Northwest Guide to the AFC & NFC Conference Championships

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Northwest Guide to the AFC & NFC Conference Championships

The Seattle Seahawks may no longer be in the postseason, but that doesn't mean you can't have a rooting interest in the remaining playoff games. 

Here's every player with a tie to the Pacific Northwest that may play this weekend in a conference championship. 

San Francisco 49ers

Arik Armstead - Oregon Ducks (2012-2014)

Armstead came to Eugene as one of the highest-rated defensive recruits in school history and lived up to that billing. He recorded 46 tackles, 5.5 tackles-for-loss, and 2.5 sacks as a junior before being selected seventeenth overall in the 2015 NFL Draft. So far for the Niners Armstead has racked up 41 tackles, 10 sacks, and two forced fumbles.

DeForest Buckner - Oregon Ducks (2012-2015)

Joining Armstead on the defensive line is the former Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year DeForest Buckner. The 49ers selected Buckner with the seventh overall selection in the 2016 NFL Draft following an incredible senior season when he recorded 83 tackles, 17 tackles-for-loss, and 10.5 sacks. This season the defensive end has 7.5 sacks and two forced fumbles on his way to being selected as second-team All-Pro. 

Richard Sherman - Seattle Seahawks (2011-2017)

The Seattle Seahawks selected one the mainstays of the Legion of Boom in the fifth round of the 2011 NFL Draft out of Stanford University. In Seattle, he became one of the greatest players in franchise history. Famous for his loud mouth, he backed up his smack talk with his play on the field. His most famous play as a Seahawk was his tipped pass to force an interception to clinch the NFC Conference in 2013 against the San Francisco 49ers. 

Green Bay Packers

Evan Baylis - Oregon Ducks (2013-2016)

As a Duck Baylis caught 44 passes for 511 yards and three touchdowns. He had five catches in the 2015 CFB Playoff National Championship Game. He went undrafted but due to the Texans having four tight-ends in concussion protocol Baylis made the active roster to begin the season before being cut a few weeks later. He has bounced around practice squads before joining the Packers' practice squad.

Cole Madison — Washington State Cougars (2013-2017)

The Packers selected the Cougars guard in the fifth round of the 2018 NFL Draft. This past season he was put on Injured Reserve after suffering a torn ACL in practice. He has yet to see the field in the NFL. As a senior in Pullman, he was rewarded with an All-Pac-12 First-Team selection by the Associated Press. 

Kansas City Cheifs

Matt Moore - Oregon State Beavers (2005-2006)

Backing up Patrick Mahomes will be former Beavers quarterback Matt Moore. He got a few starts this season with Mahomes out with an ankle injury, playing well in a loss to Green Bay and then defeating the Minnesota Vikings 26-23 after Moore threw for 275 yards passing and a touchdown. In Corvallis, Moore played two seasons including a senior year where Oregon State won ten games including a thriller over then-No. 3 USC.

[RELATED: Reviewing former Oregon State QB Matt Moore's NFL journey]

Tennessee Titans

Marcus Mariota - Oregon Ducks (2012-2014)

The greatest player in program history will suit up in the AFC Championship game but not as the starter. The Titans selected Mariota with the second overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft but benched the Heisman Trophy winner in favor of Ryan Tannehill after a 2-4 start. Mariota has still seen the field in both of Tennessee's playoff victories this season, however.

There will never be another No. 1: Warriors’ guard Klay Thompson has Washington State jersey retired

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There will never be another No. 1: Warriors’ guard Klay Thompson has Washington State jersey retired

Long before Klay Thompson led the Golden State Warriors to three championships, the prolific shooter was making memories on the court as a Washington State Cougar. 

In his three years with WSU, Thompson earned Pac-10 All-Freshman honors in his first year, was named All-Pac 10 First-Team during his sophomore season, became the first Cougar to be named Pac-10 Player of the Week on three occasions and set a tournament record with 43 points and eight-three pointers in the 2011 Pac-10 tournament.

Thompson finished his junior campaign by setting a single-season scoring record with 733 points to become WSU’s third all-time scorer. He chose to forgo his senior year, declaring for the draft in 2011. He was selected 11th overall by the Warriors, where he has been named NBA All-Star on five occasions, a two-time All-NBA Third Team selection, All-Defensive Second Team and was integral in leading the Warriors to their first NBA championship in 40 years in 2014. 

Now, Thompson is joining Steve Puidokas as the second Washington State player to have his jersey number retired.

Thompson returned to Pullman on Saturday to watch his No. 1 basketball jersey go into the rafters of Beasley Coliseum during halftime of the Washington State-Oregon State game. Moments after Washington State's Isaac Bonton hit a buzzer beater from deep to end the first half, Thompson took the court. 

