clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Which Cougar Football team was the best ever?

New, comments

1997? 2002? 2009?

Cade McNown UCLA

Good morning. In our everlasting search for offseason #content, we often canvas the various college football sites. This week, manna from heaven appeared, courtesy of CBS Sports. They went through the Power Five conferences and ranked each school’s best team of all time. At many schools, there are several years from which to choose. At WSU, it probably comes down to two teams.

One interesting part of the ranking is the number of draft picks that particular team produced. It’s a testament to both Mike Price and Ryan Leaf that CBS’s pick for the best WSU team yielded just six draft picks. That’s the least of any Pac-12 team on the list. For a bit of context, the sort-of national champion 1991 Washington Huskies had 20 future draftees on their roster, while 2005 USC produced a staggering 35 (!!!!!!!) draft picks. Of course, the funny thing is that the greatest USC team ever didn’t win the national title.

Back to the Cougs. For most of us, any debate around the greatest WSU team ever comes down to either 1997 or 2002. An argument could be made for either, and there probably isn’t a wrong answer. Most of us are probably very familiar with the merits of the two teams, so I won’t bore you with a Nick Bakay-style “tale of the tape.”

If you ask me (you didn’t) both teams have one defining play that could be used by the other in this argument.

Aside: I’m only considering teams from the modern era. Don’t @ me with team from the 60s or 70s or whenever because I’m not old enough to have seen them and both the 1997 and 2002 teams would have laid waste to them. Oh, and there aren’t any national title teams to consider from way back when, either.

1997 - The Cougs were inside the Arizona State 25 yard line, down by five and facing 4th and three. In a play I remember as if it were yesterday, WSU went 5-wide (I think) with ASU showing a blitz look. For some reason, Leaf went under center, and he never had a chance. Future rapist Mitchell Freedman blitzed and stripped Leaf. ASU recovered and took it to the end zone, and that would be the only game WSU lost before the Rose Bowl. Things may have turned out differently if WSU hadn’t let the Sun Devils get out to a 24-0 lead.

2002 - This time, it wasn’t a fumble (though it could be argued that a fumble ruling was the decisive play) but an injury that decided the outcome. In an Apple Cup that WSU should have won by at least two touchdowns, and an Apple Cup they led by 10 points with fewer than five minutes left, WSU still found a way to lose after Jason Gesser suffered a high-ankle sprain and Matt Kegel threw up all over himself. Mike Price left and you know the rest.

The forgotten sequence in that game came at the end of the first half, when WSU was inside the Washington 5 yard line, and didn’t score as the half ended. Think three points there would have helped?

One mark in 1997’s favor: In order to get to the Rose Bowl, they had to beat a pretty good Washington team, one that had been in the top five earlier in the year, on the road. They did. The 2002 Cougs would’ve clinched a spot in the Rose Bowl with an Apple Cup win also, but couldn’t manage to beat a much worse Washington squad at home.

If I can be allowed to play the “what if” game for a second (wait, this is my own space, so yes I will), there is one other WSU team which could have challenged 1997 and 2002.

I thought about this a lot as the Palouse Posse was murdering just about every offense it opposed. What if Mike Price hadn’t burned Drew Bledsoe’s redshirt in 1990, and he played out his eligibility? Yep, you have the #1 NFL draft pick paired with the greatest defense in school history. That defense was a national championship-level unit, and was paired with the worst Mike Price-led offense at WSU.

Take out Chad Davis and insert Bledsoe. Do they lose 10-9 to Tennessee? No. Do they lose 10-7 to Arizona? Not a chance. Do they lose to a terrible Oregon State team? I doubt it. Hell, with Chad Davis at the helm, they practically dominated future Pac-10 champ Oregon. The Cougs may very well have lost to USC, but they’d still have been 10-1 and faced Penn State in the Rose Bowl. You may recall that Penn State was unbeaten that season. I’d have given just about anything to see Kerry Collins and Ki-Jana Carter against Mark Fields and DeWayne Patterson. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be.

There is probably an argument to be made for the 2003 team, if we play “what if” with them also. What if they hadn’t melted down at Notre Dame? Aside number two: I was at that game, and will never forget Bill Doba’s comments afterward, in which he said the staff was surprised by the heat and humidity...in Indiana...in early September, and the players probably weren’t hydrated enough, so they ran out of gas down the stretch.

DID I MENTION THAT BILL DOBA GREW UP IN INDIANA, WENT TO COLLEGE IN INDIANA, AND SOMEHOW FORGOT THAT IT IS HOT AND HUMID IN INDIANA IN EARLY SEPTEMBER? AM I YELLING? I AM? I AM NOT AT ALL UPSET ABOUT THE RESULT OF THIS DUMB SPORTING EVENT THAT OCCURRED 15 YEARS AGO IN WHICH LITTLE OL’ WSU SHOULD HAVE WON AT NOTRE DAME. NOPE NOT AT ALL.

It also didn’t help that Cougar kicker Drew Dunning missed an extra point that may have helped in a game that went to OT, and had a really bad game over all. Anyway, WSU’s quarterback situation that season was mediocre at best. With better production, and without Chris Jordan’s devastating knee injury in the Apple Cup, and without Bill Doba’s amnesia prior to the Notre Dame game, that may very well be a Rose Bowl team. But this is Cougar football, so we aren’t allowed nice things.

Now that I’ve said my piece, what do you all think? Was the 1997 version of Cougar Football the best ever? I’m inclined to say “yes.”

Football

Preview 2018: Top 30 Safeties | College Football News
The team’s leading tackler earned all-Pac-12 honors making 73 tackles with four interceptions.

2018 Preseason Pac-12 Team-By-Team Predictions For Every Game | College Football News What’s going to happen this season in the Pac-12? The schedules and predictions for each team and every game.

A national college football injury report may be coming soon if Big Ten ADs get their way - CBSSports.com
The weekly injury report has been proposed in reaction to an anticipated boom in sports betting.

CTE

Toronto researchers find CTE in brain of patient with no concussion history | CTV News
Researchers at Toronto Western Hospital's Canadian Concussion Centre have discovered the presence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy in the brain of a deceased patient with no known history of concussions.

Beer

Best beer I had this week: As part of our pre-Europe move itinerary, we headed from Spokane to Carmel, Indiana. Carmel has one of the best beer stores I’ve seen, so much so that I had my mother-in-law drop me off there on the way home from the airport (it was getting late and the father-in-law drinks nothing but lager he keeps in his garage but not in a refrigerator).

It was quite hot and humid in Carmel for much of the week (are you listening, Bill Doba?), so among my selections was Golden Road Brewing’s Berry Guava Wheat. It was the perfect beer for a hot day by the neighbor’s pool.

As for the article, I stumbled upon it while researching beer destinations in Denmark. Turns out there’s quite a backstory when it comes to the roots of Mikkeller and Evil Twin. As a neutral observer, I can aver that both produce excellent beers.

The Beer Twins (One Evil) Take Their Feud to Queens - The New York Times
Two successful Danish brewers — identical twins who have been estranged since 2010 — are opening craft breweries in the same borough.

Non-Sports

This is a bit of a long read, but it’s definitely worth your time.

The Spy Who Came Home | The New Yorker
Why an expert in counterterrorism became a beat cop.