And with that - I WANT TO BELIEVE seems appropriate, don't you think? There has been so much talk, really since the later stages of last season, that WSU football was going to take a big step forward. That the improvement was happening behind the scenes, improvement that Joe Cougfan wasn't going to see right away, but be assured that it IS happening. The little things that go so far to fielding a competitive product on the field, such as weight training and nutrition and even improved academics, all of it was said to be going on behind the curtain. And Paul Wulff has been leading the charge on this, repeatedly assuring that we would be pleasantly surprised by what we saw.
Never was I more sure of this, personally, than after what I heard at the Seattle WSU football dinner function back in February. Lucas and I attended the event, and you got the sense from the beginning that things were starting to change. Coach Wulff brought some players with him, including Jeff Tuel, Gino Simone, and Nolan Washington, and you could sense the vibe that good things were coming. And not just in their words of assurance, about how much better it was, but in their body language. You could see bigger, stronger players already, but the way they talked and carried themselves, there was little doubt that THEY believed in what was happening. They hardly looked and sounded and appeared to be key components of a team that had massively struggled the last year. And beyond any fan, alum, message board poster, blogger or even coach, aren't the players the ones who are most important in all this? Aren't they the ones that have to "believe"?
All the preseason publications have the Cougs last in the conference, and that's fine and completely understandable. Why would an expert doing the mega-previews take a look at a team that was so deficient in so many areas last year and actually expect a big jump? If I was on the other side of the country and looked at how bad WSU has been, and just glanced at some depth charts and looked at stats from the prior year, I wouldn't be too excited either. Maybe I'd pay a little attention to them, you know, because of some good things said about the likes of Jeff Tuel or Travis Long, etc But otherwise I guess I'd give it the obligatory shoulder-shrug and think "....they'll still be bad, but maybe not quite as bad." And that's the honest truth.
And in all likelihood, it's usually true what they say. Sometimes the further away you are from something, the clearer the picture. You can get too close to a situation, and have your judgement clouded. It's a trap many fans and even credentialed media members will fall into, and it's especially true during training camp. Watching practices or scrimmages, it's easy to believe that maybe a situation with a specific player or position is better - or worse - than reality. One has to always remember that every team in the country has issues, and in that sense WSU is no different than any other team in the country. The Cougs have issues, sure, but so do the Huskies, Ducks, Beavs, and pretty much everyone else.
But I think even though we are close to this thing, I believe that you pretty much have to be following the ins and outs of what has been going on at WSU especially to understand that it will be better in 2010. No, probably not in the final record - I think if we get anything beyond three wins this year, it's just cause for closing down the town for a day, give Wulff a key to the city and throw a parade down main street - but the days of tough, competitive football are upon us. I want to believe in the young talent that we will see, cut loose on the field to fly around and make plays. I want to believe that the new offensive line coach, Steve Morton, will have these big mothers up front eating lightning and crapping thunder. I want to believe that Jeff Tuel takes a large step forward in his development as a QB, finally able to drop back in the pocket and actually make a couple of reads as the pass protection gives him a three-Mississippi count to set up and distribute the football. I want to believe the front seven on defense is going to be one of the most improved groupings on the team, and maybe one of the most improved in the entire Pac-10. And I want to believe that these coaches have been leading us down this path to relevancy, and that they were RIGHT ALL ALONG when they said to have patience and hang in there! I WANT TO BELIEVE!
Ok, read on for this week's picks, as each of us weigh in on week one's action.....
First, before we get into it, don't forget to do your weekly picks on the Yahoo group! If you haven't registered yet, it's still not too late. And if you can finish in the top three, you can win stuff, like a t-shirt or beer mug or coffee cup with our logo on it!
OK, maybe our logo slapped on to something isn't the ultimate "carrot" for you to pick games against us, but still, it might be fun to see how you do?
Here's the Yahoo pick'em group info. If you are looking to sign up, you can join Group #2, and you will be counted in the standings along with Group #1. Here's how to join:
1) Go here, to the Yahoo Sports Fantasy College Football Pick 'em.
2) Click Join a Group.
3) Enter the following information:
If you already joined Group #1 as one of the first 50 to sign up, here's the information:
Now, on to the picks.
Now, the Cougs - OK State game. Yeah, I ranted and raved that I want to believe. And I do think we're headed in the right direction. We'll be pleasantly surprised by what we see out of all phases of the game on Saturday, and at the end of the day we'll be able to look at each other and say "yeah, we are getting better." But the final score, well, not so much.
