PULLMAN – It took a while, but it may have finally become apparent why WSU has been outmatched the last few years: They've been playing 10-on-11. The tight end has been a missing figure in the WSU offense, but Andrei Lintz says that's about to change.

"The No. 1 thing for me is just being physical," Lintz said. "I just changed my attitude. "In the past, I probably wanted to be – well, I didn't want to be, but I focused more on being a receiving tight end. Now I'm focused more on run blocking.

"I realized that if you can't block, you can't play, because if you can't run the ball, you can't win."

Lintz made his first three college starts and only catch as a redshirt sophomore last year. However, he was benched for three games and sat out two others with a neck injury.

"We had a long talk over the winter," tight ends coach Rich Rasmussen said. "He decided he wanted to be a physical football player, and he's really taken those steps to become one."

WSU coaches and players are adamant that a bowl game is a realistic goal this season, but it won't happen without a major improvement on defense.

"Last year was a growing experience for us," said cornerback Nolan Washington, who started all 12 games as a redshirt freshman last year. "We were all young. A lot of us were playing our first college games. I think that (experience) helped out a lot. Now we all know what to be ready for. Now we all communicate well."

The Cougars are 28-point favorites Saturday in the season opener with Idaho State (2 p.m., no TV). The Bengals are a rebuilding Football Championship Subdivision (formerly NCAA Division I-AA) team coming off a 1-10 season, but Washington said there is zero chance the Cougars will take the visitors lightly.

"We have no reason to look past them; we went 2-10 last year," Washington said.

Coach Paul Wulff lists Washington as "probable" for Saturday because of a hamstring strain. Asked if he'll play, Washington immediately replied, "Yes."

Wulff also lists star defensive end Travis Long as "probable." Long has seen limited practice time since suffering a sprained knee in last Thursday's scrimmage.

Long has started all 24 games in his two years at WSU. Don't be surprised if the junior from Spokane makes it 25 in a row.

"He's tough," defensive coordinator Chris Ball said. "He's not a big talker. He leads by example. But when he does talk – when he talks to the team and he does raise his voice and gets on the guys – people listen, because he's got a lot of respect. They really, really respect him." Many students leave town on Labor Day weekend, which tends to hurt football attendance. Projections are for a crowd in the mid-20,000 range.

The Cougars are on the verge of topping last year's 9,865 season tickets, and they're well ahead of last year's pace on sales of all-sports student passes. That total figures to climb past 10,000 Saturday.

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WSU pays Idaho State $350,000 and UNLV $225,000 to come to Pullman this year. The Cougars' only nonconference road game, a Sept. 17 trip to San Diego, is worth $200,000.

Visiting Pac-12 teams almost always receive the maximum payoff of $200,000 for conference games. There's no limit on pay for rivalry games, and the Cougars expect to rake in about $1 million when Husky Stadium remodeling forces the Huskies to move the Apple Cup to Seattle's CenturyLink Field (home of the Seahawks) this year.

The Cougars now list their athletic department budget at $38 million. That's up from $30 million for the past fiscal year, but a spokesperson said there's little difference beyond changes in how certain money coming in and going right back out is calculated.

New Idaho State coach Mike Kramer, who grew up a diehard Cougars fan on a wheat farm outside nearby Colton, said he's figured out a way to beat the 28-point point spread that Las Vegas has given to WSU.

"If we get one first down, we're calling it good. We're rolling up our (plays) sheet and calling it good," Kramer joked.

Kramer is close friends with Wulff. Kramer retained Wulff as an assistant coach at Eastern Washington when Kramer was promoted to head coach of the Eagles, and Wulff hired Kramer as assistant director of football operations at WSU last year.

Kramer's daughter, Gretchen, is a senior at WSU. Kramer was a roommate of new WSU linebackers coach Chris Tormey when they played at Idaho.

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