The ultimate Washington State vs. Idaho wager may have been made in 2002. In a show of support for his team, T. J. Conrads, editor of WSU's...

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PULLMAN — The ultimate Washington State vs. Idaho wager may have been made in 2002.

In a show of support for his team, T.J. Conrads, editor of WSU’s Daily Evergreen, agreed to marry Argonaut editor Jade Janes if the Vandals upset the Cougars.

They weren’t even dating each other.

Washington State won 49-14 and no one was happier than Conrads, then 20. “I’m too young to get married,” he said after the game.

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Conrads, now a copy editor at the San Diego Union-Tribune, is still single.

And the Cougars still are beating the Vandals. That 2002 victory was the second in a string of five straight WSU wins in the lopsided series (68-17-3) leading into today’s 12:45 p.m. kickoff at Martin Stadium.

The Cougars are favored by 17 points, but there are factors that make this game among the more anticipated in this border war that started in 1894.

Dennis Erickson, who won two national titles at Miami, is back coaching the Vandals 21 years after he left, and the program is re-energized. Last week, Idaho was a 30-point underdog but made Michigan State work for a 27-17 win.

“We were happy to a point, but then again the bottom line is winning and we didn’t win the football game,” said Erickson, who coached Washington State in 1987-88.

Cougars coach Bill Doba and the rest of the football world notices a difference in this year’s Vandals.

“They look more physical and polished,” said Doba, who also praised the aggressiveness of their special teams.

WSU quarterback Alex Brink notices a difference, too.

“They are better overall than last year,” he said. “They really fly around looking to make plays.”

Another problem for the Cougars could be that Idaho is healthy, and WSU has five starters injured, including starting running back DeMaundray Woolridge. He won’t start because of his thigh injury, but might play.

Even with the injuries, the Cougars have more elite athletes and weapons than the Vandals and are expected to prevail. WSU also has a hungry quarterback in Brink, who is coming off the worst game of his college career at No. 4 Auburn and is eager to put up big numbers after a 67-yard passing performance in the 40-14 thumping.

The most dangerous Vandal appears to be running back Jayson Bird.

Bird gained 88 yards on 20 carries last week at Michigan State and gained 70 against WSU last year before suffering a season-ending injury the following week.

“He’s a strong runner,” said WSU linebacker Steve Dildine. “He runs hard, so we have to get everyone to the ball and get some good hits on him.”

This is the first home game for the Cougars, and the opener is always a special campus event. The stands will have Vandals supporters, too, because the universities are only eight miles apart.

Vandals players want the “king of the Palouse” bragging benefits that come with beating their neighbor.

“We have nothing to lose. It’s a great opportunity for us,” said Nate VanderPol, an Idaho senior tackle from Federal Way. “I think we have a real good chance to turn some heads.”

Players and coaches from Federal Way High School, where former Cougar Jason Gesser is now the quarterbacks coach, are coming to the game.

VanderPol offered to help get players and staff tickets with one exception — “Gesser has to get his own ticket.”

Craig Smith: 206-464-8279 or csmith@seattletimes.com