The 2018 version of the Washington State Cougars will go down as the winningest team in school history. But it was more than that. It was a team that endured an extremely difficult offseason that began with the death of Tyler Hilinski. The Cougs also said goodbye to six assistant coaches and saw their head coach nearly bail for the SEC.
They were picked to finish fifth in the Pac-12 North and expectations were low. Who was this graduate transfer named Gardner Minshew II, anyway? We’re going to put the offense in the hands of a guy who couldn’t hold the starting job on a bad East Carolina team? And where are the defensive linemen we need? We were doomed, it seemed.
But then a funny thing happened. Somehow, this group of 18- to 23-year-olds found a way to make this one of the most memorable seasons in WSU’s history.
Here, in no particular order, are the most memorable moments from the 2018 football season. There are no football plays included on this list. These are moments or things that happened outside the field or beyond the game.
Easop Winston’s Pac-12 Network interview after beating Utah
Winston’s 89-yard touchdown catch-and-run with 4:14 left in the game brought Martin Stadium to life and helped WSU avoid its second loss in a row. Winston’s interview at the Pac-12 Network set was touching:
After a heckuva game & win, Easop Winston Jr. looks back on his road to @WSUCougFB and feels incredibly grateful for the @WSUCougars and fans.— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) September 30, 2018
Game Break: https://t.co/ZhZuI5ezsa#Pac12FB pic.twitter.com/8qo9JvjX7J
Minshew plants a mustache on Mike Leach
If you didn’t think this team had the most fun, you did after seeing this:
Mike Leach has once again produced possibly the greatest college football interview of all time pic.twitter.com/8Djm3VJ8RI— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) November 11, 2018
ESPN announces College GameDay is coming to Pullman
I had a feeling—given UW’s loss to Oregon that day, as well as Auburn’s loss to Tennessee, to a lesser extent—that there was a decent chance WSU could finally host College GameDay.
Sure enough, as I refreshed Twitter over and over the night of the bye week, Kirk Herbstreit popped up to say this:
THIS IS NOT A DRILL— College GameDay (@CollegeGameDay) October 14, 2018
FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER ... PULLMAN, WE'RE COMING TO YOUR CITY! pic.twitter.com/G7VToavDPG
What a feeling.
College GameDay buses roll into Pullman
Now THAT is a warm welcome, @WSUCougars!— College GameDay (@CollegeGameDay) October 17, 2018
LET’S DO GAMEDAY! pic.twitter.com/VH90imTDVl
How’s this for a welcome? Relive it here.
College GameDay broadcasts live from Pullman
You could probably pick a hundred great moments just from College GameDay. From Rece Davis’ NSFW welcome at 5:58 a.m., to the huge crowd, the crazy signs, the show open, Corso’s headgear pick....we could go on and on.
The feeling after beating Wyoming
I know, Wyoming ended up being a bad team. But heading into the season opener on the road, many of us had no clue what to expect from this WSU team. Many of us picked Wyoming to win. We had no idea how Minshew would play and how a team full of new faces would fare after the terrible offseason.
Those fears were put to rest, though. Minshew was actually quite good, and Easop Winston’s hands were as advertised. Max Borghi didn’t feel like easing into things so he went out and scored two touchdowns to introduce himself to Cougar nation.
Getting that win to open the season was wildly more enjoyable than other season opening wins. That win lifted the angst and worry and we could simply enjoy Cougar football.
Fox broadcasting the field rush after beating Oregon
We’re used to TV networks rushing to get away from the end of a game so they can move on to their next bit of content. But Fox’s broadcast of WSU’s win over the Oregon Ducks on Oct. 20 was different. This was the College GameDay game, and a packed Martin Stadium saw WSU win to cap off a perfect day.
The crowd rushed the field, and instead of tossing it back to the studio, Tim Brando and the Fox crew stayed with the game for a long time, showcasing the beautiful views from Martin Stadium.
The Hilinski family raises the flag
The home opener against San Jose State saw the Hilinski family raise the flag prior to kickoff. It was a somber moment, but a memorable one. What this family has been through this year is unimaginable. Their courage to be there that day is admirable.
The quarterbacks invade Mike Leach’s office for some Christmas cheer
Here is your Coug QB Group Christmas Card (featuring our fearless leader)! Merry Christmas ya filthy animals! pic.twitter.com/pi2vcXO9ug— Gardner Minshew (@GardnerMinshew5) December 21, 2018
Did we mention this team has lots of fun?
The ‘Mississippi Mustache’ song
People come up with anthems for their favorite teams all the time. They’re usually pretty bad. This one is good.
And ignore the lines about winning the Apple Cup. It’s still a good song.
Mike Leach finds his favorite College GameDay sign
Ol’ Ball Coach meets (naked?) Gardner Minshew
Thankfully, there is no photo evidence of this happening but there is this from Jayson Jenks of The Athletic, who shared this back and forth between Minshew and Hunter Dale:
Dale: “He has these bands that he does arm stretches with after practice. And it never fails, he’ll come in and just strip naked and start doing them.”
Minshew: “Usually I end up in my jockstrap, not all the way naked.”
Dale: “There’s been a couple naked ones.”
Minshew, nodding: “Yeah, there’s been a couple nakeds.”
Steve Spurrier knows about the bands. His son, Steve Spurrier Jr., is the Cougars’ receivers coach, and after a win this season, the Head Ball Coach wanted to talk to Minshew.
Minshew: “He came in the locker room looking for me, and I’m doing my bands in the jockstrap and I’ve got my shades on and my headband still on and he just comes in, looks and says, ‘Steve, just tell him I said good game.’ ”
Bonus: This picture
OK, that’s my list. What’s yours?