But if the Cougars don't win at Cal Saturday, WSU will be all alone in last place in the Pac-12 North, and Wulff will find it increasingly hard to make a case that the program is showing much improvement.
More tangibly, a defeat would be the sixth of the year for WSU, which is now 3-5, and the Cougars would then have to win out in their final three games to get bowl eligible, seen by many as the minimum necessary for Wulff to keep his job.
Wulff, though, has dealt with such talk all year and this week seemed more concerned with the immediate task at hand of trying to go to Berkeley and get a win, something the Cougars have not done since the 2002 season, having lost six in a row to Cal since then (the two teams didn't play in 2003 and 2004).
Cal is tied with the Cougars at the bottom of the North at 1-4, but is 4-4 overall and is looking at the WSU game as a must-win of its own to get to a bowl game.
The Bears were surprisingly dominated by UCLA last week 31-14, as quarterback Zach Maynard threw four interceptions and UCLA rushed for 294 yards out of its Pistol offense.
Until that game, however, Cal had been stingy on the ground, and that worries Wulff, whose team has struggled to get enough of a running game going most weeks to make defenses honest.
"They are probably the most talented defense, in some ways, that we've seen,'' Wulff said. "So our challenges are running the football, number one, and two, converting in the passing game.''
The latter comment speaks to the issues the Cougars had last week against Oregon turning points into yards. The Cougars gained 462 yards but were able to score just two offensive touchdowns, as WSU struggled in the red zone -- something that has been an increasing problem of late.
Maynard's struggles have left some question if he will remain as Cal's quarterback or if the Bears will go with backup Allan Bridgford.
Wulff said it won't matter much to WSU.
"I don't think we can chase ghosts,'' he said. "We've got to prepare for what we believe we are going to get from them and what we have seen from them, and I don't think we can worry about who the quarterback is. We will prepare for Zach, and its if's somebody different, we will adjust on the run.''
--WSU has one of the largest gaps in the Pac-12 between the number of times it has been penalized and number of times its opponents have been penalized. WSU has been flagged just 50 times for 510 yards compared to 67 times for 539 yards for its opponents.
--WSU had a big fourth-down stop of Oregon in the first quarter last week that prevented the Ducks from breaking out ahead by more than a touchdown, continuing a season-long trend of being good on fourth down. WSU's foes are just 2-of-11 on fourth downs this year, an 18.2-percent success rate that is the lowest in the Pac-12.
SERIES HISTORY: Cal leads it 42-25-5 and has won the last six in a row, dating to a 38-28 WSU win in Berkeley in 2002, the last time the Cougars went to the Rose Bowl.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Considering the setting, the Cougars had one of their better offensive showings with 462 yards last week at Oregon. But WSU struggled to turn all the yards into points with just two offensive touchdowns. WSU QB Marshall Lobbestael threw for 337 yards but also had two interceptions and a couple of ill-timed bad throws to stop drives, epitomizing the day. WSU needs to begin converting all opportunities, especially on the road. WSU also needs to get its running game going. It showed some signs of life with 119 yards on 25 carries from the tailbacks at Oregon, however, a trend that needs to continue. That may be tougher this week against a Cal defense that has generally been stout against the run. If WSU can have a similar output this week, it could open up lots of one-on-one opportunities for the receivers in the passing game against a Cal secondary that is much more vulnerable than Oregon's.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Again, considering the opponent, the Cougars had a decent performance, holding the Ducks to 454 yards, far under their average of 530 per game. But WSU also ended up allowing 43 points overall and will have to keep the Bears far under that total to get the win this week. Cal's offense is struggling greatly, especially through the air, completing just 52.4 percent of its passes. That's despite the fact Cal has a dynamic pair of receivers in Keenan Allen and Marvin Jones, each among the top 10 in the Pac-12. A key will be if WSU can do what other teams have done to Cal, which is defend the run with base personnel and keep a few more in the back seven back to defend against the pass.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I thought our players came out and were really focused and wanted to make amends for a performance where they didn't play well (the previous week at Oregon State). I've been proud of this team's effort all year, the Oregon State game being the least of all. But they've come out and played hard pretty much every game.'' -- WSU coach Paul Wulff saying the effort was better at Oregon than against Oregon State
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Washington State at Cal, Nov. 5 -- The Cougars try to snap a four-game losing streak heading to Berkeley, where they haven't won since 2002.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Convert in the red zone -- WSU has gained lots of yards the last few weeks but has had trouble scoring enough to keep up, often being forced to kick field goals or turning the ball over. WSU needs to score touchdowns, especially early in the game.
Prevent big plays -- Cal WRs Keenan Allen and Marvin Jones are two of the better receivers in the Pac-12 and capable at any moment of turning a short pass into a long gain, especially Allen, who is averaging 14.8 yards per reception.
Keep improving the running game -- WSU's running game was better last week at Oregon with 125 yards, allowing the Cougars to shorten the game against the Ducks. That's a strategy that would serve the Cougars well again this week.
Play better in the special teams -- The Ducks blocked a punt for a touchdown and also returned a kickoff for a touchdown last week, both plays that were keys to the win. Obviously, WSU needs to avoid similar breakdowns.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
QB Marshall Lobbestael -- The senior will again get the start with Jeff Tuel still on the sideline. He ranks seventh in the Pac-12 in passing efficiency and has 16 touchdowns against seven interceptions. But he had a ratio of just one TD against two interceptions last week, which needs to turn around.
WR Marquess Wilson -- The sophomore had a big day last week with 11 catches for 125 yards and is third in the conference with an average of 111.1 yards per game. He's a native of Tulare, Calif., and surely motivated to play well this week in his home area.
CB Damante Horton -- The sophomore did it again last week, returning an interception for a touchdown -- the fourth straight game he has had an interception. He is now leading the Pac-12 in interceptions with four for a total of 76 return yards.
--The Cougars did not have any significant injuries last week against Oregon, so everyone who was available in that one should be able to go this week.
--Mike Ledgerwood, a backup middle linebacker who suffered a stinger against Oregon State, returned to practice on Monday, though wearing a yellow jersey.
--WR Kristoff Williams (stinger), who also sat out last week, remained out early in the week and is questionable.