Hello Cougar Nation! A most excellent Thursday to you all!
Today, we mark the start of a new era; one that will heretofore be known as “Khan-Tucky Fried Thursday.” Suffice to say, this feature will run on a semi-regular basis, meaning, it will run until such time that the season starts or I get fired from this blog for the 7th time in the last four years.
Anywho, today I am en route to the mighty west coast, ready to feed some “knowledge” about Finite Mixture Modeling (Unfortunately, I’m not kidding about this) to a bunch of fellow super nerds at a conference.
So, in the spirit of getting all academic on the American people, I thought it appropriate to insert a bit of disciplinary lingo into today’s title…..
For more on that, read on…
Nation, in the coming weeks, we will start to witness a variety of pre-season Top 25 polls. While each of these polls are exciting to sports dorks like myself—particularly when my team is included in them—they’re also often pretty clone like. Meaning, notwithstanding a few important outliers, these polls tend to look increasingly the same as May becomes June, as June blurs into July and so forth. The reason? Many of the CFB pundit folk not named Miller or Condotta tend to rely on the opinions of others in lieu of forming opinions of their own.
(As an aside, this is one of the primary reasons why I never read. Some think that makes me uninformed, but I prefer to view myself as a practicing expert of irresponsible originality)
Of course, this tendency to co-opt the takes of others is problematic for several reasons. But chief among them is the fact that relying on the “word” of others often means ignoring the nuances of each team’s schedule, including how a tough loss here or there can significantly impact the way that a season unfolds. For example, if their early season schedule was properly evaluated, I believe that a certain school from Western Washington would NOT be ranked in ANY pre-season poll!!!
Anyhow, notwithstanding the Muttlakes to the West, we all have seen how one unanticipated hiccup can really ambush the fortunes of a pretty good football team. I mean, twice in the past six years, CAL
has taken a No. 2 ranking into a contest against one of the Oregon schools and has proceeded to all-but lose out after falling to the Beav-Quacks.
Similarly, Oregon (with Dennis Dixon hurt) and Arizona (which started the end of Ole Yeller) both turned 6-1 starts into 7-5 finishes in recent years. And, last year both Arizona State and Washington took 6-2 starts and top 25 rankings and proceeded to all-but flush the rest of the season right down the drain.
Of course, those choke jobs occurred with programs that had been to bowl games within the previous two seasons; SELDOM do we witness the type of miracle, season-saving comebacks that we saw two years ago when the Muttlakes survived three straight do-or-die weeks en route to turning a 3-6 start into a 6-6 finish. And the reason why such an end of season surge is so uncommon for bottom feeders is that the psychology of those teams is just much more fragile than it is for winning programs. Simply put, teams with histories of losing usually need to gain senses of confidence and competence early on in the season if they are to truly turn things around.
Which bring me to the “meat” (cough! cough!) of today’s rant.....
At the beginning of last year, we here at the WSU Football Blog were resolute that the key to the season rested on two key swing games. The first of those games was against the San Diego State Aztecs, and the second was to the UCLA Ruins.
Of course, in both of those games, we entered the 4th quarter leading the football game. But, because we ultimately lost both of those games, all of the remaining potential/quasi “winnable” games left on the schedule (Oregon State, California, Washington/Utah) became "must wins" just to become bowl eligible.
So now, as we look forward to the 2012-2013 season, we can see that the schedule once again shapes up for a favorable start. UNLV once again figures to be significantly less talented than ourselves, Eastern will pose little problem to us in the second half, and Colorado, though improved, still figures again to be a bottom feeder, made even more vulnerable by the loss of their All-Conference candidate WR to a season ending ACL injury. In other words, win the games that are the near “gimmes” on paper and this team is half way to bowl eligibility after the first four games alone!
