PULLMAN - UCLA football coach Rick Neuheisel, surveying the wreckage of offseason turmoil at many Pacific-10 Conference schools, said every team in the conference haS a shot at the 2010 league championship - except Washington State.
Ouch. It seems that respect comes slowly for a WSU squad that has lost more games in two years (22) than any in the history of a conference with a football lineage dating to 1916.
Sophomore quarterback Jeff Tuel, asked to run WSU’s no-huddle offense, said he understands why the Cougars don’t get much respect after winning just three games in two years.
Still, Tuel said he sees improvement in the Cougars after four fall practices. WSU appears to be the unanimous pick to finish last in the Pac-10, but Tuel wants to make the so-called experts devour humble pie.
“It’s motivation,” Tuel said. “Nothing else matters but what we believe in our hearts and minds, and what we know we can do.
“We’re going to win games, and we’re going to surprise people.”
Marshall Lobbestael, Tuel’s backup at quarterback, expressed similar thoughts.
“We’re not focusing on what other people are thinking,” said Lobbestael. “We’re focusing more on ourselves and how we can improve.
“I feel a lot more guys are looking in the mirror and figuring out what they can do for the team. We’re definitely excited for this year.”
Veteran offensive line coach Steve Morton has returned to his alma mater to try to shore up a line that floundered for two years.
“He’s doing a great job. He’s awesome. He’s great,” head coach Paul Wulff said. “Our players are getting better. They’re improving all the time.”
Senior right tackle Micah Hannam, a three-year starter who played every line position except center in spring ball and has not been guaranteed a starting job this fall, approves of Morton.
“I like Coach Morton,” said Hannam, a Peninsula High School graduate. “He’ll joke around with you when it’s appropriate, but when something needs to get done, he’ll put the hammer down and make sure you get your job right.”
The rebuilding of the Cougars is far from complete, but practice observers have seen obvious improvement in team speed and athleticism.
Wide receivers Marquess Wilson, Kristoff Williams and Rickey Galvin have left defenders grasping at air with their speed and shiftiness.
“Obviously, it’s a big upgrade from where we’ve been,” Wulff said.
“It makes a huge difference,” Tuel said.
The Cougars practice in full pads for the first time this afternoon. … WSU opens the season Sept. 4 at Oklahoma State. Montana State visits Pullman on Sept. 11. … Projected starters Daniel Simmons (cornerback), Alex Hoffman-Ellis (outside linebacker) and Jared Karstetter (wide receiver) are trying to overcome health issues. … Wulff said projected starting center Andrew Roxas needs better conditioning. Zack Williams has at least temporarily moved from guard to center with the No. 1 offense, and junior college transfer Wade Jacobson has shifted from tackle to guard. … The Cougars have sold 7,726 full and partial season tickets, down from last year’s total of 9,072.