"They (Stanford) are probably the most balanced team we've gone up against," Cougar coach Mike Price said this week. "We thought Arizona was a balanced team, and they certainly are, but Stanford is certainly the most balanced team so far. They have a good quarterback (Randy Fasani), he's a smart, great athlete, and (receiver Luke) Powell is a great athlete."
Add the absence of star Cougar running back David Minnich--out two to four weeks with a knee injury -- to the fact Stanford has inside knowledge about the Cougs in the form of assistant coach John McDonnell, and the challenge for WSU becomes that much more formidable.
McDonnell, former Cougar offensive coordinator, quietly moved on to Palo Alto as an offensive line coach over the winter after his 12-season run with WSU hit rock bottom. So while the fresh perspective Mike Levenseller brings to the OC spot is good news for the Cougars, McDonnell's familiarity with the playbook and Price's tendencies is big-time trouble.
"It's just part of the deal," Price said. "John knows the offense, he's got copies of my last four play books -- he wrote them for crying out loud. It's got to be a huge advantage for Stanford and they've had two weeks to get ready for us. So we started changing in the spring. We started changing plays, signals to the quarterback, cadence counts and right now I'm working on changing some of the blocking schemes."
If it all comes together this weekend, the Cougars should finally have their spot in the Top 25 --- a place that some believe would have been guaranteed had it not been for the team's ho-hum second-half effort against Oregon State last week.
"(The team) was disappointed before I talked to them," Price said. "There are lots of reasons for us not being ranked -- but we're probably the only 5-0 team that hasn't been ranked."
"I think we deserve a ranking," Cougars cornerback Erik Coleman said. "We are one of the best teams so far."
A 2 pm date with the Card will go far in proving him right or wrong. But one thing is certain: Stanford headman Ty Willingham knows he's in store for a test.
"They're dangerous team because they are not getting any respect," he said of the Cougars. "They are not ranked in the top 25. That's a team you really have to watch out for because they are coming down to play the team ranked in the top 25. They are looking for respect, but with one exception-- I did rank them. In fact, I have them pretty high."
"I think right now they are best team that we've seen this year. They are extremely explosive on offense and their big three or big four-- however you want to characterize the quarterback, the running back and the three wide receivers -- are pretty good. The defense, you look at them and you see a defense that has not given up very much of anything. They seem to be able to recover extremely well, which might be their strongest quality."
Former Cougar and Fresno State head coach Jim Sweeney said Saturday that he considers the Cougars one of the best teams in the nation -- and "I've seen a lot of games and a lot of teams." Among those teams is his Bulldogs of Fresno State, who are No. 10 ranked right now. The Cougars, he says, are better.