Looking for a Pac-12 team? Get in step with Washington State before the '13 season. (William Mancebo/Getty Images)
By Martin Rickman
Throughout the preseason, Campus Union is providing a service: It will present one team from each of the six BCS automatic-qualifying conferences to root for in 2013. There is no scientific formula to these selections, but they do take into account some mix of watchability, intrigue, oddity and, of course, fun. The series continues with the Pac-12 and Washington State.
It's a funny thing to root for a team that is perennially, let's say, not so successful. There is no bandwagon to speak of and few casual fans (and most of those were given shirts when they were young, liked the team's colors or had an uncle who went there). The community rallies behind successes and failures alike. In the Pac-12, it seems as though just about every team gets its shot at a great run: Oregon State will find a way to surprise; UCLA is up and then down; Arizona and Arizona State intermittently make people forget about the bad times. But outside of a three-year stretch from 2001-03, Washington State is always Washington State.
Since World War II, the Cougars have only had six coaches with tenures of five years or longer. The team hasn't made a bowl game since the 2003 season.
So why bother cheering for Washington State when there are so many other exciting and worthwhile programs in the Pac-12? As Brian Floyd, managing editor of CougCenter and SB Nation explained, “You hop on this Wazzu bandwagon for the experience. There will be lows -- and boy are they low -- but the highs are SUPER FUN when they come around."
Sounds like Cleveland. And since Wazzu is the Cleveland of the Pac-12, I'm going to encourage adopting it as a Pac-12 rooting interest, along with a few other choice reasons.
There is a group of Washington State fans who started bringing a flag to College GameDay back in 2002, and beginning in 2003, they haven't missed a Saturday since. That's pushing 10 years of dedicated flag waving, early in the morning, for a team that hasn't made a bowl essentially since the tradition began. Is it a curse, or just a fun fan thing? It started as a way to get the WSU logo on TV and now has become a full-fledged alumni effort. From the The Oklahoman:
“What started as a simple showing of school pride and spirit quickly turned in to a campaign to get ESPN to come to WSU back in 2003 when the football team was highly ranked,” [current Oklahoma director of corporate engagement Cameron] McCoy said. “Now, it is a true showing of school pride and spirit. This is an organized grass-roots effort by the alums and fans of Washington State University.”
I have friends who look for the Washington State flag the second they turn on GameDay each week. So it's working.
The cheerleaders are athletes, too
It brings me great sadness I will never in my life do anything remotely as awesome as that.
Sailing with Mike Leach
There aren't many more dynamic and outright interesting coaches in college football than Air Raid disciple Leach. He works at his own speed, thinks in his own plane of existence and has interests that most coaches don't have, or at the very least don't share. He has written a book about pirates, and now he's writing a book about Geronimo. Because why wouldn't he?
Leach is the kind of coach who hates the media and realizes he needs the media at the same time, so he'll skip opening statements entirely, toss out clichés and occasionally drop extremely personal nuggets. He's also a big Star Trek fan:
One time, when he was the coach at Texas Tech, Mike Jones (yes, that Mike Jones) visited the team:
It's still yet to be seen whether Leach can bring the Cougars back to that level of play they maintained from 2001-03 under Mike Price (and then Bill Doba). Still, with Leach running the show, it'll certainly be worth paying attention to WSU.
The Apple Cup
When Washington and Washington State play, it's for the Apple Cup. There have been 105 meetings between the rivals in total, including the times they played for the Governor's Trophy before it was renamed. Washington typically dominates, boasting a record of 67-32-6. But the Cougars took it in 2012, winning 31-28 in overtime, something Wazzu fans won't soon forget:
If only the trophy was filled with actual apples. Or apple juice. Or Apple Jacks. Or made by Apple.
The school had an actual cougar as a mascot for a while
For 51 years, Washington State had an actual cougar for a mascot, which isn't dangerous at all. His name was Butch. Now there is still a Butch, but Butch is really a human wearing a furry Cougar costume.
WSU knows how to have a good time
There was that instance when Washington State students and alums drank all the airplane bottles on a flight to Vegas.
There was also the Fireball chugging incident.
(We at Campus Union do not condone the act of drinking heavily to escape sports reality.)
It will take a lot of luck and a transformed program to get Wazzu bowl eligible again, but if and when that happens, the secluded, wooded campus will embrace it as if the team won a championship. When the highs are so rare, they mean a lot more. And Washington State deserves to have a few special moments come its way.