- Ted Miller, ESPN Staff Writer
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With recruiting behind us and spring well underway, the Pac-12 blog thought it would be fun to examine each team's chances of winning its respective division.
This is not whether the team of the day can win the Pac-12. And we're not predicting any winners. Rather, this is our take on the team's chances of winning the North or South.
And so we conclude the series. ... Buy or sell Washington State winning the North?
Sell: As we bring this series to a close -- it's pretty evident where Ted and I stand. We both believe there are four teams that could win the South and only two teams that could win the North. Unfortunately for Washington State, the Cougars aren't one of those two. Not yet, anyway.
I fully own up to the fact that I bought the preseason Washington State hype last year. That coach, that quarterback, those receivers and that scheme? It seemed like the perfect match. And yes, I picked them over BYU -- my worst prediction of 2012. I figured I'd get it out of the way early. I ate my crow with fava beans and a nice Chianti.
Guess what. I haven't abandoned ship yet. But I'm a little more realistic on the time table.
The schedule isn't particularly favorable for the Cougars this year. They open with two games on the road -- first against Auburn and then at USC. Auburn isn't in great shape right now -- so the Cougars could steal one. But road games at USC, at Cal, at Oregon, at Arizona and at Washington will all be difficult. Plus, they surrender one of their home games and face Stanford at CenturyLink in the Seattle Game.
Whether there are six wins on the schedule is up for debate. Whether there are 10 or more is almost certainly a no. Not with questions at quarterback and a defense that continues to be tweaked. The Cougars gave up a lot of points last season. But there was progress. They were 8th nationally in tackles for a loss (T-74th in 2011) and 11th in sacks (94th in 2011). But they were also last in the country in sacks allowed. Whoever wins the QB job better stock up on Icy Hot.
The Cougars are a few years away from making a serious push in the North -- maybe more than a few. Stanford and Oregon aren't going anywhere and Washington and Oregon State are trending up. Cal might be on the upswing, also. The fact is the North is vicious. And will continue to be vicious for years to come. For now, getting to a bowl game would be a nice step forward.
Sell: Kevin is a bit hard on himself. Just about everyone thought the Cougars would take a step forward in 2012. And you can make a pretty good argument that the talent was better than the result: 3-9 record and some obvious transitional pains under new coach Mike Leach.
Further, I think my chief motivation for picking BYU against the Cougars was so all Kevin and my picks wouldn't all match that week.
As they have throughout this series, of which some of you have astutely pointed out weaknesses.
My belief is strong that Washington State will not win the North Division next year. There are more talented, veteran teams ahead of them, and the schedule is a further burden. Dropping Colorado from the slate means the Cougs lose the one conference game in which you could mark them as a favorite, ignoring, of course, what happened in last year's matchup.
The more legitimate question might be the Cougars' bowl hopes. I, however, wouldn't put a buy rating on that, either.
My feeling is the more sober-minded Coug fans -- sober Coug fans, Ha! -- aren't obsessing over reaching a bowl game for the first time since 2003. What they are looking for is hope. And respectability.
That means not getting whipped by at least 24 points four times. That means not losing to teams like Colorado. That means winning games the Cougars should win and stealing one or two they shouldn't. The fourth quarter needs to matter again. It shouldn't be a time for driving home.
There are ways to get to 5-7 this fall that will be quasi-satisfying. Think of Rocky's first fight with Apollo Creed.
That's the image: A bunch of nobly battered Cougs screaming "Leach ... Leeaaach!" at season's end, while the crowd applauds the effort and notes, "We've got a lot of guys coming back in 2014!"