Consider this in looking ahead to 2014 Cougs

YOU CAN PLAY the "what if" game all day long, and from both positive and negative perspectives. This column will focus on the positive, and the endings of the Cougars' last two games – which were both losses, in looking ahead to 2014. If you needed a little optimism after the bowl game loss, you came to the right place.

Imagine how differently Cougar Nation would feel had the final moments of WSU's last two games gone another way.

In the Apple Cup, Washington State trailed 20-17 and had the ball on their own 28-yard line with 5:22 remaining in the fourth quarter.

In the bowl game, Washington State had a first down and an eight-point lead with just over two minutes remaining.

Indeed, WSU was tantalizingly close to going 8-5 this season, rather than 6-7.

Sure, WSU would have been in a different bowl game with a different opponent had they won the Apple Cup but we can only go by what actually happened and here's the real kicker anyway: Who out there feels the Cougs played a "complete game" in a lot of their contests.

GO BACK OVER the Cougs' 2103 campaign, game by game, quarter by quarter. The simple reality is that there were lots and lots of missed opportunities. Loads of mistakes.

Yet despite that, the Cougs still put six wins on the board.

And but for a different turn or two the final two games, that number swells to eight wins.

That's the biggest thing I'll take away from this Cougars' 2013 season -- what they did in the win column, and almost did these last two games. And that they got those six wins even though these Cougars, demonstrably, didn't play nearly as often to their potential as they could have.

If you were to just eliminate half of the correctable mistakes that were made, then think about what might have been. But don't think of it in terms of what's lamentable, think about it in terms of looking ahead.

IMAGINE WHAT'S IN store for 2014, when the Cougs take another step under Mike Leach in Year 3.

Because Bill Moos has certainly thought about it.

MOOS SAID IT at the start of this season. And he reiterated it numerous times over the course of this year:

Two-thousand-thirteen wasn't going to be the year. But next year, 2014, that is going to be the one, Moos says.

BECAUSE THAT'S WHEN a lot of the good, young players in the Washington State system will have grown up enough to start providing enough substantial benefits.

Moos has said he believes 2014 is when the Cougs begin to win with regularity, and begin to truly challenge the conference's elite.

And Moos before this season took pains to offer no assurances the Cougs could get to six wins in 2013. Well, they did anyway. And that they accomplished that and went bowling means the Cougs are ahead of Moos' schedule.

So if you're still feeling down about the bowl game loss, think about 2014. Think about what the Cougs did this year despite some of the mistakes of youth and inexperience. And think about how Moos has long said Leach's third year is when this thing at Washington State begins to take off.

And what do you know... It suddenly becomes a lot easier to be of good cheer.

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