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WSU notebook: Cougars show strong traits for bowl representatives

TUCSON, Ariz. – Although bowl game destinations are for the most part determined by a team’s place in the final conference standings, the bowls do have some wiggle room when selecting teams.

So the Cougars will hope that their 45-42 victory at Arizona, which leaves them one win shy of bowl eligibility with five games left to play, impressed the representatives of the Alamo and Holiday bowls, who were on hand to watch.

The Pac-12 has tie-ins with seven bowl games, which select teams based on where they finish in the conference standings. The Alamo Bowl takes the No. 2 team in the conference and the Holiday Bowl get’s the Pac-12’s third-best team.

That’s not always set in stone.

“We have the ability to break the order and go down one if we desire to,” said John Chalker, a Holiday Bowl rep. “Usually, what might push that is if the team we’re looking at is a team that we had in the bowl the previous year. Otherwise, we tend to stick pretty closely to that unless there’s some other mitigating factor.”

Chalker acknowledged that factors such as likely attendance and excitement surrounding matchups also play a role in team selection.

WSU (5-2, 3-1 Pac-12) is No. 2 in the Pac-12 North, behind Stanford.

Often, more teams finish with a 6-6 record or better and qualify for a bowl game then the conference has slots available. When that happens, teams must hope for an at-large bid.

The Cougars are tied with Utah for the second-best record in the conference, hold a tiebreaker win over Oregon and still play many of the teams near them in the standings. It’s conceivable that WSU could be in position at the end of the season for the Alamo or Holiday bowls’ consideration.

Athletic director Bill Moos met with the representatives at halftime to explain why the Cougars would be a good fit for either postseason event.

“I’m looking at two things,” Chalker said. “We’re here and we’re obviously looking to see how well the team performs, and what kind of spirit it’s got and what kind of momentum, etc. Then, secondly, we’re talking with the sports information director, the athletic director as well to get an idea how well the team and the fans would travel coming to San Diego.”

WSU stops the run early

Entering Saturday’s game, Arizona had the best rushing offense in the conference. While the Wildcats were tied with Oregon at 297.4 rushing yards per game, they also averaged 6.5 yards per carry, more than one-half yard better than any of their Pac-12 peers.

The insertion of running quarterback Jerrard Randall in the second half brought UA’s overall numbers up – he ran for 105 yards on 10 carries. But the Wildcats got almost nothing on the ground in the first half and Nick Wilson, the conference’s No. 4 rusher, finished with six carries for 8 yards.

“I think we had a really good game plan,” WSU linebacker Parker Henry said. “Coaches have been harping on us about getting leverage and controlling our gaps. And I think in the first half we did a really good job of that.”

Priester breaks out

One of the biggest stories of WSU’s preseason camp was the news that Clemson transfer Kyrin Priester would be eligible to play this season. The talented sophomore made little impact over the season’s first half, but his performance on Saturday could foreshadow a key role going forward.

Priester caught a fade pass for his first touchdown reception and finished with six catches for 64 yards.

“I thought he did really well,” WSU head coach Mike Leach said “I thought he played fast. He’s stronger and faster than he thinks he is, and he thinks he’s pretty strong and fast. He’s stronger and faster than that. He kind of consistently, steadily improves, so I thought this was a very key game for him.”

Notes

WSU won its third consecutive conference game for the first time since 2003. … Daniel Ekuale made his first career start. … Gabe Marks is the first player in school history with four touchdown catches in a game. … WSU scored 40-plus points in three straight games for the first time since 2001.

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