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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 28 Alamo Bowl - Iowa State v Washington State Photo by Daniel Dunn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

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The best- and worst-case scenarios for the WSU Cougars in 2019

A lot could go right for the Cougs in 2019! A lot could also go very wrong.

This is the latest in our series of stories previewing the 2019 Washington State Cougars football season. For other installments, click here.


College football is, inherently, messy. The obvious ethical conundrum aside, it’s a game played by 18- to 23-year-old men who are, ostensibly, college students first and football players second. They are by no means professionals and make mistakes that reflect it.

Though that means you can witness some of the most boneheaded plays imaginable, it also leads to incredible moments there’s just no way you’d see in the professional ranks. Hell, we had one last weekend!

It means the highs can be extremely high (see: WSU in 1997) and the lows can be “drilling through the foundation of your home, striking a gas line and exploding the neighborhood” low (see: WSU in 2008 ... and 2009 ... and 2010). So just how good could it be for the Cougs this year? And just how bad could it get? We explore in our annual thought exercise of how the season might play out.

By popular demand, we start with the castor oil.


The Worst-Case Scenario

The New Mexico State Aggies know this game against the Washington State Cougars may be their best opportunity to make a statement all year and play like it. Though WSU has trouble getting away from the pesky independent visitors, they do pull away in the second half for a 45-24 win. The Northern Colorado Bears present little problem for the Cougs as they avoid humiliation at the hands of a Big Sky Conference opponent for the third year running, beating the Bears 42-10.

A short week combined with a flight to the sauna that is Houston, Texas does not treat the Cougs well. A thin, inexperienced secondary is gashed by a fast moving and efficient Houston Cougars offense led by D’Eriq King as the Coogs wallop the Cougs 52-21 in front of a national TV audience.

The Cougs are hoping for a reprieve against a still struggling to rebuild UCLA Bruins team but disaster strikes: Max Borghi suffers a season ending knee injury in the first half and the Bruins can key in on Anthony Gordon’s passing attack. The Bruins score a late touchdown and can scamper down to Westwood with a 34-28 win.

Things go from bad to worse the next week for the Cougs as Gordon struggles to find a rhythm against the Utah Utes. Mike Leach pulls Gordon in favor of Gage Gubrud who can’t get the engine going either. The Cougs lose 31-10 as Kyle Whittingham enters the national coach of the year discussion.

No one gets arrested over the bye week. HOORAY!

Tempe does Tempe things to the Cougs and new starting quarterback Gage Gubrud who keeps it close but inexplicably tosses a pick-six on their final drive as the Arizona State Sun Devils put an exclamation point on a win 27-17. The Cougs finally get a home respite after a month away from Martin Stadium. The secondary triple teams Lavishka Shenault on every drive and the Colorado Buffaloes can do little else as the Cougs claw out a hard fought 24-13 victory.

The Cougs head to Eugene to face the sixth-ranked Oregon Ducks and boy, does Justin Herbert look the part. The Ducks sprint up and down the field on offense and stymie Washington State on defense, leading the visiting section to empty out midway through the third quarter as Oregon ends their four game losing streak to the Cougs with emphasis, 52-17.

No one gets arrested over the OTHER bye week. HOORAY!

Berkeley is ... Berkeley. The Cougs lose 21-19 after giving up a safety as they try to drive the field for a game winning score as Gubrud is buried underneath a heap of Cal Golden Bears defenders.

Leach goes back to Anthony Gordon for Dad’s Weekend against the Stanford Cardinal but it matters little as David Shaw’s team seven offensive-lineman formation’s the Cougs into oblivion, cruising to a 37-17 win. The Cougs do get lucky as the Oregon State Beavers come into Pullman reeling from a late season loss against ASU that cost Jonathan Smith his job. WSU manages to get past a sleepwalking Beavers squad 41-21 as whatever is left of the student section makes the late drive home for Thanksgiving.

The Apple Cup ... we, uh ... we will not talk about that.

The Cougs end the season 4-8. No one renews their RV passes because they got more expensive and the athletic department deficit balloons. Pat Chun darts for the athletic director job at East Carolina, citing his love of vinegar-based barbecue. Mike Leach retires to write non-fiction books about ... I dunno, bird watching or something.


