PULLMAN – Entering the 2018 season, Washington State fans were cautiously optimistic, but never bullish, about the Cougars’ chances of claiming a postseason berth for the fourth time in four years.
The constant cycling of college football players and coaches generally leaves programs in rebuild mode once every four to five years. Most presumed it’s the position the Cougars would find themselves in when the solution at quarterback wasn’t so obvious, when the change at defensive coordinator still felt like a looming issue and when the blend of first-year assistant coaches seemed too new to succeed right off the bat.
The “rebuild” theory didn’t last too long, though.
The Cougars have already raced to four wins. ESPN’s matchup predictor gives them an 88.9 chance of beating Oregon State this Saturday in Corvallis, which would leave WSU at 5-1 and 2-1 in Pac-12 play going into the week. Assuming the Cougars can avoid a six-game losing streak – something that hasn’t happened since Mike Leach’s debut season – they’ll play in a fourth consecutive bowl game for the first time in school history.
Below is a breakdown of what bowls the prognosticators have assigned to WSU in their most recent projections.
Kyle Bonagura: Sun Bowl vs. Virginia Tech
Mitch Sherman: Redbox Bowl vs. Iowa
Summary: The Sun Bowl elicits fond memories for WSU fans, three years removed from watching the Cougars beat Miami 20-14 on a sunny, rainy, snowy, sleety day in El Paso, Texas. WSU and Virginia Tech have never encountered one another, but it’d be all sorts of fun dissecting a Hokies team that managed to beat Florida State and Duke, but also experienced a major pratfall against Old Dominion. The Redbox Bowl, which probably will find a way to change its name again before Dec. 31, was formerly the Foster Farms Bowl, the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, the Emerald Bowl and the Diamond Walnut San Francisco Bowl. The S-R’s Northern Californian beat writer, and also Klay Thompson, wouldn’t mind the Santa Clara game, but something about a Big Ten opponent in the postseason makes Cougar fans uneasy.
Erick Smith: Las Vegas Bowl vs. Boise State
Summary: Fans would certainly warm up to the idea of a mid-December getaway to Sin City. WSU players – many of whom have spent the last three holiday breaks in Pullman – would experience a true Christmas recess for the first time. But the Vegas Bowl became a precarious one for coaches beginning last year, when the NCAA introduced its early signing period. Staffs must strike the balance of rounding out their recruiting class before the early period begins on Dec. 19, while scrounging up enough time to prepare the current players for a bowl game. But the Cougars and Broncos have played each of the last two years, and a 2018 rubber match could be enticing.
Jerry Palm: Las Vegas Bowl vs. Boise State
Summary: Smith and Palm must have collaborated on the Boise State-WSU matchup. Who wants to bet Mark Rypien was in the room, too?
Eric Single: Sun Bowl vs. Syracuse
Summary: This is either a nightmare or a dream for WSU play-by-play commentator and Syracuse grad Matt Chazanow. I’m not sure it’d be a favorable matchup for the Cougars, who’ve had mixed luck against dual-threat quarterbacks – and dual-threat quarterbacks in bowl games – and would have a definite challenge containing Syracuse’s Eric Dungey. The senior nearly beat Clemson last week and is already up to nine touchdowns passing and six rushing.
Jason Kirk: SERVPRO First Responders Bowl vs. North Texas
Summary: We’ll peg this as the least likely option for WSU, since the First Responders Bowl doesn’t have a direct tie-in to the Pac-12 Conference and any number of Pac-12-affiliated games would probably take the Cougars before the Dallas bowl could grab them. But this matchup would certainly have some appeal. Leach versus (former Texas Tech QB and current UNT OC) Graham Harrell. C’mon, it doesn’t get much better than that, right?
Bill Bender: Alamo Bowl vs. West Virginia
Summary: I think the Cougars have a decent chance of winning at least half of their final six games, but they’d probably have to win them all – maybe aside from the Apple Cup – to have a real chance at getting to San Antonio. Granted, we like this matchup a ton, too. West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen played under Leach at Iowa Wesleyan, then spent seven years as an assistant to Leach at Texas Tech. Plus, a QB battle between Will Grier and Gardner Minshew would certainly shoot off some fireworks.
Brett McMurphy: Sun Bowl vs. Duke
Summary: In its 124-year history, WSU has never played a school from either of the Carolinas. Next to that, there doesn’t seem to be any inherent storylines and angles that would make this contest more exciting than the other Sun Bowl matchups listed above.