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Breaking down the 2018 schedule, week by week

Let’s take a game by game look at the upcoming season. Which games are going to be toughest for the Cougs? Where might an opponent be vulnerable? We explore.

This is the latest in our series of stories previewing the 2018 Washington State Cougars football season. For other installments, click here.


We are now counting only hours until Cougar Football Saturday returns. Washington State’s schedule is a lot more balanced than in a lot of recent years: No back-to-back road trips, the bye is squarely in the middle of the season, and the games against North teams are right in the heart of the season.

Let’s walk through it week by week and see how the schedules come together.

WEEK 1: SATURDAY, SEPT. 1

Opponent: Wyoming Cowboys
Venue: War Memorial Stadium, Laramie, Wyoming

NCAA Football: Wyoming at Air Force
Marcus Epps is part of an outstanding defensive backfield.
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Wyoming (8-5 last season) lost their starting quarterback — Josh Allen — to the first round of the NFL draft but he wasn’t really what made them good last year anyway.

The Cowboys return basically everyone on defense except one corner, and it’s a defense that ranked seventh in S&P+ in 2017, thanks in large part to 38 turnovers and a passing down sack rate eclipsed by only five other teams in the country.

The Pokes laid it on New Mexico State last Saturday 29-7 in a game where they were only favored by 5.5 points. The Aggie quarterback had minus-31 rushing yards facing the Wyoming defense. NMSU managed to move backwards in their ground game and had tallied a comical nine yards in the wrong direction by the end of it. They didn’t even cross midfield until the closing minutes of the game against Cowboy backups.

No one is mistaking New Mexico State for a Good Football Team, but Wyoming’s defense is legit. You can’t have that kind of performance unless you’re pretty damn good.

We’ll have a more in-depth preview later this week but the short of it is this: Wyoming is good enough to make you – a fan – very nervous … if the 1-5 record in opening games under Coach Leach didn’t do that already.

WEEK 2: SATURDAY, SEPT. 8

Opponent: San Jose State Spartans
Venue: Martin Stadium

NCAA Football: Wyoming at San Jose State
Tre Hartley is SJSU’s leading returning receiver.
D. Ross Cameron-USA TODAY Sports

San Jose State’s offense and defense ranked 4th- and 3rd-from-the-bottom of the FBS barrel in scoring last season. They were also mostly injured on one side of the ball and really young on both. After home opener against UC Davis, the Spartans travel to the Palouse for a late night date in Martin. Kick off is at 8 PM, and I’m told good seats are still available.

The Spartans are embarking on Year Two under head coach Brent Brennan, who curiously has the middle name Munger — German for “someone from Hungary”. Just some trivia for you to banter about while responsibly pacing yourself over 12 hours of tailgating.

WEEK 3: SATURDAY, SEPT. 15

Opponent: Eastern Washington Eagles
Venue: Martin Stadium

NCAA Football: Eastern Washington at Washington State
Gage Gubrud probably won’t be intimidated by Martin Stadium.
James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

The Rubber Match? Eastern returns most of their 5th ranked (FCS) offense including quarterback Gage Gubrud, who absolutely lit Wazzu’s secondary on fire the last time he played in Martin Stadium. Gubrud went 34-of-40 for 474 yards and five TDs against the Cougs in 2016. I’d like to think WSU is past dropping games like this. But.

EWU is considered the pre-season favorite to win the Big Sky and with it, another trip to the playoffs. They open their season against Jon Kitna’s old program, Central Washington, then trip to Flagstaff, Arizona to take on NAU before making their way to Pullman.

WEEK 4: FRIDAY, SEPT. 21

Opponent: USC Trojans
Venue: LA Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles, California

Goodyear Cotton Bowl - USC v Ohio State Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

The No. 15 Trojans are not taking the beach entry into the 2018 season. They open against UNLV at home which seems harmless enough, but then throw themselves against the battering ram of at No. 13 Stanford and at No. 23 Texas before welcoming Wazzu into town on a short week.

