After the Cougars beat the Ducks 33-10 Saturday night in Eugene, everyone assumed they’d move into the top 10 in national polls with No. 3 Oklahoma and No. 7 Michigan losing. I figured they’d be No. 10 or maybe No. 9, but ESPN has them at No. 7 and Stewart Mandel of SI.com put them at No. 6, ahead of Washington at No. 7.
In the more traditional polls that most people pay attention to, the Cougs are ranked No. 8 by AP and No. 9 by the coaches.
The well-respected Mandel has covered college football a long time, but I’m not so sure the Cougs should be ranked ahead of the Huskies just yet. The alum in me thinks it’s great. The objective observer in me thinks the Huskies are probably still a little better than the Cougs, and I guess it doesn’t matter because we’ll find out what’s what in the Apple Cup on Nov. 25. Right now, if you want an impartial view of that potential matchup, I saw one point spread from Las Vegas that has Washington as an 11 1/2-point favorite over Washington State. By game time in late November, a lot can change, and honestly, if I were setting the line on that game right now, I’d make the Huskies a six- or seven-point favorite, partly because it will be played at Husky Stadium.
The fun thing is to think of the most preposterous possibility ever – the chance that Washington and Washington State could enter the game with 11-0 records. I threw this out there last week or maybe it was the week before, and when I threw it out I just thought, what the heck, maybe it will stick to somebody’s wall and be tossed in the circular bin by others.
But take a look at the remaining schedules for both teams. Washington will be favored in its next five games, most likely by double digits in four of the five. The Huskies also play four of their next five at home. The only real chance they have of losing before the Apple Cup is at Stanford Nov. 10 in a Friday night game that will be nationally televised by FS1.
The Cougs will also be favored in their next five games but have a slightly tougher schedule because three of the five are on the road, including games against the suddenly dangerous Arizona Wildcats and their new quarterback find, Khalil Tate, who rushed for 327 yards and four TDs in a 45-42 victory over Colorado Saturday night. Washington State also plays at Utah on Nov. 11, and it’s never easy to face the Utes in Salt Lake City though I was encouraged about the Cougs’ chances after watching Utah QB Troy Williams Saturday night in a 23-20 loss to Stanford – bluntly put, he’s not very good, though he somehow engineered a 95-yard fourth-quarter drive to cover the spread.
Just like Washington, Washington State’s most difficult remaining opponent appears to be Stanford, but the Cougs get the Cardinal on Dads’ Weekend in Pullman on Nov. 4. If the Cougs and Cardinal each win their next three games, there’s a good chance that ESPN’s College Gameday will make its first appearance in Pullman.
I can’t believe I’m typing all of these kinds of paragraphs on my laptop. I thought this was going to be a very good season for the Cougs, maybe 10-2, perhaps 9-3, and I would have been satisfied with 8-4. But now? To think that an unbeaten season is possible? A trip to the Final Four with a chance to play for the national championship? For the Cougs? Are you kidding me?
Don’t wake me up. I’ve picked against the Cougs the last two weeks and been wrong. I don’t know why I was so concerned about the Oregon game. I thought there’d be a letdown after the upset of USC, but I should have looked at the fact that Oregon was starting a third-string quarterback, Brandon Burmeister. The true freshman will no doubt be a good one in time, but to think he would excel in his first start against the Cougar defense? I should have seen that coming.
I’m blown away by that defense, the biggest difference in this team from the others in the Mike Leach Era on the Palouse. We’ve got guys I’ve never heard of making plays, guys who look super quick. The defense really set the tone when coach Willie Taggart had a wild hair and decided to go for it on fourth down from his own 41-yard line on the first series of the game. Royce Freeman was stuffed, and on the next play Luke Falk connected with Jamal Morrow on a 41-yard touchdown pass.
Oregon did take a 10-7 lead later in the first quarter but did not score again. This is an Oregon team that entered the game averaging 49 points a game.
Two things that stood out to me – Erik Powell going 4-for-4 with his field goals, including one from 52 yards that soared right through the middle of the uprights and must have shocked every Cougar fan alive. And I loved it when Isaiah Johnson-Mack, after scoring to give the Cougars a 30-10 lead, mocked Duck fans by forming an “O” and breaking it over his knee. I plan to watch that over and over again because I remember being in Eugene in 2008 when we had a terrible team, but the Duck fans kept mocking us with their stupid little O’s. I can’t think of a thing I dislike more in college sports than that stupid little O.
Cal is next up for the Cougs in an ESPN game Friday night at 7:30 from Berkeley. I was worried about this game after watching Cal beat North Carolina and Ole Miss in September. But the Golden Bears have not looked good the last three weeks, losing by double digits to USC, Oregon and Washington. Guessing the Cougs will be favored by eight or nine with a good shot at taking the next step toward an undefeated season.