Cougars' best chance to land the Holiday Bowl is a Stanford win, then win a duel with Utah

WASHINGTON STATE FANS having their sights set on the Cougars playing in the Holiday Bowl had better root for Stanford beating USC in Saturday's Pac-12 Championship game. Holiday Bowl executive director Mark Neville talked to about the Cougars' prospects of playing in San Diego, and the factors the committee will consider.

Stanford is favored to beat USC, and should that happen, the Holiday Bowl appears to be looking at the Cougars, Utah and yes, even USC, Neville said, to fill the Pac-12's slot in the Dec. 30 game in San Diego, provided Oregon lands in the Alamo Bowl.

If USC beats Stanford, and it comes down to a decision between Washington State and Oregon at the Holiday Bowl, the Cougars are likely to come in second best.

COUGFAN: What is in Washington State's favor?

Neville: Several things. Washington State was here once before in 2003 and all of our board of directors and committee remember the Cougar fans well. It was a great trip down here. They were loud and dedicated and they traveled en masse. To get a team like Washington State this year, is a great thing, if we are to get them to San Diego. They've only been to one bowl game since 2003. Coach (Mike) Leach has really turned that thing around in Pullman. Get a team to play the best they've played in a long time, we know that excites the fan base. Cougar fans are hungry to follow their team.

COUGFAN: Will the Apple Cup performance factor into the decision?

Neville: We do look at the wins and losses, for sure. But we also understand they had an injury in a very key position. We know with Luke Falk there at quarterback, we've done our research for sure. I think we're going to be facing a very difficult decision, if let's say Stanford wins and goes to the Rose Bowl and Oregon goes to San Antonio. We have a tough decision to make. We have three 6-3 teams that we're going to have to make a difficult decision.

COUGFAN: What is the committee discussing when it comes down the WSU, USC and Utah?

Neville: One question I get on that is what's the deciding factor? And I cannot tell you. There are probably 25 different variables that are thrown into the equation, and so we're just fortunate that we're in this position. We're put in the position where we may get to decide between Utah, Washington State and USC, three outstanding football programs.

COUGFAN: How important is the season ticket base, and how a fan base travels?

Neville: I'll give you a few variables. We do look at the record. If we can make it where the decision is made on the football field, that's easiest. We have a pretty good track record for taking the most deserving team. Wins and losses, as it relates to the Pac-12, that's the most important thing. We look at overall record, we look if there's a travel history. We look at ticket sales, not only when they go to bowl games, but how they do in their own stadium. We also want to put a good match-up on the field. How exciting is the team to watch? Where would our local fans' interest lie? I will say, we have pretty darn good track record of taking the more deserving team.

COUGFAN: Utah's season ticket base is larger than Washington State's. Is that a big factor?

Neville: It's included in that equation. And I'm not going to give it more weight than anything else, necessarily.

COUGFAN: If USC wins Saturday, then what?

Neville: I can tell you with fair amount of certainty that if USC wins on Saturday and Stanford goes, and this is just hypothetical of course, to the Alamo Bowl, we're most likely going to take Oregon then. They're 7-2 and have a better record on the field.

COUGFAN: If it came down to Washington State and Oregon, even though the Cougars beat Oregon, you'd still take Oregon?

Neville: In most cases. I'm not going to give you 100 percent absolute. But that's what we generally do.

COUGFAN: How often did you scout Washington State this season?

Neville: We were just up there for Apple Cup. But it's hard. Just because we're not at a game, doesn't mean we're not watching it. Trying to remember if we had anyone at the Rose Bowl when they were there. Don't hold me to it, but I don't think we had anyone travel to Pullman. That's not unique to that school. There are many that we don't make it to.

COUGFAN: When you scout a team, what are you looking for?

Neville: Depends on when in the year we're there. If we're getting down the road where a team looks like they're going to be in our mix, we do our best to get a sense of the fan base. See if there's excitement to go on a bowl trip. Talk to marketing people in athletics. With Washington State, trust me, we've received hundreds of emails from Cougar fans. We know the Cougar fans are diehard and if they were to come down, we know they would come down en masse, for sure.

COUGFAN: Which school is pitching hardest?

Neville: I'd say it's pretty equal, if you're saying USC, Washington State and Utah.

COUGFAN: USC is pitching? Seems like they think the name sells itself.

Neville: We had a great experience with them last year in our game. They enjoyed it. Their fans enjoyed it, so yeah. Of course, their eyes are on the Rose Bowl.

COUGFAN: Wouldn't USC having played in the Holiday Bowl just last year be a negative factor?

Neville: Yeah, but again, it's part of equation. I'm not going to say it's the deciding factor by any stretch.

COUGFAN: What is Bill Moos' pitch?

Neville: Bill is an excellent salesman, I'll tell you that about him. Bill, he's looked at very fondly down here by the red coats. He's a great salesman for his program.

COUGFAN: Bill has said he will sell the fact that WSU beat Oregon, but apparently, that's not a selling point.

Neville: Again, that is something we look at it. Signature wins. That is one of them. Just like Utah beating Michigan. We didn't know how impressive that is until later in the year. Bill sends me emails with more facts, and we talk quite a bit. He's great. We're huge fans of Bill Moos and we're huge fans of Washington State. We had Coach Leach here once before as well when he was at Texas Tech. He's looked at very favorably by our red coat family, too.

COUGFAN: Where does it stand with the other opponent, from the Big Ten?

Neville: Things could change, of course, but I think we have it narrowed down to now Wisconsin, Michigan and Northwestern.

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