And they’ll be breaking in a true freshman quarterback, JT Daniels. Daniels’ chip is as blue as blue chips can get, but that is still an awful lot to take on ... even if the game day atmospheres aren’t exactly intimidating.

And USC gets Khalil Tate the week after.

WEEK 5: SATURDAY, SEPT. 29

Opponent: Utah Utes
Venue: Martin Stadium

Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl - West Virginia v Utah
Tyler Huntley is experienced.
Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Utah is entering their 14th season under head coach Kyle Whittingham and return four offensive lineman, both running backs, and starting quarterback Tyler Huntley. They — like every year — also project to have a very solid defense and are getting Dark Horse nods to win the South.

The Utes open against Weber State at home then — in a wild move — travel to Dekalb, Illinois to play in “The House That Bork Built in front of no more than 24,000 people at 7:30 PM against a MAC school that went 6-2 in conference last season. That is playing with fire right there. Northern Illinois is a good football team.

They come home and get No. 6 UW before taking a bye week prior to venturing up to Pullman. Utah goes to No. 13 Stanford the week after facing Wazzu, then gets No. 15 USC and Arizona at home.

WEEK 6: SATURDAY, OCT. 6

Opponent: Oregon State Beavers
Venue: Reser Stadium, Corvallis, Oregon

NCAA Football: Pac-12 Media Day
“If only I had another year of eligibility.”
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Gary Andersen left $12 million on the table when he decided the culture there couldn’t be changed and he walked away from the Beavs in his third season. Oregon State rebounded by bringing back Jonathan Smith, who not only handed the ball off to Ken Simonton 284 times but also completed 170 passes for 2,773 yards when he led the Beavs to an 11-1 season and No. 4 AP rank In The Year 2000.

Smith was a long time assistant for Chris Petersen, most recently serving as the UW offensive coordinator. Assuming he learned how to program build from Petersen, Oregon State has a rosy, optimism-filled, warm look to the future. The present is a lot of question marks ... and no Ryan Nall.

In some great news, quarterback Jake Luton gets the starting nod and returns to the field this season after suffering a terrifying spinal injury against WSU last fall. Oregon State opens on the road against No. 5 Ohio State and honestly, who knows how well that team will play given all the mess surrounding that program right now.

The Beavs get WSU at home after hosting Arizona and tripping to Tempe to play against whatever Herm Edwards is doing to Arizona State. The back end of their schedule is just brutal with a home game against No. 15 USC, followed by trips to No. 13 Stanford and No. 6 UW, then the Civil War at home against No. 24 Oregon.

WEEK 7: SATURDAY, OCT. 13

Opponent: BYE
Venue: Martin Stadium

Martin Stadium

Finally a bye week in the middle of the season.

WEEK 8: SATURDAY, OCT. 20

Opponent: Oregon Ducks
Venue: Martin Stadium

Las Vegas Bowl - Boise State v Oregon Photo by David Becker/Getty Images

Oregon went outside their Rich Brooks football family for the first time in the modern era and Willie Taggart managed to flip one perfectly mediocre season with the Ducks into a gig in Tallahassee. In steps former Amsterdam Admirals offensive tackle Mario Cristobal to take the reigns.

Cristobal peaked as head coach at Florida International in 2011, winning eight games and losing the Beef O’ Brady’s bowl to Marshall. The next year he won three games and was abruptly let go. Alabama did their Fired Head Coach Rehabilitation thing and Cristobal spent three years convincing 5-star offensive lineman they should play for Nick Saban. He then joined Taggart in Eugene last year as the OC and coached their bowl game as an interim before taking over full time.

The Ducks will probably be great on defense under Jim Leavitt, fast at running back — plus we know Jim Mastro is a great coach — and have a really good, young quarterback in Justin Herbert. It’ll be interesting to see how their offense changes under new coordinator Marcus Arroyo, who has a lot of experience with Jeff Tedford and was the Oklahoma State running backs coach last year.

