Skeptics of Washington State enter the 2018 campaign on somewhat of a moot tone. While the offseason has had less than encouraging events, fall practice has jump started the core of WSU football like a pair of defibrillators.
This season has already been labeled a rebuild by most, but I cannot disagree more. In fact, I would go as far to say that WSU has an opportunity to post one of their most successful seasons in school history since the implementation of the forward pass in 1933.
From my assessment, WSU’s best seasons are as follows:
- 1997 – Washington State carded a 10-2 record under Mike Price and was led by Cougar legend Ryan Leaf under center. After winning the Pac-10, Wazzu went on to face the Michigan Wolverines in The Granddaddy of Them All. Michigan was awarded the 21-16 victory, though urban legend states there is still one second left on the clock. Nonetheless, WSU finished No. 9 in the AP poll.
- 2002 – Head coach Mike Price led No. 10 Washington State to a conference victory and Rose Bowl appearance. WSU once again folded in Pasadena, this time to Oklahoma, 34-14.
- 2003 – The Cougs, ranked No. 9 nation, completed their third 10-win season in a row. Jason Gesser and company, under first year head coach Bill Doba, defeated Vince Young’s No. 6 Texas Longhorns 28-20 at the Holiday Bowl.
- 1988 – Dennis Erickson, in his second and final season with the Cougars, finished the season at a No. 16 ranking by virtue of a 9-3 record. An impressive 24-22 victory over highly touted Houston in the Aloha Bowl was overshadowed by a 34-30 road upset of No. 1 ranked UCLA two months prior.
- 1992 – Drew Bledsoe lead Wazzu to a 9-3 record during Mike Price’s fourth season in office. Notable victories include a 42-23 whipping of No. 5 ranked Washington (Snow Bowl) and a 31-28 Copper Bowl win over Utah.
- 2001 – Washington State finished No. 10 in the nation under Mike Price. The steady 10-2 campaign was capped off with a 33-27 victory over Purdue in the Sun Bowl.
- 2015 – In Mike Leach’s fourth season with Washington State, the Cougs posted a respectable 9-4 record after a rough start. The year was solidified with a 20-14 victory over the University of Miami in a snowy Sun Bowl.
- 2017 – Sixth year head coach Mike Leach and star quarterback Luke Falk rolled through the first half of the season highlighted by a 30-27 upset of No. 5 Southern California at home. The season ended with decisive losses to Washington and Michigan state (Holiday Bowl) but their 9-4 record was nonetheless impressive.
- 1994 – In a stacked Pac-10 conference, the No. 21 ranked Cougars posted an 8-4 record with Mike Price at the helm. Victories over ranked opponents such as Illinois, UCLA, and Washington proved WSU’s worth. The Cougs capped off the season with 10-3 yawner over Baylor in the Alamo Bowl.
- 1981 – Washington State under head coach Jim Walden finished the year with a 8-3-1 record. They tied UCLA for fourth place in the Pac-10 and narrowly lost to BYU 38-36 in their Holiday Bowl bid. WSU ended the season unranked.
In summary, WSU football has peaked with a pair of conference victories and Rose Bowl losses amid the modern era. Not exactly the best look for a power five school.
But what I find most interesting is how pedestrian the 1981 season was to round out the top ten. The 2016 campaign (which I would have ranked 11) was considered an enormous bust by most, and it does not lag very far behind.
With the upcoming season, I see 7 feasible wins in this roster with a bowl game to follow. And if a bowl victory against a respectable opponent is earned, the argument to bump 1981 out of the top ten can certainly be made.
Rebuilding year? Not so fast. 2018 just might go down in WSU’s record books as a top ten season to date.
In the grand scheme of WSU football and its history, this team is underrated by nearly everyone. It’s important that we do not let the fan base’s rising standard of the Leach era skew our perception. These are the good times; it should be spent enjoying them.