No getting well on OSU anymore for Cougs

IT WAS THE "circle the date" game for Washington State for years. Whenever the Cougars needed a win to stay in bowl contention -- or just end a tough season on a respectable note, Oregon State always was on the schedule. That wasn't the case today.


Former coach Mike Price frequently took advantage of a Beavers program that did not post a winning record from 1971-98. He went 10-3 against OSU and that record was compiled even with byes against the Beavers during the '97 and '02 Rose Bowl seasons. WSU won 10 consecutive games in the series from 1983-93.

But now the programs have experienced a role reversal of sorts, in recent years anyway. A 42-10 Beavers victory Saturday at Martin Stadium marked their third consecutive win in the series, which is their best since they won six straight from 1966-71.

THAT ALL IS history now, though. The programs diverged after the 2002 season when Price left WSU for Alabama and Dennis Erickson bolted OSU for the San Francisco 49ers. Mike Riley, who often is credited for the Beavers' turnaround when he coached there in 1997-98 and logged 3-8 and 5-6 season records, was rehired after a failed stint with the San Diego Chargers. The Cougars promoted defensive coordinator Bill Doba.

OSU (8-3 overall, 6-2 conference) will go to a bowl for the sixth time in seven years and remained in Rose Bowl contention with its own circle the date victory. WSU has not advanced to a bowl since its 28-20 win against Texas in the '03 Holiday Bowl.

The Cougars (1-10, 0-8) also secured their second consecutive season with double-digit losses. Before Paul Wulff was hired two years ago, the only time that happened in modern program history was when Jim Sweeney's 1970 team finished 1-10, (although it should be noted teams of yesteryear played less games.)

IT WOULD BE difficult to argue that this is not the lowest ebb in program history. It feels worse than Sweeney's 2-19 run in 1969-70. And it feels even more abysmal than Price's 3-21 conference mark from 1998-2000.

Both coaches faced intense criticism at the time and some wanted them fired. Both were retained and rebuilt the program to varying degrees. Price did it through astutely evaluating high-school talent, particularly in 1999, that built the core of the Cougars' three consecutive 10-win seasons from 2001-03.

Wulff has elected to do the same with less focus on junior-college players than Price, though Price also enjoyed advantages that Wulff and others coaches of today do not, such as the relatively new 40/60/80 rule from the NCAA that has effectively diminished the number of JC players D-IA schools can take. With just 11 scholarship players remaining combined from the 2005-06 recruiting classes, many of those players have been on display this season.

WULFF HAS BEEN effusive in his praise of the 2009 recruiting class and said the group that will sign in February might be even better.

Evaluating talent is part of the equation that has enabled Riley to build the Beavers. While former WSU assistant Leon Burtnett spent countless time recruiting Texas, OSU was able to spot James Rodgers down there despite focusing more attention on Hawaii prospects. The Beavers also have landed productive players in Washington such as tight end Joe Halahuni and offensive lineman Alex Linnenkohl -- neither were offered by WSU, UW or any other Pac-10 team.

Hearing the latter two names on the radio -- both lightly recruited players -- was a reminder of how Riley's staff has developed talent. Wulff's staff is hitting Washington hard in an effort to make sure the next Halahuni and Linnenkohl do not leave the state.

THAT WILL NOT be enough to make OSU a circle the date game again, but it is a start. Without many experienced players, WSU has been able to look at many of Wulff's recruits. And with only five scholarship true freshmen playing this year, more will emerge next year as redshirt frosh.

How much better will offensive players Jared Karstetter, Kevin Norrell, Gino Simone, Jeff Tuel and Carl Winston be a year from now? How about those returning from injury -- Louis Bland and Tyree Toomer -- in addition to several players with good speed redshirting, on the defensive side? Can another offseason of weight room development can both lines at least average?

After all, looking at the calendar now means waiting for answers in fall camp than dominating wins.

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