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Bigger questions loom than ‘What bowl will have us?’

SEATTLE – So how many bowl tickets is Bill Moos willing to eat in the name of positive self-worth?

Ten thousand? Fifteen? Twenty?

What sort of horse-trading will Washington State’s athletic director have to do to finagle the Cougars into a bowl game – any bowl game – for the first time in a decade?

It’s not a “where” question at this point – unless the answer is “anywhere.” It’s not a “why” question unless you still can’t grasp, embrace or even just accept that college football’s postseason for all but four teams is nothing more than a pageant, and an especially silly one for all the Miss Congenialitys clustered around for the crumbs.

It’s a “how” question.

The Cougars could have answered that and possibly saved Moos some hard swallowing and arm-twisting by winning Saturday afternoon here at the old yacht club. The table was set for precisely the same sort of soul-ectomy they administered to their rivals from Washington a year ago.

And then 10 ticks of the clock later, the tablecloth had been yanked and all the cutlery and china sent clattering to the floor.

Ten seconds.

Down by three, 5:26 remaining and 87 yards of clear runway ahead for the vaunted Air Raid. Pass interference on UW got the Cougs 15 yards closer. And then, well, and then came that which could not happen.

Gregory Ducre’s interception of the pass Cougars quarterback Connor Halliday threw behind Isiah Myers may not have been the play of the day – a 40-yard Husky screen pass back in the third quarter changed the game’s entire DNA. But it was the deciding moment in every respect, and the kind that – all the progress of this season notwithstanding – will still define the program until it doesn’t anymore.

The Huskies chewed on the bone for a few minutes before turning it into the touchdown that settled a 27-17 victory, removing the seven-win ceiling that coach Steve Sarkisian has been bumping his head on and leaving the Cougs to stew for a week until those bowl place cards are set.

“We made a good case,” insisted receiver Kristoff Williams. “We have some good wins and we played people tough. I think we’ve done everything we could – except maybe win this last one.”

Yeah. Except that.

“There’s no question,” said coach Mike Leach, “we ought to go to a bowl game.”

At least he didn’t say “deserve,” which has precious little to do with any of these machinations.

But in the realm of oughtas, the Cougars are by one admired metric the No. 30 team in the nation, and considered to have played the fourth-toughest schedule. Their six losses are to teams with an aggregate record of 52-17.

But then, they’ve beaten exactly two teams with winning records, too, not counting the FCS snack on the schedule.

And with the Pac-12’s allotment of bowl slots presumably accounted for, the Cougars must somehow make themselves attractive as a free agent. Hope nobody looks at their recent home support.

It would be nice to report that the 106th Apple Cup was as hotly contested as a Black Friday doorbuster grab at Wal-Mart, but that’s an awfully high bar.

There was some predictable jawing and ill will, enough that Wazzu linebacker Darryl Monroe complained that “things got out of hand (after the game). I didn’t appreciate it. There were some players who did have class like Keith Price and Bishop Sankey and (Jaydon) Mickens. Everyone else, it got under my skin.”

But then, Monroe was also the guy saying that Sankey, who shredded the Cougs for 200 yards and set the UW single-season rushing record this day, was merely a “decent running back. But I feel like most of what he accomplished we gave him. I wouldn’t make it more than that.”

Oh. OK.

The Cougars’ inability to contain Spokane’s contribution to the Husky record book was a tipping point in a game otherwise given over to the whipsawing fortunes of the two quarterbacks. There was bad Keith and good Keith, and good Connor and bad Connor – and one shoulders a far greater burden in regards to his team’s fortunes.

“The playmakers stepped up,” was WSU safety Deone Bucannon’s assessment. “Bishop Sankey and Keith Price. They decided to make plays and be players like they are.”

Also, third down. Wazzu couldn’t stay on the field in the second half (0 of 6), and couldn’t get the Huskies off (5 of 7).

And yet Leach may be right when said that “I don’t think anybody’s improved as much in the last three weeks as we have” – and is definitely correct that there are significant leaps still to be made before the Cougars can be a team that doesn’t have to sweat out bowl deal-making.

“If we’re all one play better,” Leach said, “this is a different game.”

Which is the sort of self-worth question that truly counts.