This is the latest in our series of stories previewing the 2017 Washington State Cougars football season. For previous installments, click here.
You could probably fill a thimble with the number of preseason predictions that match a team’s performance perfectly. I don’t just mean for the Washington State Cougars, but college football as a whole. It’s almost a universal truth in a sport that’s flukey precisely because of the 18- to 22-year-old men who play it.
Even in a sport where the results are so inherently unknown, though, we can usually say that things will never go as well or as badly as even the most optimistic or pessimistic person thinks it will. Players and coaches will generally figure things out and most teams end up right where they should’ve at the beginning of the year.
But ... what if WSU didn’t? What if WSU exceeded their expectations to a tremendous degree? Or, what if the Cougs fell flat on their faces like they tripped over a doorstop? We explore that here.
Atoning for their last two season-opening losses to FCS opponents, the Washington State Cougars hit the field motivated against the Montana State Bobcats, pounding them 66-10 as most of the crowd hits the exits during the third quarter to revel in the win somewhere with a TV that serves liquor.
Now ranked No. 22, WSU welcomes the Boise State Broncos into Martin Stadium for the second half of their home-and-home. After a defensive struggle in the first quarter, WSU puts their foot on the gas, boat racing BSU 45-17, AND holding Brett Rypien to 21 of 45 passing, 250 yards, a touchdown and three picks.
The Cougs cruise through games against the Oregon State Beavers and Nevada Wolf Pack with relative ease, setting up a massive Friday night match-up with the now second-ranked USC Trojans. The Cougs, sitting at 15 in the AP Poll themselves, could give themselves serious breathing room in the Pac-12 North early in the season and notch their best win in more than a decade.
USC pours it on early, overmatching the Cougs 17-0 by the end of the first quarter. But the Cougs are able to claw back within a touchdown by the end of the half, trailing 20-14. USC picks up another touchdown in the third but WSU scores at the beginning of the fourth to keep it a one score game.
Then, with two minutes left and USC driving to put the game away, Sam Darnold is hit by Hercules Mata’afa as he throws; the pass picked off by Robert Taylor and returned 45 yards for a WSU touchdown. The Cougs hold on for one final USC possession, winning 28-27. Every soul in the stadium storms the field, and Mike Leach is carried to Valhalla to buy those drinks someone claimed he’d first bought after the 2012 Apple Cup.
The Cougs smash the Oregon Ducks and Cal Golden Bears in consecutive weeks on the roads before coming home sporting the No. 8 ranking and a date with the Colorado Buffaloes for homecoming. The Cougs actually go into the half trailing in the game as Steven Montez has thrown for three touchdowns on the way to a 21-10 lead for the Buffs. Colorado starts the second half with the ball and then, disaster. Steven Montez tears his ACL as he avoids a sack, opening the door for the Cougs who don’t miss, beating the Buffs 28-21.
The Cougs beat the pants off the Arizona Wildcats before welcoming the top-15 ranked Stanford Cardinal into town for the second matchup of its kind in 2017. After a back and forth first quarter, Luke Falk and the offense stop messing around as he throws bomb after bomb, ending his night with six touchdown passes and a 48-21 win.
Now sitting at No. 7, the Cougs have legitimate CFP aspirations as they head to the Wasatch front. The Utes get out to an early 10-0 lead in the first but as a snow storm begins to blow in, the ground attack lifts the Cougs as Gerard Wicks, James Williams, and Jamal Morrow combine for 400 yards and five touchdowns on the way to a 35-24 win.
As big as the previous Apple Cup was, this one is bigger. A birth in the Pac-12 Championship and, perhaps, the CFP is on the line for the No. 6 Cougs and No. 7 Washington Huskies. The game remains tight, no team leading by more than a field goal throughout as WSU has the ball with 55 seconds to go, down by one. From the Washington 45, Falk drops back and sees a UW corner slip, leaving Tavaras Martin wide open for the catch and score. WSU wins 34-28, securing a birth in the Pac-12 Championship.
The Cougs head to Santa Clara for a surprise meeting with the UCLA Bruins, who edged the Trojans in their annual rivalry match-up to earn the South’s berth in the game. A sad Jim Mora, Jr. looks on as the No. 4 Cougs pound the Bruins into oblivion 55-21 and Washington State claims their first conference title in 15 years.
Unfortunately for WSU, they’re quite over matched by the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide as Nick Saban ends a Washington school’s season for the second year in a row, 35-17. Mike Leach receives a lifetime contract at WSU, Luke Falk is the first quarterback taken in the 2018 NFL Draft and a fundraising drive on the back of an incredible 13-1 season helps WSU pay for suites on the north side of Martin Stadium.
"Third time’s a charm" apparently has no bearing on Washington State football as they drop yet another season opener against an FCS opponent, losing to Montana State 27-24. The fans trudge to the nearest cooler to finish the beer that’s inside in order to fill the hollowness from yet another embarrassing loss.
Boise State comes into town the next weekend, completing the sweep of the home-and-home series, 41-21. Brett Rypien throws it all over the yard for 512 yards and four touchdowns as Luke Falk struggles, throwing three interceptions.
Oregon State manages to rally from a terrible start to the season, sneaking past the Cougs 31-28 in Pullman as WSU falls to 0-3 on the young season and Alex Grinch begins to polish his resume.
The Cougs do get one in the left side of the win-loss column the following week, beating Nevada 45-28, but it’s disaster on the defensive side as Daniel Ekuale is lost for the year with a torn ACL. USC comes into Pullman the next week and makes mince meat of the Cougs, beating them 51-24 in front of a national TV audience.
The Ducks take out their frustration from the previous two seasons on the Cougs the following week, beating them 35-28 in Eugene. In their second straight week on the road, WSU does manage to scrape by a motivated Cal squad 35-27 but they lose Tavares Martin for the year after he dislocates his shoulder catching a fourth quarter touchdown pass.
The Buffs saunter into Pullman but surprise! A big homecoming weekend crowd buoys the Cougs to a 34-21 victory and a capacity crowd can spend their Saturday night wondering if WSU can scrape out bowl eligibility.
The next week against Arizona gives them more hope as the Cougs pound the Wildcats 55-17 in Tucson. But then, reality comes crashing in against the Cardinal in Pullman on Senior Day as Luke Falk throws five interceptions in his final game in Martin Stadium on the way to a 48-10 loss.
An early season snow storm doesn’t help the Cougs in Salt Lake as the Utes win a low scoring, ugly game 14-10. The next week against the Huskies, well, we’ll spare you the details.
WSU finishes the season 4-8, Mike Leach begins to wonder if he really needs the stress in his life and looks at more property in Key West, and they STILL AREN’T SERVING BEER IN THE STADIUM.