clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

WSU football's 0-2 starts: The complete history

What happens when WSU starts 0-2? Spoiler Alert: They lose more games.

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

King of the 0-2.
King of the 0-2.
Jeff Gross

The WSU footballin' Cougars have lost their first two games of the season, a feat accomplished 19 previous times in the history of the program. What does history tell us about 0-2 starts?

Great question, let's run it down.

The Harry Houdini Era


The WSU football program (and the school), and college football in general, was in its infancy in 1902. Washington Agricultural College and School of Science played just five opponents that season, all of which were Northwest foes.

The year began with a 12-0, shutout loss at Lewiston Normal, which became less normal as the years went on and eventually was renamed "Lewis and Clark State." Maybe a return to more normal nomenclature would bring the school back to the glory days of taking down future Pac-12 schools.

Hosting Pacific of Oregon the next week did little to kickstart the season and finished in a heartbreaking 6-5 (touchdowns were worth five points back then) defeat.

WACSS would bounce back with wins over Whitman and Idaho before falling to Washington in the season finale. A losing record was clinched, and a precedent for 0-2 starts was set.

Final Record: 2-3

1902 Fact: WACSS conferred its first Master's degree in 1902. (WSU)


This is perhaps the crown jewel of WSU football seasons that started 0-2, because the squad was able to claw back to .500 by the end of the year - still the only time that has happened.

Idaho (5-0) and Washington (12-6) were the schools to put WACSS into a hole in 1904. But just as in 1902, the team bounced back with two victories. This time it was a narrow 6-5 win over Montana in Missoula and 34-4 trouncing of Whitman in Walla Walla.

Final Record: 2-2

1904 Fact: George W. Lilley, the school's first president, dies at the age of 54. (Wikipedia)


It was Idaho again that set the tone  alosing season for Washington State College, with a 9-5 defeat of WSC in Pullman. The next week saw WSC fall 9-3 to Oregon State in Portland, an obvious big-city predecessor to the two school's 2011 match-up in Seattle.

A loss to Washington in Spokane was sandwiched by wins over non-college Multnomah Athletic Club and apparent WSC whipping boy Whitman (can we still schedule Whitman?).

Final Record: 2-3

1910 Fact: The first issue of WSU alumni magazine POWWOW was printed. (WSU)


At this point, the schedule has expanded to six games. WSC hits the road for the first three to disastrous results, failing to score in losses to Montana, Oregon and Oregon State.

The team rebound with victories over Idaho and Whitman (thank you for existing, Whitman) before a blowout loss to Washington. WSC finishes the season with 10 total points, making the two wins just a little more impressive.

Final Record: 2-4

1914 Fact: The Bookie was founded. (WSU)

The Elvis Presley Era


Hosting two straight games to start the season didn't turn out well, as Oregon and California both left Pullman with victories. Things didn't get much better - WSC would go on to get shut out four times on the way to a 2-8 finish.

Those two wins? Gonzaga and Idaho. Proposal: Modern-day WSU plays Idaho, Whitman and Gonzaga (they can find a team) every year for the mythical "Inland Empire" championship.

Final Record: 2-8

1938 Fact: The WSC School of Social Work was established. (WSU)


WSC opened the year with a trip to Hershey, Penn. to take on Penn State. The team lost 27-6, but surely there was chocolate to deal with the pain. After that came a visit to USC and another three-touchdown defeat.

Wins over Idaho, Portland and Oregon State were all that WSC could manage the rest of the way.

Final Record: 3-7

1947 Fact: WSC Regents approved a new athletic code separating student activities and intercollegiate athletics. Not sure exactly what that means, but sounds like it split up intramural and varsity teams. (WSU)


Around this time period, WSC seemed to make a trip to Los Angeles for a game against UCLA or USC to start every season. It was the Trojans this year, and USC sent the Cougars back to Pullman with 35-7 loss. The following week saw a narrow, 14-13, defeat to Stanford.

