The most important bowl of all for Cougs?

YOU CAN HEAR the critics out there: 'It's "just" the New Mexico Bowl. It's not all that big a whoop whether the Cougs win or lose. And the opponent is "only" Colorado State – this isn't all that important a game.' They couldn't be more wrong.

An argument, and a strong one, can be made that in terms of psyche, the mentality of the program, a WSU win in the New Mexico Bowl would have a greater effect than the 1998 Rose Bowl or the 2003 Holiday Bowl. And therefore a win Saturday would in many ways be more important than either of those two bowl games.

I know. Hear me out.

The outcome of the 1998 Rose Bowl did not make or break that season. The importance of the 1997-98 campaign was cemented the moment WSU beat UW in the Apple Cup to snap the 67-year Rose Bowl drought. In '03, against No. 5 Texas, the No. 15 Cougs were going to finish in the Top 25 and probably the Top 20 regardless – a successful season had already been accomplished.

Now, a win would have been monstrous in that Rose Bowl. And a loss to Texas would have certainly taken some of the sheen off and denied WSU a third consecutive 10-win season. But at the end of the day, neither of those outcomes will produce as many benefits as a bowl win Saturday in Albuquerque would for the Cougs.

That is not to say if WSU loses to CSU , all is lost. It isn't. Because of where the program has been these last 10 years, getting to a bowl game in Year 2 of the Mile Leach Era is a big first step, one that can't be taken away even if the Cougs lose the New Mexico Bowl.

But think of what a win on Saturday would do for the Cougars…

There is a world of difference between 7-6 and a winning season -- and a 6-7 mark. A world of difference to recruits, alums, casual fans and non-local media.

A winning season for Washington State would complete the package and elevate WSU in a very significant way headed into the offseason.

CougFans knew early in September the Washington State program was on an upward glide path, the first time they truly knew that in 10 years. The national media took longer to come around but come around they did, ever since the Utah victory and Win No. 6 for the Cougs. Recent weeks have seen multiples of increased exposure and the kind of positivity that only comes with a bowl berth.

Imagine Leach selling a 7-6 WSU program for the rest of this recruiting class, and then for the whole of the 2015 recruiting cycle. Imagine him talking about where WSU had been, and where they now after his second season at the helm and most importantly, where they're going in Year 3 and beyond.

Based on the known verbals in the current class, imagine Leach and the Cougar assistants with a winning season in their back pockets when they head back out on the recruiting trail. Imagine the alum and fan reception Leach and Co. would get this offseason. It will be strong no matter happens on the field on Saturday. But it will be stronger if WSU wins.

Yes, the Cougs will still be getting plenty of exposure this offseason regardless of who wins on Saturday. But to be able to say that Year 2 of the Leach Era saw the Cougars post a winning season and seven wins, after nine victories in the four years before his arrival. In Leach's second season, he would have notched the most wins for the Cougs since 2003.

Imagine what he's going to do next year and in the seasons to come. "Just" the New Mexico Bowl?

"Only" Colorado State?


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