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Arizona’s last-gasp victory was in store for California

Austin Hill
Arizona wideout Austin Hill is congratulated by teammate Nick Wilson after catching the game-winning 47-yard touchdown on Saturday night in Tucson, Ariz. The Wildcats beat the Golden Bears, 49-45.
(Christian Petersen / Getty Images)

You can’t fault the University of California’s official team store for wanting to get out ahead of the team’s stupendous road upset over Arizona on Saturday night.

The store seized on “victory” to offer fans a 25% discount on hats.

Cal went 0-9 in the Pac-12 Conference last year but led Arizona, 31-13, in the fourth quarter at Tucson.

What a comeback story this was going to be, … oops, for Arizona.

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In a late-show game most people snored through because it was aired on cable access channel “The Pac-12 Networks,” Arizona incredibly rallied for 36 fourth-quarter points and won on a last-second Hail Mary pass.

The final score was 49-45, with the Berkeley backbreaker coming on a 47-yard heave from quarterback Anu Solomon to Austin Hill.

Hill is the son of former Los Angeles Rams’ tight end David Hill, and nephew of Jim, the local CBS sportscaster icon (“Details of Hill’s amazing catch after our live report on the dumpster fire in Topanga!”)

Austin Hill missed all of last season after tearing an anterior cruciate ligament in spring practice and spent many hours trying to make sense of the injury. He may have found it Saturday with a little mix of karma.

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Hill, a graduate of Eleanor Roosevelt High School near Corona, made his game-winning grab on the last-day airing of Ken Burns’ fabulous PBS documentary on the Roosevelt family (Theodore, Franklin, Eleanor).

“I was just in the right place at the right time,” Hill said after the game.

Eleanor dominated the end of the final episode and, as she neared the end of her life, confided to a friend: “People are given obstacles in life to grow stronger.”

Austin Hill could heed those words but, so too could Cal.

Losing the way the Bears lost could wreck your roster.

“It’s so painful,” Bears quarterback Jared Goff said. “But we have to get through it.”

Cal Coach Sonny Dykes hoped the setback would offer life lessons: “It’s part of growing up, and turning a program around.”

Cal wasn’t the only place getting too far ahead of the story.

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There were those of us thinking, hoping actually, that Clemson could upset top-ranked Florida State on Saturday night in Tallahassee.

Unfortunately, Clemson did what it often does when faced with program-defining moments.

Clemson could not take advantage of a Florida State team playing without suspended quarterback Jameis Winston.

Clemson missed chip-shot field goals and fumbled, late in the game, deep in Florida State territory.

The Tigers were good enough only to force overtime, and lose, which took Winston off the hook for possibly costing his team a chance to repeat as national champions.

Clemson allowed Winston a nationally televised platform to congratulate teammates as he paraded around the field postgame.

After the game, Florida State Coach Jimbo Fisher immediately reinstated Winston.

“He’ll be back at practice Monday and be our quarterback on Monday,” Fisher said.

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Thanks again, Clemson.

A number of us may have also gotten too far in front of Oregon, a preseason favorite to make the first four-team playoff.

Oregon is headed to the Las Vegas Bowl if it plays again like it played Saturday night in Pullman, Wash. The Ducks escaped with a 38-31 win, aided by a non-call on pass interference that should have extended a late Washington State drive.

Oregon survived because quarterback Marcus Mariota is, by far, the most valuable player in college football.

It’s an easy statement to make now, considering Florida State defeated a good Clemson team without Winston, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner.

Oregon, without Mariota, would be 2-2. He saved the win over Michigan State with two critical plays on third down.

Against Washington State, Mariota was brilliant, completing 21 of 25 passes for 329 yards and five touchdowns. He leads the NCAA in passing efficiency with 13 touchdown passes and no interceptions.

What we didn’t expect was for Oregon to lose three offensive tackles to injury before the end of summer. Oregon’s veteran line was one reason some of us picked Oregon as preseason No. 1.

In the span of a month, though, the Ducks have lost Tyler Johnstone, Andre Yruretagoyena and Jake Fisher.

Oregon had to force a true freshman and a former walk-on into Saturday’s lineup and, well, it was basically a crime scene.

Mariota was sacked seven times, five in the first half, by a Washington State defense that won’t be confused with Fordham’s Seven Blocks of Granite.

The funny part is Oregon does not even acknowledge injuries, let alone address them. This is part of former coach Chip Kelly’s “stiff upper lip” philosophy, but probably not very smart in the new playoff era.

The selection committee can, and will, consider injuries as it weighs the playoff merits of contending teams.

The last thing Oregon should say is “Yeah, we’re fine, don’t worry about us.”

Oregon did have an excuse for its shaky performance against Washington State, but it wasn’t voiced. No wonder the USA Today coaches’ poll dropped Oregon one spot, to fourth, in Sunday’s rankings.

The Ducks do have back-channel access to the committee with offensive coordinator Scott Frost, who led Nebraska to a share of the 1997 national championship.

Frost played quarterback for legendary former coach Tom Osborne, one of the 13 panelists who will pick this year’s playoff teams.

Since Oregon has opted against public transparency, Ducks fans can only hope Frost is secretly updating Osborne with the real story of Oregon’s plight.

Then again, if Oregon doesn’t fix its offensive line issue, it won’t matter. Oregon will lose to the next good foe it faces, perhaps as soon as Arizona on Oct. 2.

It is frightening, in the wake of Pullman, to imagine Oregon’s offensive line confronting Alabama’s defense in a national semifinal game.

Unlike Cal’s merchandise store, however, we can’t monetarily honor our hedge on Oregon.

We do acknowledge the spirit of @CalBearsshop, which tweeted after Cal’s victory turned into a loss: “Sorry everyone, we just got a little bit too excited. Our mistake is your win. The hat sale is still on. Have a great weekend.”

chris.dufresne@latimes.com


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