Editor's Note: Bumped to the front page. Come on Wazzu! Don't lose to Wazzu! Don't forget to follow the series in the Fanposts section on the right hand side of the blog - dvieira
The first round of the Avezzano Cup is more painful to write than I expected. I feel true sadness and sympathy for the fans of the teams involved. Really. I am being totally sincere. Especially in the case of our friends to the north. Which friends, you say? There are so many! Indeed, with 10 of the 16 first round slots occupied by our Northwest brethren, it's hard to choose.
Today's Game 6 matchup is an all-Pullman affair. Won't that be fun?
How They Got Here
#6 1998 Washington State (3-8 / 0-8)
Mike Price could apparently turn straw into gold, then back into straw, then back into gold again. How else to explain his career trajectory and his record at Wazzu? In 1997 the Cougars found themselves tied with UCLA for the conference title, and in the Rose Bowl thanks to the million dollar arm and fifty cent brain of Ryan Leaf. Less than a year later, they had supplanted OSU as the worst team in the conference. It was the first time since Washington in 1917 - the PCC's second season - that a team had gone first-to-worst.
Price had smartly parlayed his 1997 success into a huge, for Wazzu, contract extension, an eight year deal that put him in the upper tier of Pac-10 coaches, at least as far as salary packages were concerned. Still, little was expected of the Cougs after Leaf left for his brilliant NFL career; they were picked to finish 7th in the preseason media poll, but a less-than-impressive sweep of the OOC slate carried ominous implications, particularly a 24-16 win over Idaho described in the Spokesman-Review as a "root canal":
"We know there is a faction out there which, having witnessed the halting progress of these first three weeks, can easily see Wazzu not winning even once in the Pac-10." -- John Blanchette, Spokane Spokesman-Review, 9/20/1998
(Blanchette later in the same paragraph describes this view as "lunatic.")
By the first Pac10 game, a road loss to a not-good Cal team, the injuries had begun piling up on defense, with six defensive linemen on the two-deep gone by week 5 and the linebackers hobbled as well. In a conference known for its offensive prowess, the results were predictable: 49-17 to UCLA. 51-29 to Oregon. 42-14 to USC. 41-7 to Arizona.
Offensively, the whole season essentially went like this:
Wazzu made a gallant effort at Stanford, leading by 14 in the fourth quarter, but wound up Coug'n it, losing by 10. And an Apple Cup loss capped the first winless conference season since 1975.
#11 2010 Washington State (2-10 / 1-7)
Most everything that was said previously about the 2009 Cougars of the Paul Wulff
error era applies to the 2010 team. The Cougs just didn't have much talent, couldn't win the recruiting battles for in-state players, and had little chance of pulling anyone else into Pullman.
The season started out bad, but after a 65-17 loss at Oklahoma State, things were looking up, because how much worse could it get?
Wulff seemed to have them playing hard, and there were spirited efforts against UCLA and Oregon and Stanford, and even an unexpected easy win on the road in Corvallis that snapped a 16 game conference loss streak.
In summary: A number of moral victories, and another year in the conference cellar.
BENZDUCK'S LINE; 1998 WSU -10. Superior coaching wins out when talent is roughly equivalent.
The '98 Cougs did their best to Coug it, with C.J. Mizell picking off a Steve Birnbaum pass and returning it 80 yards with under 5 minutes left in the 4th quarter to tie a game the 98ers had led by two touchdowns. But Birnbaum, cool customer that he was, responded with an 83 yard drive, capped by a 47 yard bomb to Adam Davis with 1:32 remaining, and Jeff Tuel didn't have the tools or time to respond.
So, Paul Wulff has qualified two teams for the quarterfinals. Can Ty Willingham match this achievement? It'll be tough, as the 2005 Huskies must find a way to lose to the 2006 Stanford Cardinal, which will be an extremely difficult task. Stay tuned for the lack of excitement as Round 1 winds down!