5 takeaways from WSU heartbreak vs. Cal

IF YOU DIDN'T care who won, the biggest takeaway from Saturday's 60-59 donnybrook between WSU and Cal would have to be that it ranks as one of the most entertaining college football games in the last decade or two. But now that the dust has settled, other takeaways seem pretty clear as well.

Barring a fantastic rebound, WSU is on path to its 11th-straight season without a winning record. Given that athletic director Bill Moos pledged that this, Year 3 of the Leach Era, would be the year in Cougar football and that he himself is coming up on five years on the job, continued losing will need to exact a price. Organizations with prolonged issues always demand a head to help calm the waters -- as much for psychological or political reasons as performance reasons. Or perhaps all of the above. Either Moos will ask Leach to serve up a name, or Leach is thinking on his own that he needs to make a change. No matter how they get there, though, the body politic will almost certainly demand an offing if this becomes a four-win season. Based on the way the year has gone so far, the leading contenders would pretty clearly seem to be special teams coordinator Eric Russell and defensive coordinator Mike Breske.

Special teams miscues have killed the Cougars all season and no turnaround appears to be on the horizon. WSU has committed at least one major miscue in every game this season and three losses -- vs. Cal, Oregon and Rutgers -- can be pretty squarely placed at the feet of the special teams. Yes, it's a team game and the offense and defense were complicit too. But special teams aren't supposed to stick out like a sore thumb. They're supposed to be workman-like. Average is fine. Just don't mess up. Last night's calamity was one for the ages, with Cougar special teams surrendering back-to-back kickoff returns for TDs and the field goal unit missing yet another trey attempt. As prolific as the Cougar offense is, Halliday & Co. are not going to be able to overcome the 7-, 14- and 21-point swings the special teams regularly rack up, especially against the likes of coming foe Stanford, Arizona and USC.

Each of the Cougars' three conference games -- against what preseason pundits would have labeled one top tier, one middle tier and one bottom tier team -- have come down to the wire. That fact, coupled with results around the rest of the league, point to a wild rest of the season. Is every game going to come down to late execution on one or two plays? Is 2014, for the the Cougs, shaping up like 2000, when the difference between going 4-7 vs. 7-4 was as razor thin as razor thin gets? The Oregon and Cal outcomes certainly point in that direction. But given the unpredictable nature of the conference right now, maybe four or five key plays at just the right time is all that separates the Cougs from another, albeit fanciful, bowl game.

WSU's leading receivers the last two seasons -- Gabe Marks in 2013 and Brett Bartolone in 2012 -- are on the sidelines redshirting this year and another prime talent, senior Kristoff Williams, is out with an undisclosed injury. Yet the Cougars' corps of wideouts is nothing less than head turning. The top four -- Isiah Myers, Vince Mayle, Dom Williams and River Cracraft -- are jousting at or near the top of Pac-12 and national stat sheets. But it's the way they run their routes, make tough catches, and block for each other that really stands out. The guess here is that when it comes time to pick the All-Pac-12 team they're going to get a ton of votes -- the problem may be that they splinter it so much that other, less-serving contenders sneak in.

The loud and full student section, the new football complex anchoring one end, the giant scoreboard in the other, and bricks ringing the sidelines while ribbon boards extend around the upper reaches creates a truly spectacular setting in Pullman. Martin has become an iconic-looking venue, especially when the lighting comes alive in night games. Whether sitting in the stands or watching on TV, the place looks like the setting out of a movie.

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