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College Football News previews the Cougars

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NCAA Football: Nevada at Washington State James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Good morning. This time next week, it’ll be July. That means that once next Sunday rolls around, we can all say “college football starts next month” and it won’t just be a dream! Normally I wouldn’t give Northwestern-Purdue much of a look, but on the opening Thursday? Hell yes I’m watching!

The Cougar season doesn’t start until the first day in September, but the season previews keep rolling out. This week, it was Pete Fiutak at College Football News taking a turn. I was particularly intrigued by the headline, which read, “Did Wazzu miss its chance?” It’s hard to think that isn’t the case.

2017 was when Wazzu had the team in place to do so much more.

Stanford was just okay despite winning the North, Oregon was down, and Washington – while terrific – was gettable

Now, all three of those teams are going to be better, Cal is on the verge of being a thing under Justin Wilcox, and it’s impossible for Oregon State to be any worse. So when looking around the Pac-12 North and trying to figure out who the sucker is …

In 2015, WSU was a missed field goal from a likely date in the Pac-12 title game. In 2016 and 2017, WSU was an Apple Cup win away from a date in Levi’s Stadium. And even though it turned out that the last two editions of Cougar Football probably weren’t as good as we thought they could be, a chance at a real breakthrough was right there three straight times. Three straight times, Mike Leach and WSU were left on the doorstep, just like Mike Leach always has been.

So we’re on to 2018, and the lofty expectations held by WSU fans and college football pundits have cooled considerably, for a variety of reasons. The principle reason revolves around the situation behind center. Anthony Gordon or Trey Tinsley would seem to have an edge, due mostly to their experience in the system. Fiutak seems to think that incoming transfer Gardner Minshew will be the guy.

The grad transfer from East Carolina originally appeared to be ready to try his hand at Alabama, but wisely chose Wazzu instead. He throws a whole lot of picks, but he’s also a good fit for the offense. When he’s on, he’s a yardage machine. As long as he can keep the mistakes to a minimum, the Cougar air show keeps on going.

While the idea of a senior transfer is intriguing, the track record contains far more “meh” than “wow!” so how Minshew fits into the system will absolutely be the top storyline of the preseason.

More cause for concern:

After losing just 17 turnovers in 2016, they gave up 31 last season. And now the offense has to be sharper with a new quarterback, several key new parts to the receiving corps, three new starting linemen, and a new starting running back.

Uh oh. I was quite surprised when I read that, seeing as how WSU had a highly-experienced quarterback and what was supposed to be a very solid offensive line. Given what WSU lost on both sides of the ball, they absolutely can not afford to give the ball away that much.

So, is there any good stuff to talk about? There is! Fiutak is bullish on Tracy Claeys at the defensive coordinator spot, going as far as to say he will be an upgrade over Alex Grinch. While that obviously remains to be seen, the potential is there for the defense to take another step forward.

The longtime assistant under Jerry Kill is a star of a D coordinator, with a smart, tough style against the run to go along with strong play out of the secondary. His defenses don’t exactly bring the house when it comes to applying pressure – the sack total will go down – but the run defense will be terrific.

That last sentence is a bit of a sticking point, mostly because of the losses suffered along the defensive line. The linebackers will be solid, but if opposing blockers don’t have to double-team any linemen, guys like Jahad Woods and Peyton Pelluer will get swallowed up.

Ok, so what are we looking at for the team, win-wise? Pete is more optimistic than I am. Of course, Eeyore is positively myopic when compared to myself.

The Cougars have to beat Wyoming on the road to start the season, and they can’t slip against Eastern Washington. They’ll be 3-0 before losing at USC, and then comes the key stretch – Utah, at Oregon State, Oregon. Go 3-0, and it’ll be an interesting second half of the season. Lose two, and it’ll be a struggle...

...Assume that even if everything goes wrong, there will be a base of at least five wins, and then it’ll take a few big performances to somehow get over seven.

So channeling my inner-Eeyore, and going by decades of suffering along with this team and school, five wins is absolutely not the floor. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Cougs went 3-9. The hope (belief?) is that Mike Leach has built enough of a foundation recruiting-wise that those days are behind us. That five-win floor is possible, but I’d be hesitant to believe it’s entirely probable.


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Best beer I had this week: Went on a date with the Mrs. Friday night to celebrate the anniversary of a birth. There’s a restaurant here, called the Stein & Vine, that is an incredibly well-hidden gem. How well-hidden? It’s situated in a strip mall, sandwiched between a Big Lots and a Family Dollar, and its only signage comes in three big letters that say “PUB.” Ride-sharing drivers love trying to find it! They have an incredible beer selection. One of their bottles was Czar Face, a rum barrel-aged Russian Imperial Stout from MIA Brewing, which was quite tasty.

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You may or may not be aware that the World Cup is currently taking place in Russia, following a completely above-board and transparent selection process in the FIFA (looks three times) underground bunker? I’ve had a lot of down time this week, as government-contracted movers have been wantonly throwing my belongings into boxes and cramming most of what I own into crates while scratching the f**k out of the floor diligently packing and carefully placing my family’s things into well-constructed and not-at-all rickety containers.

Since I’ve been home all day, every day, and since soccer was the only live sporting event on TV, I had it on. And while I pay only passing attention, it has been somewhat interesting. I have no dog in the fight, but figured I should at least root for somebody. After a rigorous process that involved deep thought and analytics breakdown, I settled on Germany. Why? The only reason is that I’ll be living there soon. May as well root for the home(ish) team! And hey, they’re pretty good!

So of course they go out and lose their first game to Mexico. Then they quickly fall behind to Sweden in a game the have to win if they want any hope to advance. I made a run to the local beer store at halftime, and the bar inside had the game on, so I settled in with a pint of Victory at Sea and watched the second half. As time wound down, and it looked like a tie was inevitable (ties suck, btw), I sat there and thought “of course, even when I pick one of the best teams on the planet to cheer for, they crash and burn. Charlie Brown marches on.”

If that wasn’t enough, a German player (named Jerome, which caught me off guard) gets his second yellow card of the game and is ejected. So now The Team (seriously, I dare you not to spend at least 15 minutes looking through these awesome nicknames) is down to 10 men against Sweden’s 11. With something like 20 seconds left (I’ll never understand why soccer does this but whatevs) Germany gets a free kick and the guy bends one around the defense and into the auld onion bag! (shout out to the great Tommy Smyth).

I let out a yell that was quite loud, so luckily the place was mostly empty. What an incredible moment. And while I’ll almost certainly forget about soccer as soon as the Germans are eliminated, it was still fun to sit there and get a little nervous. It’s also a way to not get squeezed out of CougCenter Slack by the guys who talk about soccer, between tales of parenting woe and getting pissed at the Mariners.

tl;dr Germany rules suck it everyone else (especially Sweden, Preston) Deutschland Deutschland Über Alles!!!!

This has been the first, and probably last, edition of “PJ’s Soccer #Analysis.”