Friday, November 21, 2008
"I was dreaming when I wrote this, forgive me if it goes astray..."
"But when I woke up this morning, could've sworn it was judgement day..."
Greetings Cougar Nation! Welcome to Football Friday Week 13--Crapple Cup style.
Nation, I have to admit that I am both excited and on edge about this one.
I am excited because it is the 101st Birthday of the Apple Cup!
And if you're a Coug, who in Holy Hell doesn't get excited about this game no matter what our stinking record is???
At the same time, I am on edge because, for the first time in about 365 days, my streak of perfect Cougar Football projections is squarely on the line. Win this one, and I head to Hawaii with a second consecutive National Championship squarely in sight. Lose and I become a veritable BCS also-ran.
In terms of the game proper, I have to admit I am a bit at a loss. After all,I haven't seen our team play in just about a month. So, given the fact that I haven't seen what I haven't seen, I am really left to guess about what will happen at 12:00 this Saturday. But, here is what I am looking for:
1) Washington's Size versus our Iron Triangle.
As was noted in today's Seattle Times, many a person in the print media has remarked that you can tell a WSU Football player anywhere simply by their lack of size. Conversely, while the UW lineman may be dumb, bad, AND slow, they sure are BIG and fat.
Of course, our defensive line is anything but(t). And our lack of size, strength, and depth may wind up being a really, really, really big problem for us once again.
Fortunately, there is many a tale about slower, less talented football teams that have won big games. Normally, those upsets are not only about getting the breaks, they're also about how Team leaders inspire their teammates to believe--not that they COULD win--but that they are going to win the stinking game.
And this is where our Iron Triangle comes into play:
Nation, it is not only the performance, but the swagger and commitment that Greg Trent, A'i Ahmu and Matt Mullennix bring to this game that will be a HUGE deciding factor. If these three seniors adequately inspire the others on the defensive side of the ball, we will be squarely in this game--especially with the 3-3-5 which will WRECK the U's pathetic passing game.
2) Play Makers Making Plays:
When your combined record is 1-101, it is easy to conclude that there are NOT very many playmakers on either roster. After all, if there were such play makers, then neither team would be 0-10 or 1-10...
For the UW, we know that they have burners at the receiver spot, injured but capable RB's, and a QB that has a gun a la Dick Cheney in the fields of Texas. Powerful, yet erratic.
Where we are concerned, we have a QB with ZERO Touchdowns and TEN interceptions, two capable albeit erratic RBs, an All-American type receiver, an NCAA track champion at the other wide-out, and an honorable mention-type All-Conference tight end.
In other words, both QBs SUCK. And, with a balmy 43-degrees and rain in the forecast, you can bet that the passing game is going to look about at bad as Bad can get:
That said, with a TIE out of the question, somebody on one of these teams is going to have to make a play, right?
3) Homer Delirium and Turn-Overs
I was telling Sedihawk a month ago about watching an exhibition game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Sacramento Kings. For the past couple of years, I would occasionally talk up the upsides of Petro, Wilkins, Weezie, Collison, and company as I would dream about a resurgence of our then-Seattle SuperSonics. But, as I watched this basketball game, the TRUTH became horribly apparent to me:
THOSE GUYS ARE STINKING AWFUL PROFESSIONAL BASKETBALL PLAYERS!!!!!
So, where our Cougs are concerned, it is really hard at this point not to wonder about whether or not our version of BAD is in an entirely different league as Washington's. I tend to think not, but a 31-3 loss is not out of the question in my book.
Washington is really bad and they don't turn the ball over much. We're really, really bad and we turn it over a TON. Last time I checked, we're -237 in turnover margin this year.
Obviously, for us to be able to hang in, we're going to have to be AT WORST -1.
I've gone back and forth on this one, Nation. But here is my bottom line:
1) I think we want it more than them.
2) They're playing to not be "defeated" which is the same as playing "not to lose" in my book.
3) I think our leaders are stronger and better leaders than theirs.
4) I think that our players want to play for our coaches MUCH more than the other way around.
5) Both ground games will be mediocre and quasi-effective.
6) The rainy weather will take away the long passing game.
7) The game will be decided by the short passing game.
8) Our TE and WRs are better.
