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Sports >  WSU football

Washington State mailbag: Will Gavin Newsom’s lockdown move USC game to the cold north?

UPDATED: Thu., Dec. 3, 2020

Washington State is supposed to return to the football field Sunday. The Cougars are supposed to play No. 17 USC. The game is supposed to take place at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum at 4:30 p.m. The weekly mailbag is supposed to find its way to your doorstep Friday morning.

OK, we can guarantee at least one of those four things. In this week’s mailbag, we discuss the other three, how the Cougars have handled recruiting in an odd year and what the prospects of a Dec. 19 Apple Cup look like.

Main question is a backup plan with California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s looming lockdown. That being, is a Pullman matchup a possibility? USC travels to Idaho, practices in the Kibbie Dome? Beyond that, what are the matchups we should be most honed in on for the game?

- Doug D.

When I began answering this question at roughly 11 a.m. Thursday, Newsom hadn’t announced a lockdown, but by the time I finished the mailbag at 2 p.m., the California governor had introduced the new stay-home order contingent on hospital intensive care unit capacity falling below 15% . As I’m wrapping this up on Thursday afternoon, the lockdown still hasn’t been enforced in Los Angeles County, but that could obviously change by the time you’re browsing the print edition with a cup of coffee Friday morning.

At this point, there’s still some time to change course and move Sunday’s game to Pullman, but it seems a decision would have to happen Thursday or Friday.

Logistically, the biggest hurdle would not be scheduling a last-minute charter flight, but ensuring USC’s equipment truck could make it to Pullman in time for a midafternoon kickoff on Sunday.

  • As I proposed in an article last weekend, I wonder if the Cougars and Trojans would consider a neutral site such as Las Vegas. For reasons that should be obvious, USC may not be thrilled with the idea of giving up a home game, and not only that, but trading it for an early-December trip to chilly Eastern Washington. That said, I suspect the Cougars and Trojans will do whatever is necessary to play a game, especially with USC still technically in the College Football Playoff picture.

Regarding your second question about matchups, WSU cornerback Jaylen Watson against the USC receivers should be pretty intriguing. Watson was a former USC signee who should have been playing for the Trojans last fall, but never made it to campus because of academic setbacks. To our knowledge, he hasn’t been targeted once in the first two games, but I’m sure that’ll change against a USC team that runs the Air Raid offense with four of the country’s most talented wideouts.

Are you taking basketball questions? If so, what do you think it will take for the offense to get on track, especially early in games?

- Jennifer D.

For future reference, I won’t necessarily be posting a mailbag through the course of the hoops season, but I’ll gladly welcome basketball questions during this November/December overlap period.

This particular question came on Tuesday, one day before WSU edged Oregon State 59-55 in the Pac-12 opener, but it’s probably more pertinent now than it was then. The Cougars leaned on their defense and some timely 3-point shooting from DJ Rodman in the second half, but their offensive shortcomings were still obvious in a game that included scoring droughts of 2:12, 2:31, 5:24 and 7:10.

It was reassuring to see four players reach double digits. If Noah Williams can establish some efficiency from behind the 3-point line, as he has in the past two games (4 of 5), it gives the Cougars a tool they didn’t have last season. Still, without CJ Elleby, WSU will struggle to be an average offensive team if Isaac Bonton is shooting less than 30% and putting up 15-25 shots every game.

After Saturday’s game at Colorado, the Cougars shouldn’t be truly tested again until they begin Pac-12 play in earnest at the end of the month. I’m not saying they should treat games against Idaho and Dixie State, for example, as exhibitions, but it may also be a good time for Bonton to defer more than he has and let a few other players build confidence on the offensive end of the floor.

It’s hard to see this being a better offensive team than last year.

But with more rim protection and athleticism, the Cougars have a chance to take a bigger defensive step, so if they can come close to matching the 69.8 points per game they scored in 2019-20, it’s easy to imagine them finishing in the 16- to 20-win range.

Are we going to see a reduction in the number of 2021 signees due to this season not counting against eligibility? We have already heard that some seniors are coming back. Curious if that is going to impact the numbers for this signing cycle?

- Casey F.

