Washington State saw its first sellout crowd in decades last Saturday. (Photo: SWX)
Football fans in the Inland Northwest got a healthy dose of reality over the weekend. Their beloved Seahawks lost their season opener, less than 24 hours after Washington State barely eked out a win against Eastern. The results aren't much different than any other fall football season here. Except for one small difference.
This year there was hope.
Let's start with the Seahawks. Pete Carroll continues to his "throw stuff up against the wall and see if something sticks" strategy, which sometimes works (see: Marshawn Lynch, Mike Williams), but oftentimes flops (see: Terrell Owens, Tarvaris Jackson, Kellen Winslow, Antonio Bryant). But it seemed Petey hit paydirt when the front office nabbed Wisconsin QB Russell Wilson with a third round pick in the draft, and promptly helped the Seahawks go a perfect 4-0 in the preseason. That was enough for many ‘Hawk fans, looking for any glimmer of hope, to jump on the bandwagon and start believing the hype again. NFC West title, here we come!
Meanwhile, on the Palouse…
Mike Leach arrived at Washington State amid much fanfare. If he could build a proven winner in Lubbock, Texas in a tough Big 12 conference against the likes of Texas and Texas A&M, why not Pullman and the Pac-12? Besides that, Leach seems like a good fit for the Palouse… wildcard head coach, marches to the beat of his own drum, and doesn't care what others think. What's not to like?
The problem, of course, with both teams is that this season was built almost purely on hype and speculation.
We forget that the Seahawks haven't had a winning season since 2007. The roster makeover since Carroll came calling has been dramatic, with mixed results. While there has been progress (back-to-back 7-9 seasons after 5-11 and 4-12 campaigns pre-Carroll), there has been nothing to suggest that Seattle would surge to the top of the division and knock off the Niners.
Or so you would think.
When Wilson started tearing up second-string defenses in the preseason, Seahawk fans started drinking the Action Green-colored Kool-Aid. People were drafting him as a quarterback for their fantasy football teams. Which is fitting, really, since what was going on in the preseason was rooted deeply in fantasy and far from reality.
We forget that the Cougars have been the doormat of the Pacific 12 (and 10) for the better half of this century. Look at WSU's record in each of the last four years:
4-8 (2-7 in Conference) 2-10 (1-8) 1-11 (0-9) 2-11 (1-8)
Keep in mind, it can take years and years for a head coach to turn around a college football program. There is no free agency. There are no trades. There is no minor league system. The last time I checked, Mike Leach is not a 5-star quarterback or a runningback who can run a sub-4.0 40 yard dash. If the Cougars are going to have sustainable success, there's a very good chance it's not going to happen overnight.
Ironically, Pete Carroll is a good illustration of staying the course in college football. His touted USC Trojans went 2-5 to start the Carroll Era in 2001. He had taken over a program that was the only Pac-10 team not to be ranked in the top-10 at any point in the 1990's. UCLA, Arizona State, Arizona, Cal, Stanford, Oregon, Oregon State, and yes, Washington State and Washington, ALL were one-hit wonders in the 90's, much like Us3, Joan Osborne, and the Proclaimers. All, that is, except for USC. The rest is history, where Carroll turned USC into a powerhouse.
Plain and simple, Washington State and Seattle are selling on hype right now. Bill Moos (director of athletics at WSU) has a small window of opportunity to capitalize on Leach-mania, sell tickets and build new bright and shiny things for Washington State athletics. Similarly, Pete Carroll is on the hot seat in Seattle, and needs his team to believe right now that it can win. He is going to talk up his team and prop up his rookie quarterback when he's with the media, and the fans are going to understandably get caught up in the emotion.
The point is, hype can be a funny thing. Some of the best seasons in sports have been the unlikely ones. A Bay Area sports fan could easily point to the Oakland A's playoff run this season, after their Moneyball GM had apparently blown up the roster even before the season started. But here they sit, right at the top of the AL Wild Card. Same goes for the San Francisco 49ers last season, when Jim Harbaugh took over and Niner fans were going wild over the thought of their team tanking the season and drafting Andrew Luck for a Harbaugh-Luck Stanford reunion. The team clearly didn't get the memo, going all the way to the NFC Championship Game before losing to the eventual Super Bowl Champs on a muffed punt return.
Cougar fans, your team is 1-1. Your team got blown out at BYU, and then barely beat a Big Sky team on your home field in front of a sellout crowd.
Seahawk fans, your 0-1 and lost to a very mediocre Arizona Cardinal team. Your rookie QB played like a rookie QB.
But if you're a fan of either team, now's the time your loyalty is going to be tested. Now's the time people are going to be dumping on your team. Nobody, frankly, is going to be talking about the Seahawks or Cougars on the national scene this week. And that's okay, isn't it? Hype is just that. Hype. Your teams may be worse than you thought before the season started, but now they're probably better than everyone else is saying. Just go with it. And enjoy the ride.
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Football fans in the Inland Northwest got a healthy dose of reality over the weekend. Their beloved Seahawks lost their season opener and Washington State barely eked out a win against Eastern.More >>
Football fans in the Inland Northwest got a healthy dose of reality over the weekend. Their beloved Seahawks lost their season opener and Washington State barely eked out a win against Eastern. More >>