Now before you get all hot and bothered by the title of this article, keep in mind that I want nothing more than a Bowl appearance by the Cougs. But the more my hopes are lifted, the harder and further they can fall. Some might call me a negative Nancy, or “not a real Coug fan.” I like to consider myself cautiously optimistic…with a side of skepticism.
The WSU Cougars are sitting on a 3-1 record after a pair of romps against Southern Utah and Idaho. Their defense is 13th in the nation for points against and their air-raid offense certainly looks like it’s coming together. But in all honesty, I would expect these stats to be as such after two cupcakes.
The Cougs now face a Pac-12 schedule that has never looked more challenging. Against other FBS schools, the Pac-12 has a blistering 21-3 non-conference record through week 4. This week, WSU will face a very well-rounded Stanford team that averages 200+ yards on the ground. Against Auburn and USC, the Cougs gave up a combined 434 yards rushing…let’s just say defending the run is not a forte of this Cougar D.
A few weeks down the road, Mike Leach’s squad travels to Autzen Stadium…enough said.
Essentially, what I’m saying to Cougar fans everywhere is “don’t get your hopes up just yet.” Remember 2006? The Cougs were ranked #23 and had a 6-3 record going into Dad’s weekend against a mediocre Arizona team. After a loss there, and two more losses including the Apple Cup, the Cougs were left out of a bowl bid.
Here are three reasons why the Cougars may NOT make it to a bowl game this year:
1. An Inconsistent Offense
Look – any Pac-12 team can hang 40+ on Southern Utah and Idaho. I’m not impressed by those. I am worried, however, about Halliday’s performance in the other two games. The Cougs failed to score an offensive TD against USC. Also, in the games against Auburn and USC, Halliday threw FIVE interceptions. Those are Eli Manning-type stats. Not good. All defenses have to do is stop WSU’s passing game. At 63 yards per game, the Cougs are dead LAST in rushing among FBS schools.
2. A Ground-And-Pound Pac-12 Schedule
Of the remaining Cougar opponents, five teams average more than 200+ yards rushing per game. Against “formidable opponents,” the Cougs give up 200+ yards rushing per game. You can see where I’m going with this. Don’t get me wrong, I think Deone Bucannon is a beast when it comes to stuffing folks for short yardage or less. He’ll be on highlight reels for his hit against Auburn’s Corey Grant, among others. But there aren’t 11 Bucannons out there. And if there were, the Cougs would probably lead the NCAA in penalty yardage…
3. My Faith in Mike Leach and the Cougs
Now before all the true Coug fans get their panties in a bunch, let me elaborate. Last year, the Cougs were 2-1 after a couple sleepers, much like this year. Then, they lost to a bad Colorado team by giving up 21 points in the 4th quarter…AT HOME. I know WSU has come a long way since then (to be as cliché as I can). They gave a spirited effort in an Apple Cup win against a bowl-bound UW, and they just won a defensive battle against USC in the Coliseum. And while those two wins are steps in the right direction, I’m still not convinced Leach can shake the “Coug It” legacy that still lingers in the basement of some grungy frat house on NE Colorado Street (Phi Delt reference). Am I hopeful? Absolutely. But every Cougar fan knows in their brain (not their heart), nothing is a given.
Let’s face it; the Cougs have a good chance to make it to a bowl game this year. But I’m not going to be the one scheduling my flight to the Fight Hunger Bowl quite yet. I am the one, however, to fully accept multiple helpings of crow if the Cougs DO find their way to the post season… And boy, will it be tasty.