For the first time since its 27-17 loss in the Apple Cup, the Washington State football team will return to the Martin Stadium turf for football practice today. As a bowl-eligible team, WSU (6-6, 4-5 Pac-12) is permitted to practice until the bowl games make their invitations on Sunday.
Whether or not they can continue to practice will depend on if the Cougars secure a berth to their first bowl game since 2003.
“I’m fairly certain there will be a game following it,” coach Mike Leach said. “It’ll be the first one in ten years and a heck of a deal.”
The coach believes a number of factors will cause bowls to see the Cougars as better than their record. Prior to the Apple Cup loss the Cougars won games at Arizona and at home against Utah.
“Well, we had the toughest schedule in the country,” Leach said. “We were one of the hottest teams toward the end of the season so it’s unfathomable we wouldn’t go to a bowl.”
According to Jeff Sagarin’s popular formula, WSU played the second-toughest schedule among all NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) teams thanks to a Pac-12 conference schedule which proved particularly daunting this season, as well as a road game against current No. 3 Auburn.
The task of securing a bowl berth for the Cougars falls primarily on the shoulders of athletic director Bill Moos. While Moos has mainly been in contact with the representatives of the New Mexico Bowl, he has also reached out to contacts at ESPN, which is helping to stage potential WSU destinations such as the Heart of Dallas, Independence and Texas bowls.
The New Mexico Bowl will be the final of the seven Pac-12-affiliated bowls to select a team, and will likely choose between Arizona, Oregon State and WSU, which are tied for seventh in the conference standings.
Moos also acknowledged that if Oregon is invited to participate in a BCS bowl, along with the Rose Bowl berth granted to the winner of this weekend’s Pac-12 championship game between Arizona State and Stanford, then the Cougars could be in the mix for the Fight Hunger Bowl.
However, the athletic director said it was unlikely a bowl selecting ahead of the New Mexico Bowl would pass on Washington because of the uncertainty surrounding its coaching situation.
While the Huskies are in the market for a new coach following the departure of Steve Sarkisian to USC, the school announced on Wednesday that quarterbacks coach Marques Tuiasosopo will act as interim coach and lead the team in the bowl game.
Prestige, the payouts of individual bowls or the costs associated with traveling to different locations will not play a factor in determining which bowls to pursue, Moos said, adding when it comes to postseason play the Cougars will take what they can get.
“We want to go where we’re wanted. When you’re an up-and-coming program like we are and you’re bowl eligible I don’t think it’s anytime to try and be picky. We want to go where we can reward our players and our fans and get a good matchup and hopefully get another win.”