Forecasting the Cougs' 2006 fortunes

WSU'S FOOTBALL SEASON kicks off in a month when the Cougars travel to Auburn for a nationally televised showdown with the vaunted Tigers. That means we have but four weeks to gaze into the crystal ball and foretell what will happen in 2006. To offer you the best forecasting available, CF.C is twisting the arms of people whose opinions we respect and asking them to predict the Cougars' fortunes.

In the first of two installments, here's what we're hearing ...

Columnist, Seattle Times

"I think this season sets up in a way that has traditionally been good to the Cougars -- they'll be picked low by most people, which helps them lie in the weeds. I think they have a relatively good shot at a bowl game, especially with five Pac-10 home games in the new round-robin format. Looks to me like the Sept. 23 and Oct. 7 games at Stanford and Oregon State, respectively, are huge -- winnable games that precede consecutive home games in October with Cal and Oregon. I'm eager to see how Alex Brink performs as a veteran with significant starting experience. The cast of receivers is very good, and although Jerome Harrison was terrific a year ago, I think the bigger issue will be getting consistent play out of the offensive line, which really did a nice job last year.

"On defense, I think the front seven has a chance to be very good, if they can stay healthy. If the tackles stay healthy and play to capability, then Mkristo Bruce can be a beast on the outside. But health is always a huge concern. I think the loss of Will Derting a year ago was worth two losses, enough to keep WSU out of a bowl game. It's very difficult to go through a season without some injuries to starters. As for the Pac-10 overall, I look for Cal to overtake USC this year. The Bears have a big stockpile of talent, but (it goes without saying), they have to improve their quarterbacking in a big way."

All-Pac-10 and All-America Cougar QB, 1976-78

"This is Alex Brink's team. He has the ability to put up huge numbers and get the Cougars back into a bowl game. For me, leadership is the area where I look for him to blossom. He now has a full year of experience as the starter and there will be no Josh Swogger in the shadows making him look over his shoulder, though Gary Rogers is a physical specimen. This season, Alex knows it's his job - period. So where does he go from here? He needs to grab the reins of leadership like Jason Gesser and Drew Bledsoe did – he needs to take the approach that ‘this is my team and we'll go as far as I can take them.' In terms of brainpower, there's not a quarterback around who can dissect a defense like Alex can. He's very bright and he's played enough that there's no defensive scheme he hasn't seen. Once he and Jason Hill get on the same page the way they did for parts of last season, the results can be huge. The receivers, the line – they're going to give Alex great support. And hopefully one of the running backs will step up to fill the gap left by Jerome Harrison. Bottom line, Alex Brink and this offense should do some real damage this season."

All-Pac-10 Cougar offensive lineman, 1989
Former assistant coach at Cal, Fresno State and San Diego State

"I'm looking forward to a successful – bowl-going – season for the Cougs. Like Coach Doba has said – they just need to finish games. They were so close in so many last year but couldn't slam the door shut. The offense and defense couldn't put it together on the same days and there didn't seem to be the will to finish things up late in games. The offensive line last year helped Jerome Harrison gained 1,900 yards. He was a once-every-20-years kind of talent, but the offensive line can still produce big results for all those young running backs the Cougar have if they concentrate on continuity and communication. Getting those five guys on the line playing at a peak level from the start of every game to the finish is going have a ripple effect that will carry this team back to the post-season."

Columnist, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

"I talked to the founder of an on-line betting service,, and he said the Cougs are 200-1 to win the national championship. That's not so bad when compared with the Huskies – they're grouped in a special "field" of teams that have no shot. I keep thinking about the season-opener at Auburn. The Tigers are ranked in the top 10 in the country and the Cougs are picked by most to finish in the lower half of the Pac-10. When was the last time the Cougs won a big intersectional game on the road? They played well at Ohio State but lost in '02. I remember it being hot and muggy in Columbus and that the Cougs couldn't stop Maurice Clarett. I worry about the Cougs facing similar weather conditions and an environment so foreign to them that they might get clobbered. Hope not, of course. The optimistic side of me is thinking that they're talented enough to pull the upset, but are they confident enough in themselves to do it? I sure as heck hope so."

All-American Cougar safety, 1981
Cougar color commentator 1985-97

"Let's start at the beginning. The Cougs can beat Auburn. They'll need to play a lot of guys to stay fresh in that humidty, and they'll need the lead heading into the fourth quarter because teams from the West start to run out of juice late in the fourth when they play that far south this time of year. But I really don't think Auburn can stop our offense – more specifically, Jason Hill and those other great receivers. Win or lose, though, you go down to Auburn and play a tough game against a national power and you'll benefit the entire rest of the season. The Cougars will be mentally tougher after that game, regardless of the outcome. I think one of the problems last season was the fact the Cougs opened the year against three powder puffs. They weren't tested before they got into Pac-10 play. This year they'll definitely be tested. Auburn is outstanding and Baylor is a good, fast-improving team. Idaho, with Dennis Erickson as head coach, makes for an instant 14-point swing in every game.

"I don't know how Bill Doba held himself together so well last season, with Judy (his wife) in the final stages of her battle with cancer, the general pressure-cooker of coaching and the fact so many games came down to the wire and went the other way. The grit, determination and class he showed last year deserves a payback and I think that reward this year will be a bowl game. The receiving corps is scary good and I'm expecting a great year from Alex Brink. On defense, Mkristo Bruce is going to be a beast, especially so if Matt Mullennix on the other side makes it impossible for teams to double-team Bruce. The entire defensive line is going to be outstanding, the linebackers are very solid and the safeties – Eric Frampton, Husain Abdullah and Michael Willis – are big-time hitters. It's going to come down to the cornerbacks. Your corners must be able to lock up the other team's best receiver if you're going to play pressure defense with success. If the Cougars solve the riddle at corner, this will be a nice, nice season."

Next Thursday, August 10, is the date of the first-ever Night at The Village Pub in Seattle's Magnolia neighborhood (3221 W. McGraw St.). Things will start at 6:30 pm. All Cougar fans are invited. We'll have a couple of special celebrity guests, a door prize or two, and a hot-off-the-presses report from our reporters covering workouts in Pullman. We're also planning to show video highlights of season's past. The first 10 pitchers are on CF.C's tab, so come one, come all and let's talk up the Cougs.

Cougfan Top Stories