SEATTLE – A victory for Washington State’s football team over No. 5 Stanford on Saturday would signal more than just an upset over one of the nation’s best teams.
It would also give the Cougars their fourth consecutive win and their first 4-1 start in a decade.
Not since 2003 has WSU started a season with such a record, and that was also the last time the Cougars won four consecutive games – they actually won six straight between Sept. 3 and Oct. 25 that year en route to a 10-3 final record and a victory over Texas in the Holiday Bowl.
And, yes, that was also WSU’s last bowl appearance.
Their last win at CenturyLink Field, Saturday’s venue, was more recent: a 45-17 victory over San Diego State in 2007. It only feels like a decade ago – four consecutive losses have followed, two of them to conference opponents.
But with a defense ranked in the nation’s top 10 statistically and an upset over USC already under its belt, this feels like a different Washington State team than the one that laid down for a beating from Oregon State in 2011 and wilted last season after halftime against star-studded Oregon.
Cougar players minded their media manners earlier this week when asked about the game’s significance, but there’s at least more indication than usual that they are aware of the stakes. Especially if they win.
“They’re a top-five team and being able to upset them, that’s a big accomplishment,” said senior cornerback Nolan Washington, who played high-school ball at Kennedy High, which sits 9 miles south of WSU’s home-away-from-home locale this evening. “I’m looking forward to it this weekend.”
Despite the importance the game might hold in the larger context of coach Mike Leach’s rebuilding efforts – and its 7 p.m. primetime kickoff slot on ESPN – fan interest doesn’t appear to be piquing. A WSU spokesman said Friday afternoon that as of Thursday, only 38,000 tickets had been sold. Last year’s Seattle Game against Oregon drew 60,929, the second-highest total for this annual tradition since the Cougars drew 63,588 for the inaugural game against Nevada in 2002.
Leach remarked earlier this week about how loud the stadium was during the Oregon game last season, especially when the Cougars were still hanging around, trailing only 23-19 at halftime before falling 51-26.
“It was loud. (The) NFL, from what I read and hear, has made an effort to make louder stadiums,” Leach said. “I think Seattle is the loudest one. Typically, NFL stadiums aren’t as loud as major college stadiums, but it was loud.”
If Leach had been at the Seattle Seahawks’ game against San Francisco on Sept. 15, he might have higher expectations. In a 29-3 victory for Seattle, the CenturyLink crowd set a Guinness World Record for loudest professional sports stadium with a decibel level of 136.6.
Saturday’s racket won’t approach that. But the Cougars would rather make their noise on the field, anyway.
“We expect to win the game, obviously,” said sophomore receiver Gabe Marks. “No other expectation than that. Just go out there and make routine plays and win the game so we can get to 4-1.”