One team that I feel has been overlooked as a potential turnaround team in the upcoming college football season is the team that calls Pullman, Washington home: The Washington State Cougars. Paul Wulff took over a moribund program when he arrived as the new head football coach at his alma mater in 2008. The fact that he has just five wins under his belt in his first three seasons at WSU is of great concern to the fans of the program.
In fact, a very vocal fan base did not want him to return for a fourth year. Fortunately for him and his program, athletic director Bill Moos saw enough progress being made behind the scenes to bring him back for his fourth year. He will now have a chance to lead a team that is comprised of a majority of players he brought in.
The newly formed Pacific-12 conference did not do the Cougs any favors when they decided to split the divisions Rankines geographically into North and South, leaving them with two potential top five teams nationally (Oregon & Stanford) in their division. Still, despite all of the ‘expert’ prognosticators predicting that the Cougars will finish last in their division, with a losing record, I think this is the year that they turn the corner and win at least six games making them eligible for a bowl game.
The reason I feel optimistic about the Coug’s chances are as follows: Paul Wulff did not make the mistake of blindly going after the best players available, but rather looked for the best players he could find that possessed both the mental and physical characteristics he wanted to build a team around. The character of the team is not quite where he wants it to be yet, but I have seen positive changes in the direction they are heading.
I was shocked by the response I got when I was speaking with a couple of current players during the off-season. I mentioned that I looked at their schedule and that I could see them winning eight games this year if things fell right, and they looked at me like I was crazy and said “just eight?” That attitude has been missing from this program for several years, and the fact that they believe again should be a cause for celebration among Coug fans.
I also think their schedule is favorable this season. I often said it starts with belief and nothing helps belief more than a little momentum. Looking at their schedule, it’s not unrealistic to think that this team could be 5-0 heading into their game against Stanford. A top Pac-10 coach said to me years ago when USC was dominating the conference, “Every season, there’s USC on top and the next six teams are not that different; what separates them is who gets off to a fast start and begins to believe in themselves.” This could be the year that this benefits the Cougs.
Of course the Cougs are not without issues. The team is still short on the kind of depth necessary to sustain a number of injuries and still reach their potential. It would also be immensely helpful if WSU receives a waiver for defensive lineman Brandon Rankin, who is practicing but ineligible for game action after failing to meet ongoing NCAA eligibility requirements.