Commentary: Winning is one great deodorant

LOS ANGELES – Winning, a wise man once said, is the world's greatest deodorant. If that is the case, the locker room of the Washington State Cougars must smell like roses. Figuratively speaking, of course.

It's happening, people. The rebirth of WSU football is taking place right before our eyes.

No, the Cougars are not yet great again. They aren't a Top 25 team. They won't win the Pac-12 North this year. They're certainly not a lock to go to a bowl game this season.

We get all that. We're OK with that. These things take time. But for the first time in forever, none of those objectives seem impossible to envision in the none-too-distant future.

Hope, it turns out, is a wonderful thing. That's what Mike Leach and Bill Moos and incredible amounts of hard work by WSU's players, assistant coaches and support staff have provided fans.

Saturday night's win at 25th-ranked USC was only one sign that the times, they are a changin'.

The process began the moment Leach arrived on campus. Do you remember his first press conference? The packed ballroom? The national media attention? The spike in ticket sales and donations?

All that is well and good, but it's just dessert. The meat and potatoes of any football program is the work ethic, the mental toughness, the belief system instilled in the players and coaches.

"The culture change," one Cougar after another after another after another has muttered since Leach arrived.

The Great Leach Experiment is not for everyone. Many players departed, unwilling or unable to meet with the demands of a coaching staff that arrived at WSU from places near and far. Mostly far.

Leach and most of his assistants needed Sherpas and guide dogs to find Pullman. They didn't care about the Cougars' historical struggles. They didn't care how things were done in the past. They didn't care what Joe Booster thought when things went awry in year one.

No, Leach came to Washington State knowing how to win, knowing how to build a program and knowing --- being absolutely, totally, 100 percent positive – that his plan works. When Leach's explosive, batten-down-the-hatches offense really takes off … watch out. After all, the Cougars only scored 10 points off USC, and the Trojans are the Trojans in name only this year. That No. 25 ranking was a reward for past accomplishments, not current skill levels.

When all the WSU losses started piling up last year, it was easy to overlook the fact that the Cougars gave second-ranked Oregon a scare for a while. And that the Cougars played 14th-ranked Oregon State tough. And that the Cougars were a play or two away from beating 19th-ranked Stanford. And that the Cougars scored the final 22 points of the game to leave 17th-ranked UCLA racing for the airport, thankful that more time did not remain on the Martin Stadium scoreboard.

Yes, fans, there's a new game in town. In fact, there's a new scoreboard, too. What's missing is sustained excellence on the field, and sustained occupancy in Martin Stadium.

Various construction projects have reduced the capacity of the Pac-12's smallest football stadium to less than 33,000, but the Cougars have sold out exactly one game the past six seasons. At last word, next Saturday's home opener with Southern Utah (3:30 p.m., Pac-12 Networks) was not particularly close to selling out, and season-ticket sales were down from last year, when the home opener with Eastern Washington was a last-minute sellout.

Washington State fans are slowly starting to donate at levels befitting a Pac-12 school, but the Cougars say it's time to get butts into seats. No doubt the buzz from the USC game and the usual injections of excitement and curiosity connected with a home opener will provide a boost to ticket sales this week. Nothing provides players and coaches with clear confirmation that their hard work has not gone to waste than to look up into the stands and see nothing but a sea of crimson.

It feels good. It looks good. Come to think of it, it probably smells good.

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