Hate to call it a must-win, but ... a victory for WSU at Colorado would be a good idea
With the schedule about to get tougher, coach Paul Wulff's Washington State team needs to win games like the one it will play Saturday at Colorado.
Seattle Times colleges reporter
WSU @ Colorado,
12:40 p.m., Comcast 415, DirecTV Ch. 617
BOULDER, Colo. — A funny thing happened to Washington State in its last football game. The Cougars, 7-32 since 2008, the trash bin of their conference the past few years, were highly respected.
Some of it owed to the fact they had put up 123 points in their first two games. But it was more than that. They were from a bigger league with greater cachet, and San Diego State hadn't beaten anybody from that conference in its past 19 tries.
You could hear the deference on the radio play-by-play broadcast, see it in the local newspaper, and sense it in the stands, where the Aztecs had a record regular-season crowd of 57,000-plus (albeit bumped up by the lure of a postgame fireworks show).
Think of that, in the context of recent WSU football seasons: the Cougars, a big deal.
We mention this, on the day Washington State returns to action here at Colorado, only to amplify a point: Nobody said this season's saga, a putative journey to six victories and a bowl game, was going to be easy.
Next up for the Cougars is a first Pac-12 game The Denver Post referred to Friday as "historic."
So much for sneaking in under the cover of darkness.
Nevertheless, the bottom line here for WSU at the foot of the Rockies is pretty clear-cut: This is a must-win. Or if it isn't, the Cougars, at 2-1, better have some uncommon dramatics in their playbook over the final eight games.
San Diego State was only one loss, it's true. But this isn't baseball; every game is a precious opportunity to move forward to try to save coach Paul Wulff's job. Every time out is 8.5 percent of the season, a chunk of equity you can never get back.
Especially when the opponent is Colorado, and there are more ominous threats down the road.
I hate playing this game, because it minimizes one of the most endearing aspects of college football — its unpredictability. But for argument's sake, we'll do it anyway.
Oregon and Stanford are going to be very difficult to beat. Last week, I saw up close two teams WSU has to face on the road, California and Washington. I think it's going to be difficult for the Cougars to squeeze one victory from among those four.
But give them one. Lose against Colorado, but rebound to win against UCLA and Oregon State — and the Cougars still have to ferret out another victory at home against either Arizona State or Utah to get to six.
There are a lot of "ifs" in that equation.
Since this is college football, maybe the season plays out much less formfully. As in, when the Cougars get Jeff Tuel back at quarterback, maybe they're such a handful every week that Wulff gets something of a pass on the make-or-break nature of getting to a bowl game.
As creditably as Marshall Lobbestael has played in relief of the injured Tuel, I think Tuel's presence might have been enough to get the Cougars past San Diego State. He would have been able to escape some of the pressure applied by the Aztecs and avoid some of the six sacks, and that capability also would have forced San Diego State to dial back some of its blitzing.
It's a matter of debate whether the Tuel injury could be a cushion for Wulff if he gets close to six wins but doesn't achieve it. But athletic director Bill Moos and president Elson Floyd are big thinkers, and their patience isn't infinite.
Saturday, it'll be about psychology as well as physiology. Jon Embree, the first-year Colorado coach, went so far Sunday as to call last week's coaching opponent, Luke Fickell of Ohio State, for individual player appraisals of the Buffs, which Embree relayed to his guys. Some of them were brutally honest, including that of tight end Matt Bahr, who heard, "I'm not a great route-runner, and I don't need to be covered very well because I'll probably drop the ball."
The Cougars, meanwhile, are about the onerous task of trying to play like winners when they haven't yet proven they are.
This would be a great place to start.
About Bud Withers
Bud Withers gives his take on college sports, with the latest from the Huskies, Cougs, and the rest of the Pac-10.
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