A GRIP ON SPORTS
An eight-month wait is over. The area's college football teams are in action today. Win or lose – and the three closest to us are underdogs – at least, as Garth used to say, it's game on. Read on.
• Eastern Washington will try to pull a North Dakota State – the Bison traveled to Kansas State and upset last year's Big 12 champions last night – and shock Oregon State. Idaho will travel to Denton, Texas and try to do the same to Texas State. Washington welcomes a ranked Boise State team to the new Husky Stadium. And deep in the heart of Dixie, the Washington State Cougars will try to take down Auburn, just three years removed from a national title. It's that last game that will probably hold the most interest, what with the Pac-12 matching up with the SEC, albeit the last-place finishers from their respective divisions last season. Can the Cougars win? Despite being more than a two-touchdown underdog, they have a shot. It may just come down to how they answer these three questions. Are they fast enough defensively to match up with the Tigers, especially junior college transfer quarterback Nick Marshall? Though the Cougar defense improved last year and should be even better this season, it still doesn't feature enough speed, especially in the front seven. If WSU can't contain the edges when Marshall or Tre Mason have the ball, it could be a long night.Are they stout enough if Auburn decides to shove the ball down their throats? I actually think the answer here is yes, but the Cougars will have to prove me right. Though first-year coach Gus Malzahn likes to throw the ball, I do believe the Tigers will try to push them around. Can they protect Connor Halliday? The Auburn defense may have been pushed around last year – giving up a bit more than 420 yards a game – but they still got to the quarterback 22 times. If Halliday (shown getting sacked against Oregon last year) gets time to throw he should have some success against a secondary that picked off just two passes last year and lost one of its better players when Malzahn kicked him off the team. Will it really be not about the heat but the humidity? And not just the humidity in the air, which stands to be considerable the last day of August in Alabama. There is also the steam from 78,000 rabid fans, all but a few of them wanting your hide hung up at Toomer's Corner. The overall atmosphere may get to the Cougars, who aren't the most experienced team in America. How they handle the mental strain induced by the elements may well tell the tale.
• WSU: Christian Caple is down South and he took time out of his busy Friday schedule to talk with the good people of Auburn about their football team. Those conversations led to this story. ... He also his two-minute drill and a couple of interesting blog posts, one that asks a bunch of writers connected to the WSU football team what they feel the record will be this season – we're on record here as saying 5-7, which is a bit on the optimistic side I grant you – and a Q&A with a couple of Auburn-based writers. ... Christian also has a morning post. ... Bud Withers sees the departure of Logan Mayes (pictured) as a possible turning point for Mike Leach. ... The Denver Post has a WSU season preview. ... It's Saturday so we have a mailbag from ESPN.com's Pac-12 blog. ... Malzahn and Leach are both known for offense. ... The Pac-12 Networks are coming down to the wire with a carrier. No, it's not DirecTV. ... USC, WSU's opponent next week, still doesn't know who its best quarterback really is.
• Indians: There are three games left in the Indians' season and they all are on the road. But with its 7-2 win to end the home season last night, Spokane is still in the hunt for a postseason berth. Chris Derrick has more in his game story and blog post.
• Preps: The NWprepsnow web page is now live and just in time. The high school season began last night in Idaho and we have a bunch of games to pass along. ... Greg Lee was at Post Falls' 35-0 loss to Capital (pictured) and has this story. We also can pass along Tyler Tjomsland's photo story. ... Coeur d'Alene traveled to Oregon and defeated West Linn 49-35. ... Rocky Mountain pounded Lake City 63-41. ... We also have a roundup of other games.
• Golf: It's Saturday (I've said that already, haven't I?) so we have Jim Meehan's weekly column to pass along.
• Mariners: Let's all go overboard. Taijuan Walker (pictured) is the second coming of Walter Johnson or Cy Young or, maybe, Felix Hernandez. After one game. A five-inning outing. Yes, he won, 7-1 in his major league debut against Houston. But let's not get too excited just yet. ... Dustin Ackley is red hot and has been since the All-Star break. Some feel he just might be the centerfielder of the future and he showed why last night. ... The M's pulled the trigger and traded Mike Morse to Baltimore for a bag of, sorry, another outfielder who probably won't make a major league impact. To replace him, they brought up Abe Almonte from Tacoma and put him in the lineup.
• Seahawks: The Hawks have to get down to 53 by this afternoon but there was one name announced from the cut list. Fullback Michael Robinson. His axing came as somewhat of a surprise to some of the veterans. ... The Hawks' preseason was pretty darn good, including the last win against the Raiders.
• Sounders: After last week's big win, the Sounders have to get wound up to play the Columbus Crew tonight. They've had some success in Columbus, so there is that. But they are missing some of their better players due to injury.
• After the Cougar game in Alabama tonight, you can cap off your evening by listening to our call-in show. Dennis Patchin and I will be on KXLY 920 for the show after each game. It will start about an hour after the game ends, following Bob Robertson's postgame show. You can listen here if you don't get the show in your area. Until later ...