A GRIP ON SPORTS • All season long this Washington State football team looked a bit different. Turns out it was. It was better than most, if not all, WSU squads ever. Read on.
• Want to start an argument? Try to decide which football team was the best, all-time, for your favorite school. The Mount Rushmore of years, if you will. Some schools, say Notre Dame or USC, have multiple groups to winnow down to four.
Some, like Washington State, have just a handful.
OK, the Cougars have seven teams to sift through, six of which won at least 10 games. (We are excusing Lone Star Dietz’s 1915 Rose Bowl team from qualifying even though it gave up only 10 points all season. Why? Until the Rose Bowl, the 7-0 Cougars didn’t play a game outside of the Northwest.)
Of those, the 1929 (10-2) and 1930 (9-1) teams are hard to quantify these days, as the analytical data from that period is spotty at best. Just kidding. The S-R computers can spit out the down and distance of every play that year … wait, I’m being told that isn’t true. In fact, it’s hard to find a picture of Mel Hein, the Hall of Fame center who was the Cougars best player. Heck, it was so long ago, I don’t remember them.
The 1930 team must have a spot, however, for two reasons: The Cougars beat Washington and went to the Rose Bowl. If they had won there – Alabama did, 24-0 – Babe Holingbery’s team might be considered the best WSU squad of all time.
It’s hard to say which of the three 10-win teams that began this millennium was the best, but we will go with the 2002 group. If not for Jason Gesser’s high ankle sprain, that group probably would have gone to the Rose Bowl. Wait, I’m being told they did go to the Rose Bowl – and lost to Oklahoma, 34-14.
Not for nothing, but Gesser, the Pac-12 offensive player of the year, missed much of the Cougars’ triple-overtime Apple Cup loss – I’m guessing you still believe the pass went forward – and, after gutting his way through a win over UCLA, wasn’t at his best in Pasadena. Still, the Cougars defeated an 11-2 USC team that season 30-27 in Pullman and faced Oklahoma under the cloud of Mike Price’s departure to Alabama.
The top WSU squad of all time? The 1997 team probably still takes that honor, what with the school's first Rose Bowl appearance since Hein’s day, season-opening wins over UCLA, which finished the season fifth in the nation, and USC, and a memorable 41-35 Apple Cup win in Seattle. Only a tough 21-16 Rose Bowl loss kept the season from ending in true storybook fashion – I’m guessing you still believe there is a second or two left on the clock – but Ryan Leaf’s last year on the Palouse was special.
Speaking of special, this year’s team exceeded all expectations. And set a multitude of records.
Sure, Gardner Minshew had a hand in most of them, and the fifth-year, graduate-transfer quarterback from Mississippi was a godsend – and so much fun to watch. His personality was exactly what the Cougars needed. He was a perfect fit in Pullman.
But the most important record was a team one. Eleven wins. The most in school history. Only the fact one of its two losses – the one at USC should have another of those asterisks – came at home in the Apple Cup keeps this squad from being considered the Abraham Lincoln of the school's Mount Rushmore.
The faces you would put on the mountain to illustrate the success? Hein’s for sure (if you can find a detailed enough photo to chisel into the rock). Gesser, though his recent problems would probably cause a firestorm. Leaf, maybe with a rose in his mouth. And Minshew, whose mustache might have its own monument somewhere nearby.
• Switching gears, we had more thoughts last night than wouldn’t fit in our TV Take column, so we thought we would save them for you this morning. …
• We know ESPN has paid more money than the federal deficit to televise the College Football Playoff games. But in a game as good as this one, why did the announcing crew have to talk about them so much?
Yes, the games Saturday should be good. And yes, they are the first step in deciding the national title. But most folks who tuned in for the Alamo Bowl probably wanted to watch – and hear about – the game from San Antonio.
The incessant promos for the playoff games took away from the viewers’ enjoyment of what was an interesting and fun game in its own right.
• Early in the game, Greg McElroy, Tom Luginbill and Dave Pasch (the ESPN announcing trio) discussed Minshew’s NFL chances. It was there McElroy brought up his athleticism, saying it would allow Minshew to latch on with someone as a backup.
“I expect him to be drafted, probably on Saturday,” McIlroy said.
He even praised Minshew’s incompletions. When Jamire Calvin didn’t catch a third-down pass in the fourth quarter, McElroy was succinct in his comment.
“Man, a perfectly thrown football,” he said. It was.
WSU: Where do we start? Theo Lawson, who has covered as many Washington State football wins in his first two seasons as any S-R beat writer (and more than I was granted in my entire Pullman tenure), did a truckload of work last night. Not only does he have his analysis of the game, he has the difference makers and short stories on the early targeting call, the reaction to Marcus Strong’s taunting penalty, the crowd and Minshew’s record-setting day. … John Blanchette was also in San Antonio and has his column, focusing on Minshew’s magic. … Tyler Tjomsland focused his camera on just about everything. … I sat in the warmth of my TV room and wrote this TV Take. … From San Antonio, there is this story and from Iowa there is a multitude of stories, including some thoughts on the officiating and the Cyclones’ miscues. … The Times has some thoughts as well.
Elsewhere in the Pac-12, it's always fun to look back and wonder what might have been. … It's Rose Bowl week for Washington. It's a fun time in Southern California. Always was, always will be. … Oregon faces Michigan State in the Redbox Bowl but the Ducks are already looking forward to next season. … We don't know who will start at quarterback for Utah in the Holiday Bowl.
Gonzaga: The Bulldogs played last night but, for the first time this season, we had to miss it. Don’t worry I taped the nail-biter. Jim Meehan probably had his analysis done sometime right after the score hit 35-3. The Zags won, 96-51 over North Alabama. Jim also has the three keys to the win (No. 1 was probably make it to McCarthey through the snow) and a look at when Geno Crandall and Killian Tillie might return. … Dan Pelle has the photo report. … The guys in the office put together a recap with highlights. … Around the WCC, BYU may be in over its head today at Mississippi State.
EWU and Idaho: Both the Vandals and the Eagles open Big Sky Conference play today. Ryan Collingwood previews their opening weekend.
Whitworth: The Pirates are in Las Vegas for a tournament that features some of the best teams in Division III. Dan Thompson has a preview of their games this weekend.
NIC: The Cardinals won a game in Arizona.
Chiefs: Spokane returned from the Christmas break with a home game against division-leading Everett. It wasn’t pretty. The Chiefs lost 3-1. Kevin Dudley has the game story.
Mariners: The M’s answered Lorena Ochoa’s allegations in court documents. As these things usually are, the response was pretty blunt.
• Under the currently fashionable rules of “presentism,” I do believe I am required, by law, to name the 2018 Cougars as the best of all time. Just call me a lawbreaker and be done with it. Until later …
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