One day before the first game we knew several things about this year's Washington State team:
We knew the defensive line was a strength of the defense. That the secondary had some big question marks, but at least the defensive front could stop the run. At least the defensive line could get pressure on the quarterback. At least the defensive line had depth for the first time since I can remember, so they could finally be fresh the whole game. At least they'd keep things from getting out of hand.
We knew the linebackers would fly around, and blitz, and stunt and make plays. Have you seen how much good weight Darryl Monroe put on? Our Cougs weren't undersized anymore, they weren't going to be pushed around anymore. They were big enough, strong enough, fast enough, talented enough, to not get blown off the line anymore.
We knew the offense was borderline unstoppable. Maybe the offensive line would struggle, but they were big, it wouldn't possibly be as bad as 2012. Maybe Connor Halliday still had Hero Ball issues, but it wouldn't possibly be as bad as early in 2013. Have you seen how great his stats played out over the last few games of last season? WSU returned all its playmaking wide receivers, and they had time with Coach Leach in this offense. Time means learning, learning means familiarity, and ten talented receivers with familiarity means shredding opponents for video game stats.
We knew this was going to be The Breakout Year for WSU under Coach Leach.
One day after the first game we collectively realized - if only for a brief moment - we knew nothing. Because this is college football.
But that didn't stop us.
Just when we knew the defense couldn't stop anything and the offense couldn't be stopped, the Cougs set out to prove us all wrong again. And succeeded. Because this is college football.
Coach Leach, like every head football coach, has his own mantra. Mantras are just words. Words that inspire, serve as rules that govern, are the guidance for accountability, simplify complex objectives, force perspective on what an individual can control in a violent game full of uncertainty, and are rallying points for a group of people from different backgrounds who are all trying to accomplish the same goals.
Be a team
Be the most excited to play
Be the best at doing your job
The Cougar mantra is above their locker room entrance to Martin Stadium. When they run out of the tunnel on Saturday, under that mantra, it will be onto their home field for the first time in 294 days -- 9.67 months -- 4 games -- 4 losses.
Losses where they were not the most excited team to play.
The offense didn't start either of the opening two games hot, deciding not to open throttle until scoring on four of their first five possessions in the second half against Rutgers and not even turning the engine over against Nevada. Nevada players said they "wanted it more", as winners of games often do, and it's hard to disagree. They were the most excited to play. Rutgers was so excited to play the WSU defense, they won the coin toss and took the ball. So excited they couldn't wait another second to throw a home run to their star receiver.
Losses where they weren't the best at doing their job.
Maybe the wide receivers and Halliday were at their best against Rutgers, but the offensive line and the running backs sure weren't. The defense was closer to its worst. The special teams haven't even sniffed their best. This team has failed to be excited to play and hasn't collectively played their best in either of their first two games. Pivot.
So, why are you bailing on this season already?
But...wasn't that where you were supposed to talk about the coaches needing to be better?
You already know that. Everyone on the team needs to be better. That's the thing about losing two games to two teams they should've beaten, you and I know very little went right. Very little went right on game day and very little went right in their preparation for it. Are you no longer interested in being there for when it does?
We haven't seen this team at its best. We've seen one third of this team play well in two games, and they apparently drew straws for which unit got the honors because none of it was predictable. We thought we were entitled to good football because we made a financial investment, an emotional investment, and that's not unreasonable. That's the handshake agreement we make with fate, and Bill Moos. We knew rooting for this team would be easy the first few games of the season.
Then again, we know nothing. Because this is college football.
And even now, that doesn't stop us.
We know if the WSU defense can't hold middling Big Ten Rutgers and middling Mountain West Conference Nevada -- can't force turnovers, can't get three-and-outs, can't get sacks, can't stop the run -- they might as well be replaced by blocking dummies in conference games. We know if a MWC team stopped the Air Raid, everyone with better athletes and better defenses will stop it more better. We know if the running game didn't show up in two games it won't show up all year.
So we project the season. We can't find enough wins on the schedule for a bowl game. We consider The Breakout Season lost after eight days and pronounced D.O.A when it shows up at home. Because we fans don't know that we know nothing. Because this is college football.
Ten games remain. Only USC and Oregon look unbeatable, if we forget that we know nothing. This team still has the potential to go to a bowl game, to beat anyone [not wearing yellow highlighter, probably] in the PAC-12 North. We shouldn't try to predict the whole season based on two games where the majority of the team didn't show up to play. We do it anyway. Because this too, is college football.
Did UW's defense look invincible? OSU's offense? Think Cal will lay that whipping on everybody? Kevin Hogan scare you at Stanford? We know nothing about how any of that will play out, but we're already bailing. We've decided our team will lose before even giving them a chance to play in front of us at home.
As sad as two crap-games, against two crap-teams, that embarrassingly scribble two crap-L's in the record column makes me, waiting nine months to watch football only to have fans of my favorite team poo-poo a whole season after eight days makes me sadder.
Before the third game we know a few things about this year's Washington State team:
The offense isn't as bad as it was against Nevada. The defense isn't as bad as it was against Rutgers. The team wasn't the most excited to play. Neither players nor coaching staff were the best at doing their jobs.
What's still exciting - we don't know what could happen if it all goes right.
Another Leachism: "You're either coaching it or allowing it to happen." Forget whatever Coach says, or doesn't say to the media, that sentence is what's real. His staff's personal accountability is at the core of his coaching philosophy.
If the coaching staff -- which yes, is competent, and yes, well paid -- does what they are capable of and compensated for, I know this team has the talent to compete with the PAC-12 and beat a few people. Maybe even six more peoples if fate honors our handshake agreement.
But I know nothing. Because this is college football.
See you in Martin for when the ten-game season begins this Saturday. Go Cougs.