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How will WSU do this year?


COUGARS

The rain yesterday reminded me that summer is officially over, even if the calendar says we have three more weeks. Heck, little kids are headed back to school all over the Inland Northwest today, tomorrow, Friday and Tuesday. Some of my fondest memories come from those long, hot days of August; some of the worst from the first few, hot days of September. What a difference a school desk made. Anyhow, the first days of September do hold one thing, the promise of the college football season. This week, anything is possible; next week, not so much. So let's examine that upcoming season a little bit, and catch up with football news from the West Coast. Read on.
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• Washington State: What type of season will Washington State have? If you are a Cougar football fan and expect all sugar and rainbows, you're going to be disappointed. It's going to be a tough year. Maybe not as tough as the past two but wins could be few and far between. Yet, in the spaces between the victories, there should be hope. This is a team that should compete in nearly every game, from the humid and heat-infused opener at Oklahoma State to the probably cold and snowy Apple Cup. (By the way, we examined today how the Cougars' 2010 schedule came to be so front-loaded.) And you can translate compete to be-in-the-game-late if you want. Oh sure, there are teams that WSU will have trouble staying with, like Oregon and Arizona and Oregon State, veteran teams with offensive firepower and defensive speed. But many of the games should be in range in the second half, giving the Cougars an opportunity to pull an upset or two. This weekend will probably be one of those. The Cowboys are young on defense, young on offense and have a new scheme to learn. If WSU takes care of the ball, an emphasis all spring, summer and thus far this fall, and mistakes crop up on the OSU side, the 15½-point spread will seem a little silly by 7 p.m. Pullman time Saturday. But don't think this WSU team is ready to turn the corner and compete for a Rose Bowl spot. There is still too much youth and inexperience at key spots (offensive line, secondary) and not enough depth at others. If injuries hit at the same rate as the past two years, there is no way this team can overcome that. Thus far, the Cougars have lost three players to season-ending or career-ending injuries (defensive lineman Jordan Pu'u Robinson, tight end Aaron Dunn and safety LeAndre Daniels, whose career is over). None were listed as starters but all three would have played extensive minutes and would have contributed in positive ways. That's the bad news. The good news for Cougar fans is the rest of the team is pretty darn healthy. Or sure, there are nicks and scrapes everywhere – that happens in football – but most of the injuries remaining are minor and won't limit playing time. It would help the defense if Toni Pole returned and the offense if Kristoff Williams came back, but if both are out it is not a mortal wound. There are two things the injuries of the past few years have done, one positive – more players received game experience – and one negative – in most cases the injured players lost game time and time in the weight room. Just think how much better Jeff Tuel would be with a couple more games, including an Apple Cup, under his belt. So I guess the bottom line is, as the wait for the first game winds down, the team Paul Wulff is putting on the field his third season is going to compete better than the first or second edition. It is much improved over those, that I can guarantee. But how much improved, considering how tall the mountain is to climb? Is it improved enough to win a bunch of games? Or just enough to have a shot at winning some games? The latter seems more plausible, but we'll find out starting Saturday. ... OK, on to the links. ... We had our practice notes on the blog last evening. ... Wulff had his first radio show last night and here is a summary courtesy of the WSU Football Blog. ... Freelancer Howie Stalwick had a notebook in the Kitsap Sun and other papers. ... The Cougars have a goal of forcing three turnovers a game. The Cowboys, with a high-reward, high-risk offense, are trying to ensure that goal isn't met. ... An OSU notebook and some talking points.

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• Around the Pac-10: Bud Withers has his preview of the conference's first week and his game picks. Our picks will appear in tomorrow's paper. ... The News Tribune's John McGrath has his unique take on conference doings. ... The NCAA yesterday denied former Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli instant eligibility at Mississippi State, something George Schroeder disagrees with. ... Washington: Not only will coach Steve Sarkisian be going home (sort of) this weekend, so will linebacker Cort Dennison. ... Defensive coordinator Nick Holt is confident in the Huskies' defense. ... Oregon State: A defensive player to watch and an offensive player to watch. ... Some starting spots are still up in the air. ... Oregon: A defensive player to watch and an offensive player to watch. ... The Ducks may have more depth than any Pac-10 school. ... The basketball team is on the other end of the spectrum and it may be getting worse. ... Cal: Shane Vereen hopes to follow in the footsteps of other great Bear running backs. ... A new starter at safety. ... Stanford: Another story highlighting quarterback Andrew Luck. ... USC: With Pete Carroll and a chance for another national title gone, it's quiet around the Trojan football program. ... UCLA: These two Bruins are trying to fill a huge hole in the middle of the defensive line. ... Arizona State: The two participants in the Sun Devils' quarterback battle showed their class. ... Arizona: If you are wondering why the Wildcats are playing at Toledo this week, maybe this statistic explains it. They are trying to break a long streak.

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• That's all for this morning. We'll be back after practice this evening with our notes and our story for tomorrow's S-R. Until then ...




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Vince Grippi
Vince Grippi is a freelance local sports blogger for spokesman.com. He also contributes to the SportsLink Blog.

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