This is the latest in our series of stories previewing the 2018 Washington State Cougars football season. For other installments, click here.
College football, by its very nature, is fairly unpredictable. You’re counting on 18- 22-year-old “men” who are also juggling early adulthood growing pains along with school and, oh yeah, a full-time job of performing at their peak in front of tens of thousands of inebriated fans on a weekly basis.
So, unless you’re a fan of a team coached by Nick Saban, you really and truly have no idea how everything is going to go.
Well, we do kind of have an idea. We know what every lucky break looks like and what every scenario that finds you digging a rabbit’s foot out of your keepsake box from middle school just for one damn win looks like. That is to say: we know the best and worst case scenarios.
What do they look like for the Washington State Cougars? Lets explore (and, by popular demand from last year, we’re starting with the cod liver oil).
The advantages of high elevation in the southeastern plains of Wyoming aren’t enough for starting quarterback Gardner Minshew to overcome a Wyoming Cowboys team that had a warm-up week. The Cougs struggle to move the ball against a stout Cowboys defense and though their own defense doesn’t surrender much, it’s enough, losing to Wyoming 24-10. The Cougars come home the next week and struggle out of the gate against the San Jose State Spartans but get it together in the second half, winning 38-17.
Then, disaster strikes again. The Eastern Washington Eagles make the short trip south on Highway 195 and head back towards Spokane victorious with a 42-38 victory that takes a last-second, 45-yard scrambling touchdown from Gage Gubrud, who will petition to just have the stadium named after him because he basically owns it.
WSU has virtually no time to recover and it shows, losing to the USC Trojans 34-7 on the short week trip to Los Angeles. Even though they had the extra day of rest, the Cougs are too over-matched by an excellent Utah Utes defense. The chariot races are the highlight of the day as the Cougs fall 41-21 on homecoming weekend.
The Cougs head south to Corvallis and manage to scrape out a win against their land-grant brothers, beating the Oregon State Beavers 31-15, thanks to a big second half from James Williams, who B-button’s his way into the end zone three times.
No one gets arrested during the bye week. Hooray!
The Beavs’ Civil War opponent, on the other hand, comes to Pullman and, for the first time since 2014, manages to top the Cougars by a score of 33-17. The Cougs then trade the Oregon schools for the ones by the Bay but their trip to Palo Alto isn’t as productive as the last with Bryce Love running over them for 345 yards on the way to a 45-14 Stanford Cardinal win. In Pullman the following weekend, not even Andy Grammar can break the spell Beau Baldwin has over the Cougars as his California Golden Bears offense marches to a 34-21 win.
A weekend trip to Boulder is more productive for the Cougs, as they beat a rebuilding Colorado Buffaloes team 28-24, thanks to a game-sealing pick from Jalen Thompson. Washington State heads back to the Palouse and, despite being out of bowl contention, gives the Arizona Wildcats everything they have … and loses 51-17 in front of a typically sparse early Thanksgiving break crowd.
The Apple Cup … well, no one got hurt! Hooray!
Mike Leach interviews at Middle Tennessee State but doesn’t take the job when their athletic director gets fired, Tracy Claeys bolts for literally anywhere that has a defensive line, and the Huskies win the national championship. All your high school friends who went to Western come out of the woodwork on Facebook with #PurpleReign and WOOF posts, you make a pledge to avoid whatever reunion is coming up next and literally just rip the radio out of your car instead of changing the pre-sets for KJR and KIRO because that’s probably just the better option to avoid months of fawning over the new Dawgfather, Chris Petersen.
WSU’s worst-case scenario of 3 wins is …
206 votes total
The Week Zero warm up against the New Mexico State Aggies apparently did no good for the Wyoming Cowboys as the Cougs throw it all over the War Memorial Stadium yard, thumping Wyoming 41-17. The Cougs head back to the Palouse and dispatch the San Jose State Spartans with ease, 56-10, a margin wide enough that the relatively sparse crowd could leave at halftime and finish their all-day tailgate with gusto.
Big Sky preseason poll champs be damned, the Cougs stomp the Eastern Washington Eagles 48-7, thanks in part to Gage Gubrud missing the game with mononucleosis. The good vibrations come to an abrupt end the next week as the Cougs can’t overcome the Trojans, losing 28-17 despite a raucous crowd of Cougs who managed to get to the Coliseum on Thursday night to avoid traffic.
The next week, though … magic. It’s a warm, late September homecoming night as the Cougs teeter on the edge of a fourth win against the Utah Utes. The Cougs have the ball on their own 24 with just a minute to go, down four. No matter, though — freshman running back Max Borghi takes a pass from Minshew in the flat, makes some defenders miss, and scampers 76 yards for the score. The Coug defense holds, and WSU squeaks out a 27-24 win.
Minshew is now rolling in the Air Raid and throws a rotten egg into the Beavs’ potato salad, easily taking down Oregon State 51-17.
The Cougs use their best placed week off in years to their advantage, healing up some nagging injuries but it’s still not enough as the Oregon Ducks, fresh off a throttling of the Washington Huskies the week prior in Eugene, have more trouble with the Cougs but still win 24-13. The trip to Stanford doesn’t end with a win but the Cougs hold Bryce Love to 135 yards in a close 17-14 loss.
The Cougs manage to correct for last year’s spanking in Berkeley, beating the Golden Bears 31-24 in front of a capacity Dad’s Weekend crowd, putting them on the verge of bowl eligibility. The Cougs need a win in their easiest remaining game the following week and don’t miss, taking it to the Buffs 41-17 in Boulder.
The Tracy Claeys led defense manages to stifle Khalil Tate, helping the Cougs to a 27-21 win over the Wildcats the week before the Apple Cup to put them firmly in bowl eligibility after the Pac-12 Conference decided six wins wasn’t enough anymore either, oh, and your water polo team also needs to have made it to the postseason.
The Huskies, out of playoff contention after losing to the Auburn Tigers, the Ducks and Cardinal, are also missing Myles Gaskin, who decided he’d be better off getting ready for the draft instead of sticking around for the Apple Cup and the Foster Farms Bowl. It’s closer than it’s been in recent years, but the Huskies still manage to sneak out a 31-28 win over the Cougs.
Washington State finishes 7-5 with an invitation to the Cheez-It Bowl. I attend and buy literally every piece of available merchandise before the Cougs beat the Iowa State Cyclones in a 38-35 barnburner they play at the Arizona Diamondbacks stadium for some reason despite Sun Devil Stadium being, like, right there.
Mike Leach takes it easy on suiting other courtiers, deciding to just spend a few months recruiting and cycling in cargo shorts at Key West. Chris Petersen decides he wants to boat to a different office, taking the Seattle Seahawks head coaching job after Pete Carroll leaves to hawk white tennis shoes for every dad in charge of grilling on QVC.
WSU’s best-case scenario of 7 wins is …
205 votes total