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The Early Glimpse: WSU looks to clinch its first winning season since 2003 vs. Bruins

THIS REMAINS a long shot, I'll admit. But honestly, I never thought there was a possibility we'd see this era again in Cougar football. What am I talking about? Something big. Something "big picture" big when it comes to Washington State.

Back-to-back-to-back 10-win seasons.

We're a long way from this coming to fruition, a repeat of those heady days in 2000-2002, when WSU reeled off three consecutive 10-win seasons = the first team to do that in the Pac-10 since the 1930s (USC).

But you can't tell me after Saturday's 38-24 win over Arizona State, some of you didn't think, huh, the Cougars could win 10 games this season.

You can't get two or three straight seasons of 10 wins before getting the first one. And even if Washington State comes up short of 10 wins, just one more win this season is significant, as it would assure the Cougars (6-3, 4-2) of their first winning season since 2003. It would also guarantee a bowl. WSU is bowl-eligible now, but you need seven wins to be guaranteed a spot in the postseason.

Washington State is at last check a 9 1/2-point underdog in Saturday's game at No. 18 UCLA (7:45 p.m., Rose Bowl, ESPN). The Cougars already have three road wins as an underdog this season, so it's not like they would be breaking ground in beating the Bruins (7-2, 4-2).

After that, it's Colorado, which looks like a free square, though as we've learned with Washington State, nothing at home is a gimme. But it should be a win, even though Colorado is somewhat improved. Then there's the Apple Cup. Frankly, of the final three games, this one looks the toughest to me. It's not only a rivalry game, but the Huskies appear to be playing better as the season progresses - the once horrible offense is looking credible, the defense conintues to play surprisingly well.

Should Washington State win its final three games, it can claim win No. 10 in the bowl game, wherever that may be.

If the Cougars win 10 games this season, could this be the start of a three-year, 10-win run? Wouldn't bet on it, that's even tougher to do today than when WSU did it in early 2000s, but the possibilities are lining up.

The key is quarterback Luke Falk, who has two years of eligibility remaining after this season. Leaving early for the NFL is always an option, but odds are Falk is in Pullman through his senior season in my book. That's big.

It doesn't appear Washington State is going to run out of receivers, and the key running backs are freshmen or sophomores. Three-fifths of the offensive line is back next season. The defense will have to find several replacements up front, but there are stores in the cupboard there and the back end figures to be even better in 2016.

The schedules set up well for Washington State in 2016 and 2017. Next year, the Cougars play five of their nine Pac-12 games at home, which should help offset a difficult non-league road game at Boise State. In 2017, WSU has three home non-league games in Nevada, Boise State and Montana State.

Again, I am by no means saying the Cougars are on their way to three consecutive 10-win seasons. But the foundation is set up for the possibility. Let's narrow the focus now, and look to the task at hand facing the Cougs on Saturday.

About UCLA:  The Bruins have won three consecutive games, but talk about a paper-thin stretch of the schedule. UCLA's wins have come over Cal, Colorado and Oregon State. The Bears have lost four straight, Oregon State six straight and Colorado has lost five of six, the lone win coming over Oregon State.

The last time UCLA played a quality opponent was four weeks ago against Stanford. The Cardinal smoked the Bruins 56-35.

What to make of UCLA. The Bruins do have seven wins, so there's that. UCLA has a quality win over Brigham Young, 7-2 and winner of five consecutive games. The rest of the Bruins' wins came against fairly mediocre competition: Virginia, San Jose State, Arizona, Oregon State, Colorado, California.

In their most recent game, UCLA routed Oregon State 41-0, piling up 33 first downs and 674 yards in the win. It was a thorough beating, but again, the Beavers are reeling. The Cougars made short work of Oregon State not long ago.

While Washington State is looking to clinch a guaranteed bowl berth and a winning season, UCLA has more at stake. The Bruins are still in thick of the Pac-12 South title race. Should UCLA win out -- it has games remaining against WSU, Utah and USC -- the Bruins would win the South and likely get a rematch against Stanford in the Pac-12 championship game.

Statistically, UCLA is 18th in the country in total offense (491.7 yards per game), and 23rd in passing offense (293.7 ypg). Defensively, the numbers aren't as bright, as the Bruins are No. 67 in total defense (397.7 ypg) and 100th in rushing defense (198.2 ypg). Of interest to Washington State, UCLA is 18th nationally in passing efficiency defense.

The Bruins present Washington State's defense with a balanced offensive attack. Running back Paul Perkins is one of the Pac-12's best, as he has run for 961 yards and 10 touchdowns this season. As a team, UCLA has run for nearly 1,800 yards, about 40 percent of its offense.

Quarterback Josh Rosen is in the running for the league's top freshman honor. Rosen has had a solid first year at UCLA, throwing for 2,562 yards and 18 touchdowns, with just seven interceptions. The Bruins' leading receivers are Jordan Payton (50 receptions, 751 yards, 4 TDs) and Thomas Duarte (42-666, 8 TDs).

Defensively, linebacker Aaron Wallace causes a lot of havoc in the backfield, with the team leadership with eight tackles for loss and five sacks. The Bruins' top tacklers are linebacker Jayon Brown (59), linebacker Isaako Savaiiiaea (49) and defensive end Kenny Clark (49). UCLA has 11 interceptions, including two each by Ishmael Adams and Randall Goforth.

As for special teams, UCLA always seems to have a quality kicker, and it's no different in 2015 with Ka'imi Fairbairn, who has missed only one kick in 54 field goal and PAT tries this season. Fairbairn is 15 of 16 on field goals, with a long of 60 yards this season.

The series: After a two-year hiatus, the WSU-UCLA series resumes. In 2012, UCLA beat the mistake-riddled Cougars 44-36 in Pullman. The Bruins sprinted to a 37-7 halftime lead, then held off WSU's second-half rally. The Cougars have lost five consecutive games to UCLA, last beating the Bruins 27-7 in 2007. UCLA leads the series 40-18-1.

Familiar faces: Only two players on UCLA's roster from Washington, and one is gone in Bellevue linebacker Myles Jack. The other also comes from Bellevue, in freshman linebacker Christian Pankey. None of the current UCLA coaches have Washington State ties, but head coach Jim Mora is a former Washington Husky.

Notable notes

  • This is just the second time since 2006 that Washington State has faced a UCLA team ranked in the Top 25. The Cougars' most memorable game against a ranked Bruin squad came in 1988, when WSU knocked off No. 1 UCLA 34-30 in Pasadena.


  • A win over UCLA would by no means assure Washington State a spot in the Associated Press Top 25. The Cougars received only two votes in last week's poll, and would have to jump over seven teams to crack the top 25.

Read Nick Daschel’s occasional Pac-12 ramblings at twitter.com/nickdaschel

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