Washington State lost to Portland State, 24-17, to open the season. At that point, it looked like it was going to be a rough year for the Cougars.
Well, it hasn’t been. Washington State (7-3) has since won seven of nine – with the only losses coming at Cal and against Stanford by a combined eight points – and is in the thick of the Pac-12 championship race.
Did anybody see this coming?
“Well, I’ve never lost to (a) I-AA (team) until Portland State, but I don’t know if I’ve ever had a team much younger than this team,” Washington State head coach Mike Leach said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “So when we lost to Portland State . . . they played hard and they beat us. But the biggest thing was our guys just needed game experience, I think. They needed to go out there and they needed to play. Speed of the game is always different than you can duplicate in practice. You do the best you can, but you can’t get it right to game speed. There’s certain anxieties that have to be eradicated just by experience. We steadily got better. It didn’t break our commitment at all. Our guys stayed committed, stayed focused, kept working extremely hard, drew from experience and we kind of got better one space at a time.”
Seven of Washington State’s 10 games have been decided by seven points or fewer, including three of their wins.
“We need to figure out a way to start putting people away a little sooner,” Leach said. “We’ve had a lot of tight games and last drives. If anything, we’re exciting.”
Even if Washington State were to win out and win the Pac-12, however, it wouldn’t have a chance – not with three losses – to make the College Football Playoff.
For Leach, this is a problem.
“Well, our problem is we’re the best conference in the country,” he said. “We play nine games, and anybody in this conference can get after anybody – or at least come closer than any other conference. All the conferences of course are beating their chest, but that’s certainly not true. Regardless of who may end up in first or second place (in our league) – which we certainly would maybe win that too – if you seed out the conference and go below the first two, there may not be any other conference that would beat us once after that. Take the bottom half of any other conference. Have a tournament with our conference. Our conference would massacre them.
“The problem is obvious,” Leach continued. “We don’t have enough people in the playoffs and then we’re sitting there relying on a committee, and the committee, whether it’s biased or it’s not – everybody’s biased. (They say) everybody’s unbiased. There’s no such thing as somebody that’s unbiased. Everybody is from somewhere. Everybody’s background is something. Everybody grew up rooting for someone. Everybody’s got roots somewhere. The bigger media bases are obviously going to have a bit of an advantage. What needs to happen is you need to have more teams in the playoffs. I think the minimum acceptable number should be 16, I think the ideal number is 64 and you can certainly easily settle on 32. That doesn’t make the rest of the season irrelevant. I mean, is all the rest of the NFL season irrelevant? No. That’s just a total and complete cop-out by Division I college football trying to hide behind establishment and refusing to find a solution to a relatively easy problem.”