It’s notable the Cougars haven’t had a commit since Oct. 23, when Lawrence Falatea and Francisco Mauigoa announced they’d be coming to Pullman. In that same span, the Cougars have also lost three commits: athlete Elisha Lloyd, linebacker Fred Thompkins and wide receiver Joseph Manjack.

They have 17 players committed in the 2021 class and it’s hard to see that number climbing much higher than 20 before the early signing period.

If every senior returned to the team in 2021, and I’d expect at least eight to 10 will, that would be an additional 13 scholarships in 2021. If the Cougars had 85 players on scholarship, funding 17 to 20 more next season might be a tough ask.

But that isn’t the case. WSU is under the maximum, having yet to fill the scholarships vacated by transfers Kassidy Woods, Lamonte McDougle, Cosmas Kwete, Mike Pettway, Skyler Thomas, Tay Martin, Will Rodgers III.

Let’s say three seniors decide to leave and three more freshmen, sophomores or juniors decide to transfer when the 2020 season ends. The Cougars would have six more scholarships in their pocket and 13 of the 17 they’d need to cover the signing class as it stands. I expect the NCAA will allow schools to exceed the maximum scholarship number of 85, so while a school like WSU probably can’t afford a surplus of 10 to 15 more scholarships, maybe the Cougars can find a way to cover five to seven.

Either way, it’s a math equation every program in the country is dealing with and with many seniors undecided on whether they’ll return in 2021, it surely puts coaches in a tough spot as they try to close out their recruiting classes.

Do you know if there has been any discussion of possibly having the Apple Cup on Dec. 19 if the Huskies lose to the Ducks on Dec. 12? (Since a Husky loss would put the Ducks in the Pac-12 championship game on Dec. 19, making the Huskies available that day to face the Cougars.)

- James M.

As you mention, all of this hinges on Washington playing in the Pac-12 championship game. Some would say the Ducks don’t look as formidable after their loss to Oregon State, but I don’t think the Huskies look like clear-cut front-runners in the Pac-12 North after needing a three-touchdown comeback to defeat Utah at home.

The scenario you mentioned has, I’m sure, been discussed at length by WSU Athletic Director Pat Chun and his UW couterpart, Jen Cohen. It’s easy to envision an Apple Cup taking place on Dec. 19. But part of me wonders if Stanford’s new dilemma throws a wrench into all of that. The Cardinal can’t return to Santa Clara County until the regular season ends and David Shaw’s team will spend at least the next two weeks in the Pacific Northwest to play games at UW and OSU.

Stanford and WSU obviously missed out on a game two weeks ago. In order to make that game happen, and make things easier on the displaced Cardinal, maybe the Pac-12 will keep Shaw’s team in the Pacific Northwest for a third week to play the Cougars in Pullman, rather than sending them to Colorado, Utah or one of the Arizona teams.

It’s not as juicy of a matchup as WSU vs. UW, and wouldn’t drive nearly the same interest, but it’s a way to reduce travel for a Stanford team that’s been uprooted from its community and will have plenty of obstacles to overcome as is the next few weeks.

I still lean toward the Apple Cup scenario, but with all that’s changed since the game was supposed to happen a week ago, it’s hard to forecast what will happen between now and Dec. 19.

Whatever happened with Rodrick Fisher? He seemed like a great kid with potential then was suddenly not on the prior regime’s roster. Hopefully, he landed on his feet somewhere.

- Curt S.

Fisher’s name was removed from the roster in February. On Feb. 27, we were able to report he’d left the program, without any clarification on why or how he came to that decision.

The latest Fisher-related development came in August, when Rivals.com reported he’d entered the transfer portal. That at least indicates the Spokane native still plans on playing college football, but it seems he’s yet to find a destination. Doing so in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, as teams try to solve the scholarship equation we talked about, has to be extremely difficult.

Fisher certainly has enough talent and ability to play at the Power Five/FBS level, but if for some reason he can’t do that, I’m sure Eastern Washington’s Aaron Best and Idaho’s Paul Petrino wouldn’t mind locking horns in an old-fashioned Big Sky recruiting battle for the WSU transfer.

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