Saturday Washington State lost a battle to the Colorado State Rams in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl. A lot of people (including myself) who support the Cougs are feeling deflated since the happening. Cougar fans were feeling like this was the opportunity to get Cougar football up and running again and rightfully so.
Word on the street is that Coach Leach and Connor Halliday blew the game, I’m not one of the people who would say this is completely true but that is not the point, everyone will have their opinion of the events that transpired in the last 2 minutes of the game. What I want to look at is where this program is after the bowl loss with a series of emotion-free facts to put a little perspective into this emotionally trying time.
First the season.
6-7… that’s Washington State’s record. Last year WSU was 3-9 with the only wins over Eastern Washington (FCS) 24-20, UNLV (2-11) 35-27 and the most significant win over Washington (7-6) 31-28 in overtime. Washington State didn’t win a single game by more than 1 possession and each game was won with the opposing team having a chance to win the game in the final seconds.
This year the Cougars were greatly improved without a drastic increase in talent personnel-wise according to the ranking of their recruiting class and returning players. Washington State finished 6-7, their highest win total since 2006 and they did it with the #1 toughest schedule according to Sagarin. Cougars’ most notable wins came on the road vs USC and Arizona and then they picked up their 6th win at home vs a decent Utah team who missed out on the bowl season for the second year in a row.
When Washington State beat USC, the Trojans had a coaching problem plain and simple. But this did not make walking into the Coliseum and beating them a gimme, not by any means. USC had beaten Hawaii decidedly in week 1 on the road, lost a hard-fought game at home vs WSU in week 2 but then in week 3 came back out and handled a good Boston College team before holding off a decent Utah State team with dynamic Chuckie Keeton at the helm. Washington State’s win over USC was a quality win even without the Trojans playing their best football at the time, the Trojans’ performance against quality teams (Hawaii not included) under the same coach proves that fact.
6 wins against the toughest schedule is a great starting point for a team who hadn’t seen a bowl since 2003, in other words 6 wins for the majority of 2 coaching regimes earlier (the other coming under Doba in 2006). The way the season ended wasn’t ideal for Washington State but when looking at the overall picture of Washington State football the trend is up.
There is not one Washington State fan (including myself) who didn’t think that a bowl win would help recruiting and the direction of this program. That being said, there was nothing supporting the fact that a loss in this bowl would destroy our program and our chances for a successful 2014 campaign. By going to a bowl, the Cougars just upgraded (in the eyes of recruits) from a school they would have to build from the ground up, to a school where they could be the difference that takes this program to the next level. That is huge and makes a worlds’ difference when a high caliber recruit takes a look at this University.
The manner in which the game was lost Saturday also helps because someone looking to join the team won’t see it as impossible to win bowl games at Washington State, just one more big play away on defense or catching of the ball in the end zone on offense and finishing it, these are things that a high caliber recruit will see and say, if I was out there WE win.
So what’s my view on the overall program?
Well based on the facts we have a lot to be thankful for. First I’d like to state that even though there are some games we can say other teams “lost” to us or that we “should have won” the fact is we turned the corner on most of these games and actually did go out and win. Any team for the past 10 years (and most every team before that) has lost that game in SC.
The point is we accomplished so much and we can thank Leach for bringing real discipline to the program and the players for buying in, like I said we doubled our win total, with a tougher schedule and without a huge increase in talent on the field which means we improved ourselves. That is what it looks like when you have a good coach and the players buy in. Were we capable of a couple more wins this year? Sure, but undoing 10 years of embarrassing behavior in a program comes with hiccups.
Remember this, when you look around and see a team like Auburn so successful after being so bad, realize they had 4 and 5 star recruits making up their roster, they were never lacking in talent so a turnaround was a lot more likely in that case with just adding a coach who could manage the talent. In our case our coach (Leach) started with nothing and is building from the ground.
His first recruiting classes suffered what many of WSU’s classes do, the perception that you can’t win at WSU and you’d be the only person playing in the Pac-12 in a high-school stadium. Now with a bowl appearance and a good showing in a few games including the bowl game and against a team who will be playing for the national championship, recruits now see that WSU is a place you could win on a big stage. Add in about $85 million in stadium renovations over the past 2 years with more expensive and top football improvements coming and that is exactly why next year you will see an incredible increase in talent. Leach’s recruiting class this year is the best we’ve had in a very very long time and get excited about next year folks because we will have some redshirts stepping up who we haven’t even thought about yet.
Think about West’s performance in the bowl. It’s even more exciting when you see who we’re getting on defense because let’s face it, if our defense was just a little better; got a few more stops and covered a little better, there are a few more games won this year and some more that wouldn’t have even been close! Take some time to look at who we have coming into our defense and get excited!
Next year we will be better and the year after that as well. Leach knows what he’s doing and a few mistakes in a bowl game does not reflect where this program is heading and what the pirate is capable of. Hang in there, we will be in a bowl next year that we are even more excited about. Just remember look at the facts about this program and you will see there were no steps back taken here, it’s all forward and will be for awhile at Washington State.
Stay faithful and enjoy the fact we have a bowl game to complain about this year. Holiday Bowl next year? Better? No limits folks! Go Cougs!