Seen & Heard on Buckeye eve

THE OL' HYPE meter is running overtime, both nationally and locally, as the Cougar-Buckeye match draws closer. So before flying off to Columbus, I thought I'd add fuel to the fire with some insights, notable notes, injury updates and, best of all, three audacious predictions.

Let's start with Columbus itself. I'm getting conflicting reports about what to expect at The Horseshoe on Saturday. Our esteemed executive editor was in Columbus in 1985 to see the Buckeyes top Mark Rypien and the Cougars 48-32 and says the OSU faithful were loud, but downright polite to WSU partisans. Another friend who witnessed the Buckeyes' 45-29 victory over Steve "General" Grant and the Cougs in 1979 says he thought the stadium was filled with a bunch of sociopaths.

No matter how you slice it though, facts are facts: the Ohio State following is big and intense. Consider this little factoid --- the Buckeyes drew 8,000 more people to their final spring game (yes, their spring game!) than were on hand for WSU's thumping of Idaho last week. For the record, that means 37,783 fans showed up at the ‘Shoe back in April.

Saturday's kickoff, by the way, is at 12:30 PT and ABC is televising it to about 60 percent of the nation. Brent Musberger will call the game. In addition, ESPN's College Game Day will originate from Columbus on Saturday. Kirk Herbstreit will be one of the anchors. He was the Buckeye QB and captain when they played WSU in 1991 and last season he was one of WSU's biggest fans, repeatedly telling the football world the Cougs were an up-and-coming team to watch.

HEY, WHAT'S WITH these games against Big Ten schools leading to contract extensions for Pac-10 coaches? Mike Price's contract was extended by five years on Thursday -- and another year will added for each season the Cougs finish above .500. That will keep Mike in crimson at least through 2007. It's a great move, and it comes on the heels of the UW giving Slick Rick an extension just one day after that loss at Michigan.

THE LATEST word from the Pullman infirmary is encouraging, with ankle-sprained linebackers Will Derting and Don Jackson and fleet running back Jonathan Smith considered possibles for the Ohio State game. Not sure yet what the status of Jerome Riley is --- and it's a good chance we won't know until kickoff time. If he's out, look for Collin Henderson, Scott Lunde and perhaps speed-burning Sammy Moore to see more balls thrown their way. Cougar kickoff specialist Adam Holiday, who sat out the Idaho game with a hip pointer, is said to be back in fighting trim.

PREDICTION OF THE WEEK: Moore will return a punt for a touchdown this weekend, and OSU's Maurice Clarett will take a screen pass 80 yards for a score. Final prediction: If the temperature is in the 70s and the humidity reasonable, the Cougars will win. If it's hot and muggy, the fourth quarter will be a killer.

STAT OF THE DAY: The Cougars haven't been held scoreless in a game in 18 years. In fact, it was exactly 18 years ago this weekend --- in Columbus, no less -- that the Cougs last failed to hit paydirt or split the uprights. The Buckeyes downed the vaunted RPM Cougars 44-0 that day. Alas, WSU now owns the longest scoring streak in the Pac-10.

ONE THING THAT struck me about WSU's victory over Idaho was the brevity of the Cougars' scoring drives. The first four crimson TDs came on drives of 1, 3, 4 and 7 plays. I think four TDs and a field goal can nudge the Cougars to victory on Saturday in Columbus, but simply for the sake of taking the notorious Ohio State crowd out of the game, I hope the Cougs can put together some sustained, clock-eating drives. They really haven't done that in either of there first two games this year -- and they rarely did it in the last half of last season.

EXCEPT FOR A little face painting and chest pounding once in a while, I tend to be pretty low key when it comes to assessing Cougar players. But I must say that after watching Devard Darling up-close over the last two weeks, I'm compelled to venture into hyperbole. I think this kid is going to be someone we're talking about 30 years from now. He's got the hands, the moves, the wheels -- oh those wheels! -- and no doubt the route running and crack-backing abilities Mike Levenseller is famous for instilling in his guys.

THE COUGARS' TRIP to Columbus, where no fewer than six Heisman Trophy winners have showcased their wares over the years, reminds me of a fascinating piece of trivia that Bob Robertson, the legendary broadcast voice of the Cougars, shared with me not long ago. WSU opened the 1967 season with three monstrous opponents: USC, Oklahoma and UCLA. The Cougs dropped all three games by a combined score of 121-23. More notable, though, is that each team featured a Heisman Trophy winner: UCLA's Gary Beban, who won the award that season; USC's O.J. Simpson, who won the award a year later; and Oklahoma's Steve Owens, who won it in '69.

COUGS TO WATCH: Five Cougars are on watch lists for postseason awards: Kicker Drew Dunning (Lou Groza Award); QB Jason Gesser (Davey O'Brien Award); DT Rien Long (Lombardi Award); OG Derrick Roche (Lombardi Award) and Outland Trophy (interior lineman); and center Tyler Hunt (Dave Rimington Trophy). Jason, by the way, once again leads the Pac-10 in passing efficiency with a rating of 175.57.

NOBODY ASKED, but have you ever noticed that all these national awards for individual excellence --- there's now something like 15 of them with the recent creation of the Ted Hendricks Award for best linebacker --- all but one are named after white guys. Every damn one of them except the Thorpe Award. It's downright pathetic. I can think of quite a few guys who are more deserving than the ones currently being memorialized and they'd add some much-needed diversity to the line up --- guys like Alan Page, Mike Singletary, Paul Warfield and Fritz Pollard, to name but a few.

RADIO LISTENERS in Western Washington say coverage of the Cougars this year ain't like it used to be when KIRO and even low-brow KJR beamed the signal but that it's much, much better than last year's spotty coverage on those weak-watted stations you'd never heard of. This year, Cougar games are coming down the I-5 corridor on two 50,000-watt blow-torches --- KYCW (formerly KING-AM 1090) and in Portland at 1080 on the AM dial.

CONGRATULATIONS are in order for former Cougar Rose Bowl mainstay Steve Gleason. The Pride of Gonzaga Prep spent parts of the last two seasons in the NFL with the Saints, but always as a mid-season replacement, never making the opening day roster. Until now. Steve won a spirited battle for a spot with the 2002 Saints as a backup safety/special teams firebrand. Couldn't have happened to a nicer guy.

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