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Taking a closer look at WSU's 2014 schedule

Trying to guess how teams will navigate their schedule when the season is still more than a month away isn't all that meaningful ... we did it anyway. (This will de-value faster than a new car off the lot when the season starts)

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

We don't know who the starters will be, and only have a broad estimation for how talented each team can be, but we do know exactly when everybody plays.  Let's take that one certainty, add a dash of speculation, and dive into what's plausible with Washington State's schedule this season.

Week 1: Thursday, August 28

Venue: CenturyLink Field, Seattle, WA
Opponent: Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Rutgers also tripped to the West Coast to open their 2013 campaign, ultimately losing a barn burner in overtime 52-51 to Fresno State.  The only other times they've been west in the past twenty years were in losing efforts to ASU in the 2005 Insight Bowl (Phoenix) and Cal in 1999. Does that mean anything? Not necessarily, West Coast teams typically have bigger issues moving up times zones than East Coast teams do dropping back ... but with it being the first game of the season, there's no previous opponent to factor in and no way they overlook the Cougs for something called "Howard" they play the next week.

Week 2: Friday, September 5

Venue: Mackay Stadium, Reno, NV
Opponent: Nevada Wolfpack

Nevada opens with a home game against Southern Utah the week before, and gets to look forward to going to Arizona the week after WSU comes to town. This is the second season for Wolfpack head coach Brian Polian, who took over for Chris Ault, and his first season at the helm wasn't anything to write home about.  The Wolfpack have dropped in F/+ rank to 88 (WSU: 53) from their 62 posting when Ault left, but do return just about everybody in 2014.

Week 3: Saturday, September 13

Venue: Martin Stadium, Pullman, WA
Opponent: Portland State Vikings

The Cougs welcome non-major Portland State for the first home game in new and improved Martin Stadium.  Rutgers and Nevada should both be somewhat challenging, but definitely winnable games.  A 2-0 start isn't by any means guaranteed, but is highly possible and likely necessary to reach bowl eligibility.

The Vikings come to the Palouse after facing Oregon State in Corvallis Week 1 and Western Oregon at home, Week 2. OSU has recently had a penchant for dropping games to non-majors at the beginning of the season (EWU 2013; Sac St. 2011), and PSU gave Cal about all they could handle in the opener last year. It's not hard to imagine WSU facing a highly confident Viking squad that gave OSU hell.

If the Cougs are 2-0, it'd be a mistake to add another tally in the W column, and start thinking about the Ducks before taking care of business against a Portland State program that took a bite out of the Cougar QB depth chart in 2008.

Week 4: Saturday, September 20

Venue: Martin Stadium, Pullman, WA
Opponent: Oregon Ducks

Baptism by fire for Pac-12 play.  Oregon returns Heisman candidate Marcus Mariota and is pegged by most media to not only win the conference but reach the inaugural College Football Playoffs. After a Week 1 high school jamboree against South Dakota, the Ducks will be tested by last year's Rose Bowl champion Michigan State in Autzen, then get a week against a not-terrible Wyoming team to recoup before heading to Pullman. Any lingering effect from facing a very physical Spartan defense will probably have worn off, and they have a bye the next week to look forward to before a Thursday game against Arizona at home. Good news? This is viewed as one of the more likely Pullman candidates for ESPN's College GameDay if both teams start out 3-0.

Week 5: Saturday, September 27

Venue: Rice-Eccles Stadium, Salt Lake City, UT
Opponent: Utah Utes

The Utes return home to host WSU after venturing into the Big House to challenge Michigan.  Utah has a projected F/+ rank of 45, and Michigan 32.  This game should be a battle, which is good news for Cougs who are hopefully coming off their own hard fought contest. Utah had some terrible injury luck last season, in particular to QB Travis Wilson.  When he left, so did the Utah offense.  If he's in the game, the Ute's attack is way more threatening.

Utah gets to worry about consecutive road games at UCLA and at OSU after WSU, while the Cougs look forward to a home game against Cal. Being sandwiched between away games at Michigan and UCLA isn't a bad spot to have a game against a seemingly need-to-beat opponent.

Week 6: Saturday, October 4

Venue: Martin Stadium, Pullman, WA
Opponent: California Golden Bears

Cal was terrible last year, but it was a tad misleading. They suffered all sorts of injury problems on defense, and the Air Raid (which head coach Sonny Dykes is installing) wasn't all that easy for WSU to transition to in it's first year either.

Cal gets to ease into 2014 Pac-12 play.  The weeks before WSU, Cal goes to Arizona and gets Colorado at home.  Things take a real dark turn for the Bears after seeing the Cougs, with three consecutive home games against UW, UCLA, and Oregon. There's a chance Cal has a couple wins and some optimism when they trip to Pullman, and it'll be the second straight week their defense plays against a pass-happy opponent. This is the only conference game already written in sharpie as a must-win.

Week 7: Friday, October 10

Venue: The Farm, Palo Alto, CA
Opponent: Stanford Cardinal

The Cardinal lose a myriad of defenders and their work-horse back, but are still considered to be the second best team in the North and a potential Top 10 finisher. Stanford trips to Washington on Week 4, then heads to Notre Dame before returning home to face WSU on a short week while a trip to Tempe for Arizona State the next week looms overhead.

If anything looks like it may be a trap game, this is it.

