Seen & Heard 11/12

AS MUCH AS I like being a homer, I must confess that I thought Tim Brando of <i>The Sporting News</i> was off his rocker last summer when he predicted a WSU-Oklahoma showdown for the national championship.

There are still miles to go before all is said and done, but who'd have thought we'd be sitting here in mid- November with the Cougars an eyelash away from the Fiesta?

Brando is looking like a genius, though he himself must be a bit surprised that the Cougars are actually better poised to make the big game than the Sooners, who are No. 4 in the BCS ratings to WSU's No. 3.

Coincidenally, WSU and Oklahoma are both 19-3 over the last two seasons, third-best in the nation behind Miami (21-0) and Texas (20-3).

For the Cougars to make it to Phoenix on January 3, they must win out against Washington and UCLA, hope that either Ohio State (BCS No. 1) or Miami (BCS No. 2) loses one of their remaining games, and that the final BCS calculation comes out right. The Buckeyes have Illinois and Michigan left to play, while the Hurricanes take on Syracuse, Pitt and Virgina Tech. Like the Cougars' remaining games, none of those tiffs will be gimmes.

As much as the collective Cougar Nation pulled its hair out over the Ira Davis punching fiasco, you have to admit that the lad's timing was impeccable. How so? Because it coincided perfectly with Will Derting's return from the injured list. Derting, who had been out with a high ankle sprain since Week 2, stepped right in for Davis at outside linebacker and he's looked amazing in the process. He followed up his nine-tackle effort against ASU with 13 stops against Oregon.

Derting may be a half step behind Davis in pass coverage situations, but he makes up for it in pretty much every other way. He flies to the ball, anticipates well. and hits like a truck. Barring injury, this kid is destined for the NFL.

And speaking of guys headed to the NFL, let's talk about Cougar senior cornerback Marcus Trufant for a moment. His work against Oregon --- especially on star Duck receiver Keenan Howry --- just reaffirmed what a huge talent he is. Howry, one of the most dangerous wideouts in the West, was limited to three catches.

Trufant has been taking on the nation's best receivers week in and week out and he continues to emerge the victor. Teyo Johnson of Stanford, Shaun McDonald of ASU, Bobby Wade of Arizona and Nate Burleson of Nevada have all gone one-on-one with Trufant and come away with modest success.

Trufant's fourth quarter interception against Oregon last week, by the way, was a thing of beauty. And it was clutch, too. The Cougs were leading by five and the Ducks were driving until he picked off Jason Fife, setting up Jason Gesser's 46-yard scoring strike to Devard Darling three plays later.

Hat's off to Cougar punter Kyle Basler, who was named Pac-10 Special Teams Player of the Week for his work Saturday against Oregon. He averaged 40.3 yards on six punts with none of the punts returned and four downed inside the 20 --- three of them inside the 15. He is the fifth Cougar to earn Pac-10 weekly honors this year, joining Derting, Gesser, kicker Drew Dunning and receiver Jerome Riley.

Basler's hang time over the last month has been nothing short of remarkable, waking the echooes of former Oakland Raider great Ray Guy. Not one Basler punt has been returned against the Cougars in the last three games. And going back four games, just a single punt has been returned --- and it went for a one-yard loss. Says Mike Price of the lad from Elma's lengthy hang times, "He's drawing rain now."

When you boil down all the Cougars' TDs, yards, sacks, etc., you come up with this impressive set of numbers: Longest overall winning streak (7) in the Pac-10; Longest Conference-game winning streak (6); Longest home winning streak, along with USC (7); and Longest road winning streak (3).

Another stat to ponder: The Cougars have trailed in six of their nine wins this year.

And yet another: The only TD scored last Saturday by Oregon's offense was aided by three --- count 'em, 3 --- Cougar penalties, including a phantom interference call on Trufant. Can you say total domination?!?!

With a bye this week, the Cougars won't resume practices until Thursday. After two consectuive emotional and physical games, the players need a break says Coach Price. The time away from the field means the coaches will be on the road this week tending to recruiting chores.

Speaking of recuperating, receiver Mike Bush is laying low today after undergoing surgery to fix that infected molar. He'll be ready to rumble in the Apple Cup, as will possession wideouts Scott Lunde and Collin Henderson who have been sidelined the last two weeks.

Unfortunately, offensive tackle Sam Lightbody won't be back in action until the bowl season. He strained a knee (medial collateral) against Oregon. However, fellow hosses Josh Parrish and Phil Locker are expected back at full strength for the Cup.

The latest word is that the Cougar-Husky kickoff in Martin Stadium on Nov. 23 will be moved to 3:30 so it can be televised live on FOX.

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