Friday, August 31, 2007

Cue Doba: A Washington State-Wisconsin preview

Sometimes you go slummin' and you schedule a team like UNLV or the Citadel. You know it's going to be ugly, the fans know it's going to be ugly, the players on both sides of the field know it's going to be ugly.

And other times you go slummin' and you schedule a team that performs like UNLV or the Citadel but plays in one of the six major conferences. Playing Washington State isn't exactly like that, but it's close. Most season previews for the Cougars tend to hedge their bets, stating that Wazzu might ride its offense to the postseason and anticipating utter embarrassment for the defense.

The series: Wisconsin leads the all-time series, 1-0. The Cougars visited Madison for a game in 1976 and left with a 35-26 loss to a Badger team that would eventually go 5-6. (Their only win against a team that finished with a record of better than .500? They beat the Gophers, of course!)

The school: As you can imagine, Washington State is another victim of the State Rule:

If two public schools exist in a given state, the one that uses the word "State" in its name is, in almost all ways, the inferior school.

Prestige aside, all one needs to do is look at a map and find Pullman, Washington to draw a few conclusions: it's up there with Muncie, Carbondale, Las Cruces, and Starkville on the list of depressingly isolated places in which to attend school. Seattle, at over 250 miles away, represents the nearest bit of civilization. Despite its all that, the Cougars have turned out several luminaries; they count Far Side cartoonist Gary Larson, newsman Edward R. Murrow, and -- most significantly -- complete frickin' legend and voice of college football Mr. Keith Jackson among their alumni.

The matchups: What Wazzu has going for it is that their strengths match up nicely with Wisconsin's question marks. The Cougars and quarterback Alex Brink like to play bombs-away football; he threw for 2899 yards and 23 touchdowns last year. If the two primary receivers, Michael Bumpus and Brandon Gibson, manage to get behind Ikegwuonu and Langford, they'll only have inexperienced safeties to beat. Their running game isn't winning any accolades, and the Wisconsin line should overwhelm anyone who stands in their way early. If Wazzu becomes one-dimensional and DC Mike Hankwitz can consistently drop linebackers into coverage, this game will be over early.

On the opposite side of the ball, Washington State doesn't appear to have anything remotely resembling a defense. This will undoubtedly reflect poorly on head coach Bill Doba, as he fired his offensive coordinator in order to take on that role himself. It appears that everyone who has experienced has suffered an injury, and among the new players the only ones who aren't freshman are JUCO transfers. As long as Donovan doesn't proffer too many wobbling ducks, the Badgers should be able to run and pass at will. My prediction: it'll be a clinic before the third quarter is out.

The prediction: Donovan starts out shaky but P.J. Hill doesn't miss a beat. The defense clamps down and forces a lot of three-and-outs, but gives up a couple big passing plays. The starters get to watch the fourth quarter from the sidelines. Badgers 31, Cougars 10

Random: Evidently the Cougars fancy themselves quite the cheesemakers. If that's the basis for any smack talk this weekend it's going to end poorly.