Seen & Heard 12/3

I DARE SAY there's never been a start of a week quite like this one in Washington State football history. The Cougs didn't even play last week, yet the news, speculations, observations and --- most rewarding of all --- commendations are washing over the Palouse in torrents.

Most remarkable is the role at centerstage that the Cougars now hold over the BCS. While hard to imagine since they took themselves out of the national championship race by gift-wrapping that game for the Huskies two weeks ago, the Cougars are on everybody's minds this week.

Indeed, the status of Jason Gesser was the lead story, replete with photo, of ESPN.com's college football page on Monday. With USA Today similarly engaged in Gesser's health, it seems the nation hasn't been this leg-ward focused since Marilyn Monore walked over that heat vent.

That's because a Cougar victory over UCLA this Saturday will turn the BCS on its head, with a fall of dominos that could find Iowa in the Orange Bowl, fergawdsakes, and WSU playing USC -- yes, the same USC we beat in October --- in the Rose Bowl. Nobody wants that because it would upend the natural order that the BCS is supposed to bring to college ball.

BUT ENOUGH OF ALL THAT. Speaking of Gesser, hat's off to him for being voted this week by Pac-10 coaches as the Pac-10 Co-Offensive Player of the Year along with USC's Carson Palmer. Jason heads up a group of five Cougars who have earned first-team all-conference recognition.

The others are senior cornerback Marcus Trufant (one of only three unanimous picks on the list with ASU DE Terrell Suggs and USC safety Troy Polamalu), senior guard Derrick Roche, sophomore tackle Calvin Armstrong and junior defensive tackle Rien Long.

With five selections, the Cougars tied with Oregon State for most players on the first team. It also marked the most first-team nods for WSU in school history. The previous single-season high for the Cougs was four selections ---- in 1994, 1989, 1983 and 1919. No Crimsonites were on the second team.

A whopping 11 Cougars --- just three of the them seniors ---- earned honorable mention all-Pac-10 recognition: punter Kyle Basler, safety Erik Coleman, DE Isaac Brown, receiver Devard Darling, cornerback Jason David, kicker Drew Dunning, running back Jermaine Green, defensive tackle Jeremey Williams and seniors Tyler Hunt (center), Jerome Riley (receiver) and Fred Shavies (defensive end).

THE CONFERENCE KUDOS for Long, however, are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg of adulation this week for the Anacortes star. The 6-6, 290-pound tackle was named first-team All-American by the Football Writers Association and --- get this --- picked as one of three finalists for the coveted Outland Trophy, given annually to the nation's finest interior lineman (offense or defense).

As near we can tell, no Cougar ever has been an Outland finalist since the award was created in 1946. Not Utley, Eaton, Lynch, Millard or even legendary Laurie Neimi.

So far this season Long has 19.5 tackles for loss --- 13 of them sacks. That's incredible production from an interior position. In all he has 45 tackles three batted-down passes. The other Outland finalists are Brett Romberg of Miami and Utah's Jordan Gross.

Expect more first-team All-American honors to roll in for Long and for senior giard Derrick Roche.

THE COUGARS ARE favored this week in their nationally televised game at UCLA (1:30 kickoff on ABC), but you won't find an actual point-spread. That's because Gesser's status is uncertain. Oddsmakers typically refrain from putting a line on a game in which a starting QB's health is in question.

As of Tuesday morning, Gesser was still listed as questionable. He has undergone treatment several times a day since his high ankle sprain in the Apple Cup and is walking without the aid of crutches or a walking boot. He has not returned to the practice field.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK
From Peter Callaghan in Tuesday's Tacoma News Tribune:
"You just can't buy the kind of national publicity the bottle-tossing brigades garnered for Washington State University after last month's Apple Cup. There they were in national news stories on collegiate mayhem alongside some of the most prominent institutions of higher learning in America. Ohio State University. University of California at Berkeley. North Carolina State. OK. Not North Carolina State.But still, it's just the kind of enhanced public image that WSU brass were hoping for when they banned the nickname "WAZZU" because, as one administrator put it, it carried the connotation "that we are a party school."

NOTABLE NOTES
WSU climbed two notches in the national rankings this week, moving to seventh in both the Associated Press and USA Today/ESPN polls. WSU is sixth in the BCS ratings. The Cougars have now been ranked in the top 25 in 25 consecutive rankings going back to last season.

Junior kicker Drew Dunning, who set a WSU record for kickers with 101 points last year, is on track to break his own record. He has 99 points so far this year and has moved into a tie for fourth on the WSU career list. With two games to play this year and another full season next, he is on track to top Jason Hanson's school record 328 career points. He also needs just six points to break Steve Broussard's single-season WSU record of 104 points in 1989.

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