COMMENTARY: Look forward, not back, Coug fans

IT WAS SOMETIME in late August, I can't precisely remember the day, when I had seen enough in regards to the predicted fate of Washington State's 2008 football season. One media poll after columnist after magazine hack sentenced the Cougars to the Pacific-10 Conference basement for the upcoming season.

It was an easy, though, in my opinion, not a very thoughtful call; pick the team with the new, inexperienced-at-Division I-football-coach as this season's Big Loser.

No way, I thought. Not with Stanford and Washington in the league.

Was Washington State a title contender? Not in anyone's wildest dreams.

A bowl contender? Probably not.

But last? You couldn't rule it out, but again, Stanford and Washington are on the schedule.

I thought the Cougars were a year away from hitting bottom. Here was my faulty thinking: WSU returned Brandon Gibson, arguably the Pac-10's best receiver. A fifth-year quarterback in Gary Rogers. Running back Dwight Tardy, who had proven big-game production. An offensive line with a few horses. A defense returning some quality.

The Cougars, providing they could avoid widespread injuries that would expose their depth, were going to surprise some people this season, I reasoned.

Well, the injuries have been widespread. But the simple reality after two hapless weeks is that the Cougars, injuries or not, are destined to surprise no one. So much for my August theory.

California's 66-3 shellacking of Washington State confirmed that everyone who placed the Cougars 10th in the Pac-10 weren't making a prediction, but merely taking the free space.

That the Cougars kicked a field goal and kept the country's second-longest scoring streak intact is the only positive -- this side of Reid Forrest's leg, that is -- to come out of the Bear mauling.

Say, good thing Washington State decided to schedule Portland State, and not Eastern Washington for its third non-conference game this season. Right now, you'd have to think the Eagles might be favored.

Surely you've heard that old saw, in order to repair a situation, break it down completely, and then build it back up.

Well, after Saturday, the Cougars look like they're deep into stage one.

The Cougars can't get out of their own way.

Outside of Gibson, Trent and Kenny Alfred, how many Cougars would start for another Pac-10 team at the moment? And the dearth of talent aside, Washington State looks disorganized and entirely out of sorts.

I suppose there should be some analysis here as to what happened against California, but what's the point? If you saw it, you surely don't want to read more about it. If you didn't see it, consider yourself lucky.

It's unhealthy to look back at Saturday, or for that matter, the first two games, in which the Cougars were outscored 105-16. That's a result you'd expect from a small directional school taking on a couple of body bag paycheck games to start the season.

Has a Division I school ever started a season with two home games and found itself 0-2 and outscored by 89 points? While we await the answer from the firm of Geek and Sliderule, I'll take a stab and say no.

The only thing to do is look forward. And not to, oh, 2012, wise guys.

Washington State's best opportunities for victory this season take place the next two weeks: at Baylor on Saturday and Portland State at home on Sept. 20.

Like WSU, Baylor is working with a first-year coach (Art Briles) who is attempting to rebuild a broken program. The Bears have lost nine consecutive games to Division I programs, none of the losses closer than 20 points.

If Washington State collects itself from Saturday and gets one of the quarterbacks to play in an adequate manner, the Cougars can beat Baylor.

Then there's Portland State, which started its season by taking a 7-0 halftime lead over mighty Western Oregon. The Vikings, of course, will view Washington State as their chance to knock off a Division I program and grab a headline, but even in the Cougars' current disheveled state, that shouldn't happen.

So stop the presses. The Cougars could be 2-2 two weeks from now.

Which means…?

Which means Washington State will win at least two games this season and perhaps three, depending on how Hawaii develops. There are no Baylors and Portland States in the Pac-10. Even the Huskies look like they could beat the Cougs right now.

If you're a Cougar fan -- and why would you read Cougfan if you weren't? -- the bigger outlook you're latching onto is that the Cougs show steady improvement and organization. Maybe in time to pick off Stanford and then spring an Apple Cup surprise. Another forecast to hold onto is that some of the impact recruits who show up for official visits are intrigued by the possibilities and sign letters of intent with the Cougs in February.

But remember: that's a prediction. In that department, I'm as good as the 2008 Cougars.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Nick Daschel covered Washington State and Washington football for The Columbian in Vancouver, Wash., over the past two decades.


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