Irish, Buffs hold shades of '77 for WSU

SAY THIS ABOUT <b>Bill Doba</b>: His timing is either inspired or masochistic. While he will open his Cougar head coaching tenure against hapless Idaho, things get nasty quickly with consecutive road games against Notre Dame and Colorado. Indeed, not since <b>Warren Powers</b> debuted at Nebraska and Michigan State on successive Saturdays in 1977 have the Cougars faced nationally ranked non-conference opponents back-to-back and on the road.<br><br>

It's clearly a challenge of immense proportion. But if the Cougars manage to come out of it the same way the 1977 pumas did in a similar situation, then Doba will be the toast of college football and WSU will again find itself in the top 10.

Can you say, "Mike who?"

Fanciful thinking, perhaps, but with 15 returning starters and a fifth-year senior at QB, the Cougars have a great opportunity of emerging unscathed. Especially so because they'll have a chance to work out some bugs against Idaho in front of a big crowd at Seahawks Stadium in the opener on Aug. 30.

As fate would have it, the 2003 Cougars will have the benefit of learning first hand what it took to pull off the unthinkable in 1977. Offensive coordinator Mike Levenseller, offensive line coach George Yarno and secondary coach Ken Greene were standouts on that '77 club that upset the Cornhuskers, 19-10, in Lincoln and then turned around to knock off the Spartans in come-from-behind fashion, 23-21, in East Lansing.

The quarterback of that team, Jack Thompson, was so impressive that he was the reigning Pac-8 Player of the Week till the last week of September. In the two games he completed a combined 39 of 60 passes for 538 yards and four TDs. Mind you, this was in the days before the West Coast offense --- Thompson did all his aerial damage with a standard two-back, two-receiver, one-tight end formation.

THE COUGARS have never before played Notre Dame, but they've tangled with Colorado four times. The Buffs hold a 3-1 edge. WSU's sole win was the first in the series, a 14-10 nail-biter in Boulder in 1981. The last meeting was in 1996, the Buffs winning 37-19. The clubs were scheduled to play again in 2001 but that game was derailed by 9/11.


The Cougars' two huge non-conference road victories in 1977 were not the first of their kind. A decade earlier, WSU's fabled "Cardiac Kids" of 1965 opened on the road against Big Ten powers Iowa and Minnesota. The Cougs nipped Iowa 7-0 and then followed it with a 14-13 victory at Minnesota. Both games were won in the final two minutes of the game, prompting Spokane Chronicle sports editor Bob Johnson to dub the team with their enduring nickname. A month later, they knocked off yet another Big Ten team, Indiana, in a dramatic 8-7 affair.

When talking about daunting Cougar schedules you can't help but think about poor Jim Sweeney, the Cougars' head man from 1968-75. In both 1973 and '74 he had three successive weekends in October against Ohio State, USC and UCLA. This was in the days when OSU featured Cornelius Greene and two-time Heisman winner Archie Griffin, and USC, with Anthony Davis, and UCLA, with John Sciarra, played for the Pac-8 title every year. The Cougars dropped all six contests.

For the Mother of All Three-Week Nightmares, however, you have to journey back to 1967 when the Cougars opened against USC, Oklahoma and UCLA. The Cougs dropped all three games by a combined score of 121-23. But get this: Each team featured a Heisman Trophy winner: UCLA's Gary Beban, who won the award that season; USC's O.J. Simpson, who won the award a year later; and Oklahoma's Steve Owens, who won it in '69.

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