It seems like everyone has been asking what we, as fans of WSU, expect from the Cougars this year. The football team has hit such a low point that expectations have become a point of curiosity outside of Cougar nation. Whether it's wondering if Paul Wulff can keep his job or if the football program can sink any lower, the questions about the 2010 season won't go away.
The more I think about it, the more I realize I have none. In terms of wins and losses, I'm not expecting anything. I don't care if the Cougs win 1 game or 10 games right now. Wins are unpredictable -- especially with the state of the program -- and trying to nail down a number feels hollow.
Does it matter if we expect the team to win three games and they win two? Is the season a rousing success if WSU jumps over an imaginary bar we, as fans, set for them? Judging success based on wins and losses seems like the wrong way to evaluate this team.
Instead, it's important for this young team to go out, compete, and play to the best of their ability for 60 minutes every week. If that results in a win, great. If it results in a loss, that's fine too. The program is at the point where wins and losses are the smaller issue. Continuing to build the foundation for a solid program -- and subsequently get players to buy in -- should be the goal.
The gap between WSU and the rest of the Pac-10 resembles the Grand Canyon heading into the 2010 season. The statistics from last year illustrate this point.
|9th Place Team
|Yards per game
Oregon, by the way, was the 9th place team in passing yards per game.
The Cougs were not only last in the Pac-10 in every major statistical category, but near the bottom of the NCAA. It wasn't just that WSU was bad; it became a chore just to watch them play on Saturdays. Games just weren't enjoyable in person or on TV.
Part of the problem last year was games were over before they began. The Cougs were outscored 162-6 in the first quarter of games, only scoring in the first quarter in two contests. When broken down on a per game basis, opponents scored more in the first quarter than the Cougs did in a whole game, on average. It's tough to settle in to watch a game when it's over before the first bathroom break.
There's no doubt in my mind the Cougs will be improved. They finally have some talent and depth at enough positions to be able to compete and absorb some of the wear and tear that comes with Pac-10 football. The gap between WSU and the rest of the conference is still so large that improvement may not immediately result in wins, however.
As bad as that all may seem, it's important to remember the Cougs are going through some serious growing pains. Not "ouch I'm sore" pains, but "I think my arm just fell off and I threw out my back" pains. At the same time, we're watching a program being built from the ground up. There was almost literally nothing when Paul Wulff got here, giving him a blank slate to shape the program. We knew it would be a rough process, but bemoaning that fact won't speed it up.
So for this year, I want to see the youth movement and the continued maturation of the Cougs. I want to see Jeff Tuel mature as the starting quarterback, James Montgomery make a return to the field, and the enthusiastic youthful defense flying around the field. I want to see the team continue to learn lessons and lay a solid foundation on which to build a program that can be sustained for years to come. To me, that's better than setting a bar and judging success based on whether they meet or exceed it. Besides, it's much more enjoyable to walk into a season without expectations.