No bowl guarantees

Dom Williams (80) joins Rickey Galvin (5) to celebrate Galvin’s first-half touchdown catch for Washington State in Apple Cup on Friday. (Tyler Tjomsland)

Eligible Cougars can only play the waiting game

Because of Friday’s loss in the Apple Cup, the Washington State football team rests in limbo, certain that it deserves to play in a bowl game, but without a guarantee.

Because while WSU (6-6, 4-5) is bowl eligible for the first time since 2003, it is certain that some eligible teams will be left out of the postseason this year.

“I don’t speculate on that stuff,” coach Mike Leach said after the game.

“I mean, there’s no question we ought to go to a bowl game.”

Seven Pac-12 teams are guaranteed to play in bowl games due to the conference’s tie-ins with specific bowls. But the Cougars’ loss on Friday means that at least six teams will finish ahead of WSU in the Pac-12 standings, with another possible if Arizona beats Arizona State today. Oregon State and WSU are each 6-6 overall and 4-5 in conference.

It is possible, though uncommon, for a Pac-12 bowl to invite a school over a conference opponent with a better record.

The teams that aren’t selected to play in one of the Pac-12’s bowl games will have to fend for themselves and hope to woo a bowl game affiliated with a conference without a sufficient number of eligible teams.

It is certain that the Big 12 won’t be able to fill its seven bowl slots, meaning the Cougars could potentially head to New York City for the Pinstripe Bowl. They could also find themselves taking a Big Ten team’s spot in the Heart of Dallas Bowl, thanks in part to Penn State not being eligible for postseason play due to NCAA sanctions.

Or the Cougars may be left home for the holidays despite being bowl eligible, as they were in 2006. For while WSU “ought” to be playing in a bowl game after navigating a tough Pac-12 schedule, there are no guarantees until the invite is in hand.

WSU punting woes

A poor punting game wasn’t a major factor in the Cougars’ loss, but it certainly didn’t help.

WSU punter Wes Concepcion, who replaced an ineffectual Mike Bowlin last week against Utah, struggled all day in Husky Stadium, averaging 32.7 yards on seven punts.

That wasn’t much worse than the Huskies’ Travis Coons’ 34.5 average, but Concepcion’s worst punts came during the Huskies’ rally in the third quarter.

From the UW 45, he couldn’t find the touch to pin the Huskies deep; instead they took over on their own 15 and moved 85 yards for a tying touchdown.

Punting from his own 23 after a Cougars three-and-out early in the second half, Concepcion managed a 27-yarder that ended in a fair catch at the 50. Eight plays later, the Huskies were in the end zone with a 17-10 lead.

A missed opportunity

With the momentum and the lead late in the first half, the Cougars may have squandered both in the final two minutes before intermission.

Leading 10-3 and getting the ball back with 2:55 to go before halftime, the Cougars figured to score after getting a first-and-10 at the UW 25-yard-line with a little more than a minute to play.

But on second-and-10, the Cougars were whistled for an illegal block. Two plays later, on third-and-20 at the 35, coach Mike Leach disdained a 52-yard field-goal try even though kicker Andrew Furney had connected moments earlier from 49.

Instead, Halliday was penned in and sacked, and WSU didn’t score again until the fourth quarter.

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