The Best-Case Scenario

It takes all of one quarter for Anthony Gordon to prove exactly why he was picked to be the starting quarterback. He tosses three touchdown passes in the first frame, including a 75-yard bomb to Dezmon Patmon on the way to a #drop70 rout of the Aggies, 70-14. The following week against Northern Colorado, Gage Gubrud gets into the game for the third quarter after the Cougs score on each possession in the first thirty minutes on their way to a 77-10 win, allowing those who are golf inclined to leave at halftime to fit in an unexpected round.

It’s clear Houston needs more than a couple of weeks to get used to Dana Holgorsen as they struggle to get their offensive attack going. They do manage to take advantage of a Washington State secondary still trying to find its feet but the Cougs manage to get out of the sweat box of southern Texas with a 41-24 win.

A capacity crowd is at full throat as the UCLA Bruins make their way to Pullman for the first time since 2016. A perfect Palouse sunset punctuates a thrilling but still comfortable 34-24 win over the Bruins as Anthony Gordon tosses his 16th touchdown pass without throwing a pick.

The now-No. 14 Cougs head to Rice-Eccles Stadium for a date with the No. 8 Utah Utes. College GameDay hits the Wasatch as Lee Corso dons Butch’s headgear yet again before a sellout crowd of angry Ute fans reign terror upon Washington State. The Cougs struggle against Utah’s stout defense but the Utes offense can’t get anything going. Gordon finally gets puts together a big drive at just the right time, completing a 25-yard strike to Travell Harris with just seconds left to get Blake Mazza within field goal range. Mazza nails a 48-yard attempt and the Cougs celebrate a 17-14 win in front of The Muss.

No one gets arrested over the bye week. HOORAY!

The No. 11 Cougs enjoy the sunshine in Tempe as much as their fans and the constant shots of hands-on-hips Herm Edwards sustain TV viewers everywhere in the middle of a 41-21 win. A homecoming crowd drunk on an undefeated team and tailgate bourbon watches the Cougs smash the Buffs 48-17 as the line for Valhalla makes its way to the soccer field by half time.

Another week on the road, another visit from College GameDay as the No. 9 Cougs meet the No. 5 Oregon Ducks for the biggest match up of the year in the Pac-12. Back and forth the teams go, big play after big play, leaving the Autzen Stadium crowd swinging between hysteria and agony. Oregon is left with the ball, down three with 90 seconds to play. It’s Herbert’s shot to prove he deserves that first overall draft pick ... and he does. He scrambles for an eight yard score with just seconds to go, helping the Ducks top the Cougs 34-31.

No one gets arrested over the OTHER bye week. HOORAY!

Justin Wilcox is teetering on the edge of losing his job and it shows as Cal’s defense inexplicably struggles to put up with Washington State’s passing attack and Gordon hits 40 touchdown passes for the year, entering the discussion for the Heisman Trophy on the way to a 31-13 win. The Cougs leave the Bay Area to face the other Bay Area team as David Shaw continues to be befuddled the Air Raid, dropping his fourth straight to Mike Leach 34-21. The students actually (kinda) stick around this time to watch the No. 11 Cougs shellac the the Beavs 56-21 on a surprisingly warm late November day in Pullman.

The Apple Cup ... is not the Apple Cup! Rumors of Chris Petersen leaving for the USC Trojans job are swirling and Jacob Eason has struggled all season. The Cougs manage to learn from their past mistakes and rely on the ground game more as Borghi tops 150 yards in a 27-17 win, snapping the Cougs’ six game losing streak.

A surprisingly easy conference schedule allows Oregon to waltz into the conference title game but thanks to a big win there over the Utes, the Ducks climb into the playoff, sending the Cougs to the Rose Bowl. There, Wazzu officially sticks a fork in the Jim Harbaugh era and takes out their revenge on the Michigan Wolverines some two decades later, winning 28-24.

Anthony Gordon is picked in the first round of the NFL Draft, Pat Chun signs a lifetime contract to remain at Washington State and Mike Leach spends his winter writing non-fiction books about ... I dunno, bird watching or something.

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