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Cougars can (and should) get off to a flying start against Rutgers

Connor Halliday and the Cougars open against a Rutgers team that last year allowed 312 passing yards per game, fourth most among FBS teams. (AP)

Washington State vs. Rutgers

Where: CenturyLink Field
Kickoff: 7 p.m. Thursday
Radio: AM 770 KTTH
Line: Cougars by 8

What’s at stake: It’s the first game of the season for two teams that played in bowl games last year and finished with identical 6-7 records. The Cougars need to get off to a strong start to their season as this game could be the difference between going to a bowl game or staying home for the holidays.

With a win, the Cougs could realistically be 3-0 when they face Oregon at home on Sept. 20. They play at Nevada next Friday and host Portland State on Sept. 13.

What’s at stake for Rutgers? I have no idea, nor do I care.

Why the Cougs will win: They’ve got the better quarterback, better receivers and better offense overall. They’ve also got what you can kind of call a home-field advantage at a neutral site in Seattle, even if ticket sales are lagging.

I also like our chances because oddsmakers are rarely wrong, and they think we’ll win by 8 points.

Then there’s this: Rutgers allowed 4,056 passing yards last year and is facing an Air Raid offense led by Connor Halliday, who has the potential to throw for more than 400 yards every time he takes the field.

Like WSU, Rutgers has a converted running back playing in its secondary. That can’t be encouraging to Scarlet Knights’ fans, who might turn their TVs off around midnight their time.

Why the Cougs could lose: Rutgers has a veteran quarterback, too, in Gary Nova, but he was benched for subpar play at one point last year. Even if he’s been terrible at times, Nova has a chance to blister a WSU secondary that lost Deone Bucannon and Damante Horton, the Cougars’ best defensive backs in 2013.

Last year, Teondray Caldwell was running with the ball. This year, he’ll be trying to pick it off or knock it away. In time, he might be part of an improved secondary. But it’s hard to picture this being a good thing Thursday night.

Nova has a good tight end in Tyler Kroft and a receiving-running threat in Desmon Peoples. Rutgers has a better chance of moving the chains with Ralph Friedgen as the new offensive coordinator.

And here’s a “by the way” for you: this wasn’t my idea to have a section called “Why the Cougs could lose.” Digital media editor guy Brady Henderson, one of my many much younger bosses at 710 ESPN Seattle, decided he wanted this new format for weekly Cougar football previews this year.

If it were up to me, I would’ve had the “Why the Cougs will win” section and then, if we’re going to be negative about their chances, I would’ve had a “Why the Cougs might not cover the pointspread” section, but I don’t like writing or even thinking about them losing.

I was a freshman at Washington State in 1974, which means I’ve been following Cougar football for 40 years, and I just figured it out: I’ve watched them lose 254 games.
Even if it happens, I don’t want to ponder the possibilities of them losing No. 255 to Rutgers Thursday night.

To please Henderson, though, I’ll re-emphasize my concerns about our secondary and defense in general. We also have a revamped offensive line that might be better than last year’s unit, but if it somehow isn’t, where will we be if Halliday gets hurt? We’ve got a walk-on behind him.

Prediction: The Cougars should score frequently, but I’m guessing Rutgers will, too. The over-under is surprisingly low at 61.5. Cougars 41, Scarlet Knights 35.

The Go 2 Guy also writes for and You can reach Jim at and follow him on Twitter @cougsgo.