Right around this time last year, we were in this same spot. In fact, it's where we are every year. After a long offseason that seems to drag on forever, the anticipation builds to a boiling point. Hopes, dreams and excitement skyrocket, and we all take the plunge together.
The college football cycle is like a rollercoaster, building to a peak as the offseason comes to an end, then diving into the unknown. You don't know what's on the other side of that climb, but no matter: You'll be excited every year. Went 2-10 the year before? Who cares! This is our time!
Except it feels different this year, at least different from recent memory. Where last year (and the year before; and the year before that) we were waiting and hoping for some kind of turnaround -- a sign of life -- this year there's sky-high expectations and excitement that's reached a level I haven't seen. Last year (and the year before), we wondered if Paul Wulff would survive, and had to deal with persistent questions about his job. This year, those questions -- the uncertainty about the head coach's job status -- is gone, allowing us to focus on the actual games.
As the 2011 season unfolded, the makeup of the Washington State football team came into focus. There was joy to begin the year, with big wins over teams the Cougars should've dominated and a thriller in Boulder. And then it all went off the rails, saved by a freshman quarterback with a big arm after being derailed by a junior quarterback's collarbone and calf.
We became familiar with injuries, and words like Acute Compartment Syndrome -- an old friend, or something -- while also learning that a quarterback can, in fact, lacerate a liver and play through said injury on his way to leading a comeback that falls six inches short.
While all this was happening, Bill Moos was planning, plotting and working to secure what he wanted. It was a fallback plan at first, but when Halliday's comeback bid fell six inches short, the plan kicked into high gear. We didn't know it then, but was once a pipe dream was about to become a reality -- a rabbit out of the hat that would quickly drown out the disappointment of a four-win season.
Immediately after the Apple Cup, word leaked that Paul Wulff would be fired soon. Days later it became official, followed quickly by the hiring of Mike Leach. The coach who had been exiled to Key West, blackballed by college football for no good reason, was back. And the party in Pullman was on.
So here we are, after an offseason that's dragged on, with anticipation building. We know who Mike Leach is, both as a person and as a coach. There are no secrets with Leach, no real coachspeak in earshot. He's quotable and endearing to fans, and Washington State has seen a renewed surge in interest, both on a local and national level. Donations are up, Martin Stadium received a facelift, and the football team has a new look and new attitude.
That shot in the arm, though, is only as good as the team that takes the field. Until now, everything has been done right, from Moos' execution of the plan to the marketing push that followed. That was the "sizzle," as he calls it. Now it's time for the steak.
There's pressure here; Pressure to win, pressure to put on a show, pressure to get butts in the seats and donations in the coffers. There's a football operations facility that's close to reality, something that Leach and his staff have been excited about, and one of the reasons he's here in the first place. Washington State is this close to turning a corner, emerging from a dark place filled with losses and futility.
But in order to keep the ball rolling and keep the program moving forward, this team has to win. Start piling up the wins, making a bowl game in the process, and the path to future success is that much easier. Go off the rails and the momentum is harder to sustain.
In Leach, Moos has a proven coach with a superb track record -- a thinking man who always manages to find the best in his players. Leach has some tools to work with, but there's still an uncertainty that lingers. Maybe it's having a sense of dread beaten into you after years of hope followed quickly by a hammer-blow of reality that keeps the mind from daydreaming for too long, letting that uncertainty creep in.
No matter what, the excitement is here, and has reached a fever pitch with just a few hours to go until game time -- a nationally televised game that is, essentially, the only show in town. Think about that. People will be tuning in to see Leach and the Cougars specifically, something that wouldn't have happened had Moos not shot for the moon last winter.
Most importantly, though, football is back. Finally. After waiting and waiting to see Leach on the sidelines and the 2012 Washington State football team on the field, the time has finally come. It's time to see what they can do.