From there, well, we have the Oregon game, which Bud Withers recently described as “intriguing if not richly competitive.” And then we have Oregon State, the game which two years ago signaled the start of Wulff’s resurrection, while last year signaled the near certain end of his demise…
Of course the point in all of this is that there are two games on this schedule which figure to mirror our games against San Diego State and UCLA. And they are the road opener at BYU and the Week 6 roadie against Oregon State. Mind you, both BYU and the Beavs figure to be improved football teams this upcoming year. But, their improvement aside, we really shouldn’t kid ourselves: BYU got PASTED 54-10 by their instate rivals (Utah) last year and would probably be picked to challenge WSU and OSU for the basement if they were in the Pac-12 North. Oregon State, though potentially bolstered by a strong secondary a decent D-Line, not to mention a quarterback and WR with a strong upside, should not be confused with an upper division threat. In fact, even folks who think the Beavs will be much better this year
are thinking about measuring the Beavs' potential success within the context of a lower tier bowl.
Now, will we win either of those two games this fall? Well, that’s for a future post. But suffice to say that we will HAVE to win one of those two games just in order to become bowl eligible. And, while winning both is certainly no guarantee of anything, a 5-1 start coupled with Leach’s mystique will signal that a November to remember on the Palouse is forthcoming.
And for a program which has 7 wins the past three season, that prospect alone is reason enough to celebrate.
All for now. Go Cougs!
Trying to predict wins right now is an even bigger crapshoot than last year. I think you're right that BYU and OSU will be key games for us, but teams can change so much from week to week... last year everyone thought the season was over after OSU, but alas, ASU and Utah were still ready to choke. Luckily, if Leach's history is any indication, we can probably expect a pretty solid effort every week from our guys.
Oh, and just throwing it out there.... Oregon has played terrible against us the last two years, and so has Stanford. I think either is a possibility this time around.
@lucasnurmi @sutra I am not so sure on BYU and I think that one could be something that gets away from us. They might be a west coast offense but they are going to run, run, run the ball right at our young, smallish defense that doesn't appear stout at the point of attack. And what better way to beat a pass happy offense than play keep away? Plus since it is the first game and all that, I am not real confident we will be clicking on all cylinders in week one! The matchup on the road feels like it is one we can get, but, it also feels like it will be pretty tough. A power running game in that altitude when you have been playing pass D 75% of the time in fall camp is a concern. I look at it as a season of chunks. That first third of the season, to go 3-1 would be fantastic, however we get there, after 4 games! If that is losing the opener in getting the bugs out, then clicking against EWU, UNLV and CU, I'll take that right now. One thing Colin Cowherd cites is his "wise guys" betting strategy for season opening college games. New coordinators on either offense or defense, and 15 or less returning starters, and opening on the road? Bet on the other team. I know the Leach offense is a different animal, and the Breske scheme sounds promising. And we have some big time experience back at QB and some skill spots. But we kind of fit that profile as a team to bet against in the opener (Lucas or Soze, or any other gamblers, can you back up that theory?)
@SeanHawkins To answer your gambling question, if I was a gambler, yes my money would be on BYU. Thankfully, I don't gamble though.
SEE YOU GUYS IN VEGAS!
@SeanHawkins I agree, problem is that I we drop that one, then we run into that nAggin math problem, specifically the need to win four conference games just to become bowl eligible. That's why the Beavs become a near must win if we drop the opener..or so the Khan says...
@Sutra No doubt and I left that part out! At Oregon State is THE key game, especially if we start 3-1. But who knows. The thing is, a 3-1 start, how would that feel compared to the 3-1 start last year? After the win at CU I felt good, but still had concerns about how real it was, know what I mean? We blew out two awful teams, then went 1-1 the next two, all with a backup QB. I know we talked how it felt smoke-n-mirrors to an extent, how Marshall was Marshall and how that would play out the rest of the season would be telling (duh!). But 3-1 with a healthy Tuel and Leach and all that, with the same record as last year at that time, could be night and day different!
Our almost BFF's have a countdown to the season opener in their site. I could almost stare at it for the next three months... You're right, LC, BYU IS HHHHHHHUUUUUGGGEEEE!