Two wins are needed over the next six contests. So let's look at some history.
Since 1972 through six games, the Cougars have been 4-2 six times. Now, a six-win season didn't always mean bowl eligibility, but for purposes of this discussion, we'll just assume six wins is bowl eligible.
Of those six 4-2 starts, Washington State won at least six games four times. In 1994, the Cougars turned a 4-2 start into a 9-3 season and an Alamo Bowl win. Likewise in 1988, 4-2 became 9-3 as WSU won the Aloha Bowl. In 1972 and 1977, the seasons ended with 7-4 record, though back in those days, it was Rose Bowl or bust.
Twice the 4-2 start wasn't enough. In 1996, the Cougars started 4-2, but ended the season on a four-game losing streak to finish 5-6. Same thing happened in 1993, when a four-game losing streak to end the season wiped out a 4-2 start.
Since 1972, the Cougars have been above .500 through six games 15 times. Of those 15, 11 seasons ended with a winning record. Of the four that ended in losing records, twice the Cougars were 3-2-1 through six games.
So the odds favor Washington State ending this season in late December, rather than the Apple Cup.
Of course, the strength of the final six opponents matters more than history. The combined record of Oregon State, Oregon, Arizona State, Arizona, Utah and Washington is 21-7. All have winning records.
Two of the six games could be particularly difficult: top 25 Oregon and Washington on the road. Anything can happen in an Apple Cup, but if we were to assume a loss in both, that means the Cougars will need to win two of four against OSU, ASU, Utah and Arizona.
That's doable, particularly considering the Oregon State, Arizona State and Utah game are in Pullman. Arizona on the road isn't out of reach either because the Wildcats are much like the Cougs in that they're building and have much to prove.
I personally think the Cougs will go 6-6. 7-5 is possible, as is 5-7. With a little luck, 8-4 is there. It would take a big upset to get to 9-3, and, of course, Coug fans will be upset if it's 4-8.
Now? The Beavers are starting to look decent on defense, since the second half of their game against San Diego State, followed by a solid performance against Colorado. A bye week to heal and improve, and Oregon State might end up being the best team WSU faces in Martin Stadium this season.
What's not at question is Oregon State's passing game. It is first rate, led by Mannion, who leads the country with 2,018 passing yards, an average of more than 400 hashes a game. The 6-foot-4 junior is completing 67 percent of his passes (160 of 238) with 21 touchdowns.
Cooks could be the Pac-12's best receiver. Yes, better than USC's Marqise Lee. Cooks lead the country in receptions (52), receiving yards (807) and touchdown passes (9). Also to watch are Richard Mullaney (25 catches, 399 yards, 2 TDs), and tight end Connor Hamlett (23 for 185, 3 TD).
Where the Beavers come up short is balance. Oregon State's running game is poor. Through five games, the Beavers have 340 rushing yards. Their leading running back, Storm Woods, has missed half the season with a concussion. Woods, who has 45 carries for 152 yards, is expected to return for WSU.
As we said earlier, the Beavers are improving, after getting torched for 49 points by Eastern Washington and 48 to Utah. What OSU does best is create turnovers. OSU has a turnover-margin of plus-4 as the Beavers have eight interceptions this season, including a pick that won a game at San Diego State. Defensive ends Scott Crichton and Dylan Wynn are capable of creative havoc.
The series: In a game that defined ugly, Oregon State beat WSU 19-6 last year in Corvallis. Beavers cornerback Jordan Poyer intercepted three passes from Connor Halliday, who started but was later replaced by Jeff Tuel. It was also a game that Mannion suffered a knee injury and caused his season to spiral south for the remainder of 2012.
Oregon State has a two-game winning streak over the Cougars, who last beat the Beavers 31-14 in 2010. The Beavers have won five of six against WSU.
Familiar faces: As a bordering state, Oregon State naturally has several Washington natives, nine on the roster. The key Washingtonians are three starters, center Josh Mitchell (North Bend), tight end Connor Hamlett (Edmonds) and defensive end Scott Crichton (Tacoma). As for coaches with Coug connections, linebackers coach Trent Bray was a standout at Pullman High whose father Craig is a former Coug assistant.
Read Nick Daschel's occasional Pac-12 ramblings at twitter.com/nickdaschel