SEATTLE – With no more regular-season games to play, the Washington State football team faces a different kind of challenge this week: the waiting game.
The Cougars (6-6, 4-5 Pac-12) have placed their cards on the table and can do nothing more but wait and see where the chips fall.
WSU’s season was a success, in the sense that it doubled its win total from the year before. Quarterback Connor Halliday maintained after the Cougars’ 27-17 Apple Cup loss on Friday that the culture surrounding the program has improved as well.
“Definitely took a step forward, I’d say the biggest thing would be our mentality,” Halliday said. “I know everyone in that locker room is hurting right now just as much as I am. I don’t know if that would have been the case a year ago or two years.”
But whether that improvement carries the Cougars to their first bowl game since 2003 remains to be seen. With nine bowl-eligible teams in the Pac-12 competing for seven bowl berths reserved for Pac-12 teams, somebody is going to be left out.
The Cougars will be in limbo until they have a bowl invitation in hand. With no opponent to plan for and no game to look forward to, the players will have to fill their time.
Brant Ringer, the executive director of the Heart of Dallas bowl, said that most bowls will not be able to issue invitations until Dec. 8, after the conference championship games have been played. This is especially true for bowls that may or may not fill their slots, and won’t know until all the games have been played.
“The opening that would occur in the Heart of Dallas would be because of the Big Ten not having enough qualifying teams,” Ringler said. “That’s going to come down after the (conference) championship game, and after that game is played the BCS standings. And if they put two teams into BCS bowls they won’t have enough. If they put one (in), then we won’t be able to take an at-large team.”
WSU didn’t go bowling in 2006 despite an eligible record and it could happen again this year if the few remaining bowls decide to go in a different direction. After WSU’s loss on Friday, Jerry Palm of CBSSPorts.com removed the Cougars from his bowl projections.
“To be honest, we’re not really worried about it because I just feel blessed enough to have the opportunity to play in a bowl game,” WSU senior Deone Bucannon said. “This is my first time to even have a chance to play in a bowl game so I just feel like, as far as the team goes, we’re just going to focus on ourselves and continue to get better each and every day. That’s all we really can do.”
Whether the Cougars’ season is over is out of their hands. The duty of selling the program’s merit and its marketability to bowl directors falls at the feet of athletic director Bill Moos and his staff.
“We’ve had a 10-year bowl drought and our people are antsy and excited to go to a bowl game again,” said Moos when asked what the team’s selling points were. “Then we’ve got our flashy offense and the (coach) Mike Leach factor. So those are all good points that I think are very sellable.”
Moos will have to make the case that the Cougars will be a bigger draw than other schools, meaning that the fate of the WSU football team will not be decided on the field, but over phone calls and business meals.
Fortunately for WSU fans, players and coaches, Moos’ message seems to be resonating, particularly to bowls in the Southwest.
“There’s a great storyline there with coach Leach and the great job he has done with their program and the history he has in the state of Texas,” Ringler said. “I think that would do well for making sure Washington State attended the game well.”