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Are The Cougs Legit?

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PULLMAN, Wash. -

A new wind is blowing through the Palouse this fall. It's the same coach, but a different feeling. Last year Mike Leach in Pullman brought hype with disappointment, but this season there's something different.

The Cougars are 3-1 with three straight wins for the first time since 2006. Their last win was a shutout, something WSU hasn't done in ten years. Those numbers make it look like the Cougars are the best they've been in a decade, but the question that comes up is "are the Cougars finally a legitimate bowl team?"

At this point last year, WSU was 2-2 fresh off a depressing loss to Colorado, where they basically handed the win to the Buffaloes. This year though, it's a winning record at 3-1, with two of those wins essentially coming against FCS schools. Southern Utah plays in the Big Sky and Idaho may as well be there, at least for this season.

Still that 3-1 mark stands out. It's the same total they had in 2011, when WSU started the season 3-1, only to lose seven of their next eight. That very well may be the case again this year. The only thing that keeps one from jumping to that conclusion, though, is USC.

WSU beat USC for the first time since 2002. It wasn't just a win though, but a win in the Coliseum, something any program has struggled to do over the last decade. Yes, this isn't a national title contending USC team, but it's still a Pac-12 win. The Trojans also have Marquise Lee and one of the top defenses in the conference.

This USC win doesn't make the Cougars a legitimate contender, but it at least keeps them in the conversation of being a bowl team. They already have one more win than most people thought they'd have at this time, and that one win may prove to be the difference this year.

However, to really answer the question of how legit Washington State is in 2013, look no further than this Saturday. A top five ranking says it all, but on top of that the Stanford Cardinal showed who they were last week against Arizona State. Stanford posted 29 straight points on the Sun Devils on the way to a 42-28.

The Stanford Cardinal will show what Washington State is really made of. Stanford has a top ranked defense coupled with a competent offense, unlike USC. They've shown they can score points and stop teams.

If the Cougars win, it not only cements them as a bowl contender, but it gains national attention. If they get blown out, then the entire west side of the state -- and even the nation for that matter -- will just assume this is the same ol' Cougar team.

There aren't any moral victories for Coach Leach, but the beauty of this game is that Washington State doesn't even need to win to show that they belong. A win would be historic, but to figuratively punch Stanford back after Washington State gets punched will say a lot. And WSU will get punched. Staying with the Cardinal every step of the way Saturday will show who this team really is in 2013.

Cougar fan or not, you got to admit the one thing they have going for them right now is confidence and they won't be looking past this week's opponent.

I asked Mike Leach Monday if he believes in momentum and he does. He was quick to point out though that momentum is often times just a mindset. It's making the decision that we're going to build off of what happens or let it work against us.

That will be the test on Saturday. The Cougars are coming into CenturyLink with plenty of momentum: three straight wins, the first shutout of the Leach era, and 90 points scored in the last two games alone. At some point on Saturday though, that momentum will be stopped. Stanford will score, Stanford will take the lead, and Stanford will appear to be dominant. The question is how will Washington State respond?

The answer to that question may very well answer who this Washington State team really is in 2013.

 

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