Looking ahead to SDSU and a season prediction

EVEN THE MOST cynical of Cougar fans probably believed Washington State would be 2-0 after two weeks of the 2011 season. Idaho State and Nevada-Las Vegas are teams the Cougars should beat at home any year, any time, no matter what condition the program is in. But this is 2-0 with a couple of exclamation points.

WSU won both of these games geared down by halftime. The Cougars oozed promise in both games, particularly UNLV, with almost all of the damage done without quarterback Jeff Tuel.

I think most know by now that I'm not a fan, but a journalist. I try to step away from the scene and give an objective viewpoint, one that fans may not always like but in my opinion need to hear. I mention this because there's no fan in me in making this prediction: with the exception of an unusual number of injuries, nothing is going to keep Washington State from reaching the bowl-minimum of six wins this season.

And Paul Wulff, it appears, is here to stay.

Washington State is no longer a doormat -- they look like a mid-level Pacific-12 football program. The Cougars can hit, can run, can strike fear in a defense because of its depth at quarterback, emerging offensive line and receiving corps. They have athletes. Rose Bowl-bound in 2011, they're not. But at least there's more reason to be interested again on Saturday.

I'm prematurely sticking my neck out here even though it would be safe to wait a week for the game everyone this week will bill as "the measuring stick," Saturday at San Diego State (The Mountain, 3:30 p.m. PT).

Like Washington State, San Diego State is 2-0. But it's difficult to get a read on the Aztecs, who are coming off a 23-20 win over Army. San Diego State's defensive statistics are skewed because of its game against the Black Knights. Army's offense is entirely based behind a running game, and San Diego State gave up 403 yards on the ground this past Saturday.

What happens when San Diego State faces a balanced offense like Washington State's? This much seems certain: the Cougars' running game will test the Aztecs early in the game to see if it was Army shtick or a San Diego State deficiency.

I'm not saying this will be easy for Washington State. The Cougars last won a non-conference road game in 2005, at Nevada. It's been longer than that since it felt like Washington State football was truly headed in a positive direction.

San Diego State was picked to finish fourth in the Mountain West, and Washington State last in the Pac-12 North. But that seems like so long ago. The Aztecs haven't proven they're better than a mid-pack Mountain West team, while the Cougars appear as though they'll be a handful for most opponents in 2011.

The public seems to be buying the Cougars, too. Vegas opened the game Sunday with San Diego State as a 9½-point favorite. By nightfall Sunday, the line was down to 7 points. By Monday night, some joints had it down to six points.

The key to the game will be Washington State's run defense.

San Diego State is led by running back Ronnie Hillman, who is second in the country in rushing yardage at 153 yards per game. Rocky Long, once Oregon State's defensive coordinator, coaches the Aztecs. He's been known to throw exotic wrinkles into his defenses, so that should test the Cougars' suddenly potent offense.

NOTABLE NOTES:
According to RealTime RPI, San Diego State has played a slightly tougher schedule than WSU, but both are extremely weak. RPI rates the Aztecs' opponents Cal Poly as No. 86 (out of 245 FCS and FBS schools) and Army No. 146. For the Cougars, Idaho State is rated No. 234 and UNLV No. 161.

RPI rates San Diego State No. 100, and Washington State No. 127.

The only time the two schools have played was 2007, when Washington State hammered San Diego State 45-17 in Seattle.

Read Nick Daschel's occasional Pac-12 ramblings at twitter.com/nickdaschel

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