Looking ahead to Oregon

IT APPEARS in looking at the CF.C message boards that some in Cougar Nation have completely lost their grip, and it's not going to get better for them this week with Washington State facing No. 7 Oregon. But I said it last week and I'll say it again this week: Paul Wulff deserves to get a crack at coaching the Cougars in 2012.

One game shouldn't change that, even a stinker like Saturday's 44-21 loss to Oregon State. But apparently many among Cougar faithful have made up their minds.

Bad game plan. Terrible defense. No emotion. How can you get boat-raced by the worst team in the Pac-12 (which the Beavers aren't, more on that later) on your pseudo home field?

Surely, it's all Wulff's fault. So let's hang him high, even if the Cougars still have a decent shot at winning five or six games this season, and if that happens, pretty good for a program that you could argue was the worst in Division I two years ago.

If the Cougars lose by 40 at Oregon and drop their remaining five games, then yes, this journalist is with you. Wulff can't survive. That's not enough progress in Year Four. But the Cougars have enough talent and experience to win a few games down the stretch.

But I would argue this is the toughest part of the transition for any start-up college football program, the getting-over-the-hump-to-winning-team step. The Cougars successfully navigated through the truly awful part to becoming a plucky underdog. But now WSU must prove it can be competitive week in and week out, beat the teams the Cougars are supposed to beat, and occasionally win a few they're not expected to win.

I'd ask for a little more patience. I know, I know. It's getting harder and harder to do that these days. But take a page from Bill Moos and let these final five games of 2011 be Wulff's audition for 2012.

Ask yourself this: how many times did Cougar fans want to fire Mike Price? The answer: plenty. Yet the school had the patience to weather the bad times, and the result was two trips to the Rose Bowl. No way that happens if WSU had prematurely pulled the trigger on Price.

And by the way, Saturday's loss to Oregon State isn't going to look that bad at the end of the season. You watch: the Beavers are going to be a handful down the stretch, as they often are under Mike Riley. OSU's win over the Cougars will prove to be the start of something big.

Now it's Wulff's turn to do something similar with the Cougars. It won't happen Saturday at Oregon, the Ducks are maybe the most polished and sophisticated on offense as there is in the country, they're fast on defense, and just too darned good in Autzen for WSU to handle. But after that, with winnable games remaining against Utah, California, Arizona State and Washington, the Cougars had better show some real progress. I think they will.

Or I'll be right there with a lot of you come the end of the season.

The kickoff: Washington State (3-4, 1-3) at Oregon (6-1, 4-0) starts at noon Saturday in Autzen Stadium. Television is Root Sports/FSN.

The series: Oregon has won the past four games and six of the past seven against the Cougars. Last year, Oregon won 43-23 in Pullman. The Ducks hold a slim 43-38-7 edge over WSU in the 88-game series. Oregon is 18-16-4 against the Cougars in Eugene.

Familiar faces: Despite its close proximity to Washington, the Ducks have only three players from the state: Nick Cody, a junior offensive lineman from Brush Prairie; Nick Morrison, a junior defensive lineman from Everett, and David Paulson, a senior tight end from Auburn. The lone coach with ties to Washington State is Tom Osborne, the Ducks' tight ends and special teams coach. Osborne played wide receivers at WSU, graduated in 1983 and served as a Cougars' graduate assistant coach from 1983-85.

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

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