Seen & Heard 11/19

THE ONLY POSITION worse than third in the BCS rankings is fourth in the Olympics. You're one of the best in the world, but no one gives you a medal. So said's Ivan Maisel in a great column this week about our Fighting Cougs.

"Blame it on East Coast bias. Blame it on one half of bad football (against Ohio State). But say this about the Cougars -- they belong inside the velvet ropes," Maisel wrote about the team universally rated No. 3 in the nation.

At long last, with national attention washing over the 9-1 Cougars in torrents, the props that just didn't materialize a year ago, despite a 10-2 record, are here in force.

Shoot, Tom Dienhart, The Sporting News' sage football writer, is even penning stories about why Jason Gesser should be among the top three contenders for the Heisman. This week's ESPN Magazine is pushing Gesser for the Davey O'Brien National Quarterback Award. And Washington's own Cody Pickett is talking about the opportunity to play a "big time" team like WSU.

But let's be frank.

The national championship talk is wonderful and the Heisman speculation is great.

But seeing the Crimson Gladiators of the Palouse favored by 7 1/2 over the Huskies is, while at first blush comforting, a downright scary thought.

It's not often the Cougs are favored in the Cup, but when they are the results are unsavory. Last year they were. And lost. In 1989 they were. And lost. In 1974 they were. And lost.

This year marks, according to our friends at the Seattle Times, only the sixth time since 1973 that the Cougars have been favored. And while there have been victories while favored -- in 1973 and 1988 -- you have to admit it does give one pause to have the expectation looming over your head. Particularly so after watching that Dawg-Duck game last week.

Reggie Williams gives me night sweats. So does that scrappy linebacker, Ben Mahdavi.

But being a numbers guy, I stopped to ponder the true meaning of Washington's November rampage through Oregon and Oregon State. Here's what I concluded: It's time for we Cougar faithful to scrap the underdog mind set.

WSU is 19-3 over the last two seasons. They're No. 3 in the all the polls.

The Cougars are underdogs no more.

In other words, the hand-wringing over the Dawg resurgence this month needs to stop. The Cougars are stout and mentally tough. They've shown it time and again this season.

Sure, this will be a hard-fought game. No question about it. The Dawgs have lots of talent.

But consider that Washington's two-game winning streak --- which seems to have many a crimson faithful on the verge of bed wetting --- is courtesy of two schools that have combined for only six Pac-10 wins this season. That's the same number of Ws the Cougars have racked up so far all by themselves. And four of those six Duck and Beaver wins came at the expense of struggling Arizona and Stanford.

Then there are the Dawgs with three Pac-10 wins --- two over the Willamettes and another over cellar-dweller Arizona. That's not exactly the Halle Berry of resumes.

I know, I know. Visions of upsets past --- like 1982 when the undermanned Cougs pulled off the unthinkable --- are dancing through your head.

Alas, feel free to stricken any reversal of fortune calamity from your mind.

Why? Because while I've shed my underdog cloak, I'm still superstitious as all get out.

Which is why I've demanded that our executive editor don the same black turtle neck this Saturday that he wore during the glorious 1988, 1992, 1994 and 1997 Apple Cups. True fact, he's never had the shirt on his body when the Huskies prevailed.

More than that, however, is the fact the Cougars have the age-old 10-and-2 Rule --- 10-year spans of years ending in a "2" --- on their side. The Cougars won 42-23 in 1992 (the Bledsoe, Bobo, Wright-Fair avalanche); 24-20 in 1982 (the upset heard 'round the world); and 27-10 in 1972 (the Ty Paine, Ken Grandberry, Eric Johnson, Gary Larsen show).

MATCHING SCORES: Husky receiver Reggie Williams is a stat machine, with 77 catches for a gazillion yards and 11 TDs this season. But guess who quietly has piled up 11 TDs of his own this year? Cougar rookie receiver Devard Darling has 10 receiving and one rushing TD so far. He needs one more scoring reception to tie 1997 Fab Fivers Chris Jackson and Kevin McKenzie for the WSU single-season record. Darling isn't the only newcomer who's been scoring for the Cougars this year --- 27 of WSU's 42 TDs have been scored by first-year guys. Besides Darling, there's Jermaine Green with eight, Jonathan Smith seven and Troy Bienemann one.

SPEAKING OF HOT receivers, has Jerome Riley had a great second half of the season, or just what? He leads WSU in receiving yardage with 678 hashes, but 562 of those yards have come in the five-game stretch since he returned from a hamstring injury. He's averaging a glossy 17.8 yards per catch and has posted four games of 100 receiving yards or more --- 117 against Nevada, 139 at California, 173 at Stanford and 131 against ASU. Makes you wonder how that Ohio State game would have played out had Jerome been healthy.

RIEN DANGERFIELD, IT SEEMS: First, USC QB Carson Palmer said he had no recollections of Rien Long, despite the fact the Cougar defensive tackle was a one-man wrecking crew in WSU's overtime victory over Troy. But then, a month later, Oregon coach Mike Belotti offered up the ultimate complement, saying Long reminded him of Husky super-legend Steve Emtman. And now it's back to being Rodney Dangerfield. The man Long will be facing Saturday, Husky senior guard Elliott Zajac, apparently doesn't exactly know who Long is. Asked about the big Cougar, who recently was picked to Sports Illustrated's Mid-Season All-America team, Zajac is quoted as saying, "Is that the noseguard from Wazzu?"

Apparently the lack of familiarity extends to Rick Neuheisel as well. Asked on his weekly radio program about the WSU defensive line he mentioned Long, but wasn't quite sure about the ID of Long's battery-mate at tackle (in case you're wondering, it's Jeremey Wiliams. "The other tackle. Is it .... Williams?" Rick queried.

Geez, coach, given the full-court recruiting press ---- nay, hard sell --- you put on Jeremey when he was a much-touted senior at Spokane's Ferris High, it's hard to believe you can't remember his name.

STAT OF THE WEEK: WSU has allowed just 80 rushing yards in the last three games, minus 17 by Arizona, 37 by Arizona State and 60 by Oregon. In six Pac-10 games, WSU has given up an average of 67.2 yards per game -- best in the conference. For perspective, consider that WSU's fabled Palouse Posse of 1994 allowed just 78 rushing yards per league game, the best ever for a Cougar D.

THE LEGEND GROWS: Jason Gesser's career totals in touchdown passes, passing yards and total offense rank him among the elite QBs in Pacific-10 history. He's also within striking distance --- albeit formidable --- of John Elway's conference record for TD passes. Gesser, with 66, is tied for third on the all-time list, 11 back of Elway's 77.

BOYS WILL BE BOYS: Ya gotta laugh. Four Sacramento State defensive linemen were reprimanded last week by the Big Sky Conference for greasing their jerseys before a game with Montana. The Steak Eaters apparently broke out cans of Pam, the legendary nonstick cooking spray, to ensure that the paws of Bobcat hossses were kept at bay.

Cougfan Top Stories