It has been quite a journey just to get to here. First, we had a new schedule. Then, we had no schedule at all. Finally, we got ... something that could definitely be described as “better than nothing”.
No matter, we get to watch Washington State Cougars football this Saturday.
It’s the first game under a new coach, Nick Rolovich, following his near universally praised hire and a mildly bumpy summer. It’s the debut of a brand new offense, the Run and Shoot, that will look a little different but won’t be an altogether wholesale change from Mike Leach’s Air Raid. Defensive coordinator Jake Dickert might be earning his paycheck more than anyone on the staff as he works to rehabilitate the worst defense since at least 2014.
It could be glorious. It could metaphorically resemble the end of Armageddon if Bruce Willis hadn’t blown up the asteroid. What would each look like? Here are our best guesses.
The Best-Case Scenario
Another tilt in what’s quickly becoming an intense rivalry between land grant institutions in the Pacific Northwest goes Washington State’s way, albeit barely. The Oregon State Beavers defense is better but their offense without Jake Luton and Isaiah Hodgins struggles to hit pay dirt as the Cougs defense does just enough in this one to escape with a 31-28 win, including four touchdowns from Jayden de Laura in his debut.
The Oregon Ducks had plenty of COVID-19 opt outs, be it to sit the season out or head to the NFL, but the talent difference is still apparent. The Cougs are overmatched trying to break in a new offense without the advantage of a home crowd at full throat behind them, finding it hard to get in rhythm. No Justin Herbert appears to be no problem for Oregon as Tyler Shough wins the starting competition and game for the Ducks, 41-21.
The Stanford Cardinal are uncharacteristically having a hard time picking themselves up off the mat. Davis Mills has the pedigree of a successful QB but he’s struggling to put it together as the man in charge of the offense for the first time with a truncated fall camp. The Cougs take advantage, picking Mills off three times, including a diving, one handed catch from Jahad Woods.
Jayden de Laura has his best start yet, spreading the touchdown wealth to three receivers and Max Borghi crosses the goal line twice in a 150 rushing yard effort on the way to a comfortable 45-28 win.
Having a mobile quarterback in the Apple Cup helps ... a little. The Washington Huskies are struggling on offense, big time, in Jimmy Lake’s first season, running an uninspired and boring offense but the defense remains the defense.
De Laura spends the better part of the first half flummoxed by the Huskies so Rolovich throws Cammon Cooper into the game for the final half hour but it doesn’t help. It’s closer than its been in previous years but the Huskies stretch their winning streak to eight games and beat the Cougs 24-14.
The Cougs head to the Southland to face the USC Trojans for the second time in three years, a shrewd move on the part of the Pac-12 despite the rotation not taking them there. The Trojans quickly show why they’re the favorites to win the South this year, dispatching of the Cougs 48-21 as Gunner Cruz finally gets his shot in the second quarter after the true freshman starter struggles to get into a rhythm again.
The Cal Golden Bears have to make the trek to Pullman in the middle of December, barely ideal conditions for the Cougs, let alone a team from Berkeley and Justin Wilcox has struggled to get Cal over the hump in his fourth year at the helm. The Cougs get lucky and catch Chase Garbers on one of his off nights, as he can’t hit a single receiver and the Washington State secondary is flying around, deflecting passes and picking him off twice. Reminiscent of the Cougs’ 2018 victory, de Laura marches the team down the field late in the final frame and connects with Calvin Jackson, Jr. for the game winning touchdown, sealing a 24-20 win.
In the crossover game, the Pac-12 sends the Arizona Wildcats to Pullman and Kevin Sumlin wishes he’d just stayed on the plane. The Wildcats continue to catch terrible breaks in Pullman as everything clicks for de Laura and the Cougs run it up, pounding the Wildcats 62-31 and finish the regular season with a winning record as Max Borghi puts up 250 total yards of offense and score four times.
The Cougs head to the Independence Bowl where they meet the Boston College Eagles and a sluggish, defensive counterpunch game ends with the Cougs eeking out their second bowl win in three tries, beating Doug Flutie’s alma mater 17-13.
Max Borghi decides to stay another year, Rolovich buys every Coug in Seattle another beer after a 5-3 season and Pat Chun stays where he’s at.
The Worst-Case scenario
Positive COVID tests cancel every game except the Apple Cup. The Cougs still lose it.