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Cougars eager for their first game

PULLMAN – It has been 272 days since Washington State last played a football game.

That’s 272 days reliving the 2-10 season that was 2010, a year with deep lows – from a 65-17 opening loss at Oklahoma State to the last-minute touchdown Washington scored to win the Apple Cup – to one exhilarating high – a 31-14 rout at Oregon State.

It’s the memory of the way they played against the Beavers, dominating every aspect of the game, that gives WSU’s players hope as they kick off the 2011 season Saturday afternoon, hosting Idaho State at Martin Stadium.

“We know we’ve improved as a group and as individuals,” quarterback Jeff Tuel said this week. “We’ve just have to go out there and prove it. I think we’re all just chomping at the bit. We’re just ready.”

So are Cougar fans.

Anticipation seems to be smoldering this season around Pullman, and coach Paul Wulff, 5-32 in the three years since taking over his alma mater, is not afraid to stoke the flames a bit.

“I like our team,” Wulff said. “I like where we’ve come to this point.”

But that’s been in practice in a camp that stretches back four weeks. Like his players, Wulff is ready for a test.

“It does get to a point at the end of all fall camps for all the teams across the country, and we’re no different, where you don’t know how much more growing (you) can do at this point,” Wulff said. “Now it’s about getting into ballgames and playing them – and growing off them.

“As you could see with our team a year ago, even though we were still losing games, we were still growing. … It’s not going to be any different this year.”

The Cougars get to ease into the season somewhat today, playing an Idaho State team that was 1-10 last year. The Bengals also compete in the NCAA’s Football Championship Subdivision, a level below WSU. And they’re also a team with a new coach, Mike Kramer, who was an administrative assistant coach in Pullman last season.

That adds a bit of uncertainty.

“It is tough with Idaho State, because they have a new staff, so you don’t know exactly what they are going to do,” Tuel said. “We’ve had to prepare ourselves for a bunch of different looks.”

But Tuel knows what he wants the Cougars to do.

“Whatever they come out with, we have to execute,” he said. “If we run our plays, we should be fine.”