TEMPE, Ariz. – The past three weeks have been a march through the Sahara in July for Washington State University’s football team.
The Cougars have played, in order, top-ranked Oregon, Arizona and Stanford, the latter two teams ranked in the top 10 at some point this season. The combined record of those three opponents is 19-2.
The end result was three losses, but WSU (1-7 overall, 0-5 in Pac-10 play) actually held its own for a while, losing, on average, by a little more than two touchdowns.
Now comes a trip to the Arizona desert, where the heat is still on, but not nearly to the degree of the recent scorchers.
The Arizona State Sun Devils, the Cougars’ opponent on Saturday, are 3-4 overall, with two of those wins coming against FCS schools. And they are coming off a 50-17 shellacking by Cal in Berkeley which dropped their Pac-10 record to 1-3.
After three weeks with their feet held to the fire, could the Cougars actually suffer a letdown?
“It’s possible,” said coach Paul Wulff. “I don’t think it will happen but I’m not saying it couldn’t happen, it could. But right now each day our focus is on moving forward.”
Cougar Nation has decided this is the week WSU moves forward into the win column, with message boards and fan sites boiling over with relish at the prospect.
But WSU’s players know it isn’t that easy, not after having lost 29 games in the past two-plus years.
“We know that we have to get a win, so we have to start thinking like we are going to get a win,” said redshirt freshman cornerback Nolan Washington, who will play this week with his injured wrist wrapped and taped. “Not like we are out here just to compete.”
“We go into every week thinking we’re going to win,” said senior offensive tackle Micah Hannam. “That’s the kind of mentality you have to have.”
Then, at least for the last 14 consecutive Pac-10 games, the end result is another defeat.
“It’s tough, obviously,” Hannam said about the growing number of losses. “It wears on you a little bit.”
But what doesn’t wear on Hannam is the response of Cougar supporters, which he divides into two camps.
“There is the Cougar faithful and then there are the Cougar fans who are fans when we are doing well, and talk a lot of trash when we aren’t,” he said. “We play for the Cougar faithful, not the other guys.”