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Wednesday, August 20, 2008
Best Case-Worst Case: Washington State

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

This is the 10th in a series looking at potential dream and nightmare scenarios for all Pac-10 teams, starting from the top of our preseason power rankings and working down.

Up next: Washington State

Best case: What no one counted on was Washington State quarterback Gary Rogers being so good after finally becoming the starter and the Cougars finally avoiding the injury issues that have ruined past seasons.

It became clear that Rogers -- and not Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy -- was "a man" when he throws two 40-yard touchdown passes to Brandon Gibson in the opener inside Seattle's Qwest Field. The Cougars shockingly dominant 40-17 romp inspires fans to chant "We're Cougars! We scored 40!" as Gundy trudges off the field.

The Cougars were poised for another upset in the Martin Stadium opener, but California's Jahvid Best scoots for a 67-yard TD run with less than a minute remaining to save the Bears in a 31-24 victory.

Oregon comes to Pullman after consecutive victories over Baylor and Portland State. It's another heartbreaker, though, when the Oregon rushing attack wears down the Cougars defense in the fourth quarter and the Ducks pull away 35-24.

After the game first-year coach Paul Wulff shocks his team with a full-on locker room blow-up: "We will not accept close! Close is for losers! The only thing that matters in this locker room is winning."

Pure coaching brilliance. The Cougars don't make it close with a solid win at UCLA, 24-13, but they do at Oregon State. Down 24-20 with 2:13 left, Rogers leads a methodical 80-yard TD drive, connecting with tight end Devin Frischknecht for a 9-yard, game-winning scoring pass with 14 seconds remaining.

Close isn't the problem against USC, which stomps the Cougars 34-10, but the Cougs become bowl-eligible with a 28-24 win at Stanford after a bye.

The next week, however, the Cougs come out flat against Arizona and can't rally for victory in the fourth quarter. At Arizona State, Sun Devils quarterback Rudy Carpenter throws for four touchdowns in a 40-20 victory.

So a two-game losing streak adds some motivation as the already motivated Cougars get ready for the Apple Cup with Washington coming to frigid, snow-covered Pullman.

The Friday night before the game, Wulff shows the team a film of Apple Cup clips through the years, both the good and bad from the Cougars perspective. The video concludes with a series of impassioned pleas from Washington State fans to beat the hated Huskies.

Which the Cougars do, 30-24, with Gibson catching 10 passes for 137 yards and three TDs.

The 31-17 win at Hawaii to conclude the season earns the 8-5 Cougars an Emerald Bowl invitation opposite Boston College.

Cougs roll 33-24.

Wulff calls a press conference and says "hell will freeze over" before he'd even entertain becoming Washington's head coach.

This goes over well with the fan base as does a recruiting class that eclipses the Huskies and their new coach, John Mackovic, in the national rankings.

Worst case: Washington State just didn't have enough talent, and when injuries pile up it became clear that new coach Paul Wulff has a long way to go to bring the Cougars back into the top half of the Pac-10.

They are competitive for a half against Oklahoma State, but the defense wilts midway through the third quarter in a 44-28 defeat. After a blowout home loss to California, and a turnover-plagued defeat at Baylor, the Cougars get into the win column with a 40-15 blitzing of Portland State.

Then, when the Pac-10 schedule heats up, everything just falls apart. There are a couple of injuries to the front-seven and the defense can't stop the run, which makes a vulnerable secondary even more vulnerable.

The Cougars head into the Apple Cup riding a six-game losing streak. Wulff tries to pull out every motivational ploy he can imagine, but the bowl-bound Huskies and quarterback Jake Locker pour it on 38-20.

The Cougars manage to finish the season on an up note with a 30-27 win at Hawaii, but the 0-9 Pac-10 mark is hard to put a smiley face on.

It doesn't help when Tyrone Willingham and the resurgent Huskies win the Las Vegas Bowl and then sign a recruiting class rated 17th in the country.