COMMENTARY: Lots of questions loom for Cougs

PULLMAN -- I wonder if Paul Wulff feels like the guy who shows up for his birthday party, only to find someone has popped all the balloons. In a world filled with people who complain incessantly about their jobs, Wulff is livin' the dream as the coach of the Washington State football team.

COMMENTARY

This, more than any other job at any other school at any other time, is exactly what he wants to be doing in life. And Wulff absolutely radiates crimson pride.

Unfortunately for Wulff, the football gods don't seem to be getting caught up in the sentiment surrounding a proud alum's return home. The Cougars have been decimated by so many injuries, the Red Cross has declared WSU's Rogers Field practice facility a federal disaster area. So long is WSU's injury list, diehard Husky fans have expressed sympathy.

OK, the last part was a lie. But you get the picture.

A team already thin on depth and experience will open the season with both projected starters at offensive tackle and two of the three projected starters at wide receiver all sidelined or limited due to injuries. One of WSU's key defensive backs is suspended for disciplinary reasons the first three games, and one of the better defensive lineman was kicked out of school by a student conduct board.

Speaking of kicked, that might be a touchy subject around Pullman. The guys attempting -- and attempting is the key word here -- to kick field goals at the last scrimmage? Yikes. You may want to get ready for plenty of fourth-down gambles, Coug fans.

Wulff's entire first season may ride on his level of success with a number of gambles.

Can the Cougars win with a fifth-year senior quarterback who has never started a college game and who completed 4 of 16 passes last year?

Can the Cougars succeed by starting 5-foot-9 and 5-10 cornerbacks in a league known for explosive air attacks?

Can the Cougars survive the first few games starting two wide receivers who have never caught a ball in a college game?

Can the Cougars mount a pass rush with four starting defensive linemen (including three seniors) who have a combined total of 13 career sacks?

Be honest, it does not look good. Even the most crimson-blooded diehards should have plenty of doubts about this team. There's a reason a lot of folks are predicting that WSU will finish last in the Pac-10 for the first time since that three-year run of infamy from 1998-2000.

Optimists will recall that the following three years resulted in 10-win seasons that ended in bowl games. More reason for optimism: USC was one of the teams that tied WSU for last in 2001, and the Trojans have won or shared the Pac-10 championship every year since. Still more: The media blew it big time in both 2001 and 2003, picking the Cougs at or near the bottom of their preseason projections.

Wulff has a plan for reviving Cougar football, and the early returns are promising.

The Cougars are practicing harder than any WSU team in recent memory. Coaches are enthusiastic, caring and demanding. Great strides look to be getting made in recruiting, a sorry area for the Cougars in recent years.

So..hold on. It's going to be a wild ride. And wild rides can be fun, even if they're a little bit scary at times.


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