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It's finally here

COUGARS

FROM PULLMAN -- Yes, game day finally here. And unlike most days, I will actually be awake when this post publishes, en route to the Spokane airport, then en route to Provo. First, we have a prediction for you, as well as a number of links, including content from our football preview section as well as our standard game advance information. Read  on.

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A while back, I promised some folks that at some point before the season, I'd unveil my official prediction for Washington State's final record. So, here it goes.

I think WSU should expect to compete in every game. That's not an unreasonable or an unpopular perspective. The difference this year, then, needs to be in finishing. The Cougars can't afford any games like UCLA last year. When it's there for the taking, they have to take it. Whether they make that leap this year will determine how far they've truly come from last season.

They have what they need to be successful in the Air Raid -- an experienced, mature quarterback with a solid arm and a good head on his shoulders; a deep, diverse group of receivers who can both stretch the field and attack secondaries underneath, a specialty of this offense; and a group of running backs with the shiftiness and catching ability to post the kind of numbers Mike Leach wants. The offensive line is unproven, but I think the nature of this offense removes from pressure there.

Might be some growing pains defensively. The secondary is experienced. The rest of the starting defense is not. You figure there will be some growing pains across the defensive line and at linebacker. So the question becomes whether they can gel quickly enough in a way that complements the offense and allows them the opportunities to make the plays they need to.

The schedule, of course, is in their favor, with three relatively "easy" games following today's opener. A 3-1 start would do wonders for this team's confidence. Things get a little tougher from there, with the Seattle game against Oregon, then a stretch with three out of four games on the road. Getting two of those four will be crucial to the Cougars' bowl hopes.

Ultimately, I think that's where they end up. So we're calling it a 6-6 season, followed by a trip to their first bowl game since 2003.

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There are links on links on links for you today. First of all, our football preview section published today. It included this lengthy profile of Mike Leach, a sidebar on Gabe Marks, a sidebar on Leach's disciplinary policy, a sidebar with some WSU season storylines, and a story on Washington's Kasen Williams. There's a bunch more content about local college and high school teams in the preview section, but you'll have to head over to the sports tab to read it. And I'm sure Vince will link to it all, too.

As far as today's game, we have this advance focusing on the mystery surrounding WSU as it opens its season, as well as our keys to the game. We began our Pac-12 picks column today, and have our inaugural Pac-12 power rankings posted on the blog. We also posted a Q-and-A with a BYU writer yesterday, along with the conference's TV schedule for the upcoming men's basketball season. And if you haven't joined in our pick 'em contest yet, make sure you get your entry in before today's games start. And here's a recap of yesterday's live chat. ... From elsewhere, Bud Withers has this preview of the game, and Jerry Brewer writes in his column that Mike Leach will lead the Cougars to a bowl game this season. ... Howie Stalwick has this preview of the game, and a breakdown of the schedule. ... USA Today has a long profile on Leach, as well. From BYU: The other Cougars need a win to establish a quick start. ... The Deseret News has this preview of the game, as well as a feature about Leach and his brother, as well as a BYU notebook.

Around the Pac-12 ... Arizona's offensive line coach is the lone holdover from the Wildcats' previous staff. ... Arizona State is ready for its season to start, too. ... Oregon State was supposed to start its season Saturday against Nicholls State, but Hurricane Isaac caused a postponement. ... Local product Carson York is hoping to play for Oregon this season. ... Stanford doesn't have much of a rivalry with San Jose State anymore. A Cardinal running back has  his eyes on the record books. Storylines for both Stanford and Cal. ... Colorado's best receiver won't play this season. ... Utah has an easy matchup in its opener. ... USC wants to hammer Hawaii this time around. ... UCLA's new offense will be on display. ... A Washington walk-on has earned a scholarship. A UW receiver is done with his no-contact jersey. The Huskies have made some major investments in improving their defense. ... And finally, some discouraging news on the DirecTV front.

And that, folks, is all for now. Time to hop on the steel bird and sleep for a minute.

Christian Caple can be reached at christianc@spokesman.com. Twitter: @ChristianCaple




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