WSU football notes: Cougs in talks to open '06 season at Auburn
Negotiations are ongoing that are expected to put Washington State in a televised, season-opening football game at Auburn in 2006. "No official comment is...
Seattle Times staff reporter
PULLMAN — Negotiations are ongoing that are expected to put Washington State in a televised, season-opening football game at Auburn in 2006.
"No official comment is out right now," said WSU athletic director Jim Sterk, "but we're working on a game."
Sterk would not specify whether Auburn would be the opponent, but it's known that ESPN approached the two schools about a Saturday, Sept. 2, 2006 game. It would be a game with no "return" — Auburn would not have to play in the Northwest, so the Cougars are believed to be asking for a large guarantee well in excess of a half-million dollars.
Auburn had an undefeated season in 2004, winning the Sugar Bowl, but was bumped out of a shot at the national title when USC and Oklahoma also finished undefeated and were ranked ahead.
"I think we need to [play it]," said Bill Doba, the WSU coach. "I think our alums deserve it. I wanted to play one big-name school this year, but couldn't get one. It didn't fit.
"Sure, I'd rather play 'em up here. But they're going to pay us a lot of money."
Said defensive tackle Aaron Johnson, "I think it'd be a real good thing for the program. Big team [Auburn], but people would understand we're a big team, too."
Meanwhile, Sterk said that because WSU has considerable youth on its 2005 team, he's standing behind the nonleague schedule — Idaho, Nevada and Grambling.
Saying he's willing to accept criticism for it, Sterk said, "We have a team that's young, even though we have a lot of returners. I'm a big one on momentum, especially with a younger group.
"That [the schedule formulation] was intentional because we really need to get out of the box strong."
Sterk said the Cougars have sold some 30,000 tickets for the Sept. 17 game with Division I-AA Grambling, before a widespread mailer promoting reduced-price tickets in certain reserved sections of Qwest Field.
"I'd be shocked if we didn't hit 50,000," he said.
Bruce, on the loose
Defensive end Mkristo Bruce, the junior from Liberty High (Renton), has had a solid camp and aims to make it a big season. Last year, he led the Cougars with 6 ½ sacks.
"I feel I'm 10 times better than last year," he said. "Last year I felt like a rookie."
After piling up 55 and 50 sacks in 2002 and 2003, respectively — Nos. 1 and 2 on the school list — the Cougars dropped off to 32 last year. But those who accounted for 30 of them return in 2005.
Referring to the heavy rush of 2002-03, Bruce said, "It took a lot of pressure off the DBs. They can be more comfortable in the backfield, whereas last year, we didn't give them any break at all. We missed a lot of plays and pretty much gave the quarterback all day to throw the ball."
Puyallup rides again
It appears that Puyallup has produced another college-football player, following people like the Huard brothers, Dane Looker and Todd Elstrom at Washington, and Collin Henderson of Washington State.
Brandon Gibson, a 6-foot, 185-pound receiver, has been impressive in camp and may play this year.
"I grew up a Husky — don't tell anyone that," said Gibson, a Rogers High product. "My mom and my stepdad went to the UW. But one of my friends was a Cougar, and I fell in love with the Cougs."
Among others, Gibson has caught the eye of senior tight end Troy Bienemann.
"We were just talking in our meeting last night," Bienemann said. "The things we're saying about him right now — going up and getting the ball, knocking somebody down — are the exact same things we were saying about Jason Hill two years ago."
• Doba said checks are still being made to establish the eligibility of Moorpark JC defensive tackle Bryan Tarkington. If Tarkington has his JC degree but falls short of an hours-per-semester requirement by the NCAA, he may redshirt this season.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or email@example.com
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