Monday, July 12, 2010
Best case-worst case: Washington State
By ESPN.com staff ESPN.com
First in a series looking at potential dream and nightmare scenarios for all Pac-10 teams, starting at the bottom and working up from my vote in the Pac-10 media poll.
Understand: These are not predictions. They are extreme scenarios and pieces of fiction.
Up first: Washington State
Paul Wulff's Cougars will finish the season with a losing record.
People have long wondered if anything could silence Oklahoma State's mouthy billionaire booster T. Boone Pickens. Well, Washington State waltzing into Stillwater, Okla., and whipping his beloved Cowboys 24-20 seems to do the trick.
The Cougars use five turnovers from a young Cowboys team to notch the upset.
"We're young but this team is growing up," coach Paul Wulff tells reporters.
The Cougars actually get a vote in the AP poll after whipping Montana State, but it becomes clear they aren't a finished product when they lose at 35-24 at SMU and get clobbered 44-10 by USC.
But instead of crumbling after being brought back down to earth, the Cougars shock UCLA when Nico Grasu boots a 51-yard field goal as the clock expires.
"No way did that just happen," stunned UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel says after losing to the Cougars for the first time.
Still, Washington State is young and the Pac-10 is deep. It loses five of its next six games, managing only a last-second win at Arizona State.
The Cougars have two weeks off before the Apple Cup, and they used the time well. First, they get healthy. Second, let's just say there are lots of wrinkles in the game plan.
Washington arrives in Pullman needing a victory to secure its first bowl berth since 2002. Oh, and it's zero degrees and there's three feet of snow on the ground when the Huskies walk out for the opening kickoff.
Neither team can score a TD, and Washington leads 9-3 late. But an errant shotgun snap in the fourth quarter gets by Huskies quarterback Jake Locker and is recovered at the 1-yard line by Cougars defensive end Travis Long. On fourth down, quarterback Jeff Tuel runs a naked boot and runs smack into linebacker Mason Foster. The ball gets away. It rolls into the endzone. James Montgomery recovers for the touchdown, and the PAT gives the Cougars a 10-9 lead with two minutes left.
Locker isn't done, though. He drives the Huskies to the Cougars 10-yard line. But the snap for the potential game-winning field goal goes over the holder's head.
Cougars win. They finish 5-7. Same record as the Huskies.
"We've come a long way," Tuel says. "But as my favorite band, 'The Carpenters,' sing so sweetly, 'We've only just begun.'"
Thank God for Montana State. The FCS foe provides the Cougars their only victory in 2010.
Oh, there are some close calls. Solid showings at Oklahoma State and SMU. Near misses versus UCLA and Arizona State. A surprisingly competitive game with Oregon State.
But the Cougars are too young and too thin to compete in the rugged Pac-10, particularly when the injury bug returns. Oregon crushes them with speed. Stanford with power. USC with a little of both.
Most galling is the tour de force performance produced in Pullman by Washington quarterback Jake Locker in the Apple Cup. Locker's 310 yards passing, 135 yards rushing and seven total touchdowns earns the Huskies an invitation to the Holiday Bowl and Locker an invitation to the Heisman Trophy ceremony.
Further, the 1-11 campaign forces athletic director Bill Moos' hand. Coach Paul Wulff has won only one conference game in three seasons. While the Cougars are far better in 2010 than they were in 2008 and 2009, the results haven't shown up in the record book.
Wulff agrees to resign. "I'll always be a Cougar," he says. "My only regret is we didn't win more games."