WSU looking at Auburn for 2006

FOR THE PAST TWO WEEKS it has become apparent Washington State has been trying to schedule a big name opponent for next season. Negotiations are ongoing, but the first-ever match up between Washington State and Auburn appears to be getting closer to reality.

WSU Atheltics Director Jim Sterk would not confirm in Friday's Seattle Times which school Washington State is negotiating with, but the newspaper said it was known ESPN had approached both schools, and has also learned through sources over the past two weeks that WSU is in talks with Auburn.

Previously, both Sterk and coach Bill Doba had stood firm on getting a return date for scheduling an upper tier opponent. But the alternative, ending up without a big name in next year's out of conference schedule, was apparently worse.

Auburn is thought to have significantly increased the payout, which Washington State could find too good an opportunity to pass up. National television coverage seems a good bet, with ESPN the likely suitor. Morever, Doba likes his chances, as he looks to have a senior-dominated team in 2006.

Washington State has found it tough to schedule top opponents for a variety of reasons, chief among them that flush programs are opposed to scheduling a home-and-away series, preferring to load up on as many as seven to eight home games a year.

Sterk had tried to get Missouri, Nebraska, Iowa and Notre Dame to come to Qwest Field for this year and was turned down by all. WSU eventually scheduled Div I-AA opponent Grambling State for the Sept. 17 tilt in Seattle.

"We're not a storied enough program and at the same time we've become too competitive," said Sterk last year. "Kevin White, the athletic director at Notre Dame, said, 'We're not going to play you, you're too good.'"

Auburn was 13-0 last season, but was the odd man out in the hunt for the national title game as both Oklahoma and Southern Cal also went undefeated during the regular season.

Washington State isn't alone when it comes to the challenges of scheduling out of conference opponents. Although some have scheduled Div I-AA opponents for different reasons, five Pac-10 teams besides the Cougs will play I-AAs this season, as will seven of the 12 SEC teams. Of last year's Top 25, there were nine at last count who have booked I-AA opponents for 2005.

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