The Benchmark Bowl

THERE'S NO DENYING the importance to a football team of finishing the season on a positive note. But there's much more at stake than "positive notes" for Washington State when they face Texas on Dec. 30 for the Holiday Bowl.

For one, a win over the Longhorns would mean a third consecutive 10-win season for WSU. A peak generally reserved for elite college football programs, but even more astonishing when realizing it hasn't been done by any Pac-10 team since Southern Cal did it in the old Pacific Coast Conference 70 years ago.

Further, a Coug victory over the No. 5 Longhorns next Tuesday would certainly catapult Ol' Wazzu—currently No. 14 —back into the land of the Top Ten when the final rankings come out in January. This also would mark the third consecutive year WSU finished in the top ten and the first such occurrence by a Pac-10 team since the Trojans did it from 1972-74.

More importantly, the Cougs—despite these remarkable assaults on the conference records book—need this Holiday Bowl to hush the critics who would say, regardless of their unprecedented success, WSU just doesn't belong with the Nation's elite.

And they're not without statistical evidence.

A close look at WSU's last three top ten teams—1997,2001,2002—shows that the Cougs have had little success against the country's major players.

In '97, the Cougs opened the season with a win over the eventual fifth ranked UCLA Bruins, but fell to No. 1 Michigan in the 1998 Rose Bowl.

It took No. 2 Oregon until the game's very last play to down WSU, 24-17, in 2001.

And nearly a third of the final top ten teams were represented on Wazzu's 2002 schedule. The Cougs were defeated by No. 1 Ohio State early in the year and No. 5 Oklahoma took the 2003 Rose Bowl crown. But it was a 30-27-overtime victory over the eventual No. 4 Southern Cal Trojans that season that earned the Cougs a trip to Pasadena.

Texas will be the second team currently ranked in the top ten that the Cougs have faced this season. Current No. 1 USC (ignore the BCS nonsense) took down WSU, 43-16, in November.

Speaking of the Rose Bowl, if you're a homer like me you put an asterisk by those two losses (I don't put one by the 1931 Rose Bowl loss, I concede Alabama won that one fair and square).

How can you not?

After all, two seconds was more then enough time for Ryan Leaf to work one last bit of QB magic. And even the Oklahoma fans I shuttled to and from the Rose Bowl with last January wondered aloud what might've been had that whole Mike Price distraction not clouded the Cougar Nation.

But here's an asterisk even you more objective Cougfans can sink your teeth into: Since the Cougs last visited the Holiday Bowl in 1981, WSU is 4-0 in bowl games not played in Pasadena.

The WSU flag known as Ol' Crimson that, thanks to dedicated Cougs throughout the country, enjoyed more airtime on ESPN's Gameday then Lee Corso, will be making a grand appearance at the Holiday Bowl.

How grand? Let's just say you might want to keep your eyes skyward if you're at the game right before kickoff.

WSU's coordinator of football operations, Shawn Deeds, contacted the Ol' Crimson Booster Club earlier this month to arrange the flag's first primetime appearance on ESPN. And once again, the efforts of Ol' Crimson caretakers Tom Pounds and John Bley are to be saluted for making this happen.

Also be sure to keep a lookout for Ol' Crimson happenings before and after the game, including a retrospective on the beloved icon at the WSU-sponsored pre-game festivities at the Qualcomm Stadium parking lot, beginning 1:30 pm.

The Cougars spent Friday at SeaWorld Adventure Park…former Cougar players John Hopkins, Kevin Stephenson, Tony Savage, Rod Plummer, Nakoa McElrath and Adam Holiday have visited WSU practices this week at San Diego State University…safety Hamza Abdullah and offensive tackle Patrick Afif suffered knee injuries during practice last week. Abdullah is listed as probable and Afif is questionable for the Holiday Bowl.

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