It seems every sport in this conference, you're running the so called gauntlet. As stupid as it may sound to spit back a corporate marketing line, the Pac-12 is truly the conference of champions. The problem is most people don't know about it because most of the championships occur in non-revenue sports.
And the sad thing is many people are not terribly aware of how well the non-revenue sports are doing. I mean, we all watched the football game on Saturday and we'll get to that in a bit. But let us remember that frequently, invariably, one of the women's soccer teams in the national semifinals is someone from the Pac-12 and Stanford - who Wazzu just took to the wire at Cougarland Field - has been the nation's top-ranked team for most of the 2011 season so far.
Which makes the fact that WSU was able to hold Stanford to just one late goal even more remarkable. Then a couple days later they upset 21st ranked California 2-0 - though that might not be considered an upset by the time the season is finished. This is a team that has had incredibly consistent success under head coach Matt Potter and after a brief hiccup last year, they appear to be well on the way to the NCAA Tournament with an 8-4-1 record and an RPI of 39 in this week's update.
But I think their California win is even more impressive than their 1-0 loss to Stanford. Obviously a win is always more impressive because you do get the win. But losing to the best team in the country when surrendering a late goal is absolutely heart breaking. There's no sport where surrendering a late lead hurts more than in soccer. You work and work for so long and sometimes it's just a bad bounce that puts one in the back of the net. This is a team with NCAA Tournament written all over it. They just have to slog out the rest of the conference schedule - which should include wins over Utah [Friday at 3PM] and Colorado [Sunday at noon] at Cougarland this week.
Meanwhile though, their counterparts in Bohler Gym are looking for any positives to take from this season. The volleyball not only plays in the best conference in the country, it isn't even close. Last week, five teams were in the top six nationally and this week it's UCLA at #2, Washington at #3, Cal at #4, USC at #5 and Stanford at #7 so not much worse at all.
And virtually all their offense - nearly 50%, in fact - runs through their sensational senior Meagan Ganzer. It's not an exaggeration to say she's one of the best players in the conference and it isn't even close. She's in the top five statistically for many offensive statistics but WSU has an issue: virtually the entire offense runs through Ganzer. So they don't get any significant production from elsewhere on the court. But one positive they can take is that, unlike in previous seasons, they're beating teams they should be beating. They beat a very bad Arizona State team and a decent Oregon State squad. This weekend, they face two teams they should easily clobber in Colorado and Utah. And doing so would represent a step back in the right direction for this squad.
Speaking of breakthrough victories, the Cougars seem to have a thing for winning football games in Boulder. And I'll absolutely admit it, I was about to lose it with five minutes left in the fourth quarter. I was teetering on the edge of calling for head coach Paul Wulff's head. Even after the touchdown to draw it to 27-24, I was still doing it because without that stupid pooch kick to end the half that allowed Colorado to kick the FG, the game is tied.
But I'll be damned if that pass to sophomore receiver Marquess Wilson from redshirt senior quarterback Marshall Lobbestael wasn't one of the most beautiful sights these two eyes have ever seen. I almost wept. It was like looking at the Mona Lisa in the Heisman pose. If credit goes to Wulff when this team collapses then credit has to go to him when the team guts out a win like that. They didn't give up; didn't surrender. They got a win they deserved because they worked their backside off to get it.
And now, Wulff is faced with a hell of a decision this week. Tuel has been medically cleared to practice in full pads which I'm assuming means he'll be ready to go against UCLA. So do you stay with Lobster or go with Tuel?
Even though Wulff stated earlier this week Lobbestael is the starter this week, you'll still see plenty of Tuel or that's my feeling anyhow. So Tuel needs to play as much as his shoulder can handle. I said before the year getting out of these first five games at 4-1 sets this team up for a bowl game and I stand behind it. They absolutely should beat Oregon State and there's no reason they can't have things go their way against California, Utah or Washington (no matter how good UW is, the Apple Cup is always up in the air). Yes, 5-0 would have obviously been preferable because you just need to beat Oregon State and you're there. But we are where we are. And UCLA is a team that has just three sacks on the year and will drop seven guys into coverage regularly. I'm not confident in Lobbestael's ability to throw into that. And besides, with that lack of up front strength and numbers, WSU should get run heavy in this game.
So Tuel should stay upright when he's in as WSU relies on the run and I want the better quarterback in there against a defense that relies heavily on guarding against the pass. Even San Jose State ran all over UCLA. So, with that, I say thank you Marshall as all Coug fans should. If Washington State makes it to a bowl this year, I owe you a drink. Because, in spite of what I thought when I first learned Tuel was injured, you've been a hell of a quarterback.
Last Week: 4-1 Overall: 37-5
I really think this game shows Cal is much worse than we thought. In fairness though it is against Oregon.
Oregon 51, California 24
As bad as Arizona is, Oregon State is even worse. No run game and one good receiver. Yikes.
Arizona 31, Oregon State 17
Remember when I said Utah was good? Yeah, forget about that.
Arizona State 37, Utah 10
Wow, Colorado can't catch a break.
Stanford 50, Colorado 17
This one, once again, is tough. Assuming Tuel is playing, WSU is in really good shape. And their defense is much better than last year when they coughed up almost 500 yards on the ground. So a defense that is much better defending against the run versus one that still can't decide who their quarterback is? I think the Cougs can pull out a victory here and be well on their way to a bowl.
Washington State 35, UCLA 21
Obscure Pick of the Week: It's an all Washington match-up!
Pacific Lutheran 31, Whitworth 20
Dunderhead of the Week: My back, which absolutely gave up when moving my fiancé into a new apartment with some friends. Explanation: I work in Centralia, she works in Bellevue, no reason to live together in, say, Lakewood. And while moving her in, my back just gave out about half way through. But the job needed to get done. Ice, and plenty of it, has been used.
And, of course, John Buccigross.
+++++++sponsored by Greg Davis Sports Photography+++++++++
The 2011-12 athletic season is here and you know what that means It's time for a whole new season of Cougar Athletics! Football, soccer and volleyball, just to name a few, are playing their 2011 seasons. If you need "game action" photographs for your newspaper, magazine, web site, blog, etc., then Greg Davis Sports Photography should be your choice for all things "Cougar" and "Pac-10 Conference"! Coverage for specific athletes or upcoming events is also available. Check out the images from games, practices and events from last season, and be sure to come back often for uploads from all of this season's action.