"Everytime I walk in here, I get chills," Thompson said to an electric Beasley Coliseum. "I will always be a Coug. I'll always be a Coug. I'm so grateful for where basketball has taken me. It's taken me to China, Brazil, New Zealand, Spain, around the world. But there's nowhere like Pullman. There's nowhere like the Palouse."

He was joined by a star-studded cast, including fellow Splash Brother Stephen Curry, former teammate Zaza Pachulia and Warriors assistant GM Mike Dunleavy.

Oregon has no answer for CJ Elleby in Washington State's first top-10 win since 2007

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Oregon has no answer for CJ Elleby in Washington State's first top-10 win since 2007

It was the battle of the guards.

Ducks senior Payton Pritchard and Cougars sophomore CJ Elleby went head-to-head as No. 8 Oregon traveled to Washington State., for the two teams' only meeting during the regular season.

Prior to Thursday’s game between Oregon (14-4) and Washington State (11-7), Payton Pritchard gained national recognition for his efforts on the court, including his dominant 29-point performance in the Ducks 68-62 win over Arizona State. His ability to knock down jumpers, pass balls and make shots from behind the arc is why he’s a proven candidate for National Player of the Year.

The Ducks’ iron man added 22 points, five rebounds and five assists for Oregon, but it wasn’t enough to seal the deal. Oregon fell 72-61 to Washington State, giving the Cougars their first top-10 win since 2007.

Washington State’s CJ Elleby stole the show and had the hot hand early on, finishing with 15 points before halftime. The Cougs floor general finished the night 9-20 from the floor for 25 points and 4-for-7 from behind the arc. He was perfect from the free-throw line and added 14 rebounds. 

Up next: The Ducks will look to bounce back against Washington on Saturday. The Huskies have dropped the last two games and will host Oregon State Thursday at 8:00 p.m. 

Check back for quotes from Dana Altman's press conference after the game. 

WSU hires Nick Rolovich, how he'll impact the PAC-12

WSU hires Nick Rolovich, how he'll impact the PAC-12

Looks like the Washington State Cougars have found their new pack leader.

Hawai’i Coach Nick Rolovich will fill the vacancy that head coach Mike Leach left behind.

Rolovich subtly subtweeted his hiring as the Cougs head coach. 

Leach, who coached the Cougars for eight seasons, has left the Pac-12 and is headed for the SEC as the next head coach at Mississippi State.

While we’ll miss greatly all the Leach-mannerisms, the quotable moments, the break downs of which Pac-12 mascots would come out on top in a fight or why Autzen Stadium reminds him of Middle Earth, the Cougars have also moved on.

Welcome to the Rolovich era in Pullman, Washington.

Similar to Leach, Rolovich ran an air-raid style offense known for running up the scoreboard. In his five-year tenure with the Rainbow Warriors, Rolovich held a 28-27 record, three bowl appearances and recently a 2020 Hawai’i Bowl win over BYU, 38-34.

According to Hawai’i Football’s website: Under Rolovich’s guidance and Cole McDonald at quaterback, the UH offense racked up over 5,800 yards of offense, along with 43 touchdown passes. The aerial assualt accounted for 30.8 points per game and 419 yards per contest. The production led the Warriors returning to the Hawai‘i Bowl for a second time under Rolovich, finishing with an 8-6 record.

HOW THIS IMPACTS OREGON, THE PAC-12

Another WSU head coach, another air raid attack. The PAC-12 has seen this style offense for eight seasons now with Leach at the helm. This year against Oregon, the Ducks edged the Cougars in Eugene 37-35 and held Washington State and quarterback Anthony Gordon to 446 yards (under his per game average) as well as picked Gordon off twice. 

It also helps that 99% of Oregon’s starters on defense will return next season as juniors Thomas Graham Jr., Deommodore Lenoir, Jordon Scott and Austin Faoliu announced they would all forgo the NFL draft and return to Oregon for their senior year. The Ducks lose just Troy Dye, a big loss with big shoes left behind to fill, but the Ducks may have the right pieces to do just that.

Oregon will travel up to Pullman, Washington to face the Cougars in 2020.

Hawai'i defeated Arizona 45-38 and OSU 31-28 this past season. He's proven he can beat big time programs and be a formidable opponent. 

Let's remember some of the craziest things Mike Leach said while at WSU

Let's remember some of the craziest things Mike Leach said while at WSU

In light of Mike Leach reportedly leaving Washington State to accept the head coaching position at Mississippi State, let's look back at "The Pirate's" best moments as a Cougar.

