12-Pac: Celebrations Gone Wild

Pac-12 Director of Officiating Tony Corrente says officials will err on side of caution when enforcing celebration rule, but skepticism remains.

When USC cornerback Torin Harris dove into the end zone last November against Arizona State, drawing a penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct, the Trojans still came away with the two points for returning the blocked point after.

Sure, 15 yards was tacked onto the ensuing kickoff, but USC drove down the field and kicked a field goal on that possession for a wild 34-33 win over the Sun Devils.

But had a change in rules for the upcoming season been in effect, Harris' penalty-drawing plunge would have erased those two crucial points. It might have been enough to allow Arizona State to secure the victory, the difference between reaching the postseason at 7-5 and sitting at home.

Junior quarterback Brock Osweiler would have had another game, as well as two weeks of practices, to prepare to start. With a win, the Sun Devils would have had a tremendous launching pad for 2011, one that could have carried over into spring practice, weightlifting sessions and voluntary summer workouts. Perhaps they would be ranked in the preseason top 25, a dark horse contender for the BCS title.

What a difference a year makes.

"Well, if they want to stop the excessive celebration, this is the rule that will do it, I guarantee you that," Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson said. "Because now it's going to cost you a touchdown. It very easily could cost you a game."

Apart from the ongoing investigation into Texas-based scout Will Lyles, the change to the excessive celebration rule making it a live-ball foul capable of taking points off the board was the hot topic at Pac-12 Media Day last week in Los Angeles.

"I'm not the biggest fan of the rule. I don't know how you call it," Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said.

Excessive celebration has long been a controversial subject, but rarely has it changed the outcome of games.

That could change, and quickly, in 2011.

The only two recent examples would be a 2005 Vanderbilt-Florida game, when Commodores wide receiver Earl Bennett was flagged for being mobbed by teammates after scoring a touchdown, preventing a potentially game-winning two-point try, and the infamous 2008 BYU-Washington fiasco, when Huskies quarterback Jake Locker threw the ball into the air after scoring a touchdown in the final seconds, only for the Cougars to block the tying extra point after the 15-yard penalty was enforced.

Pac-12 Director of Officiating Tony Corrente said officials would err on the side of caution during a briefing with reporters last Monday on the Fox Studios lot, only to be met with skepticism and hypothetical scenarios.

Coaches were equally nonplussed, questioning how it was possible to legislate emotion out of the game.

Sarkisian said his biggest concern wasn't with a veteran offensive player like running back Chris Polk drawing a penalty that could negate a touchdown, but with a freshman or defender getting caught up in the moment.

"We're going to have to learn from examples, whether they are our own or others. It could happen at a Kentucky-Vanderbilt game, I don't know, but when it does I got to show it to them so they know. Hopefully their conscience kicks in that moment that they might do something that ultimately takes points off the board," Sarkisian said.

"I guess it's like the seatbelt law, right? Once somebody gets a ticket for it, we all start wearing it."

Around the Pac
-After undergoing a second knee surgery in February, it seemed unlikely that Oregon State wide receiver James Rodgers would be available for his fifth season, let alone able to contribute again at a high level. But after recently posting to Twitter that he was jogging and running routes back in Texas this summer, Beavers coach Mike Riley echoed Rodgers' optimism that he would play this year.

"He has always been deemed ahead of schedule (in his recovery)," Riley said, before cautioning that he would not rush Rodgers back. "You can't count him out, but I'm not going to force him in at this time."

After Rodgers suffered a torn ACL against Arizona, Oregon State staggered to a 5-7 record, breaking a four-year streak of postseason play.

Rodgers already holds the school record for all-purpose yardage and has scored 27 career touchdowns. Getting him back in some form would certainly help the Beavers absorb the loss of Rodgers' younger brother, running back Jacquizz Rodgers, to the NFL.

Riley indicated some sort of running back-by-committee was likely, at least to start 2011.

"We don't have a No. 1 back that is going to replace Jacquizz right now today," Riley said, adding that true freshmen Storm Woods and Malcolm Agnew would be in the mix to replace Rodgers.

-If there is a reason for optimism on the Palouse, aside from the tandem of junior quarterback Jeff Tuel and sophomore wide receiver Marquess Wilson, it is the Washington State defense, which showed signs of life at the end of the 2010 season.

The Cougars allowed 23 points per game in their final three contests, down from a jaw-dropping 40.1 in their first nine, came up with seven of their 22 takeaways for the year in that stretch, and return eight starters on that side of the ball.

After what should be wipeouts against Idaho State and UNLV at home, the first real test of the WSU defense won't come until Sept. 17 when they face San Diego State and Aztecs senior quarterback Ryan Lindley, who threw for 3,054 yards and 23 touchdowns last season, at Qualcomm Stadium.

Win that game to finish the non-conference schedule 3-0 and the Cougars will have a real chance to play in a bowl game for the first time since 2003.

12-Pac is Dan Greenspan's weekly notebook looking at Pac-12 football. Follow him on Twitter at @DanGreenspan.

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