After blowout losses at Baylor and Ohio State, the 1952 Cougars actually rebounded a bit in conference play. WSC won three straight over Oregon State, Idaho (yes, they were in the conference) and Oregon. One last long trip took WSU to Stillwater for a 9-7 win over Oklahoma State before a season-ending Apple Cup loss.

Final Record: 4-6

1952 Fact: The Compton Union Building (CUB) was dedicated, and many McCougars were enjoyed in the coming decades. (WSU)

1955 Fact

Another year, another trip to USC that ended in a big defeat, this time 50-12. WSC then went on to play Kansas in Lawrence (something that happened a lot back in the day), and fell 12-0.

This season in unique in that it is the only one where WSU started 0-2 and went on to record a tie, and there were actually two of them (Cal and San Jose State). The lone victory came over Idaho (bless you, Vandals).

Per WSU, there was just one reserved ticket sold for the San Jose State game, on account of some very cold weather. And we thought Paul Wulff era attendance was bad.

Final Record: 1-7-2

1955 Fact: $9 million a year was saved by turkey producers thanks to a hatch process developed by WSC poultry scientists Leo Jensen and Igor Kosin. That's about $78 million in 2014 money, per this website. You can build one whole football operations building with that!

The Beatles Era


Good news: WSU is actually called WSU at this point! Bad news: The Cougars got whipped by Missouri (28-6) and Chuckie Keeton-less Utah State (34-14) to start the year.

Just two games are played in Pullman in 1961 - wins over Idaho and Oregon. A 30-0 blowout victory on the road over Stanford is the highlight.

No wait, it wasn't actually the highlight. That belongs to the original Reid Forrest, Keith Lincoln, who set WSU rushing and punting records and played in four different all-star games, per WSU. We salute you, Mr. Lincoln.

Final Record: 3-7

1961 Fact: Edwall rancher and 1937 graduate Jack Cole was named as a WSU regent. No offense to Mr. Cole, but this is probably the least interesting fact so far.


Losses of 21-6 to Cal and 21-7 to Houston to start the season. Once again, only two games played in Pullman the whole year. The Apple Cup is played in Spokane. I say CougCenter has a throwback comment thread discussing the Spokane Game(s).

WSU played Arizona State, Utah and Arizona as non-conference opponents in 1966. It's possible that "playing WSU more often" was part of the Pac-8/Pac-10's allure.

Final Record: 3-7

1966 Fact: President French retires, Beasley takes over as president. The pair is otherwise known as "that building over there that you never go to for any good reason" and "the basketball place."

Bonus 1965 Fact that I had to mention: WSU's S.E. Halfez of the Animal Science department is featured in Life magazine as a primary researcher in planet colonization. So don't be surprised when the first flag flown on Eden Prime is Ol' Crimson.


Back-to-back years starting 0-2 for the first time in school history (It has happened once more since, and you know when it is unless you have scrubbed it from your memory banks).

A 49-0 loss to USC and a 21-0 defeat at the hands of Oklahoma makes this the worst point differential 0-2 start for WSU until (you'll know it when you see it).

The Cougars would go on to lose their first eight games of the season. But the year was saved with back-to-back victories over rivals Idaho and Washington. Most successful 2-8 season ever!

Final Record: 2-8

1967 Fact: WSU geneticist R.A. Nilan develops a new barley strain with a "chemical mutagent." Mutagent is an awesome word.


Hey look it's Kansas crushing WSU 34-0 to start the year. You are going to start hating Kansas soon, I promise. Arizona follows with a 39-28 win in Pullman.

This team would only win four games, but it must have been reasonably entertaining for its time. The Cougars scored greater than 30 points three times, and greater than 20 in 9 of 11 games.

