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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

Need to Know

Prove Us Wrong, Washington State

Sit down, Washington State. Look into this mirror, if you please. Now, repeat after me:

I’m good enough…

I’m smart enough…

And doggone it, people like me.

Have some confidence, Cougars, as with history as your guide, you can take a measure of solace in the fact that things could not possibly get any worse. Or could they? Nope. No, they couldn’t — well, technically they could, but you’d really have to try in order to reach a lower level than rock bottom.

There was a time not so long ago, in fact, when winning football at Washington State ranked just below lentils among the Palouse region’s strongest exports: think back to 2003, when Bill Doba’s first team completed the program’s third consecutive double-digit win season.

If the wheels came off in Doba’s final years, Paul Wulff’s regime has seen the car stripped from bumper to bumper. The hope is that Wulff has done some bodywork, repairing this team’s structure as they struggle through the worst stretch in program history — if not the worst stretch in the history of the Pac-10.

How bad has it been? Five wins in three years, with as many against F.C.S. foes, two, as against conference opposition. A grand total of 544 points over this span, an average of 15.5 points per game, against 1,462 points allowed, or 41.8 points per game. That’s awful, but we know this. We’ve seen W.S.U. play, when given the somewhat rare opportunity, so we know how bad it’s been.

To find a similar period in the Pac-10’s history, you might have to think back to Oregon State from 1990-92: the Beavers went 3-29-1, averaging 13.3 points per game while allowing 33.3, though that’s a slightly better rate than Washington State’s since 2008.

Hidden in this ineptitude are slight signs of progress, if we gauge that word in the most generous way possible. After allowing 570 points in 2008, Wulff’s debut campaign, the Cougars allowed 435 a year ago. After scoring only 144 points in 2009, Washington State improved to 235 a year ago — adding more than a touchdown per game, which is a substantial improvement.

And there’s the competitive nature of a 2-10 finish to 2010, if we continue to dig deep for silver linings. The Cougars held tight to Stanford, California and Washington down the stretch; gave Arizona and Oregon some trouble before faltering late; and beat Oregon State on the road in mid-November, dealing a deadly blow to the Beavers’ bowl hopes.

So the spirit’s willing, even if Wulff’s team lacked the horses to hang with the rest of the Pac-10. What of 2011, you might ask? Washington State can hang its hat on quarterback Jeff Tuel, who turned in a strong sophomore season despite his team’s struggles. Among Tuel’s impressive numbers was his tendency to bounce back from his sour performances, such as he did against U.C.L.A. after a three-pick showing against U.S.C., or in the win over Oregon State after fouling up the joint against the Golden Bears.

Marquess Wilson quietly had the finest freshman season of any receiver in the country last fall, outplaying — statistically, at least — his more ballyhooed competitors at U.S.C., California and elsewhere. No one is denying the defense needs work, but it had moments in 2010 — 261 yards allowed against the Beavers, 383 against the Bears and 352 against Arizona, though the Cougars did give up 493 yards or more five times on the season.

Yet it’s the spring, so let’s raise those enthusiasms. And maybe our expectations, even if we’re in prove-me-wrong stage with W.S.U.: I’ll believe when I see it, you might tell Wulff and his team. In Washington State’s favor is a smooth schedule, one that opens with Idaho State and U.N.L.V. before turning its attention to the new-look Pac-12.

Could this be the year, when looking at this roster and this schedule? Wulff seems to think so, telling Bud Withers of The Seattle Times: “We should have a two-deep that’s very solid. We’re extremely more athletic, we’ve got a lot more length, and our football IQ has improved dramatically.”

Most importantly, however, Wulff told Withers the following: “I know we’re going to win games.” Contagious confidence? His faith has been passed onto his team and the fan base, but we’ll see come September. For now, however, firm in the knowledge it can only improve, Washington State can finally look in the mirror and like what it sees.

You can also follow Paul Myerberg and Pre-Snap Read on Twitter.

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  1. WashingtonDCduck says:

    Washington State is getting close. As a Pac-10 (whoops, I mean Pac-12) guy who watched devotedly any conference game I can get through ESPN GamePlan and Fox Sports regional stations back here on the east coast, I have to say that last year I was actually impressed with the half dozen or so games I caught for the Cougars. The one game that really impressed me the most was our game, the Oregon vs. Wazzu game at their place in Martin Stadium. The game was really strange, it was one of those strange kickoffs, with a 2:30 p.m. start for their regional TV, Kenyon Barner took a helmet to helmet hit he absorbed returning a kick at full speed, lay motionless on the field until an ambulance took him to the hospital, Darron Thomas was knocked out for the 2nd half in his only missed action all year; all in all it was a strange game.

    With all that said, Washington State showed more athleticism, not just the ones but the guys behind them the two’s played well and provided some pop on special teams and both sides of the ball. Washington State has a long ways to go, but the key is building the depth. With the proliferation of talent being spread across the board and the Notre Dames and USC can’t stockpile talent like the Cold War of college football back in the 60s and 70s, places like WSU can get quality starters. Question is can Wulff recruit quality backups where you don’t take huge dips when eventual attrition comes with injuries and casualties to things like academics, transfers, ect..

    Bill Moose the A.D., who really was the architect for a lot of Oregon’s rise to national name brand recognition in football loves the Palouse and is trying to inject some energy and vision to that fan base. They are taking the right steps, and I would not be surprised one bit if Washington State comes up with 4-6 wins. Now, the pragmatic side of me says they probably go 3-9 and upset a conference foe somewhere along the way with wins vs. Idaho St and UNLV. Wulff seems like a standup guys, a passionate former player in Crimson and Grey, and I hope they don’t take the keys away too soon; he’s moving them in the right direction.

  2. DPG says:

    So what. Sometimes I’m impressed with my stool. Wullph sucks, bottom line. I don’t think he’s ever uttered an authentic original statement. It’s like he recycles everything the other Pac coaches says and does, albeit about 2 years later. He’s a scab. A dork. He also announced how they will be unveiling their new “shotgun look”. Really teabag?!?! While everyone else is looking to supplement 3,5, & 7 steps, he pretends that he’s ahead of the curve. Trust me folks, just read his comments or if you’re lucky catch video of his interviews. They’ll be lucky to split with UNLV and whoever the other patsy is.. borderline criminal concerning their nonconference schedule. I doubt they would get a bowl invite if Heaven split wide open and somehow got 6 wins.

  3. Bryan says:

    @DPG’s quote, this is the kind of crap WSU fans have to deal with all year from the coffee drinking hippies across the state…don’t feel sorry for us though, everyone in the Pac 10 and the two new members know and will know the level of pretentousness that comes with UW fans…

    Onto the article, excellent summary. I have been a Paul Wulff advocate from day one, when he came in he had to completely rebuild the program and had like 2 weeks to fill his frist recruiting class because Doba’s staff only had like 3 verbals.
    After seeing the spring game and watching how the young talent is developing I am extremely optomistic about this year. Also if we dont go bowling Wulff is on his way out, that explains his optimism for this year as well.
    5-6 wins is very realistic for this team next year, if the O line develops like it should the cougs will be bowling this year off of the offense alone.

  4. GunMetalGray says:

    The Cougs have a shot at 6 wins, no doubt. If we get there, Wulff will be retained. If we win 4 games, he’s probably gone. 5, and I have no idea…it would probably depend on how competitive our other games are.

    The last 3 years have been awful as a fan and alum. You can see the team getting better, and Jeff Tuel is a terrific leader and great talent at QB. I’m excited to see what happens this fall.

    Go Cougs!

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