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October 19, 2011

The Pres' Palouse Park Bench - This Land Is Cougarland


There's one team at Washington State University who has beaten every last opponent they should. There's one team at Wazzu who has only notched up four losses on the year and two of them were to top five ranked teams. There's one team at WSU who is exceeding any and all expectations everyone had set out for them at the beginning of the year.

I think by this point you can figure out that I'm not speaking of the football team. We'll get to them in a bit. Rather, we're talking about the extraordinary soccer team that is making it look easy as they march rather steadily towards another appearance in the NCAA Tournament.

Beg pardon, they aren't marching steadily. They're sprinting and doing so head first towards it. The brief hiccup head coach Matt Potter's team suffered last year is only a memory until I just mentioned it. And it's not as if the conference is a weakling either as four of the teams are in the Top 35 of the most recently released RPI while Wazzu has bolted up to 31. In fact, as I'm sure you know, the Pac-12 is practically the best conference in the country at pretty much every non-revenue sport. Just this weekend, the Cougars tied #4 ranked UCLA [four conference teams are ranked in the Top 25 [including Wazzu at #21] before 1,652 on Senior Day at Cougarland Field last Friday. I know many people don't quite understand that a tie could be considered a huge accomplishment. But against one of the best teams in the country that is consistently amongst the best teams in the country this is something you can truly be proud of.


But now, the real grind will begin. It's not necessarily that the teams they'll be playing are any tougher. In fact it's probably a little bit easier in terms of the quality of the teams they're playing. But they now have to spend the last five games of the season on the road beginning and ending with the two toughest of those five, Oregon State and Washington. You remember me mentioning Senior Day. Seem a little early to you? Well that's because it is. Due to a quirk in the schedule, the Cougs played five straight games at home [Wazzu currently ranks third in overall attendance in the Pac-12 - behind Stanford and UCLA] and will spend the last five on the road. Granted that's likely what helped them beat #21 ranked California and tie #4 UCLA. The biggest one of all though might be the last one on November 3rd. It'll likely be a chilly mid-autumn evening in Montlake when the Cougs take on the Dawgs on national television on Fox Soccer Channel. Potter's teams have not lost to Washington in nearly seven years but Washington is a good squad and both teams always play one another with a lot of intensity and ferocity. So I highly recommend if you're in the Seattle area taking a trek down to UW to watch a fantastic soccer team put a good stomping on the Dawgs to put an exclamation point on the season (full disclosure: good stomping in soccer is like 2-0 or 2-1).

Ah well, now we come to the football team. After the opening half, I had this inkling feeling: this team wasn't playing as well as the 10-7 deficit indicated. They'd gotten a couple of turnovers that we are not accustomed to seeing from the Cardinal. And in the second half, Stanford played their brand of football to a T. They'd clearly beaten the Cougs up physically in the first half and they ran all over them in the second 30-minutes. I'm not terribly surprised by what happened albeit a little disappointed with their second half performance.

What I don't understand is some of the talk I'm hearing about being angry at the game. Yes, I understand the Cougs were in that game the first half. But at the end of the day, Stanford is a team that could legitimately play for the national championship. And they arguably have the best quarterback we've seen in quite some time. In fact, when he played in Pullman as a redshirt freshman I already thought he was better than Jake Locker by a long distance. And not only has he proven me right, he's likely on the way to a Heisman Trophy. And yes, Jeff Tuel looked a little rusty. But who wouldn't be against one of the best defenses in the country coming off a broken collarbone.

Here's the bad news though: this weekend's game against Oregon State is an absolute must win if you want to keep the bowl game dream alive. Luckily, Tuel wasn't hurt against the Trees. And I think we all saw what he did against the Beavs in Corvallis last year. And the Beavers are worse by nearly every measure this year. They have virtually no running game and the defense is a very non-Mike Riley like terrible. The passing game is alright but if you can isolate James Rodgers and leave one corner underneath him and one safety over the top, you've practically taken away their passing game.

This is a game the Cougs absolutely should win. But the more worrying thing is it's an absolute must win. And that makes any Cougar fan cringe with concern. I'll be watching from the press box this weekend with anxiety and anticipation. Because if the Cougs lose, I might as well just go on a Dick's Burgers bender. I may anyway, there's no way that can go wrong.


PICKS:

Last Week: 5-1
Overall: 45-8


Wow, I really don't think ESPN thought this Thursday night crapfest through.

UCLA 31, Arizona 20


So Colorado gets Stanford, Washington and Oregon in consecutive weeks? Wow, welcome to the Pac-12 guys.

Oregon 51, Colorado 7


Both of these teams are winless in conference so that goose egg in the win column will get fixed for someone. And I'm guessing the visitors from the base of the Wasatch get it.

Utah 28, California 17


This is definitely the game of the week in the conference. And if it were in Seattle, I'd give the Huskies a modicum of a chance.

Stanford 41, Washington 24


I truly do not care about this game. Unless someone pushes Reggie Bush in the endzone again.

Notre Dame 34, USC 27


I'm a little nervous. Alright, I'm a lot nervous. Oregon State is a team the Cougs absolutely should beat. There is virtually no phase of the game the Beavs are better in. So why am I so nervous because so much is riding on it. Here's hoping Tuel puts together a brilliant game.

Washington State 41, Oregon State 24


Obscure Pick of the Week: These are state schools that actually exist?

Fitchburg State University 17, Bridgewater State University 7


Dunderhead of the Week: The Jets and Dolphins. If anyone tuned into ESPN on Monday night, you'll know why.

And, of course, John Buccigross.








+++++++sponsored by Greg Davis Sports Photography+++++++++

The 2011-12 athletic season is here…and you know what that means…It's time for a whole new season of Cougar Athletics! Football, soccer and volleyball, just to name a few, are playing their 2011 seasons. If you need "game action" photographs for your newspaper, magazine, web site, blog, etc., then Greg Davis Sports Photography should be your choice for all things "Cougar" and "Pac-10 Conference"! Coverage for specific athletes or upcoming events is also available. Check out the images from games, practices and events from last season, and be sure to come back often for uploads from all of this season's action.


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