Leach has always been known for his theatrics and interesting opinions or tangents. His run at Washington State did not disappoint in that regard.

Let's dig in.

Mike Leach "hopes" Big Foot exists but isn't optimistic

He does however think Aliens exist... somewhere.

Mike Leach calls Autzen Stadium 'Middle-Earth'

Heading into a matchup this past season on the road against Oregon he spoke favorably about their stadium.

I’ve always like Autzen Stadium. It is one of my favorites in the country. Most people have it as the loudest, I would agree with that... [a] great looking stadium that looks like Middle Earth

Mike Leach demonstrates how to do a shovel pass...during his press conference

 

Leach claims his players are “fat, dumb, and happy and entitled”

Just this year, after Washington State gave up 50 points in the second half to UCLA, Leach gave a candid response about his players in the press conference:

We're a very soft team. We get a lot of good press. We like to read it a lot. We like to pat ourselves on the back, and if we get any resistance, we fold...They're fat, dumb and happy and entitled.

Leach ranks the Pac-12 mascots if they were going to fight

Again this season, Mike Leach was asked which Pac-12 mascot would win in a fight against all other Pac-12 mascots. His answer did not disappoint.

Leach bellyflops

Ahead of the Cougars’ season opener, the team went for a swim at a local pool. We got this fantastic video out of it. 

 

Once again, he roasts his players

If you’re a Cougar and your team plays poorly, be prepared for your coach to keep it real. 

Mike Leach sticks up for cats

He didn't think that cats got a fair shake,

When it comes to weddings "the women lose their minds"

Leach didn't care too much about how his wedding went. The women in his life did.

A compilation of his best quotes from 2019

Here's some more quotes from the man himself from his career in general

"The Pirate" will take his aerial assault, and his vibrant personality to the SEC. He will be missed, sort of. 

Reports: Mike Leach hired as Mississippi State head coach

Reports: Mike Leach hired as Mississippi State head coach

The Cougars will begin their first coaching search in nearly a decade.

According to Yahoo Sports' Pete Thamel, Washington State head coach Mike Leach has accepted the same position at Mississippi State.  

According to radio host Paul Finebaum, Leach interviewed for the position with Mississippi State Tuesday afternoon. Bo Bounds ("Out of Bounds" radio) said that Mississippi State Atheltic Director John Cohen traveled to Key West, Florida for the interview. 

The Bulldogs recently fired Joe Moorhead following a 6-7 sophomore season where they lost to Louisville in the Music City Bowl. Moorhead finished his stint 14-12 after replacing Dan Mullen who left for the head coaching position at Florida after the 2017 season. 

The news may come as a surprise to many since the Cougars and Leach agreed to a one-year contract extension to keep him through 2024 before the Cheez-It Bowl after Florida State and Missouri failed to show a legitimate interest in Leach. He was set to begin his ninth season at Washington State where he won 55 games, good for third all-time in school history. The Cougars had qualified for a bowl game five consecutive seasons. 

However, the former Cougars head coach has been linked to SEC jobs in the past. Leach interviewed for the Tennessee Volunteers gig in 2017 and was linked to the vacant Arkansas job before the Razorbacks hired Sam Pittman.

Stop the second-guessing, Beavers' Jonathan Smith made the right call

Stop the second-guessing, Beavers' Jonathan Smith made the right call

I would guess Jonathan Smith will be second-guessed for years to come.

The Oregon State Coach took the ultimate gamble Saturday night in Pullman, Wash., against Washington State. With his team at the WSU 43 and 1:16 left, Smith chose not to punt with his team looking at a fourth-and-four situation. The Cougars were out of timeouts and would have a short field to navigate to erase a five-point Beaver lead, if OSU failed to convert.

And OSU failed to convert. And Washington State navigated just fine, winning the game with two seconds to spare.

But you will hear no second-guessing from me. Smith has made such gambles pay off several times in what has been very close to a Cinderella season for the Beavers. And really, it was simple to see what his thought process was at the time by the way the game turned out.

Smith, I would think, wanted to decide the game with his offense, not his defense. And you could see why. The OSU offense has been stellar most of the season and the defense has been unreliable.

Yes, by not punting, Smith probably gave WSU up to 40 yards in field position. But my thought at the time was that it wouldn’t matter how far the Cougars had to go in 1:10, even without timeouts, they were going to score.

If Oregon State can get four yards on fourth down, it wins the game right then and there.

Unconventional? Not in today’s football, with teams routinely rolling up 50 points and 400 passing yards.

