Washington State Notebook: Forecasts and more

PULLMAN – Hordes of Cougar football fans adamantly maintain their team is not given its proper due by the media. Now comes proof – via the media – that those fans might have a valid point. ESPN.com, using a formula based on a team's preseason and postseason rank in The Associated Press Top 25 over the past 10 years, said Washington State has been the most underrated team in the country.

Teams were judged on a points system. If WSU was ranked 20th in the preseason and finished 10th, that was worth 10 points (and vice versa resulted in minus 10 points).

A team was given a No. 26 ranking for starting or ending the season unranked. For example, if WSU was unranked in the preseason but finished 20th, that was good for six points.

WSU compiled 51 points over the past 10 years to edge Boise State (48) for first place. Oregon was a distant third with 22 ½ points.

The Cougars made a killing by finishing the season in the top 10 three times (1997, 2001 and 2003) after not being ranked in the preseason. The 2002 Cougars also finished the year in the top 10, but the quality of that team was no secret before the season, having been widely picked to win the Pac-10 crown.

The most overrated team over the last 10 years? Florida State at minus-63. Tennessee was next at minus-58, then Washington at minus-42.

ESPN.com also applied its points system to the six Bowl Championship Series (BCS) conferences. Lending strong support to the theories about media bias against West Coast teams, the Pacific-10 Conference racked up 60 ½ points, and the Big East Conference was wa-a-a-a-y back in second with nine points. The Atlantic Coast Conference came in last at minus-102.

SPORTS ILLUSTRATED is out with its pre-season forecast and sees the Cougs repeating last season's 6-6 record, which would tie them for sixth in the Pac-10 at 3-6. On the bright side, SI seems to be predicting a 3-0 record for Washington State in nonconference games, which would mean a win at Wisconsin. The Badgers are favored by 14.

"If you want to be the best, you've got to play the best," WSU offensive line coach George Yarno said. "We're starting out with a darn good football team, so let's see what we've got."

SI ranks the Cougars No. 54 in the nation. That's lower than seven opponents, higher than five. Those rankings are: No. 1 USC, No. 10 Wisconsin, No. 20 California, No. 22 UCLA, No. 38 Oregon State, No. 45 Oregon, No. 48 Arizona State, No. 55 Arizona, No. 68 Washington, No. 97 San Diego State and No. 107 Idaho.

At least two other national magazines ranked all 119 NCAA Division I-A teams. Athlon lists WSU at No. 58, and The Sporting News has the Cougars at No. 79.

YOUNG GUNS: When the Cougars open the season in front of 80,000 fans at seventh-ranked Wisconsin, you can count on some wide eyes and mouths in the Cougar huddle. The Cougars figure to start five junior college transfers, one redshirt freshman and one true freshman. Three of the starters have never played in a college game; one has played football just the past two years, at a JC; and let's not forget that kicker Romeen Abdollmohammadi is a former soccer player who has attempted only four field goals in his life.

Cougar safeties coach Leon Burtnett doesn't seem overly concerned about the youthful lineup. After all, what hasn't Burtnett seen in his 31 years of coaching at 11 colleges (not to mention the NFL)?

"When I was head coach at Purdue," Burtnett recalled, "I started seven freshmen my first year (1982). That doesn't bother me. I told them, ‘We'll play the best guys we've got.'"

The Boilermakers finished 3-8 in '82, but went 7-5 two years later while beating Notre Dame, Ohio State and Michigan.

THE TWO MOST RECENT additions to the WSU football schedule -- Portland State next season in Pullman and Notre Dame in San Antontio in 2009 -- are testament to WSU athletic director Jim Sterk's ability to build lasting friendships. Before coming to WSU, Sterk was AD at Portland State, where he ushered the Vikes from Division II to Division I-A and the Big Sky Conference.

As for Notre Dame, Sterk already pulled off the first-ever Irish-Cougar meeting back in 2003. And now he's got the Cougs slated for a nationally televised Halloween showdown at the Alamodome in 2009 with the Irish as part of ND's plan to play several "home" games at different venues around the nation. ND's athletic director is Kevin White, whom Sterk worked for once-upon-a-time at both Maine and Tulane.

CF.C staff is poring over Sterk's resume to find the connection that has reportedly roped in Oklahoma State for WSU's annual Qwest Field game next season.


* It doesn't happen often enough on the football field to satisfy most Cougar fans, but WSU beat Washington in annual merchandise sales for the first time. The Collegiate Licensing Co. said the Cougars ranked 34th and the Huskies 36th. Texas came in first for the second year in a row

* Those Damn Mariners! The Cougars lost their only out-of-state radio affiliate when KFXX of Portland dropped WSU in favor of the Seattle Mariners and postseason baseball. Losing KFXX leaves Vancouver, Wash. – where WSU has a branch campus -- without a local Cougar station. All WSU broadcasts are available for a fee via the web or satellite radio.

BannerFan.com, which sells oh-so-sweet Cougar banners perfect for home, tailgating or the stands, is offering CF.C readers free shipping this month. Just write "CFC" on the order form. Head to www.BannerFan.com to order.

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