Opener at Stillwater is opportunity for Cougs

PASADENA -- The "dramatic improvements" head coach Paul Wulff talked about at the Pac-10's Media Day should be apparent on the big stage, early on. The Cougs open the season on Sept. 4 at Oklahoma State, which was ranked among the nation's Top 25 teams for much of last season.

Wulff said beating the Cowboys, who are expected to be in a rebuilding phase in 2010, will still be a major challenge on the road, but it would pay significant dividends.

"We have an opportunity to go play a Big 12 Conference team -- and winning a game there would be huge," he said. "We could knock a few things out of our path in one game. It's a quality team. We've got a lot to shoot for in that first game."

Defensive end Kevin Kooyman says the Cougs will be up the task. Like Wulff, he believes they will surprise some teams this season, particularly since they are a tighter unit.

"Football is football no matter where you play it or who the opponent is, but anytime we get to go against a big school like (Oklahoma State), it's exciting for us," Kooyman said. "We're more family-oriented now. Last year there were a lot of trust issues on the field because some players were trying to do too much, but this year, we're more of a family."

FAMILY AND FRIENDS will welcome the Cougs home on Sept. 11, when WSU hosts Montana State, whom the Cougars have never lost to in six meetings. They hit the road again Sept. 18 to play SMU. The Mustangs are the only team the Cougs defeated in 2009.

A tough Pac-10 slate follows but here's the ray of sunshine for Wazzu – three of the first four are at home. In other words, if WSU is to surprise some people, it would be good for them to do it early.

The Cougs host USC on Sept. 25. After an Oct. 2 trip to Pasadena to clash with UCLA, Wazzu hosts Oregon, the preseason conference favorite on Oct. 9. Arizona visits Pullman on Oct. 16.

"Those are some dang good teams to start off the conference, but I'd rather play them at home than play them on the road," Wulff said. "We know we've worked hard and we know we're better this year, but we've got to go prove it. We feel we have some pieces now to do that."

RUNNING BACK James Montgomery, who is making his way back from a devastating leg injury (acute compartment syndrome) suffered last season against SMU, continues to provide inspiration to the Cougs.

"He has been running around and is really looking good," Wulff said. "We think he will be able to come back and play, which is a miracle, to be honest. He had a combination of the compartment syndrome surgery and the surgery on the other knee with microfracture surgery. Don't think he will be in tip top shape at the beginning of the season, but he will grow into it."

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