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NCAA Football: UCLA at Washington State

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The best- and worst-case scenarios for WSU in 2022

How well could it go? How bad could it get? We explore.

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

This is the next installment in our series of stories previewing the 2022 Washington State Cougars football season. Other installments can be found here.


The season that was for the Washington State Cougars was ... well, it was. A confounding mix of highs and lows that sometimes swung violently in either direction more than once a day, let alone on a week-to-week basis. Hell, they were 4-3 when they fired their football coach for reasons having nothing to do with football.

They notched up befuddling losses (I still have nightmares about the Cammon Cooper wishbone) and incredible wins (a near four-touchdown win over the Washington Huskies — the Huskies!) while dealing with more national attention than any unranked, near-.500 team could ever deserve.

We’re hoping for a calmer 2022 on that front. As usual with the Cougs, we can see a host of possibilities from knocking on the door to ten wins to picking up the pieces after scraping by with three. Where could it all go?

Let’s explore.


The Worst-Case Scenario

NCAA Football: Washington State at Washington Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

The stumble out of the block is a decent-sized one, as a patchwork offensive line is still trying to sort everything out. The Cougs manage to beat the Idaho Vandals 38-17, though perhaps not as convincingly as everyone may like, given the expectations of Cameron Ward and a stable of weapons at wide receiver.

The humbling is quick and decisive against the Wisconsin Badgers in the cheese capital of the world as the Cougs take a 42-10 thrashing at the hands of the most physical team they’ve seen in years. Ward is on his back all day and it’s hands-on-hips time for the defense from the start.

It’s back home for three straight but the Cougs spend all week prepping for the Colroado State Rams thinking about the Oregon Ducks instead and find Jay Norvell’s team ready to come out and beat the brakes off a Power 5 opponent, losing 31-17. The Oregon Ducks are ... the Oregon Ducks, new coaching staff and quarterback be damned. At least Troy Dye isn’t here to running roughshod with no gloves as the visitors from Eugene head south for the winter with a 45-21 win.

The triumphant return of The Cal Bull***t is here as the Golden Bears saunter into Gesa Field looking for some revenge after one of the weirdest games in football last year. Chase Garbers has finally exhausted his eligibility after 14 years in Berkeley but an always-stingy Cal defense manages to keep the game slow, just the way they like it. A triumphant Justin Wilcox licks his lips creepily on camera again as Cal wins a grinding 24-14 ballgame.

Boy, do the USC Trojans just ever look the part. Caleb Williams hucks the ball all over the yard and yours truly has zero regrets about not purchasing plane tickets to head down as the Trojans waltz to a 41-24 win with the Cougs picking up some points in garbage time.

Then, for the first time since Barack Obama was a federal employee, the Oregon State Beavers break through against the Cougs, ending a losing streak that seemed like a mountain gorilla on their back, 31-28, as Ward throws a late pick while trying to drive at the end of the game for the winning score.

The weekend off doesn’t do many favors for the Cougs as Cam Rising manages to actually hit receivers in stride this year, guiding the Utah Utes to an easy 38-10 victory over the Cougs despite any Halloween weekend weirdness in Pullman.

The Cougs finally get to the soft part of their schedule and it’s shootout time with the Stanford Cardinal. Tanner McKee and Ward combine for over 900 yards of passing but it’s a last second goal line stand with Ron Stone, Jr. sacking the Stanford QB that keeps things in the Cougs favor, 42-38. Wazzu even manages to keep a floundering Arizona State Sun Devils team at bay with a relative cruise to a 38-17 win as Herm Edwards comes down with a world class case of lockjaw.

Then, a nightmare scenario in Tucson. Jayden de Laura is ready to show Wazzu what they’ve been missing and he tears the Cougs defense apart bit by bit before finally planting a UA flag at mid-field on their own turf for some reason. No matter though, the 45-24 win is emphatic.

The Apple Cup goes as previous ones have gone. Michael Penix Jr. has defied the odds and actually had a good season, managing to keep it a two score game all the way to the final gun at 31-17.

Cam Ward transfers because the 45 sacks he endured behind a porous offensive line won’t get him to the league next year. Eric Morris heads back to the FCS for another head coaching job. Jake Dickert has to hire Nick Rolovich as his offensive coordinator.


The Best-Case Scenario

Washington State v Washington Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

Six years since the Battle of the Palouse took place on a rain soaked field with the Cougs desperately needing a win and this time, the exhale is quicker. The Cougs jump out to a quick lead and put things on cruise control with a 62-17 win over their border neighbors.

If there’s one thing Jake Dickert has shown, it’s that he can get his team up for a fight and that’s just what he does in Madison. The game turns into a slog and the Cougs are in it the whole way but Wisconsin’s talent wins out, albeit barely, and the Badgers squeak out a 28-24 win in a much-closer-than-it-should-have-been game.

The Cougs head back to Pullman and they do not miss against the Rams, dispatching of the 2013 New Mexico Bowl champions 52-21 as the offense really gets humming and things settle down up front for the Cougs.

Wazzu always plays the Ducks tough and this year is no exception. Oregon is trying to grind it out late in the fourth and Dan Lanning elects to punt it away with less than a minute to go and a three point lead. Then, Renard Bell makes him pay, housing the punt from 81-yards out and Wazzu shocks Oregon with a 31-27 win, knocking them out of the top-25. The fans pour onto the field and Dickert is carried off into the locker room on the shoulders of five freshman living in Coman that are getting more exercise now than they have all semester.

Long-term extension be damned, Justin Wilcox is flummoxed by a Wazzu attack from all angles as the Golden Bears look tranquilized on their way to a 41-17 loss in Pullman.

A final trip to the Coliseum as conference partners and the Cougs take out about a century of frustration on a team that always blames everyone else for everything that goes wrong. Lincoln Riley sits dumbfounded, thinking about having to play the Ohio State Buckeyes every year and that not being what he signed up for as the Cougs beat the Trojans 38-28 in their own house with everyone leaving early to beat the traffic (there’s always traffic) and I regret not flying down that morning.

The Cougs creep ever closer to double digits in a row against the Beavs and Jonathan Smith just quits in a huff over not being able to get past the Cougs, losing yet another 42-31 shootout to their former North division cousins. The long week before a Thursday night showdown with the Utah Utes only serves to keep things a little closer though as WSU struggles to keep the offense on the field in a 31-14 loss to the eventual repeat Pac-12 champions.

The Cougs make mincemeat of the final third of their schedule though, waltzing to easy wins over the Cardinal, Sun Devils and Wildcats as Ward hurls touchdowns all over the yard. After taking Apple Cups on the chin for so long, the Cougs celebrate the first Saturday edition of the game in what feels like decades with an easy 38-21 win.

Wazzu goes on to the Las Vegas Bowl where they go back and forth with the Ole Miss Rebels, ultimately delivering a 31-21 win and go on an absolute heater at my favorite Flamingo craps table.

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