Connor Stalions, George Kliavkoff prowl in shadows of title game

  • Ryan McGee, ESPN Senior Citizen WriterJan 8, 2024, 07:00 AM ET Close Senior author for ESPN The Publication and
  • 2-time Sports Emmy winner
  • 2010, 2014 NMPA Writer of the Year

HOUSTON– On Friday night, the de facto start of the 2024 College Football Playoff champion weekend, the technicians in the Houston media hotel were having problem with a bank of television monitors. The screens were supposed to be showing various sports channels and fancy digital CFP logos, but instead, as the ballroom engineers were evaluating the screens, they plugged in to the in-house cable television. What turned up on the video wall was a Star Wars film, “The Phantom Menace.”

What was revealed were dueling Jedi and Sith lords. What could simply as quickly have been included, requiring no title change at all, were the headshots of two college football pariahs, shadowy figures who have been identified in public sparsely over the last 2 months, however even in those short lived moments managed to cast some type of clouds over the achievements of the teams they were there to support.

“You can’t go into a football game like this one, the greatest of your life, and be examining your shoulder,” stated Washington Huskies head coach Kalen DeBoer. “The first reason for that is if your head isn’t where your feet are, then you aren’t in a state of preparation for what’s coming or in an appreciation for what you are experiencing.”

The 49-year-old, in just his 2nd season as UW head coach, laughed before he continued, including, “And the 2nd factor is that you might not want to see who is standing back there over your shoulder!”

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The first of our CFP Houston haunters is Connor Stalions, the previous Michigan staffer who left midseason after proof showed he had headed a fancy sign-stealing scheme to aid the Wolverines. He became notorious in mid-October when the story broke that the military man-turned-UM football analyst had apparently built a network of Michigan minions to attend the games of future and potential future challengers to figure out and deliver those groups’ playcall signals to Ann Arbor.Stalions resigned in

early November and vanished into the late-season ether as his former boss Jim Harbaugh was suspended for 3 games; Michigan however won all 3 to earn an area in the Big Ten title game. Then, like a Go Blue whack-a-mole, Stalions was spotted in Indianapolis, being in the stands not far from the Wolverines bench, even drawing the attention of a handful of players, who smiled and waved. That appearance went largely undetected (however was validated through images gotten by ESPN). Nevertheless, when Stalions was spotted at the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day, the college football social media world was set afire. A photo posted by former Michigan linebacker Chase Winovich showed Stalions in a Michigan hoodie with roses around his neck.I can confirm that Connor Stalions was undoubtedly at the

Rose Bowl, per numerous sources.Former Michigan pound Chase Winovich posted this on his IG story the other day too:!.?.!— Nicole Auerbach(@NicoleAuerbach)January 2, 2024 No hat. No sunglasses. No folded arms and stoic face. It was rather a contrast to the image of Stalions that the majority of people know, when

he was captured on the Central Michigan sideline in Chippewas equipment Sept. 1 searching Michigan State.The laugh on his face, standing 2 rows behind the Michigan bench in Pasadena, appeared a contrast to his declaration to Nicole Auerbach of The Athletic one day

later on that “I do not want to be an interruption. “Simply two days before the national semifinal against Alabama, at Rose Bowl media day in Pasadena, it was tough to categorize the continuing specter of Stalions as anything however

a diversion. Every Michigan player and coach who was given a stint at a podium faced a minimum of one concern about the scandal. One week later on, they were peppered with the same queries, only this time they were framed with, “Well, he was at the Rose Bowl, so do you expect him to be behind the bench in Houston, too? “From the Pasadena car park camping tents to the downtown Houston convention center, the response from everyone worn maize and blue, whether they were a reserve, an All-American or a millionaire coach surrounded by video cameras and microphones, was basically the same: a respectful deflection with a tinge of continuing irritation.Running backs coach Mike Hart:”We had so many fans in Pasadena, from all over the nation. It was excellent. Thank you. “Offensive organizer Sherrone Moore:”

Whatever was said, whatever was discussed, we are the very best team in college football, and that’s what we wish to prove to everybody.”

A group of reserves headed back to the bus after an hour of being asked no questions: “The only guy I saw in the stands recently was my papa. So, that was cool.” Another awkward prize discussion could be ahead for Pac-12 commissioner George

Kliavkoff. Jevone Moore/Icon Sportswire The 2nd CFP Phantom Menace is George Kliavkoff, the soon-to-be-former Pac-12 commissioner who has actually spent his fall riding out the implosion of his conference. He arrived in Houston on Saturday afternoon, girding his loins for what might be an awkward grand finale, standing onstage with Washington. The Huskies would be celebrating the league’s very first CFP championship and first non-vacated natty of any kind considering that 2003, all while they currently have two paws out the door for the Big Ten. A departure stimulated by Kliavkoff’s perceived failure to provide a rich-enough media rights deal.Since his ill-received discussion to the Pac-12 subscription in August and the defection of most of that subscription over the following days, Kliavkoff has been seen in public just twice over the period of nearly 6 months. Both of those drop-ins happened on a phase, to assist hand Washington its prizes for winning the championship game and last week’s CFP semifinal at the Sugar Bowl. In New Orleans, he was swarmed by the media members he had actually managed to evade all fall.”It’s surreal,” he confessed.”It’s disturbing that a few of our schools weren’t more patient due to the fact that if they saw what we were constructing, it would have settled. … Delighted for the kids [

at Washington] They do not be worthy of all the rubbish going on around them. We were focused on rebuilding football. Took 2 1/2 years. I want it would have taken place quicker.”Depending upon whom you ask, Kliavkoff will either be at the helm of whatever is left to handle in the”2Pac “conference of Washington State and Oregon State through the end of the scholastic calendar, or he will be out

of a job before the January calendar hits double-digit days.But again, like Stalions, his existence … or absence of it … or sort of absence of it … or whatever … hangs over this weekend’s festivities as an uncomfortable tip of the consistent machinations and unpredictability of this brand-new

age in collegiate sports. And again, the mention of He Who Shall Not Be Called led to some respectful”Begin, we still talking about this?” exchanges at CFP media day.DeBoer:”There’s the stuff we can control and the things we can’t. You just trust your management to do what’s finest for your university and your team.”Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr.:”I do not actually care who is handing us those prizes, as long

as it suggests there is someone handing us those trophies.” Another group of reserves, this time in purple and white, also headed to the bus following no Q&A s:”

Who? Did you state George Costanza? “Once the big game kicks off Monday night (7:30 ET, ESPN), the focus will be on the two groups on the field fighting for a title, as it ought to be. But TV cams and smartphones will no doubt be scanning the seats of NRG Stadium, searching for Connor Stalions

. A pack of NCAA detectives– pointer, the case is still ongoing– might even go trying to find him. And if Washington wins, George Kliavkoff will once again materialize for an anxious handshake with Washington administrators. If the Huskies lose, he will slide out the backdoor back to the Bay Area, for likely a limited time only.No matter what occurs, they won’t be the greatest story of the night. They should not be. But they will be a story. They should be. No matter how irritating that truth– and their existence– might be.

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