Why I like the Grambing game

<b>I KNOW THERE are some boo birds in the Crimson Nation right now who wish the Cougs were playing Ohio State or someone else of that ilk in Seattle this year rather than Grambling State. While the desire for a high-profile opponent is understandable, I like the addition of Grambling a whole lot. Here's why:

First, while the Tigers are Division I-AA, the Cougars can still count a victory over them toward the six-win minimum required to earn bowl eligibility. That's because Division I-A schools, as I read the rule book, are allowed to count one such victory every four seasons. Since the Cougs didn't need to count either of their wins over Division I-AA Montana State in 2002 and 2003, this one's available if necessary -- though I honestly don't think it will be.

Second, the stark reality in this day and age is that high-profile, or even medium-profile, intersectional opponents aren't too interested in traveling across the continent to play a game against a team that has won 36 games in the last four seasons and two Pac-10 titles in the last seven years. They want those matchups to be in their own stadiums. And the Cougars' insistence on home-and-home deals before they'll head East is absolutely right on target. The program has evolved to the point where WSU doesn't need to prostitute itself for big road paydays anymore.

Third, there's Grambling itself. We're not talking the University of Maine or Louisiana-Monroe here, folks. We're talking about an opponent that is attractive for a bunch of reasons. One is the fact they have a storied tradition of both winning and sending players to the NFL. The other is the amazing Tiger marching band, which will be coming to Seattle and no doubt will be a draw unto itself. And finally, there's the fact Grambling is a black school --- that creates some unique marketing potential in the African-American community in Western Washington. It's a little bit like Notre Dame --- there's an interest and potential connection that transcends geography.

JIm Sterk, WSU's athletic director, summed it up well in a news conference at Qwest Field today: "With the strength of the Cougar support in the Seattle area and the attention Grambling and its band will bring, my advice is to get your tickets early. I would be surprised if Qwest Field is not sold out Sept. 17."

There's a fourth reason why I like this game. The Pac-10 is one of the toughest conferences, top to bottom, in the land. By adding Grambling to the schedule, the Cougars will open the season with three non-conference opponents they should defeat -- Idaho on Sept. 1, Nevada on Sept. 9 and then Grambling on Sept. 17. With a mostly brand new secondary and a starting quarterback (take your pick, Josh Swogger or Alex Brink) with only a handful of career starts under his belt, that's three weeks of getting your sea legs before sailing into the white caps.

COUNTING THE SEATTLE game, the Cougars will have six home games in 2005. In Pullman there will be the opener with Idaho --- which has been moved to the Thursday night of Labor Day Weekend --- and four Pac-10 games: Stanford, UCLA, Arizona State and Oregon.

Traditionally, opening the season over Labor Day Weekend in Pullman has not been conducive to drawing a large crowd, thus the move of the Idaho game to Thursday evening. In 2001, a Thursday night game before the long weekend against Idaho drew more than 31,000 fans --- roughly 5,000 more than the fabled 1997 opener against UCLA on the Saturday of Labor Day Weekend. The Idaho game is expected to be televised by Fox Sports Northwest.

WSU's opening road game will be Sept. 9 -- a Friday night -- at Nevada, and live coverage is expected on ESPN. The regular season concludes with the Apple Cup in Seattle on Nov. 19.

Jim Sterk on the power of Grambling's marching band: "While living in New Orleans for four years I witnessed the excitement and crowds that would watch not only the Bayou Classic, but also fill up the Superdome to see the bands play the night before the football game. I felt it would be special to bring them to Seattle. It is a show like you have never seen before."

Cougar coach Bill Doba on Grambling's remarkable talent over the years: "Fans in the Northwest don't see Grambling but as coaches we are aware of how dangerous they will be next fall. Many of our fans will be thinking about the great band show at halftime, but that will be far from the minds of our staff and team. Any team that can produce professional hall of fame players like Willie Brown, Buck Buchanan, Charlie Joiner and Willie Davis, not to mention Doug Williams and Everson Walls, has the ability to be pretty good." Since 1949, more than 200 Grambling players have gone on to the NFL.

Grambling, whose offensive line averaged 330 pounds per man last season, has some serious experience returning at the skills positions in 2005. Freshman quarterback Brandon Landers threw for over 2,220 yards and 18 touchdowns in 2004 and running back Landry Carter, also a freshman in 2004, racked up 1,046 all-purpose yards.

Papers in Louisiana report that Grambling is guaranteed a $500,000 payday for making the trip to Seattle.

When Grambling travled to San Jose State two seasons ago, 43,000 fans attended --- that was 33,000 more than the Spartans' home-game average, and it speaks to the power of Grambling's amazing marching band.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Paul Sorensen was a first-team All-American safety at WSU in 1981. He played professionally in the NFL and USFL before starting a lengthy run as the color commentator on Cougar radio broadcasts. He has been writing periodically for Cougfan.com since 1998.

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