What to Expect (When You’re Not Expecting a Bowl Game)

Expectations are everything. I cannot think of a truer statement in sports, or life in general. Let me put it this way: if you expect to grow up and go to Harvard and become one of the world’s finest neurosurgeons, then you would find a philosophy degree from the Evergreen State College (and herbology, if you catch my drift) to be disappointing. However, if you came from a family that never had a college graduate, or one that simply celebrates the occasional high school graduation, then that degree all of sudden looks pretty promising.

Well, the same goes for sports. Fortunately for the Cougar football squad going into 2008, expectations are low. How low depends on who you ask, but after four consecutive seasons without a Bowl game its safe to say WSU fans aren’t exactly expecting a national championship in the upcoming year. Part of the reasoning for this lies with the free pass we tend to give first-year head coaches. This pass works well for any argument opposing fans can come up with to taunt you after your team loses. We lose an Apple Cup at home in ’08? The team is just adjusting to the coach. Lose in horrifying fashion to Portland State? Blame the new system and the fact that the players weren’t recruited by the current coach. For one year, we as fans can use the first-year coach pass to avoid virtually any smack talk from opposing fans.

Of course there are exceptions to this rule. Say, for example, Pete Carroll leaves USC for the NFL but the Trojans poach Urban Meyer from Florida. The expectations remain high, so Meyer doesn’t get the free pass. For most teams, however, this is hardly the case with a new head ball coach.

Part of the reasoning is that we just don’t know what to expect at all. We know the offense is changing – but Pullman hasn’t seen a change in the offense for nearly two decades. It’s been the same general scheme, with a few notable exceptions, since Wulff himself was under center for the Cougs. So just seeing that the no-huddle offense works will be quite a relief for WSU in and of itself. On defense there will be different personnel and a (somewhat) different philosophy, but less of a radical change from Doba’s regime. On special teams we can only hope that the squib kickoff is dead and that one of the current kickers can reach the level of a Lindell, or Hanson, or even a Dunning.

So what is a reasonable expectation for the Cougars this fall? 3 wins? 5? 7 and that elusive bowl game? A better way to break it down involves looking at the schedule, and it’s a favorable one for WSU. 13 games thanks to the road game at Hawaii, including seven “home” games if you count the annual contest in Seattle. What can the Cougs reasonably expect to win?

Since I don’t feel confident enough with the team or the opponents to pick the games this early, I’ll be a Woosy McWooserson and look at the schedule another way. I’m assigning a point value to each game, from 0 to 1, in terms of the chances that I think the Cougs can win the game. 0 of course means I’m penciling the game in as a loss, and 1 a surefire win (cough-Portland State-cough). Hopefully, if it works out, the final tally can be representative of what to expect from Cougar football in terms of a win total.

Oklahoma State (Seattle) – I have to wimp out of making a real prediction, as I think the Cougars have a 50% chance of taking this one: 0.5
California
– A rare early-season game against a conference opponent. We’ve been snakebit against the Bears recently, and I don’t think this is the year it changes. 0.25
at Baylor
– I feel better about this one given the previous success we’ve had against these Bears, so I’ll give this one a vote of confidence: 0.75
Portland State –
Please don’t lose this one. 1
Oregon –
Ducks should still be good enough to take this. We’ll find out a lot about this team early with 4 of the first 5 games at home. 0
at UCLA –
Another definite maybe 0.5
at Oregon State –
probably not 0.25
USC –
no comment 0
at Stanford –
we should probably take this one, even on the road 0.75
Arizona –
another team we’ve struggled with recently 0.25
at ASU –
The fighting Ericksons win again 0
Washington –
After winning 3 of 4 in the Brink era, I’m taking a stance that we should never, ever, lose a home game in the Apple Cup. Still, 0.75
Hawai’i
– I’m sure the Huskies thought they would win this one too. Even with June Jones out, the talent is still there 0.25

Total = 5.25

So, by my not-so-scientific calculations, we’re looking at about 5 wins for Cougar football. 1 gimme, a couple of games where WSU should be favored, and hopefully a couple upsets along the way.

One thing is for sure: there is more optimism surrounding Pullman this year than the last. No more Brink vs. Rogers debates, no more Doba hot seat speculation and no more squib kicks (assuming there is a God). Five wins is reasonable, but there is a lot of room for the season to slide in either direction, although with depth problems looming the ceiling for this team isn’t very high. Here’s how I break it down:

0-1 wins: failure
2-3 wins: disappointment
4-5 wins: reasonable
6 wins, no bowl: good
6-7 wins, bowl: great
8+ wins: Bennettesque

Of course, none of these results gets CPW (Coach Paul Wulff, in abbreviated form in case you haven’t seen it) fired. And that’s a good thing. It may take in the neighborhood of 2-3 years to really begin to see how the Wulff era is going to reshape football on the Palouse. It will take time. But for now, the pressure is off, and we can sit back and enjoy what will hopefully be the beginning of a bright new era for football at Washington State.

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