The Washington State Cougars haven’t been to a bowl game since winning the 2003 Holiday Bowl over the Texas Longhorns. It has been a rough decade for Cougar football as fans have watched the program fall off a cliff from its glory days under Mike Price. They endured the worst tenure for any coach in school history with Paul Wulff before Mike Leach arrived and suffered through a disappointing debut season in 2012. But with seven games in the books, the Cougars have already matched their highest win total in the last six years (4) and need just two more wins in the last five to be bowl eligible. Can they get it done?
They would have done themselves a huge favor if they could have stuck with the Oregon State Beavers last weekend. Coming into the game, the 4-2 Cougs looked at the Oregon State game at home and a home game later in the season against the Utah Utes as their best bets to get those two extra wins. But after imploding in the 4th quarter and giving up 35-unanswered points to close out the game against OSU and watching Utah take it to the defending Pac 12 champion Stanford Cardinal (who beat WSU 55-17), those next two wins are getting harder to find.
This week, they have a date with the No. 2 Oregon Ducks in Autzen Stadium where the Ducks are almost unbeatable (and even more so this year with the way they’ve been playing). After that, WSU has a bye week (to lick its wounds) before welcoming the Arizona State Sun Devils to Pullman for a Thursday Halloween night game. Crazy things can happen on Halloween during the week and Pullman figures to be hopping but the Cougs will have their hands full with ASU. Their offense puts points up in bunches and they have an aggressive defense that will force some poor decisions from Connor Halliday.
After another bye week, WSU takes on the Arizona Wildcats in Tucson. The Cats’ offense is still a work in progress and their defense is porous but they do have Ka’Deem Carey at running back and B.J. Denker is coming off a four-touchdown performance against the USC Trojans. Arizona also typically plays well at home late in the season as they will be circling the wagons themselves trying to get bowl eligible for a second-straight year. Then Utah comes to Pullman and they no longer appear to be the Pac 12 cellar dweller they’ve been since joining the conference as Travis Wilson has taken off in the new, wide-open attack of the Utes.
Then the season culminates with the Apple Cup in Seattle against the Washington Huskies. If WSU wins just one of their next four games (which is likely), they’ll head into their rivalry game in a must-win situation. The Huskies would relish the opportunity to eliminate WSU from bowl-contention considering the way that the game went last season when the Cougs rallied from 18-points down to get their only Pac 12 win of the season. On paper, UW has a clear advantage with Steve Sarkisian‘s most talented roster to date (but he had the same on-paper advantage last season and it didn’t help him).
Washington State needs to win just two of their next five games to get bowl eligible but there won’t be any easy outs for them. Three of the five games are on the road, two against ranked opponents and all of them have winning records (for now). If they get to a bowl game this year, the Cougars will have earned it in a major way and it will be a huge step forward for Leach and the turnaround on the Palouse.