In the end, we head into Hawaii the worst 2-10 team of all time.
Cougars 24 Defeateds 21
Zona 38 Oregon State 37. Riley loses FANTASTIC bid for the RB with a late failed two point conversion (Put the Beavs in the RB if they win this one. NO WAY the Quack beats them next week if they escape).
Stanford 24 CAL 21. Poor QB play spells doom for the Bears, AGAIN.
Texas Tech 41 Clay Bennett University 35. Ever since the cheap chop block by the Defeateds, Clay Bennett University has gently headed south defensively. Texas Tech moves on to lose in the Big 12 Title Game--setting up another BCS Title game with a team that couldn't win their own conference (Texas)
Enjoy the games. AND GO COUGS!!!!!
Another year, another Apple Cup. First of all, a moment of appreciation for Alex Brink. The only WSU QB to hoist that Apple Cup trophy on three different occasions, no matter what history will say about the kid, he was always strong in this game. Last year was flipping fantastic, 27-for-40 for an AC record 399 yards and FIVE TD's, including the game-winner in the final minute. And hey, Brink did become the top-ranked passer in WSU history in nine different categories. He never got to post-season play, but he sure got the most of what he had. Alex Brink, we salute you.
NOTE - if you would like to see a video of that final TD drive from 2007, check it out here.
But alas, it's 2008. Although we can all agree that this is being talked about as the worst ever in the history of the series, and uh, yeah, it's hard not to agree with all these assessments. The facts are facts, and have been painstakingly laid out for you here, there, and everywhere over this last week. It's not a slump, it's simply two teams that are, well.....
I can also say that, at least in my opinion, this WILL BE the lowest point for both of these programs. We are already assured that the 2009 Cougars will be better than the 2008 version, given the issues of experience gained from this year in so many young players, as well as some true quality talent currently stashed away in redshirt-land. It's not blind homerism, but the 2009 Cougars will be better than 2008.
And even this Coug can honestly look at UW and say if the right coach gets in there, they could be walking into a situation that is, believe it or not, ready to win NEXT year. Not a PAC-10 title or anything like that, but one that could flirt with bowl-eligibility. Laugh all you want at our defeated brothers to the west, but when you have a junior-to-be QB next season, who will have healthy legs and all the talent in the world in Jake Locker, and a ton of frosh and sophomores who have learned their hard lessons this year? It very well could set up to be a breakthrough 2009 at Montlake. I'm serious.
A big question though is who that UW coach will be? There was a hot-n-heavy rumor a couple of nights ago that Jim Mora will be the next UW coach, and even suggested some high-level boosters were told of this. However, our dialed-in UW source downplayed it, big-time, and basically said relax, Mora is still a very, very, verrrrry long shot. And the reality is the only two people who know who UW's next coach will be are Mark Emmert and Scott Woodward. End of story. They are likely to get their guy in early December, so ignore anything you hear right now until something official is out there. But in my own rumor-mongering, I do have a prediction as to who that coach will be.....
He was interested in 2004, and he's interested again, today. Does the idea of Jeff Tedford at Montlake worry you? At first I was worried. He's got an excellent reputation, he's blazed a recruiting trail to Berkeley where they are nabbing NFL talent left and right, and his teams are built around a strong running game and some dynamic offenses, while not being afraid to change defensive schemes to meet the demands of opposing offenses in today's game. Plus the guy has totally figured out that Duck spread offense, better than anyone else outside of Corvallis.
I think the more painful reality there is that he would take Jim Michalczik and Bob Gregory, both former Coug players from the 80's who have turned into some fine college assistants and would likely follow Tedford north to Seattle.
But then I thought "You know what? WE need to worry about OURSELVES, and not freak out about who is at UW." And I think, Coug Nation, that is the deal. No matter who they hire, whether it's Tedford or someone else of higher-than-high profile, RELAX. We've got a plan in place and our guys have been hard at work since last December to turn it around. It is being rebuilt the right way, and it will come. But as the old saying goes, almost nothing of value comes easy, does it? Look at your own life for a moment. Look at where you are today. How much of that came easy? How much of what you have today was just given to you, or just happened? Unless you were born into wealth or won the lottery, it's likely you are where you are today by paying some sort of price, through hard work and determination to make something of yourself.
