PULLMAN — When Mike Leach was the football coach at Texas Tech, the Red Raiders went to 10 consecutive bowl games. One of the perks of postseason play was the extra practice time allotted to bowl teams.
While all teams are limited to 15 practices in the spring, the NCAA places no cap on the number of practices a team can squeeze in before a bowl.
“I think it’s incredibly helpful,” Leach said. “We went to 10 straight bowls, and I thought in the middle of 10 straight bowls that everybody should have the practice opportunities because it’s a definite advantage. And then your young guys, you know, you can work them, and the young guys will have improved a lot since camp.”
The Cougars (5-5, 3-4 Pac-12 Conference) would become
bowl eligible with a victory against Utah (4-6, 1-6) on Saturday. The last time they played in a bowl game was 2003, and the last time they were eligible was 2006.
After defeating Arizona last weekend, WSU hopes to put together its first winning streak since September. With a win under their belt, the Cougars believe their positive momentum can give them an advantage.
“I think so just because you have that confidence coming in,” senior offensive lineman Elliott Bosch said. “Guys believe in what we’re doing. It just carries you and gives you momentum into next week.”
Under NCAA guidelines, any team that finishes with at least a .500 record and one or fewer games against non-FBS teams is bowl eligible.
However, there are a finite number of bowls, and it is mathematically possible to qualify and not receive a bowl invite. That happened in 2006 when WSU and Arizona, both 6-6, were left out.
“It’s never happened to me,” Leach said. “And it shouldn’t happen at all, especially in this conference.”
It could happen to a Pac-12 team this season. The conference has contracted with seven bowls and is unlikely to send a team to the BCS championship game. With eight teams already bowl eligible and WSU, Utah and Colorado still in the mix, the Pac-12 could have 10 teams qualified to play in the postseason.
If other conferences do not have enough teams with .500 records, then the bowls with which they have tie-ins will look elsewhere. The American Athletic Conference and Big 12 are potential sources.
The Atlantic Coast Conference already has filled its bowl allotment, as have the Big Ten, the Mountain West and Sun Belt conferences. If Texas-San Antonio wins one of its final two games, then Conference USA will have as well.
The Mid-American Conference only has tie-ins with three bowl games, yet has six teams qualified.
But all of those scenarios will only matter for the Cougars if they win one of their final two games. With that in mind, WSU players say they’re doing their best to block out any thoughts of playing in a bowl.
“It gives you a little extra energy,” Bosch said. “But around the program, we’re trying not to talk about that. Our main goal this year has been to focus on the task at hand one week at a time and win one game that Saturday. It gives you a little extra, but we’re trying not to talk about it.”
UTAH (4-6, 1-6 PAC-12) AT WASHINGTON STATE (5-5, 3-4)
12:30 p.m., Martin Stadium, Pullman
TV: Pac-12 Network. Radio: 710-AM.
The series: Utah leads, 7-5. The Utes have won the past two meetings, including a 49-6 victory last season in Salt Lake City.
KEYS TO A WSU VICTORY
Protect Connor Halliday: Utah leads the nation with 36 sacks. While WSU’s offensive line played one of its better games last week against Arizona, Halliday was sacked four times. The Cougars must block even better this week, or Washington State will have a hard time scoring with Halliday lying on the turf.
Trust the running game: WSU rushed for more than 100 yards against the Wildcats and should try to do so again Saturday against the Utes. While the Cougars won’t run the ball often, if they can pick up 5 or more yards per rush, they will keep Utah’s defensive line honest and prevent it from teeing off on Halliday.
Pick off a pass or two: Unfortunately, Utes quarterback Travis Wilson’s career might be over because of a pre-existing head condition. With backup Adam Schulz leading Utah’s offense, the Cougars have a chance to force the former walk-on into some rookie mistakes.
Play loose: There’s no other way to spin it: This is a huge game for the Cougars. It’s the seniors’ final game at Martin Stadium, bowl eligibility is on the line and WSU is favored. The team needs to not worry about any of that and avoid distractions that could cause tentative play.
Jacob Thorpe, The Spokesman-Review