WSU confirmed the ascending nature of its program with a 38-24 win over Arizona State. Simply put — there wasn’t an answer for Luke Falk. There is a question, though: How good can these guys get?
PULLMAN — There is a sentence coming up that hasn’t been written in more than a decade. It still seems crazy to type, but hey, you can’t deny that it’s true.
Here it is: Washington State has the best college football team in the Pacific Northwest.
Your eyes don’t deceive you. The Cougs are legit.
Saturday, WSU confirmed the ascending nature of its program with a 38-24 win over Arizona State. The Cougars unloaded 512 yards of offense on the Sun Devils, 497 of which came in the air.
Simply put — there wasn’t an answer for quarterback Luke Falk and his seemingly unstoppable receiving corps. There is a question, though.
How good can these guys get?
It’s nutty to even be asking that, given how the season started so pitifully. Washington State (6-3, 4-2 in the Pac-12) fell to Portland State of the FCS in its first game, and was 10 seconds away from losing to Rutgers in its second.
The murmurs calling for Mike Leach’s job seemed to be growing louder by the minute. Now, folks may start lobbying for him to get a raise.
There hasn’t been a team on the Cougars’ schedule this year that they weren’t capable of beating. They lost to Portland State by seven, California by six, and were a 43-yard field goal away from taking down No. 8 Stanford in Pullman.
Perhaps that’s why becoming bowl eligible Saturday barely moved the players’ emotional needle. As Falk said, “We have higher aspirations.”
It would have been easy for the Cougs to fold after what happened in the Palouse the week before. Had that last-second kick split the uprights, WSU likely would have cracked the AP Top 25 on the heels of its biggest win in years.
But as they’ve done repeatedly this season, the Cougars dusted themselves off — then watched ASU eat their dust.
After falling behind 14-0 in the first quarter, WSU scored 17 unanswered points. The Cougars forced a turnover on downs when the Sun Devils were three yards away from going up by 21, and they never relinquished the momentum.
Did it help that the Cougs got a do-over when the referee accidentally blew the whistle before wide receiver Gabe Marks went out of bounds on a fourth-down play? Yeah, that helped quite a bit.
But maybe that’s symbolic of the changes happening on the Palouse. For once, the breaks are going WSU’s way.
Actually, talk to the players, and it sounds as if they feel they’ve underachieved this year. It’s clear that they think the Stanford game got away from them, and there is nobody in college football that they don’t believe they can top.
“Like you see, sometimes we have the chance to be the best team in the country,” offensive lineman Gunnar Eklund said. “We just have to work every week to get better and get flowin’ because this offense — you can’t stop it.”
That last part is true. Since that opening loss to Portland State, the Cougars have posted at least 28 points every game. Falk, meanwhile, came into Saturday leading the Pac-12 in passing yards and was ranked fourth in the country.
Whether WSU can actually slow down a potent quarterback remains to be seen, but it will get another shot against Josh Rosen and the UCLA Bruins next week.
Don’t count them out of that one.
“We’re hanging in there. We’re getting better,” Leach said. “We’re kind of a young group and young guys tend to emerge more quickly.”
And that’s the thing — these guys are young. A bevy of key players will return next year, and given what they’re doing in the present, a conference championship might not be an unrealistic goal.
But we’ll worry about that later.
For now, it’s time to acknowledge the Northwest’s premier football team — the Cougars of Washington State.
That sentence hadn’t been written in a while, but you may have to get used to reading it.