In every conference or league or division, there seems to be the haves and the have nots and it’s very difficult for a have not to become something better.
The Pac-12 isn’t any different. Right now, Oregon State and Colorado are those football programs trying to climb out of the abyss, but that takes time. The Beavers and Buffaloes have had a history of having pretty good programs and everything is cyclical. No doubt they will eventually be good again.
Washington State is another matter altogether.
Before Mike Leach came on to the scene in Pullman, the Cougars were the have not of the have nots. Under Paul Wulff, the Cougars went from a nice little team in the Palouse to the absolute door mat of the conference. In his four years, WSU was 9-40. Wulff’s last season was 4-8 and they almost had a parade in downtown Pullman.
All right, not really. Instead athletic director Bill Moos fired Wulff and ventured on the hardest coaching search in the country. Washington State’s facilities were not up to code, so to speak, back then and Pullman isn’t exactly Los Angeles or even Seattle. Moos’ venture led him to someone just crazy enough to take the job. As it turns out, it might have been the best hire in his career.
Leach, who might believe in the Ancient Alien Theory and knows the difference between a Gorn and a Klingon, was a coaching outcast after some things that may or may not have happened at Texas Tech. He needed Washington State as much as WSU needed him. It’s the perfect marriage and after a rocky beginning, the marriage is thriving.
The Cougars went from 3-9 last season to 8-4 in 2015 and if they didn’t have to play the Apple Cup without All-Conference quarterback Luke Falk, WSU might have been 9-3 and looking at an Alamo Bowl. But 8-4 is nothing to sneeze at in Pullman. Leach not only took over a 4-8 team, but he practically started from scratch in the Palouse.
He has to find some offensive personnel to run his run and shoot offense and it wasn’t available to him right away. His style of coaching isn’t for everyone and there was a mass exodus when Leach came to town.
Like all offensive schemes, Leach’s needed a quarterback and he found one in Logan, Utah. The redshirt sophomore is a gunslinger and isn’t afraid of, well, much of anything. He’s a Mike Leach guy.
As a high school senior, Falk earned first-team All-State and All-Region honors after throwing for 3,618 yards and 36 touchdown, while setting the Utah high school single-season records for pass attempts (562) and completions (330).
Leach also found Falk a target or two to throw at in Gabe Marks, a redshirt-junior from Venice, Calif. He led the conference in receptions (99), touchdown receptions (14). Marks was also a Biletnikoff Award semifinalist.
The Cougars’ 8-4 record didn’t come against cupcakes either. Leach took his team into Autzen Stadium and upset Oregon 45-38 in double overtime. Eugene was a place where Cougars went to die a horrible death, but with a new attitude, Leach’s crew went to Oregon, looked the Ducks in the eye and never blinked. It was the first time in nearly a decade WSU had defeated Oregon.
Washington State gave Stanford a scare and probably should have beat the Cardinal. The Cougars managed to beat a good Arizona State team at home and they went to the Rose Bowl and defeated Jim Mora’s Bruins.
Falk went down to a concussion in the 27-3 win against Colorado and he wasn’t available against the Huskies. Without him, the offense was nowhere to be found in the 45-10 loss.
But he should be back for the bowl and the Cougars just had a season that even a Klingon would be proud of and say, “Qapla’!” The head man in Pullman would know that means, “Success!” and that’s just one of the reasons the Cougars love him.