How close are Cougs to winning Pac-12 North?

PULLMAN – Washington State’s record stands at 2-4 (1-2, Pac-12) but if you’re a team on their schedule like the Stanford Cardinal tonight, (ESPN, 6 p.m.) you’d better look right on past that record. With three games lost by a combined 11 points and a fourth that could have, and should have, gone to Wazzu, it’s not much of a stretch to say these Cougs could be undefeated.

If the Cougs had a good kicker, I say they’d be at least 5-1. On that note, I miss Andrew Furney. Dealing with a bad snap on the game-winner against Cal? Wouldn’t have mattered, Furney was the best false-step kicker I’ve ever seen. Need a kick from 50-yards out against Rutgers at halftime? No problem. Mr. Clutch hit one from 60 against EWU a couple years ago in similar conditions. Ah, the good ol’ days.

But Mike Leach has his program moving in the right direction. Even Oregon fans were singing the praises of the bright and oh-so-dangerous (near) future of Cougar football here in Pullman, But the hump has been, just barely, too steep the first six games.

The biggest one that got away was Oregon. The Ducks somehow escaped making the Pullman police blotter a few weeks back, mugging a WSU receiver to the point of nearly stealing his jockstrap …on the most crucial play of the most critical drive of the game, and well before the ball arrived.

A few of you may remember back to 2001 when the 11th ranked Ducks came into Martin Stadium on a warm and rainy night and topped the No. 14, undefeated Cougs by a touchdown on ABC. Yes, they did the same thing that night as well, tackling receivers on three consecutive plays in the end zone as time expired with nary a flag being thrown. Three grand larcenies, on their way to stealing at least a Rose Bowl trip from WSU that season.

I always felt, as do others, that that 2001 WSU team was the best of the three 10-win teams in the early 2000’s, and that they got gypped hard. I ended up in El Paso and celebrated a Sun Bowl win over Purdue with the team, but WSU should have been in Pasadena. Anyway, in 2014, the Quacks avoided a loss to the Cougs again by somehow dodging the obviously necessary yellow hanky.

Maybe the official saw some yellow shoes on the field, thought one of his colleagues threw a flag and figured “meh, we got it”, I don’t know. There is no reasonable explanation.

Apart from the three losses by a combined 11 points and Oregon, the other defeat this season was the 24-13 setback to Nevada. The offense got it going enough to win but was held back by something called home conference advantage. When the powerful Mountain West wolves weren’t interfering with receivers with the ball in the air, a straight-up nasty and dirty Wolf Pack team clobbered the Cougs all night after the whistle and got away with nearly everything under the moon.

Meanwhile, every time the Cougs drove inside the 20-yard line, a flag came out to set the Cougs back. Unfortunately for WSU fans, it never came out when the Cougs were getting tackled by defensive backs. Nevada never was backed up inside their own five yard-line, where they should have lived by all accounts.

Honestly, I can never tell if it’s just the Cougs or what, do officials for some unknown reason don’t like them or is it simple coincidence? Because WSU always seems to end up on the short end of the stick with the referees. Even still, the Cougars should have beaten Nevada, provided the kicker could have converted two easy field goals that would have given the Cougs a lead and full momentum.

Mind you, I’m not the complaining type and this is less about the way WSU lost these four games than to point out just how close the team, and subsequently the fans, are to having a whole different perspective on this season at the midway point. Speaking of which, right now every time I see a field goal go through the uprights on Saturday, I admit I get a little bitter.

With a now NCAA record-setting quarterback and no less than three candidates on the Biletnikoff Award Watchlist, the 2014 WSU narrative is perhaps 5-7 plays away from looking at 5-1, or simply unbeaten and ranked.

Basically, for any Coug fans (like myself or Bill Moos) that said this team would compete for the North this season, they are everything we thought they would be, minus a winning record at the halfway point of the campaign.

Make no mistake, this team still has a chance to do something special the rest of the way but they have to stop shooting themselves in the foot and then trying to kick field goals through the uprights with it.

Wouldn’t it be nice if a couple bounces and flags start going our way too? In fact, is it too much to ask for that to start happening tonight in Palo Alto? An upset of No. 25 sure would start the second half off nicely for the Cougs.

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