BCS? ABC? 8-0? Bring on those wacky Ducks!

HERE WE ARE within window-soaping distance of Halloween and suddenly everyone who even thought about rooting for the mighty cats of the Palouse can tell you what BCS stands for.

A year ago, when the Cougs were mired in their third straight losing campaign, it was a similar set of initials --- minus the "C" -- that the Crimson faithful were using when talking about their grid fortunes.

BCS, for all anyone knew back then, was a Division III school playing the likes of Prairie View A & M. It was as foreign as the Taliban. As obscure as Mullah Omar.


Any self-respecting Cougar partisan will tell you that BCS stands for Bowl Championship Series -- the formula used to determine who gets to play for the national championship.

The true zealots can even recite the Algebraic equation it takes to tally up the BCS standings. Suffice to say that Boise State beating Fresno State and Stanford beating Oregon last week helped land the Cougars in the No. 10 spot in this week's BCS computations.

That means if the season ended today, the Cougars likely would be playing in a major bowl game while Steve Spurrior and his vaunted Florida Gators might not.

Of course, it's the BCS standings at the end of November that actually matter.

But for Cougar partisans, the mere notion of a BCS discussion this late in the season borders on the sublime following three seasons of torment.

Read it and rejoice.

The 7-0 Cougars are one of only eight Division I-A teams still sporting a perfect record. Five of those teams occupy the top five spots in both the AP and USA Today/ESPN polls, while the Cougs are at Nos. 15 and 14 respectively.

THAT SEEMING LACK of respect by pollsters, however, will change in a hurry if the Cougs can extend their redemptive powers to eight straight with a win over Oregon this Saturday in Pullman.

The producers at ABC Sports think WSU has the right stuff to do it. How else to explain the decision to end their season-long boycott of the Cougs and televise this one starting at 4 pm? Even the grandaddy of all Michigan fans, Keith Jackson, is coming to preside over it all.

Oddsmakers are liking what they see from Mike Price as well. They've installed the Cougs as 2 1/2 point favorites.

That unto itself is a head-turner. WSU? Favored over Oregon?


The same Oregon whose QB is celebrated on giant billboards in Time Square? The same Oregon whose QB was on the cover of Sports Illustrated in August?

The same Oregon whose head coach Mike Belotti has been whispering "national title" in the locker room since nipping Wisconsin 31-28 in the season opener?


Whoa Nellie!

"I guess this is why they actually play the games rather than just letting the pundits pick the winners," quips long-time CF.C message board poster Rich Howard.

With the 6-1 Ducks now setting their sights on the Pac-10 title now that the national crown has been pulled out from under them by Stanford, this Saturday's showdown shapes up like one of those classic battles the two schools waged when Jim Walden and Rich Brooks were the ringmasters. In other words, whoever gets the ball last gets the win.

This is a clash of scoring machines that would make Rueben Mayes and Tony Cherry downright proud.

    • The Cougars are averaging 44 points per game, the Ducks 37.
    • The Cougars are piling up 492 yards of O per game, the Ducks 446.
    • WSU QB Jason Gesser is averaging 265 air yards per outing, Oregon's Joey Harrington 248.
    • David Minnich of WSU and Maurice Morris of Oregon are the third and fourth most prolific ground gainers in the conference, averaging 4.7 and 4.9 yards per carry, respectively.
    • Nakoa McElrath of WSU and Keenan Howry of Oregon are the two most prolific pass catchers in the league, with 47 and 31 grabs respectively.

But it's defense --- and home field advantage, too --- that have people thinking the unthinkable: WSU extending its record to 8-0.

While the Ducks have linebacker Wesley Mallard and some other big-time head-quackers on D, they aren't a complete stop corps. Oregon ranks ninth in the Pac-10 in pass defense and has registered but nine sacks on the year. Their rush defense is better, No. 5 in the Pac-10, but not formidable enough to keep the Ducks from pushing Arizona for the conference cellar in total defense, surrendering an average of 420 hashes per game.

The Cougars meanwhile, are second in the conference in total defense, yielding 333 yards per game, and a league-best 93 rushing yards per game. The Cougars also have a pace-setting 26 sacks so far.

THAT'S ENOUGH to put a skip in the step of even the most pessimistic among us.

But it's an illusion.

In the surest sign that Saturday's game could indeed come down to who gets the ball last, consider that WSU's impressive defensive statistics were basically crafted earlier in the season. If you take the Cougars' last ten quarters of play --- two vs. Oregon State and four each against Stanford and Montana State --- you'll find that they've been surrendering territory faster than a cotton field filled with boll weevils.

Much like Oregon, timely turnovers, solid special teams play and an opportunistic offense have kept the Cougars on the road to -- dare we say it? --- Pasadena.

To maintain those winning ways, the Cougar D needs to step up mightily against the most potent offense they're likely to see this year. A penalty here, a blown coverage there, and a missed tackle anywhere can add up fast against the Ducks.

If the Cougar offense --- a la Mark Rypien & Co. vs. Oregon in 1985 --- is put in a position where it needs to score on nearly every series, then WSU fans, come Saturday night, will be back to uttering BCS without the C.

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