Stanford and UW have beat each other up the past couple seasons, Notre Dame isn't an easy trip, and ASU has a dangerous offense.  It's not too hard to see the Cardinal giving one away to WSU like they did to Utah -- who found themselves in a similar spot last year -- facing Stanford after their tough win over UW and before a trip to UCLA. The Cougs have a well-timed bye to look forward to after the game.

Week 8: BYE

Playing Stanford is usually brutal for a defense, you get four quarters of smash mouth football that isn't too common in these parts.  You couldn't ask for a better spot to land a bye week, right at mid-season and after facing a grueling opponent, just before consecutive home games.

Week 9: Saturday, October 25

Venue: Martin Stadium, Pullman, WA
Opponent: Arizona Wildcats

If you're gonna face a warm weather school, it's nice to get them in Pullman when winter becomes a factor ... but on the flip side, that didn't matter at all to Arizona State last year. The Wildcats are also coming off a bye, after hosting USC the week before, and take on UCLA after leaving the Palouse.

The Wildcats could be anything from kinda good to kinda mediocre.  They lose all-everything back Ka'Deem Carey and serviceable quarterback BJ Denker, but do return a wide receiver corps that rivals WSU's and have some backs that are projected to be pretty decent.  If Jesse Scroggins, or whoever -- their QB competition is still wide open -- steps in and runs Rich Rodriquez's offense half-decently, the Wildcats could be challenging to defend.

Week 10: Saturday, November 1

Venue: Martin Stadium, Pullman, WA
Opponent: Southern California Trojans

Keep the winning streak against USC alive!

Steve Sarkisian brings his Trojans to Pullman in the middle of the soft part of their schedule. USC hosts Colorado and visits Utah before playing WSU, and returns home for a bye week before welcoming Cal into the Coliseum. This isn't particularly ideal, schedule-wise, but it is November ... maybe it's real cold and they don't like it? USC is assumed to be back in championship form and should challenge UCLA for the top spot in the South.

Bonus: the game is the day after a Friday Night Halloween in Pullman, so we can only assume the students will be festive.

Week 11: Saturday, November 8

Venue: Reser Stadium, Corvallis, OR
Opponent: Oregon State Beavers

If WSU wants to climb the ladder in the North, Oregon State sits on the first rung. Media is picking OSU to finish 4th in the North, behind UW and ahead of WSU and Cal. The Beavers have an absolute gauntlet to navigate the last six weeks of the season, playing all Pac-12 North opponents and hosting ASU.

OSU welcomes WSU after going to Stanford and a home game against Cal.  ASU visits the next weekend, then they head to Montlake and finish the season with a Civil War in enemy territory. I do not envy that schedule at all. Brutal. The Beavers aren't likely to overlook WSU, and the Cougs get them toward the beginning of that stretch.  With most of their probable losses stacked at the back-end, OSU figures to have five wins and be looking to gain bowl eligibility against the Cougs before those final three games.

Week 12: BYE

Another great spot for a bye. Three tough games, then a nice respite before heading to Tempe.  WSU is not great at playing in Tempe, historically. And ASU came into Pullman last year and stole everyone's Halloween candy after laying a beat 'em down on the Cougs. An extra week of preparation for the Sun Devils is definitely not a bad thing.

Week 13: Saturday, November 22

Venue: Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, AZ
Opponent: Arizona State Sun Devils

The Sun Devils finish their season with a home game against Notre Dame, a visit to Corvalis, hosting WSU, then tripping to Tucson for the Territorial Cup. It's likely ASU will be in the tier just below UCLA and USC.  It returns most of its offense, and add some JUCO receivers, but lost about everyone that was important on defense last year.  How the younger guys are able to fill all those roles on defense will probably determine just how good ASU can be in 2014.  The Sun Devils may find themselves in a few shootouts.

ASU handled WSU in every facet of the game last year, and were the third team in a row to hang over 50 points on the Cougar defense during a very forgettable month of October.

Week 14: Saturday, November 29

Venue: Martin Stadium, Pullman, WA
Opponent: Washington Huskies

UW and the media is all sorts of bullish on their season. Their coaching change is viewed by most as an upgrade, their crop of young 4-star quarterbacks competing for the starting nod all have higher potential than their predecessor Keith Price, and Bishop Sankey's 1866 rushing yards are assumed replaceable by some combination of Jesse Callier, Dwayne Washington and Deontae Cooper.

Maybe. Their schedule is definitely favorable for them to make some noise if Peterson hits the ground running.  UW only has to see one top Pac-12 team outside of Husky Stadium - Oregon - and don't face USC (or Utah).  The uncertainty around quarterback and the hope surrounding the running back committee (plus Shaq Thompson) is a little too great for me to buy into next season being a breakout year for the Huskies.

One thing that's not a question mark is their defense. It's experienced, fast, and doesn't present any real weaknesses, ranking highly in every scenario (standard downs, passing downs, red zone, etc). That defense is no joke, and if there's some growing pains on offense, it can definitely keep them in games and might even win them a couple.

The Huskies play UCLA at home, go to Arizona, then host Oregon State at home before eating turkey and coming to the right side of the state for the Apple Cup. Those are three pretty challenging contests to have in the build-up to a rivalry game.


What do you all think, anything about the schedule change your mind about the season win total?