Seen & Heard 10/18

MIKE PRICE MAY have lost me when he announced that the 2002 football season was actually five seasons (or was it six?) crammed into one, but facts are facts: No matter how you slice it, the Cougar schedule --- with another two byes sprinkled in after the current one --- is about as good as it gets.

And it's a big reason why so many local and national pundits are leaning toward the Cougars in their mid-season forecast for the Pac-10 champion.

It's hard to argue. The Cougars will have had two weeks to both rest and prepare for their next opponent, struggling Arizona, in Tucson Oct. 26 in an evening game that will be televised live by FOX. Then it's home for both suddenly formidable Arizona State and always-tough Oregon. And then it's bye No. 2, giving the Cougars two weeks to ready for the Apple Cup --- in Pullman. And then it's bye No. 3 and two weeks to prep for the nationally televised regular-season finale at UCLA on Dec. 7.

So not only are the byes strategically positioned at a time of year when injuries --- and therefore, lack of depth --- often catch up with the Cougars, but the Cougs also get two of their fiercest foes, Oregon and Washington, plus the resurgent Sun Devils, in the friendly confines of Martin Stadium.

But before you start booking a hotel in Pasadena, remember three things.

First, that the Pac-10 should be renamed the Parity 10, because truly anything can happen on any given Saturday.

Second, that Jason Gesser's health is absolutely critical to continued success. As much as I like Matt Kegel, Gesser is the spark that fuels this crimson fire.

And third, the Cougs have some improving to do in several key areas. As Don Ruiz of the Tacoma News Tribune recently pointed out, the Cougars statistically have a middle-of-the-Pac defense; are last in the conference in red-zone offense (converting less than 70 percent of the time); have a short-yardage running offense that fails regularly; and a negative turnover ratio.

OKAY, NOW BACK to the sunnier stuff. Do you realize the Cougars are tied for fourth in the nation among Division I schools for best record over the last two seasons? It's true. Since the start of the 2001 campaign, the Cougs have won 16 of 19 games. The only better records belong to Miami (18-0), Oregon (17-1), and Oklahoma (17-2). Tied with the Cougars at 16-3 are Texas and Tennessee.

Perhaps more notable is that with last week's victory at Stanford, the Cougs have won six of their last seven Pac-10 road games. The stretch started when Matt Kegel led the Cougs to a road win at USC near the end of the 2000 season. A year ago WSU defeated Arizona, Stanford and Arizona State on the road before a loss at Washington. Besides Stanford, the Cougars this season have defeated Cal on the road.

IT'S HARD TO believe that Cougar receiver Collin Henderson of Puyallup is already a senior. Seems like yesterday he was a true freshman offering up that spirited brand of game he plays. Regardless of what happens the rest of the way, Henderson has forever etched his name into Cougar lore, having completed all 10 passes he's thrown via Mike Price's bag of gadgets over the past four years. Five of his tosses went for TDs. And his QB efficiency rating is a remarkable 628.72.

THREE CHEERS FOR Cougar redshirt freshman punter Kyle Basler who recently joined senior middle linebacker Mawuli Davis and junior receiver Scott Lunde in earning scholarships. Basler's been a boomer in his first season on the job, averaging 42.2 yards per kick. He ranks 21st nationally.

And speaking of great legs, has kickoff specialist Adam Holiday been something else or what since getting his hip flexor healed? His work in that nail-biter against USC was crucial to the Cougars' victory. He put every single kick deep into the endzone.

CONGRATULATIONS ARE in order for Cougar junior defensive tackle Rien Long and senior offensive guard Derrick Roche. Each of them this week was picked by Sports Illustrated to the mid-season All-American first team. Miami was the only other school with two people on the list. Gesser and cornerback Jason David were selected honorable mention.

And if SI was really paying attention, they would have put Marcus Trufant in there too. One reason he probably wasn't picked stems from the fact opposing teams rarely throw his direction. The same thing happened once upon a time to another great Cougar DB --- Ken Greene of the mid-70s. He didn't even get first-team all-conference honors, yet was a first-round draft pick by the Cardinals. Ken is the secondary coach for Joe Tiller at Purdue.

Gesser, by the way, needs just 503 more passing yards to pass Jack Thompson's WSU career record of 7,818. Thompson's record, set in 1978, was also for a time the NCAA career passing record. Back in the days before the spread offense, Jack left WSU as only the fourth QB in NCAA history to toss for more than 2,000 yards in three different seasons.

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