The Final Drive: A look at the closing weeks of Pac-12 football


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

Four teams still have hopes of advancing to the conference title game in Las Vegas on Dec. 1, while Washington and Oregon still have hopes of getting the Pac-12 its first College Football Playoff berth since 2016.

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.


As the former coach at both Oregon State and Washington 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 in Corvallis.

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.

“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.”


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, which has its final regular-season performance on Saturday against crosstown rival UCLA, 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.

Band director Jacob Vogel said one thing he has noticed this season were more USC fans traveling because of it possibly being the last trip to some of the stadiums.

“For Arizona State and Colorado there were a lot of fans. Oregon not as much possibly because of the results the past couple weeks. Otherwise, there has been great support from everyone,” he said.


Around these parts, Colorado superfan Peggy Coppom, who turns 99 on Sunday, is royalty. She’s a fixture at Buffaloes football and basketball games and couldn’t be more elated that after a 13-season move to 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.”

She has prime viewing for football games with her seats at Folsom Field located near the 45-yard line. She also has a seat behind the basket for basketball games, where she always draws a crowd at halftime (the fans Tuesday serenaded her with happy birthday during No. 25 Colorado’s win over Milwaukee).

She’s become tight with coach Deion Sanders since his arrival. He even invited her into the locker room and they danced after she announced, “Give me my theme music” (it’s one of the many sayings made popular by Sanders). She was named an honorary captain for the spring game and even kicked the ball off — with the assistance of Sanders.

Coppom has been attending football games since her family moved from eastern Colorado to Boulder around 1940. 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.


Kenneth Scott was going into his senior year in high school when he found out Utah was jumping from the Mountain West to the Pac-12. Scott redshirted during Utah’s final Mountain West season in 2010 after breaking his ankle during fall camp and made his debut the following season. He played with the Utes from 2010-15 and had 1,464 receiving yards and 11 touchdown catches during his Utah career.

Scott, who now lives in Houston, sees striking parallels between Utah’s first Pac-12 season and its final one, especially with the QB situation.

Utah lost starting quarterback Jordan Wynn to a shoulder injury in 2011 and turned to former D-II quarterback Jon Hays to lead the team. Hays came to Utah after Nebraska-Omaha dropped its football program. He made 12 starts in his career with the Utes and helped Utah move into contention for a spot in the 2011 Pac-12 title game until a 17-14 loss in the regular season finale to Colorado.

Utah lost Cam Rising to a knee injury in the 2023 Rose Bowl and turned to Bryson Barnes, a former walk-on quarterback, to lead the team.

Utah reaching four league title games in five years and winning back-to-back Pac-12 titles validated the vision Scott and others had for Utah.

“I look at the landscape of the Big 12 now and the Big 12 isn’t the Big 12 that the Big 12 used to be. Like with Texas and Oklahoma,” Scott said about the upcoming conference switch. “It’s still a great conference because of the history behind it. But I feel like the Big 12, in my eyes, seems like a step down from the Pac-12. Just looking at it (going) forward, you got Baylor, Houston, UCF. There’s no UCLA, USC, Oregon, Washington, Oregon State. There’s no oomph to it.”


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 last weekend.

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.”

Burgoz has been a constant at Camp Tontozona since 1961, a year after coach Frank Kush started taking the team to the camp nestled in the pine trees outside of Payson for fall workouts.

He’s been through the highs and lows of the program, witnessing quarterback Jake Plummer lead a furious comeback against UCLA that secured Arizona State’s trip to the 1997 Rose Bowl.

“I’m going to miss the trips to Oregon, but I’m not going to miss the rain or the cold in Washington,” Burgoz said. “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.”


Associated Press Sports Writers Anne Peterson in Portland, Oregon, Joe Reedy in Los Angeles, Pat Graham in Denver, John Marshall in Phoenix and freelancer John Coon in Salt Lake City, contributed.


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