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Originally published December 20, 2013 at 5:12 PM | Page modified December 20, 2013 at 9:39 PM

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Cougars kick off the bowl season against Colorado State

Praise has been heaped on New Mexico Bowl organizers. Toni Pole is back with the Cougars after clearing up an academic issue in Pullman. Now it’s time for the game, which seems to favor WSU over Colorado State.


Times college football reporter

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Because Washington State and Colorado State are new to this bowl business, we begin with a reminder of three things that always, unfailingly, happen in the postseason:

1. The coaches shower praise upon the bowl organizers, even if the hotel fire alarms went off every night, the mattresses were infested with bedbugs and the practice field resembled a goat ranch.

2. There will be drama leading up to the game. Somebody will break curfew, try to steal a bus or trade roundhouses with a bar bouncer.

3. One team will feel aggrieved, claiming it’s not getting any respect.

Well, two of those prerequisites have been fulfilled, and as for the third, we’ll know more Saturday when the Cougars and Rams have at it in the first of the 35-game bacchanal known as the bowl season.

“Every bowl I’ve been to is a great experience,” WSU’s Mike Leach said even before he got here, and his CSU counterpart, Jim McElwain, echoed hosannas, saying every coach who has appeared in the New Mexico Bowl “constantly” dishes praise its way.

So check that first box. And go ahead and fill in No. 2, considering WSU defensive end Toni Pole’s dizzying slalom this week.

Pole apparently arrived here with the team Tuesday, was informed of an academic issue that prevented him from being eligible and had to fly back to Pullman to clear it up before returning 48 hours later to Albuquerque, where Leach swears he’ll start in the game.

It’s Pole’s most intriguing itinerary since he picked off Keith Price’s pass in overtime in the Apple Cup last year and almost lugged it the length of the field for a touchdown.

As for No. 3, we’ll get verification Saturday, but it’s logical that the underdog Rams (7-6) are attempting to co-opt the motivational edge on the Cougars (6-6), who play in the better conference, have more starch in their schedule and acquitted themselves more impressively than CSU.

“We know the Mountain West supposedly isn’t as big as the Pac-12,” said the league defensive player of the year, linebacker Shaquil Barrett. “We want to come out and prove to whoever, all the doubters, that we are a capable school and we can compete with anybody out there.”

If not a full-on, we-don’t-get-no-respect riff, that’s at least a distant cousin.

Truth is, if there are suspicions about CSU, the Rams have earned them. There’s an ersatz feel to their résumé, kind of like an email from a Nigerian prince promising you’ll never have to work again.

They’re 7-6, but none of their victims is going to a bowl game. In fact, the vanquished have sagged to a 23-61 overall record.

Computer guru Jeff Sagarin has WSU No. 30, CSU 88th. By his reckoning, the best Rams’ victory was over No. 99 Nevada.

Running back Kapri Bibbs (1,572 yards) has splashed some outlandish numbers on Mountain West teams — 603 yards in two weeks against Nevada and New Mexico. But in the six defeats, he averaged 59.5 yards.

“No bad teams play in bowls,” insisted WSU offensive line coach Clay McGuire.

It’s not that WSU’s season warrants a statue outside Martin Stadium, but the Cougars did beat USC and Arizona (a combined 16 wins), both on the road, and moreover, some of the unseemly numbers allowed by their defense reflect what might have been the nastiest Pac-12 in history.

As for the notion that WSU, out of the bowl business for 10 years, might be happy simply to have removed that monkey from its back, offensive tackle John Fullington said, “We all know 7-6 sounds a whole lot better than 6-7.”

The guess here is that WSU takes Colorado State’s best shot and wins about, say, 41-30. No doubt the Rams will rise to a fever pitch, but the Cougars will match it or come close. Leach has been very good at getting this team to function at a consistent level.

When I asked WSU kicker Andrew Furney if CSU might have a psychological edge, he responded with a sensible answer.

“I know for us, we’re going to respect them and that’s the only thing we can worry about,” Furney said. “We’re going to go out there and expect their best game and we’re going to give them our best game.

“It’s hard for us to overthink that. It’s a little unnecessary.”

Ah, but what would bowl season be without a little excess?

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or bwithers@seattletimes.com




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