The Ducks open conference play against No. 13 Stanford, go to Cal, then get No. 6 Washington in Autzen before traveling to Pullman and Tuscon. Oregon’s entire back half of the schedule is against teams in the South, except for their rivals in Corvallis.

WEEK 9: SATURDAY, OCT. 27

Opponent: Stanford Cardinal
Venue: Stanford Stadium, Stanford, California

Pac 12 Championship - Stanford v USC
Bryce Love is good.
Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Stanford has Bryce Love. They don’t have a proven commodity at quarterback in K.J. Costello or their offensive coordinator Andrew Luck Director of Offense since 2013, Mike Bloomgren — who is currently at Rice, beating Prairie View A&M on a last-second field goal. Stepping up is former Cardinal quarterback Tavita Pritchard, who has been on the Stanford staff since 2010.

Stanford goes to Autzen in Week 4, then South Bend to face the Golden Domers before hosting Utah in Week 6. The Cardinal then get a bye week before a Thursday Nighter at ASU. A trip to Husky Stadium (black out???) sits on the other side of their date with the Cougs.

WEEK 10: SATURDAY, NOV. 3

Opponent: California Golden Bears
Venue: Martin Stadium

NCAA Football: California at Colorado
Lots going on here.
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Justin Wilcox did more with a bad-injury-luck Cal team last season than he had any right to. Their quarterback Ross Bowers looks capable of winning some games and they return a decent running back with a few really skilled receivers.

WSU has only beaten Cal twice since 2005. Not really relevant to anything, just one of those things you don’t realize until you see it.

The Bears have UW at home right before going to November Pullman and get to look forward to visiting No. 15 USC the following week and hosting The Big Game the week after that.

WEEK 11: SATURDAY, NOV. 10

Opponent: Colorado Buffaloes
Venue: Folsom Field, Boulder, Colorado

NCAA Football: Southern California at Colorado Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Steven Montez is back but no other skill guys are. Neither is their OC, Brian Lindgren, who left for Oregon State after being with head coach Mike MacIntyre since San Jose State. Feels like the Buffs could be taking a pretty big step back without Phillip Lindsey, Shay Fields, and Bryce Bobo on offense.

Colorado has road trips to USC and UW back-to-back in the middle of the season but otherwise the schedule is fairly manageable. They get Oregon State at home and trip to Arizona before hosting WSU, and finish out the season with Utah at home and Cal on the road.

WEEK 12: SATURDAY, NOV. 17

Opponent: Arizona Wildcats
Venue: Martin Stadium

Oregon State v Arizona
Oh dear.
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Arizona might have upgraded swapping Kevin Sumlin for Rich Rodriguez? There’s little doubt Sumlin - and OC Noel Mazzone - will know exactly what to do with 2017 breakout phenom Khalil Tate. There’s still a lot of uncertainty around the Wildcat defense but just having Tate could be enough.

We’ll probably find out right away how that chemistry works. Arizona opens the season against BYU, at Houston, and home against a 9-3 Southern Utah team that whipped Eastern last season.

The Trip to Pullman is the only likely cold weather game Arizona could play in. They’re at home against Oregon and Colorado in the weeks before WSU and host the Territorial Cup the week after. Only a trip to Utah for a Friday Nighter on Oct. 12 has a chance to be chilly.

Maybe weather can slow Tate down. Not much else did last season.

WEEK 13: FRIDAY, NOV. 23

Opponent: Washington Huskies
Venue: Martin Stadium

Washington State v Washington
Sigh.
Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

UW has hung over 40 points in each of the last three Apple Cups and has won five in a row. They’re preseason Pac-12 Conference favorites. Even if they lose their marquee Week 1 match-up with Auburn they could still get to the playoff. The only maybe rough spot in their schedule is back-to-back trips to UCLA and Oregon, which depends a lot on how competitive Chip Kelly gets UCLA in his first season.

No. 6 UW gets No. 13 Stanford and Oregon State at home the weeks before coming to Pullman.

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