National media missing out on WSU-Arizona

PULLMAN – As the Cougs prepare to welcome Arizona to a sold-out Martin Stadium this Saturday (Pac-12 Networks, 3 p.m.), I can’t shake a couple thoughts that keep running around my head. First off, this is a much bigger game than it is getting credit for nationally.

Remember last year headed into WSU-UA, how the Cougs were 4-5 and on their way to another bowl-less season headed into Tucson? We know how that ended – Wazzu made Arizona look ordinary on their way to becoming the on-the-rise-going-to-a-bowl-game feel good story of December.

A win this year could again revitalize the Cougars and firmly send them on their way to another second-half-of-the-season run and bowl berth. If the Cougs knock off a four-of-five streak of wins to get there, observers far and wide will be waxing poetic about Mike Leach and the WSU program.

In other words, the 2014 Cougar narrative in place right now at 2-5, will change.

Arizona, meanwhile, is No. 15 in the nation, firmly in the hunt for the Pac-12 South and Pac-12 championship game and who knows what else?

Auburn in Week Nine last year went on to jump nine spots the rest of the way and played in the title game. Arizona is no doubt looking to keep winning, jump 11 spots and end up in the four-team playoff depending on what the teams above them do. So this is a huge game for Arizona too, especially after giving one away to ‘SC. (If Arizona hits a 36-yard field goal in L.A., they’re 6-0 right and in the top 10.)

Youth has wreaked havoc on the Cougs this season, but I think the rewards from that may be coming sooner than next season. I believe we are about to watch this team grow up quantifiably starting this Saturday -- it wouldn’t shock me at all if WSU is looking at an Apple Cup where a win sends them bowling.

I think the difference in this one comes down to quarterback play, and that’s a plus for the Cougars. Last time Connor Halliday played at home, he was, let’s call it ‘pretty good’, setting an NCAA record for passing yards and throwing six touchdowns. Arizona, meanwhile, has not been able to mount a consistent pass rush this season.

The Pac-12 Networks just might have the best game of the week in the conference on their hands in WSU-Arizona, one that promises to be a barn-burner.

Flipping the page to the departure of running back Squally Canada this week ... He tweeted earlier this month he was tired of watching and wanted to play. Given that he knew from the start he was almost certainly going to redshirt unless he came in and was better than all the upperclassmen, I have a guess it’s something a little more than that.

The tandem of Jamal Morrow and Gerard Wicks was going to be tough to climb over for Canada, it could be as simple as that. Two redshirt-freshmen doing some very good things each week probably didn't have Canada grinning from ear to ear. Look at redshirt senior Theron West, who entered fall camp as the clear starter and with a ton of fifth-year promise in tow. He was labeled a ‘difference-maker’ by the coaching staff. And then Morrow and Wicks passed him by.

Still it’s too bad Canada couldn’t stick around. He has a power/speed combination that could have paid dividends – if he were to work hard. After all, just about every player on the WSU roster is a former high school star, a big fish from a smaller pond. The guys who excel at the Pac-12 level are the ones determined to outwork everyone else. If Canada wasn’t willing to do that with Wicks and Morrow ahead of him, then it’s best he left.

Last, a shout out to Cougar Nation for selling out Martin Stadium early in the week! It’s about time the Cougar players saw that kind of dedication from the fans. Get there early. Crank up the volume. And hopefully, celebrate a Cougar win afterwards, safely and sanely.

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