The thing is, OK State might be starting over on their end of the deal, and they are one of the least experienced teams in the country coming back for 2010. 12 first-time starters on both sides of the ball, a brand new QB, four new offensive line starters, and a new offensive coordinator with a brand new system can make it tough on the Pokes. There will be mistakes that come with inexperience, sure, and you combine that with the first-game yips that are bound to be there, and well, this one might not be "pretty" in terms of sheer brilliance on the gridiron!? But that said, I took to heart what Paul Wulff said on his radio show a couple of nights ago. Yeah, OK State, they are starting over, but he was quick to recall how good their athletes looked on the field back in 2008, even just during warmups. They've been good recently, and they've been recruiting some very talented players along the way. Most of all, they have established a little culture of recent success, something they will fall back on this week. Something that the WSU current roster just doesn't quite have yet. So, their version of "starting over" isn't exactly the same as ours, know what I mean? While they might struggle to get back to bowl-eligibility in 2010, I don't think they've fallen all the way down to two or three-win world.
I think the Cougs show improvement pretty much everywhere. The running game will be better, the passing game will be better, and defensively we will see a level of athleticism and speed that we haven't seen since at least 2006 or 2007. But in the end, it won't be enough. OK State might be starting over, but they still will make more plays at home than we are ready for. Pokes win it, 28-16, as OK State running back Kendall Hunter breaks a couple of huge plays to put the game away late. But hey, WSU will cover the 15.5 point spread, and we WILL be able to see the glimmer of hope we have been dying for all along!
ENJOY THE OPENER, AND GO COUGS!
Enjoy the games and go Cougs.
USC @ Hawaii - This will have to suffice as USC's bowl game this year. I expect them to struggle a bit, but eventually prevail. If they drop a game to a WAC team that could spell trouble in Watts. Remember when USC used to lose to Fresno State in the Liberty Bowl every year? Not sure if they'll tumble back to that level, but then again...
Trojans 38, Bows 28
Arizona @ Toledo - Yeah, I'm thinking the same thing; AT Toledo? Whatever, Zona rolls.
Cats 45, Rockets 14
UCLA @ Kansas State - The Pac-10 road show continues in the Little Apple. The Bru Cru are a sexy pick for Pac-10 sleeper, but I saw their injury report.
Cats 28, UCLA 27
New Mexico @ Oregon - Blood bath.
Ducks 55, Lobos 17
UC Davis @ Cal - Just look away.
Bears 50, Aggies 21
Sac State @ Stanford - Pretty sure the Governator ain't suitin up for this one, so...
Trees 48, Hornets 10
UW @ BYU - Head overrules heart... Huskies get revenge for celebrationgate. Steer clear of Seattle sports talk radio for remainder of season.
Dawgs 28, Latter Day Cougs 24
Oregon State vs. TCU - There's always a fun entendre-filled headline to be found somewhere when the Beavers play. Let's see... horny toads and beavers, hmmmmm. Well, I got nothin. But I'll tell you what, even Servpro won't be able to restore that "new stadium smell" to Shiny new Dallas Cowboys stadium/palace after this massacre.
Horny Toads 40, Beavs 17
Portland State @ ASU - I would rather watch Mike Tyson fight Betty White.
Devils 146, Vikes 3
WSU @ OK State - Just can't quite get my head around the idea of the Cougs winning a real football game... yet.
Pokes 35, Cougs 17
GAME OF THE WEEK!
Boise State vs. VA Tech - I would love to silence the dumbest fan base in college sports right at the outset of the season, but unfortunately Va Tech will not be sporting the type of defense we've come to expect from them this year. BSU picks 'em apart and they get past the only real challenge in their 2 game season unscathed. Just give Kellen Moore the Heisman now. barf.
Broncs 33, Va Tech 28
Enjoy the games, folks and as always... GO COUGS!
LUCAS COUG SEZ:
at Oklahoma State: Like I mentioned in my Tuesday post, these two teams are about as polar opposite as can be from where they were when they matched up in 2008. WSU hasn't won a season opener since obliterating Idaho in 2005, and the streak includes losses at Auburn, at Wisconsin, and hosting Okie State and Stanford. I would assume the Cougs are very competitive in this one, but I just don't see them having enough in the jar to warrant picking them straight up. Ok St 38 - WSU 28
Washington at BYU: The Husky offense should put up points, but I have a hard time believing their defense will slow down the BYU offense. Will be interesting to see how Sark handles the emotions of coaching against and at his Alma Mater. The last time the Huskies won on the road, Barack Obama wasn't even a household name. Until I am proven otherwise, I will pick against them.
Lane Rawlins U 35 - Washington 31
ALL FOR NOW. GO COUGS!