National attention

<i>Associated Press</i> and <i>ESPN/USA Today</i> pollsters may be slow in warming up to the 2001 Cougars, but a number of other folks on the national scene are positively enamored with the 4-0 resurgence of Mike Price's club.

Greg Roberts, the esteemed handicapper from National Consensus, says he thinks the Cougars will win "at least" eight games this season and be positioned for a major bowl invitation.

Kirk Herbstreit of ESPN has been on the Cougar bandwagon since August and now refers to WSU as "my Cougs." A week ago he wrote, "People out West better start paying attention to Washington State. They have a big-play offense and an extremely quick defense."

Two of his ESPN colleagues, Chris Fowler and Terry Bowden, are now believers too, each conceding this week that Washington State is a team to watch.

On Monday, USA Today did a lengthy feature story asking who the faces are behind the gaudy numbers  42 points and nearly 500 yards per game  the Cougar offense is posting.

Oddsmakers in Vegas obviously are warming to the Cougs as well, having installed them as 11-point favorites against Oregon State. You have to admit, you'd have fallen flat on your face last summer if you'd heard somebody make that prediction.

The topping to all this new national attention is the Sagarin computer rankings, which now deem the Cougs to be the 11th-best team in the land.

And while it's obviously early to be doing any handstands, I would like to publicly announce that in a preview story I wrote about six months ago, I proudly called for the Cougars to win at least 10 games this season. Unfortunately, I let the editors of CF.C talk me out of it. They said my outlandish forecast would undermine the credibility of the site, so they made me tone down to 7-4. If the Cougs down Dennis Erickson on Saturday, I hope you'll join me on the message board in berating the heck out of our executive and senior editors for being pessimists.

Now that I have that out of my system, here are a few other thoughts:

First, I think the Cougars will beat Oregon State for one simple reason: Our offensive line is healthy and really starting to gel. The work of our hosses late in the Arizona game was a thing of beauty. Coupled with OSU's spotty DL play so far, look for David Minnich to rack up some serious yards on Saturday. And speaking of the Cougar OL, I see that Steve Cook has moved over there from the DL. Based on what I saw of Cook in the Idaho game, he's going to be one fast-moving, athletic hoss. I don't envy any cornerbacks who will have to contend with him on sweeps.

And while nobody asked, I can't help but marvel at the quality of the kids from small towns that Coach Price has brought into the program. The latest example is linebacker Pat Bennett of Forks. He's a true freshman and he traveled with the team to Tucson last week. Like Will Derting of Okanogan who, unfortunately, was lost for the season in the Idaho game, Bennett is a small town athlete who was completely overlooked by recruiters but obviously figures to make an impact at the Pac-10 level.

Turning to Sundays, word on the street is that former Cougar James Hasty, a standout NFL defensive back for a dozen years, was high on Mike Holmgrem's list of potential free agent signees a couple of weeks ago. But when the Seahawks asked that he work out for them before tendering a contract, the Seattle native said no thanks.

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