Looking ahead at the most pivotal games in 2012
When college football‘s regular season schedules are released in early January fans scurry to message boards to discuss their teams’ win-loss potential.
For the Washington State Cougars, it’s been pretty easy to chalk up a big “L” next to their opponent on previous schedules, but that won’t be the case this season.
There’s a wide array of games that could go either way, plus it helps that the Cougars don’t have to face Pac-12 favorites USC for the second consecutive season.
If the Cougars want to be taken seriously in 2012, these are the games that they absolutely have to win.
Here’s a look at the top five most important games on the 2012 schedule:
5) September 22nd – vs. Colorado
When the Buffaloes roll into town the Cougars should have at least two wins – hopefully three – under their belt, with a chance to go 4-0 for the first time since 2001 entering the Oregon game in Seattle.
Last season, the Cougars used a miraculous 10-point comeback in the final three minutes to shock Colorado in Boulder.
The offense should be at full speed and, coming off of potential blowout wins against the likes of Eastern Washington and UNLV, the Cougars should be well rested for their first Pac-12 test.
Colorado showed exceptional improvement towards the end of the season. Sitting at 1-9, the Buffaloes routed South Division “champion” UCLA 45-6, and then surprisingly beat Utah on the road to finish up the year at 3-10.
Colorado head coach John Embree should be able to build on his three win campaign in 2011 so don’t expect Colorado to be a pushover when Pac-12 play gets underway.
I don’t expect this game to be close, but then again, we’re still talking about Washington State.
The game also happens to be Homecoming on the Washington State campus so look for a full-capacity crowd for the first time in nearly a decade.
4) October 13th – vs. California
This is another one of those games where the Cougars need to take care of business on their home turf. Washington State has had a hard time using their home games to their advantage and if they want to reach a bowl game they will need to take care of business at home.
California should be a strong team once again and both teams should have similar records coming into the contest. Winning this game could go a long way towards securing that elusive sixth win.
With Keenan Allen at wide receiver, the Cougars secondary is going to have their hands full. Cal quarterback Zach Maynard should be vastly improved after taking the Golden Bears to a bowl game despite a very inconsistent season in his first year at the helm.
Games in mid-October on the Palouse typically bring out frigid weather, which could work in the Cougars advantage, but beating Cal is going to be a difficult task. If the defense can contain the big plays they’ll have a chance.
3) September 29th – vs. Oregon
If there were ever a trap game this season for the Oregon Ducks, this is it.
Both teams could easily enter the game at 4-0 and could attract a national audience. In what will most likely be one of the most high scoring games of the year, the outcome could be decided by the team who scores first.
Last season the Cougars hung in the game until late into the fourth quarter. Trailing 29-20 with four minutes remaining, De’Anthony Thomas took the ensuing kickoff to the house for 93-yards to put the game out of reach.
But don’t think for a second that the Cougars left that game without wanting another shot at the Pac-12 champions. Well, here’s their chance.
It will be the Ducks’ first road game on the season and although the game is going to be played in Seattle, expect the majority of the crowd to be wearing crimson and gray. Regardless of who wins the Ducks starting quarterback spot, it will be their first road start versus an experienced Jeff Tuel.
If the offense is firing on all cylinders and a couple plays fall the Cougars’ way, this game could go down to the wire.
Oregon and Washington State: 2012 edition, could be one for the books – we know it will be exciting.
4) November 23rd – vs. Washington
The most exciting game on the schedule every year is the Apple Cup. Regardless of win-loss records, each team’s season is essentially won or lost in this rivalry game. The 2012 Apple Cup could have monumental implications.
The Cougars start the year off with a very favorable schedule but end the year with three road games against Stanford, Utah, and Arizona State.
The Washington Huskies, on the other hand, start the year off with a torrential schedule facing LSU, Oregon, Stanford, and USC. Both teams could easily be fighting for a bowl position.
Despite the game being the Friday after Thanksgiving, there should be nearly a full-house at Martin Stadium. The Huskies have won three consecutive Apple Cups including a 35-21 ousting last year at Qwest Field.
The 2012 Apple Cup is sure to be another thriller and could set the stage for a renewed, competitive rivalry as both teams enter new eras under new regimes.
1) August 30th – at BYU
The Mike Leach era at Washington State kicks off against BYU, his alma mater, on ESPN. The Thursday night kickoff-special will be the nation’s first look at Leach’s prolific air raid offense and will most likely set the stage for the entire season.
What better way for Leach to declare, “I’m baaaack,” than to beat his alma mater in front of a national audience. Not to mention the huge recruiting insinuations.
This is the most important game of the year for a variety of reasons. A win in Provo over a high-caliber team would immediately give the Cougars the confidence that they need to grow as a team.
This team isn’t used to winning football games. A win over BYU, who went 10-3 last season, would be a huge step towards reaching that goal.
Expect the Cougars to come out and try to run the score up so high that Craig James pays for ESPN to change the broadcast. This game could be the Cougars, and most definitely Mike Leach’s, coming out party.
Let the party begin!