And it really is the same thing in almost every walk of life. Think of the WSU basketball program. Not necessarily where it is today, as it looks again like Tony has a heck of a team for the third straight year. But think about the price that program paid to get where it is now. Think about Paul Wulff's journey. Look at what he's been through in his personal life. And in coaching, the guy started for free at EWU and lived in a small trailer at the beginning of his career. Think he doesn't know the meaning of hard work and perseverence in the face of adversity?? Nobody will outwork Wulff on the recruiting trail, and he and his staff are on the same page. They will do all they can to protect the current crop as well as add to this class as signing day approaches. But honestly, relax. We'll be alright.
OK, I've gone off the rails. Now on to this week.
This is a tough one to call, isn't it? I mean you have a team in UW that has been bad, but they were at least close to beating a decent team in BYU. They were outgained in that game by a wide margin, but if not for Jake Locker's penalty and the blocked extra point, they would have gone to OT. And isn't it almost always the best bet to take the team that came from behind to force OT, with all the momentum in the world, and playing at home to boot? That game could have easily gone to UW's side of things that day, and while it likely wouldn't have made much difference in their 2008 fortunes, well, they were at least CLOSE to a win over a pretty good team.
Now look in the mirror. Can we actually say the same thing? Quick, what is the closest we've been to beating a BCS team this year? If you said UCLA for 25 points, a WSU Football Blog T-shirt is on the way to you right now(not really). But think about that for a moment. The CLOSEST we've been to beating a BCS team is a 28-3 loss? REALLY? Good Lord that's bad.
That said, I'm not suggesting we don't have a chance here. We do. But I boil this one down to what it's always been about since week one, and that's the one thing this team has done better (or worse) than anyone else in the country - TURNOVERS. I know, I know, it's a bad word around here, but it cannot be ignored. I don't know our worst-ever turnover ratio in school history, but I have to believe that minus-25 with still two more games to go has to be in the basement. But it's not just giving the ball away all the time, but the lack of the ability to take it back that is also killing this team. And sadly, I don't see it suddenly turning all around just because it's Apple Cup. If they lose that turnover battle, they will lose this game.
All that said, I'm taking the underdog at home in a rivalry game. If you are ever unsure about a game like this, take the home 'dog. And the betting line has gone down slightly. As Bob Condotta pointed out at the Times the other day, the line is trending back towards WSU. And as Condotta also pointed out, when the line has moved away from UW, you've subsequently seen it reflected in that week's game. UW has actually played how the line has moved, if you can believe it.
In the end, I believe that UW does have slightly better players compared to the young skinnies we'll roll out there. We'll want it more, we'll play with more passion and intensity in front of the friendly Martin Stadium crowd, and it will be a very tight game. But I think Ronnie Fouch makes a couple of big throws, and Ryan Perkins, injured kicking leg and all, boots one through in the waning moments, giving UW a 17-16 win. Sorry. I didn't want to do it. I almost picked us to win this thing. But I simply believe they are slightly better. We'll cover the line at home, but I think they will pull it out.
Other games (weird that almost half the conference has a bye this week?):
Oregon State 33, Arizona 30. The Oregon State Rose Bowl express once again finds a way. But this is a very dangerous game for the Beavs. They have yet again circled the wagons in spectacular fashion, and haven't lost since choking away the game at Utah on October 2nd. And Arizona's defense looks to have lost some steam, giving up 28 to us and then 55 last week.
CAL 27, Stanford 23. Cal has lost a couple lately, including a bitter loss last week in Corvallis. But they have revenge in mind from last year's loss to Stanford. The Cardinal looked bowl-worthy a few weeks ago, but now wobble into this one at 5-6 and needing one more win to get to the postseason since Ty Willie roamed the Stanford sideline. It won't happen. Cal has more weapons and will make a few more plays, and that will be it. But this might be the last season for a while that Stanford misses out on the post-season. With Harbaugh set to ink his contract extension, watch out for Stanford in '09 and beyond.
Oklahoma 44, Texas Tech 40. The dream ends for the weirdo coach in Mike Leach. Oklahoma at home will get it done. And the debate really heats up for the BCS title game.
That's it. ENJOY YOUR FRIDAY, and GO COUGS!