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2011 Washington State Football Preview: Jeff Tuel, Bowl Hopes And Blind Optimism

Can the Washington State Cougars climb out of darkness and into a bowl? This Washington fan examines the team and the task at hand.

How is Paul Wulff still the head coach of the Cougars? It's my bet that Coug fans will be saying this throughout the 2011 season. The WSU alum is 5-32 in his three years as head honcho in Pullman. And it's highly unlikely that the Cougs will be able to obtain a winning record this season. Perhaps another question that will become prominent is when exactly Wulff will get fired this season.

Am I being too harsh on him?

I don't think so, especially after a 2-10 season. It's my belief Wulff is still around because of the way the Cougars played their last three games of last season, which included a road win against Oregon St. and two close losses to Washington and California. Those three games are the one positive aspect of last season that needs to carry into 2011 in order for the Cougs to be successful.

The team and its fans have to be optimistic.

People might think the kids would be disgruntled. Hell, our kids are so positive and happy about where we're at and what we're doing, because I laid out how we had to do it. So there's no surprises. The people in our football building are more optimistic than anybody out there. But in our world, people start looking at records and how many games and I understand that. (Via: ESPN.com)

Last year's 2-10 season is better than UW's 2008 0-12 season, at least Coug fans have that to hold over their cross-state rivals. After talking to one of the team's boosters a month ago and getting his take on what the Cougars can do this year, I wanted to just call him delusional.

He said the Cougars can get to a bowl game.

Wow.

Actually, my booster friend is not alone, here's ESPN's Mel Kiper from his radio show on Monday:

Paul Wulff has a team that has better talent than people give him credit for. Jeff Tuel at quarterback can get it done. (There's) a defense with only two senior starters, but a lot of the freshman and sophomores are now sophomores and juniors that have played a lot the last couple of years. To me, this is a team that hasn't stopped the run over the last three to four years but they will get better at that. And with Tuel at quarterback, Washington State may have a chance to get to maybe get to a bowl. (Via: Tri-City Herald)

Let's walkthrough the ideal Cougar season:

Washington St. starts their season off with two home victories against Idaho St. and UNLV. Idaho St. is an inferior FCS opponent while UNLV's offensive and defensive lines aren't strong enough to combat the Cougars strength in the trenches. San Diego St. ends WSU's two game win-streak, and the Cougs finish with a 2-1 non-conference record.

Colorado will be beat up because of their previous game against Ohio St. WSU will take advantage of the Buffaloes lack of depth and move to 3-1 on the season.

Riding the momentum of their 3-1 record, the Cougs will return to a raucous Pullman crowd and pull off another win against Rick Neuheisal's UCLA Bruins.

Despite high hopes, Andrew Luck and the Stanford Cardinal punish the Cougs and bring them back to reality and the Cougs move their conference record to 2-1 and their overall record to 4-2.

Next up is Oregon St. at CenturyLink Field. The Beavers are unable to put any pressure on Tuel, and as a result, the Cougars blow the Beavers out in front of a packed NFL stadium.

The Cougars are now 5-2 and one win away from bowl eligibility. After a great first half of the season, the Cougs start to slide and lose four straight games against Oregon, California, Arizona St. and Utah.

The Cougars now are 5-6 and and 3-5 in conference play entering the Apple Cup. Wulff, in desperation to save his job, and the team tasting the savory possibility of being in a bowl play their best football of the year and upset the Washington Huskies and punch their ticket to the New Mexico Bowl.

Sounds like a good season?

Gross. I just threw up in my mouth.

As a Husky fan it's horrifying to think the Cougs could pull of an Apple Cup upset, but still, I do have some sympathy for this team. I want the Apple Cup to mean something and I want the Cougars to be a good football team. When both these teams are good and the national spotlight finally finds itself back in the Northwest, I'll be a satisfied football fan.

These Cougars could make a bowl, but probably won't. Moving from two wins to six wins might be impossible. Moving from two wins to five wins, however, is quite likely. Jeff Tuel is easily one of the best offensive players in the conference and he has a couple of offensive tools (no pun intended) in wide receivers Jared Karstetter (Sr.) and Marquess Wilson (So.).

With eight returning players on offense, there won't be a lot to worry about in terms of putting points on the board. Preventing their opponents from scoring will be their main problem.

Washington St. gave up 467 yards a game last season, good for 118th out of 120 teams in all of college football. The Cougars only return six starters.

You know the saying offense wins games but defensive wins championships?

It applies in WSU's case, and because of the question marks on this defense it's hard to see how this team will pull off upsets against the Colorados and UCLAs of the conference.

The one bright spot of the defense is Travis Long. The undersized defensive end played every game last season with a torn labrum. Despite this injury, Long persevered to lead the team with in tackles for loss and quarterback sacks. Now Long is healthy after postseason surgery and will even be better this season because he's no longer playing through pain.

So what's the more realistic outcome of this season with the Cougars?

I'm thinking the Cougars go 4-8 this season. They'll definitely win their first two non-conference games, and after that they'll win two more conference games. Against who? I don't know. However, I do know that Tuel is a special player and the Cougars are optimistic and hungry after being in the basement of this conference for so long.

Wulff will make it to the end of the season, but WSU Athletic Director Bill Moos will cut ties with the Wulff because of pressure from the boosters. Cougar nation will head into the offseason looking for their new leader to bring this team back to the promised land.

Go Cougs.

Just kidding.