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Originally published December 16, 2013 at 4:02 PM | Page modified December 16, 2013 at 7:43 PM

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WSU football: Up, down and back up again

Washington State’s 10-year ditch: How the Cougars fell off the map after the 2003 season — and found their way back.


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IN THE 2003 HOLIDAY BOWL, the Cougars upset Texas, completing a 30-wins-in-three-years run. But, as coach Bill Doba would say later, “We got a little too big for our britches” in trying to recruit higher-level talent. Failing there, they began taking some risks on lower-rung prospects, often without thoroughly vetting them.

A TALENT DRAIN GRADUALLY takes hold and WSU recruiting suffers. Of 49 players announced for the 2004-05 classes, only 23 are still on the roster in 2007. The NCAA’s Academic Progress Rate reforms begin in 2005, yet the Cougars sign multiple at-risk prospects, particularly from JCs.

DOBA RESIGNS AFTER the 2007 season, leaving just three committed recruits for the 2008 signing class to new hire Paul Wulff. Before Wulff coaches a game, WSU is hit by APR penalties and loses eight scholarships from its maximum 85.

WULFF AND SOME HOLDOVER players have a frayed relationship, and not only is talent shaky, so is morale. In 2008, USC beats WSU 69-0, breaking the school’s No. 2-ranked streak of avoiding shutouts. Competitively, the Cougars hit bottom, allowing 58 points or more six times.

NOW THE TALENT is shockingly sparse. While Doba’s first two teams (2003-04) had 16 spots on the All-Pac-10 first and second units — virtually all inherited from Mike Price — Wulff’s first two years yield one.

WULFF IMPROVES THE ROSTER in some spots, notably quarterback and receiver, but his regime fails to upgrade the lines. The Cougars allow 186 sacks in his four seasons.

AFTER GOING 9-40, WULFF is fired after the 2011 season, giving way to Mike Leach. But Leach’s first season (3-9) is fraught with growing pains and the controversial departure of star receiver Marquess Wilson.

AFTER TWO RUGGED OFFSEASONS under Leach, the Cougars upset 15-point favorite USC on the road early in September 2013. Following a mostly painful October, they take out Arizona and Utah in November and capture their first bowl berth since 2003.

Bud Withers



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