Until this past season, when they just missed having a winning record, the Cougars have produced the best overall record in the conference.
How are they doing it? What is the secret to their success?
It's probably a little bit of everything including having the stars aligned just perfectly. As a WSU alum, I can tell you that with a straight face.
It's obvious that they have done an excellent job of recruiting over the past five years, and their coaching staff is made up of ex-Cougars who have a passion for the school.
AND, they are pretty darn good at teaching the game itself.
But if you break it down, it is the speed emphasis in their recruiting, the down grading of their non-conference schedule, and the re-stocking of their depth with JC talent that stands out. They appear to be much faster everywhere but then that is also related to Coach Bill Doba's "hustle and fly to the ball" emphasis on defense.
Many people have begun wondering if the Cougars are simply getting the best of the Huskies in recruiting.
As a former recruiting coordinator and evaluator of talent, I can tell you the answer is no.
Why? Because you can't really even compare the two schools and how they recruit. They always battle over a few kids, but really go about it from different angles. They both do well in state. The Cougars have 56 Washington kids and the Huskies have 54. The Cougs have 35 kids from California and the Huskies have 29.
Still, one would have to think that the Cougars are doing something right and are utilizing some sort of advantage over the big city school.
I know one thing that works in their favor and because of it they are definitely superior to the Huskies in adding talent to their roster via the junior college ranks.
Core academics and how they transfer.
Washington State University offers majors in Physical Education and Recreation. The University of Washington does not have these majors that are popular among the JC ranks. And because Washington doesn't offer them, those classes are not computed as part of the Core credit GPA when considering a possible matriculation to the UW from JC.
Corey Dillon was one notable exception, but in general, Washington just hasn't had a lot of luck in getting productive JC players.
Before I arrived at Washington, I coached for years at Olympic College. I can tell you from my experience there that usually academics were a major consideration as to why kids choose to go to a JC. When they get there, athletes tend to enroll in classes that they know they can pass in order to maintain their eligibility in their sport.
The popular courses of study for athletes are in the Physical Education and Recreation curriculums. Those are two fine majors that offer great job opportunities, so don't mistake my point.
My point? Because Washington does not offer PE, they do no accept PE credits. This puts them in a difficult position when they are recruiting kids that are attempting to major in that field.
Oregon doesn't offer Physical Education, but like a number of other schools, they now offer "Sports Management" as a viable option of studies. That opens the door for transferring in PE credits.
Considering the impact of sports in America today, this is a very relevant major from the occupational and interest standpoint.
Looking at the rosters of the two in-state schools, last season the Cougars had 11 junior college players and the Huskies had three.
Of their recent JC's, the Cougars had four stars. The Huskies had one third string tight end, one back up lineman, and one red-shirt defensive lineman.
The Cougars came out of nowhere with their running game and it featured two JC transfers, Jonathan Smith and Jermaine Green. One of their star receivers was Sammie Moore, and the guy who answered their problems at middle linebacker was Donnie Jackson. Both were JC transfers. All of these players have speed. They filled holes that were critical to the recent success of the Cougar program.
As an old JC coach, I think it is terrific that these kids get a chance to play in one of the best conferences in the country.
It's also the area that provides the Cougars with a distinct advantage over the Huskies, and is precisely why they recruit kids that they know won't qualify academically. They will use official visits to secure commitments from them and then simply let them go to a JC with the idea of re-recruiting them in two years.
Qualifying SAT scores and high school core classes no longer enter into the picture in these cases. All that is needed is an AA from a Junior college to matriculate.
Washington actually signed four kids last class who were technically JC kids. But the down side to this strategy is risk of your athletes not qualifying. Washington found this out when only one, Johnny DuRocher, had enough credits to be enrolled in time for this spring. The other three, all at Pasadena CC, are still trying to obtain the necessary "transferable credits" to be admitted to Washington. They are speed kids who are intended to answer the Huskies depth problem at corner and kick returner, but won't arrive until summer.
The actual rules of the NCAA separate a qualifier from a non or partial qualifier in terms of eligibility. "In football and men's basketball, a student who was not a qualifier is not eligible for competition during the first academic year in residence at the certifying institution. Such a student is eligible for institutional aid and can practice the first academic year in residence only if the student has graduated from the two year college, has completed satisfactorily a minimum of 48 semester or 72 quarter hours of TRANSFERABLE-degree credit toward any baccalaureate degree program at the certifying institution."
There in lies the problem with the Huskies trying to get JC kids enrolled. There is no applicable degree program that will accept PE credits.
What I have been wondering is how does California, with no PE major, bring in so many JC kids and get them eligible? I know Oregon created their major specifically to sell their Nike connection. In fact, the whole ‘academic" program of sports management was funded by Nike. But Cal has found another way.
Maybe you didn't notice that Jeff Tedford turned the Bear program around with an immediate influx of JC's during his very first year. His first recruiting class at Cal brought in nine JC transfers. Now, I can tell you that Washington has gone stretches where they haven't brought in 9 JC kids in 9 years.
Now that they have all have left, what did Tedford do again this year? That's right, go out and sign another load of JC kids. It has now become the trend in the Pac-10, which may diminish WSU's edge they once had in this area over the rest of the conference.
Until the University of Washington finds a major that will accept Physical Education credits, they will always be at a disadvantage in attempting to restock talent via the JC ranks.
And unless you are USC, you had better keep all avenues open in terms of recruiting.
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