Smith has done an incredibly fast makeover of the Oregon State program and he’s done it mostly with his offensive unit. And he has shown great confidence in that group. In case you haven’t noticed, it’s a lot harder to recruit great defensive players these days than find offensive stars. The Pac-12 proves that every weekend.

All I can say to the Beavers is congratulations on making it a great game.

And don’t stop believing.

A once-in-a-decade player ignites Oregon's run game

A once-in-a-decade player ignites Oregon's run game

Oregon’s 37-35 drama filled win snapped the Ducks’ four-game losing streak to the Cougars in front of a sellout 59,361 crowd at Autzen Stadium, the tenth highest attended game in history. When freshman kicker Camden Lewis nailed a 26-yard field goal as time expired, the Duck student section flowed over the fences to celebrate with the team that lifted up Lewis.

Meanwhile, Oregon coach Mario Cristobal found running back CJ Verdell to give him a congratulatory hug after the sophomore’s career night that will likely shoot him to the top as the Pac-12 Conference’s leading rusher. His 257 rushing yards ranks tied for fourth most all-time in school history and the most by a Duck in Autzen Stadium history.

There is something eerily similar between Oregon’s comeback victory vs. Washington in Seattle and its gutsy last minute triumph over Washington State at home.

The big plays to the left side.

If Verdell sparked the Ducks’ (7-1, 5-0 Pac-12) offense against Washington State, then left tackle Penei Sewell was the ignition.

Last week against Washington, running back Cyrus Habibi-Likio ran for a career-high 81 yards, all of which came in the second half, and credited Sewell for insane blocking.

Habibi-Likio and his girlfriend thanked Sewell by having him over for a home cooked meal of baked mac-n-cheese and chicken.

This week, Verdell had the hot hand and became the Pac-12 running back with the most yards in a conference game. A stunning highlight came in the first quarter: Oregon’s offensive line blew open a huge hole, wide receiver Juwan Johnson pancaked two defenders and Verdell cut, sprinting untouched to the end zone for a career-high 89-yard touchdown. The crowd lost control at the play that felt very vintage Oregon offense.

What’s it like for Verdell to run behind Sewell?

"Who was it that parted the Red Sea? Moses?” Verdell said. “Yeah, when Moses parted the Red Sea, that's how I would describe it."

Following Verdell’s three-touchdown and career-high 257 rushing yards plus 56 receiving yards on four receptions, the running back plans to also take care of lineman Sewell, but in his own way.

“Me and Penei are pretty much brothers,” Verdell said. “He pretty much lives with me. If he wants a home cooked meal then it ain't nothing. I'll make him some ramen noodles or something."

Sewell, the highest-graded offensive lineman in the country by Pro Football Focus, has had major honors roll in this season, earning Pac-12 offensive lineman of the week three times already.

He leads the team with 32 knockdowns and Oregon has a 13-2 record with Sewell as starter. Sometimes, Sewell almost out runs the running back. It’s easy to get lost watching his play during an offensive drive, he’s that impressive.

Oregon senior center Jake Hanson beams with pride when asked about Sewell.

"Penei is a guy that comes along in a program once every decade or couple decades honestly. He's that good,” said Hanson. “And on top of his natural talent he works very hard, he's passionate about the game, he's everything that you would want in a teammate… I love having him as my left tackle."

The win over WSU was another step forward towards Oregon’s first Pac-12 Title since 2014. The Ducks have more challenges ahead, starting with a trip to Los Angeles to play Pac-12 South foe, USC next Saturday. However, with a unique once-in-a-decade player like Sewell, the 2019 season is also beginning to feel very special.

Mike Leach goes full Gregg Popovich in halftime interview

Mike Leach goes full Gregg Popovich in halftime interview

Mike Leach is a national treasure and we can't get enough of him. As WSU headed into halftime tied 17-17 with Oregon, Leach got asked what his defense was doing well against Justin Herbert. 

In the most Mike Leach way ever, he gave his answer:

Never change Coach, never change. 

Troy Dye not suited up for Oregon vs. Washington State

Troy Dye not suited up for Oregon vs. Washington State

EUGENE - Oregon linebacker Troy Dye will not play against Washington State tonight.

The Duck senior is not in uniform and watching his teammates warm up in sweats with a bright pink cast.

Earlier this week, Oregon Coach Mario Cristobal said that Dye, who broke his thumb vs. Washington, would be monitored and limited in practice.  

Cristobal added that since Dye already played through the injury in Seattle, he was expected to play against the Cougars. With the team’s leader in tackles out, it appears Dru Mathis will start and MJ Cunningham and Sampson Nui will be the next men up against the Cougars’ active offense.