PULLMAN - The Washington State Cougars hope to begin climbing the slippery slope back to respectability Saturday when they open the season at Oklahoma State.
“We feel like we’re a much, much improved football team,” Cougars coach Paul Wulff said Tuesday. “There’s no question in our minds, but we have go out and (prove) that on game day.
“To open up against Oklahoma State on the road isn’t anybody’s ideal opener in some regards, but sometimes it can give you an advantage. It gives you a high motivating factor in the offseason.”
Oklahoma State is coming off back-to-back 9-4 seasons and four straight bowl games. However, the Cowboys lost most of the talent and experience from last year’s Cotton Bowl team; 26-year-old quarterback Brandon Weeden (a former minor league baseball player) hasn’t started a football game since his senior year of high school in 2001; and there are bound to be some bumps in the road adjusting to the new offense installed by Dana Holgersen.
The Cowboys were already running a version of the no-huddle, spread offense that Holgersen (and Washington State) preaches, but Holgersen likes to play at a pace that borders on frantic.
“They’re very fast tempo,” Wulff said. “They spread the ball all over the field, a high percentage of it with their throws.
“They try to get 100 plays in a game, and they really rep things off real fast. They just keep you off-balance and try to keep you on your heels. They’re always on the attack.”
Last year, Holgersen ran the offense at Houston, and the Cougars led the nation in scoring, passing and total offense.
Oklahoma State is favored by 151/2 points Saturday (4 p.m., FSN), even though Sporting News picks OSU to finish last in the Big 12 South Division. The magazine predicts coach Mike Gundy will be fired and replaced by former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach after the season.
Sporting News pegs the Cougars to finish last in the Pacific-10 Conference and predicts that Wulff will be fired and replaced by Idaho coach (and former WSU assistant) Robb Akey. Sporting News ranks WSU 102nd and Oklahoma State 64th among the 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams.
OSU officials are predicting a crowd of 50,000. The weather forecast calls for game-time temperatures in the 70s with moderate humidity and light winds.
WSU earns $300,000 for traveling to Stillwater and $200,000 for playing at Southern Methodist in Dallas on Nov. 18. The Cougars’ other nonconference game, a Nov. 11 home date with Montana State, pays the Bobcats $375,000. TV plans for that 4 p.m. contest are uncertain.
Sporting News did not name any Cougars on its two Pac-10 all-conference teams. Ted Miller of ESPN.com picked WSU junior defensive tackle Brandon Rankin as the Pac-10 defensive newcomer of the year, and Miller predicts Wulff will be retained next year.
Rankin, a junior college transfer who sat out last season because of academic ineligibility, chose WSU over Alabama.
The Sporting News’ All-Big 12 teams included two Oklahoma State players – senior running back Kendall Hunter on the first team and junior safety Markelle Martin on the second team.
The 5-foot-8, 197-pound Hunter was injured most of last season, but he earned one first-team All-American honor in 2008 after rushing for 1,555 yards and 16 touchdowns.
Hunter ran for 107 yards and two TDs in a 39-13 win over WSU at Seattle’s Qwest Field in 2008.
A dominant player in that game was Oklahoma State wide receiver Dez Bryant. He passed up his senior year to turn pro this season and was drafted in the first round by the Dallas Cowboys.