The Early Glimpse: Cougs vs. EWU

SINCE BRIGHAM Young sucked most of the air out of Washington State's hope-filled football balloon, how to do the Cougars go about reinflating that sucker? It'll probably take weeks, but there's plenty of feel-good to be had Saturday when Washington State (0-1) entertains Eastern Washington (1-0) in Martin Stadium.

It's the home opener, the first chance for many fans and alums to visit campus since Martin Stadium's remodel. A sellout is expected. Another plus is that it's Mike Leach's first home game. And the biggest plus is this: it'll be Leach's first chance to tinker with a Cougar offense after seeing it against live competition.

Oh, there's yet one more plus.

It should be a win. The only plus that matters.

Now, I know more than a few Cougar fans are nervous about facing Eastern Washington. Unlike WSU, the Eagles kicked off their season in high style with a 20-3 win over Idaho. Nothing, perhaps not even an FCS (formerly Division I-AA) Championship, would make Eastern Washington's season like a win over the Cougars.

Cougars vs. Eagles


The Kickoff: Noon on Saturday in Martin Stadium.

The Line: Oddsmakers don't touch games between FCS and FBS schools.

TV Coverage: The Pac-12 Network (which as of now still isn't set for DirecTV or Dish).

The Records: WSU is 0-1 and EWU is 1-0. The Eagles were ranked No. 15 nationally in pre-season FCS polling.

The Series:: The Cougs lead 2-0 but the last time the teams played was 104 years ago, in 1908, when WSC gave Eastern Washington a 73-0 drubbing. WSU has outscored the Eagles 119-0 collectively in the two games.

Familiar faces:: There are no WSU grads on the EWU coaching staff, but there are a couple of former Cougar walk ons with the Eagles: lineman Zack Johnson, who was at WSU in 2010-11, and standout punter Jake Miller, who spent one week with the Cougs in August 2010.


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But let's face some truths here. First, Idaho may be the country's worst FBS (formerly Division I-A) team. The Vandals belong in the FCS, and one of these days some of their star-gazing alums and administrators are going to figure this out. Eastern beat one of its own, not an authentic FBS school.

Second, on rare occasions, an FCS school does upset a FBS school. But 99 percent of the time, the result is one-sided in favor of the FBS school. It has more resources, more talent, more of everything. It's no exception at Washington State.

Even during the 9-40 slog of the last four years, the Cougars knew what to do with an outmatched FCS team, and that is win, and usually by a large margin. Paul Wulff was 3-0 against FCS schools, last year beating Idaho State 64-21. Sure, there was the 23-22 nailbiter over Montana State in 2010, but the Cougars did what they were supposed to do, and that is win.

Because of the ever-shifting NCAA divisions, it's difficult to tell when Washington State last lost to a team at a lower level. The University of Denver Pioneers -- a year away from dropping their program -- beat the Cougs 28-26 in 1960, but the record suggests they were considered upper division. That would leave a 20-11 loss to Hawaii back in 1925 as the only contender.

Let's just say if Eastern Washington somehow beats Washington State on Saturday, you'll be able to sell space on the ledge at premium prices. Whatever feel-good that remains from the Leach hiring will be toast.

I don't anticipate that happening, however. It's possible to envision a scenario where had a couple plays bounced in WSU's direction, last Thursday's game in Provo would have been far more competitive. The Cougars' defense did show some teeth in the second half, and it hard to imagine Jeff Tuel looking worse than he fared against Brigham Young.

The expected reasonable improvement in a second game for Washington State should be plenty to get the job done against Eastern Washington.

Now, the Eagles are hardly a typical FCS program looking for a paycheck program. Eastern Washington is two years removed from a national championship and one year removed from all-but-defeating Washington in Husky Stadium.

The Eagles have an experienced quarterback in senior Kyle Padron, who started 21 games at Southern Methodist before transferring. Padron's numbers of 13 of 33 for 260 yards against Idaho hardly jump off the chart, but he did pilot the Eagles to a win. The Eagles' top receiver is Brandon Kaufman, who caught five passes for 148 yards, the ninth 100-yard game of his career.

Saturday's chess match appears to be WSU's emerging offense under Leach against an Eastern Washington defensive unit that held Idaho to just 237 yards.

Eastern Washington is 8-20 all-time against schools currently playing in FBS, but the Eagles' win over Idaho ended a 10-game losing streak against FBS teams.

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

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