaged. "He's the ultimate motivator," said defensive line coach Chad Kauha'aha'a. "These guys come back every week. Come Monday, they're ready to roll. You can see the progress we're making as a program. … The kids have responded in ways that weren't normally the case last year."
Tribune Power Rankings: Pac-12 football
1. Washington (9-1) • Huskies remain CFP contenders, after USC broke their 12-game winning streak
2. Utah (8-2) • Joe Williams averaging 216 rushing yards in four games since returning to team
3. USC (7-3) • Six-game winning streak is Trojans' longest since 2008
4. Washington State (8-2) • Cougars have scored 125 points in last two games
5. Colorado (8-2) • Buffaloes' record through 10 games is their best since 2001
6. Stanford (7-3) • Cardinal have won last six Big Games vs. Cal
7. UCLA (4-6) • Bruins posted 163 yards in rushing revival vs. Oregon State
8. Arizona State (5-5) • Eight players have completed passes this season
9. California (4-6) • Like UCLA, Bears need rivalry upset for bowl eligibility
10. Oregon State (2-8) • Beavers like their chances vs. Arizona, Oregon at home
11. Oregon (3-7) • Pharaoh Brown, injured in Salt Lake City in 2014, has 18 catches in last three games
12. Arizona (2-8) • Wildcats' first seven Pac-12 opponents are 37-14 in league play