Final Record: 4-7

1971 Fact: $1 million was raised in three months to rebuild the WSU football stadium (which had burned down in 1970). That's an impressive amount of money even by today's standards. It is more than $6 million in 2014 dollars. If Martin Stadium burned now, could Bill Moos pull that off? (WSU)


Another blowout loss to Kansas to start the season. WSU falls at ASU (WSU winning in Tempe is prohibited by local, state and federal ordinances) to complete the 0-2 start.

A hot finish makes this one of the most successful 0-2 seasons in Cougar football history. WSU ends the year with four consecutive wins over Oregon, Oregon State, Cal and UW. Northwest championship!

Final Record: 5-6

1973 Fact: Edward R. Murrow Communications Center is dedicated. The building not-yet-known as Beasley is opened. (WSU)


An opening loss to - you guessed it - Kansas. Seriously, screw Kansas. This makes the "competition" over Mike Leach between the two schools just a little sweeter.

Minnesota is the next loss. There is also a loss to USC in the Kingdome - the Seattle Game before it was the Seattle Game.

The Apple Cup is played in Spokane. UW wins. 1976 was stupid.

Final Record: 3-8

1976 Fact: WSU researcher Orville Vogel gets a National Medal of Service from President Ford. People need to start naming their kids Orville again. Maybe they would win more medals.

The Madonna Era


WSU loses to San Jose State in Spokane, then falls to Tennessee in Knoxville.

The Cougars beat Army for their first win of the year. That's a long trip for a loss, Army.

The Apple Cup was played in Spokane for the last time in 1980. WSU lost.

Final Record: 4-7

1980 Fact: Mt. St. Helens erupts. This is me inviting hollyweirdcoug to re-post his Mt. St. Helens story in the comments (if anyone is still reading).


WSU falls at Oregon, then at home to Fresno State. The Cougars win in Tempe, and narrowly escape law enforcement on the way out of the state.

The Cougs took down UNLV in Las Vegas. No word on if any planes were "drank dry."

Final record: 4-7

1991 Fact: Women's basketball head coach Harold Rhodes and men's basketball head coach Kelvin Sampson are both named Pac-10 coach of the year. (WSU)


Nightmare start to the season with blowout losses to Utah and Stanford.

But it got worse. Idaho (yes, that Idaho) beat WSU in Martin Stadium. Gross. The players and coaches were rewarded with a trip to Honolulu to play Hawaii at the end of the year.

Final record: 3-9

1999 Fact: Yahoo Internet Life Magazine (Was this an actual printed publication?) names WSU the most "wired" campus in America.

The CougCenter/Scarlett Johannson Era


You can't have a list of ineptitude without mentioning the Paul Wulff era. Those four glorious years got off to a fast start with a 39-13 loss to Oklahoma State and a "seemed crazy at the time but actually was pretty normal" 66-3 loss to Cal. That's a combined 89 points of losing for WSU. The worst 0-2 start ever.

But hey, at least WSU beat UW!

Final Record: 2-11

2008 Fact: WSU reproductive biologist Patricia A. Hunt is named one of the top 50 researchers in the world by Scientific American. She's the reason water bottles say "BPA Free." (WSU)


Wulff went back for a second drink from the 0-2 trough in 2009. Another 39-13 loss opens the year, this time to Stanford. Then Hawaii at Seattle happened and (content removed to protect the children).

A miracle gift win from the wonderful folks at SMU spares WSU from duplicating UW's 0-12 finish the year prior.

Final Record: 1-11

2009 Fact: A record 1,447 international students attend WSU. (Wikipedia)

TL;DR Conclusion

If WSU starts a season 0-2, that means it probably isn't very good. The Cougars have finished the season .500 just once after an 0-2 start, and that was in a four-game season. The closest WSU has come to getting over .500 after starting 0-2 in the modern era is a 5-6 finish.

That happened once. For the most part, it's been a lot of two, three and four win seasons. If the Cougars are going to make a second-straight bowl appearance in 2014, they are going to have to make history in the process.