November 01, 2016

Washington State is bowl-eligible for the third time in coach Mike Leach's five years at the helm, but it's no longer a big deal for the No. 25 Cougars.

''Right now we're 0-0 and we've got to win this week against Arizona,'' linebacker Isaac Dotson said.

How soon people forget that Washington State went a decade without playing in a bowl game prior to Leach's arrival.

''I thought we'd go to a bowl game every year here,'' Leach said.

After all, his teams at Texas Tech never had a losing season and never missed a bowl game.

But Washington State, which plays in the rugged Pac-12, has not normally taken bowl games for granted. The Cougars have gone to only 12 in their history.

Quarterback Luke Falk said routinely qualifying for bowl games is part of a culture change that current players wanted to bring to Washington State.

''Is it cool to go to back-to-back bowls?'' Falk said. ''Yeah, we celebrated Sunday morning.''

But then their attention turned to Saturday's game against Arizona, said Falk, who also dismissed reports that he intends to enter the NFL draft after this season. ''If I had to make a decision right now, I'd say I'm definitely staying,'' said Falk, a junior.

For a time last weekend it looked like Washington State wasn't going to qualify for a bowl this soon. The Cougars fell behind 24-6 in the first half at downtrodden Oregon State.

The Cougars came back to win 35-31, behind 415 passing yards and five touchdowns by Falk.

''They just played harder than we did,'' Falk said. ''We needed to get hit in the face, smacked in the mouth, to wake us up.''

Washington State (6-2, 5-0) won its sixth game in a row and remained even with No. 4 Washington (8-0, 5-0) as the only teams to go unbeaten in Pac-12 play so far. They play on Nov. 25 in Pullman.

The comeback win lifted the Cougars into the Top 25 for the first time this season.

''It doesn't change our goal at all,'' Falk said. ''We're all about trying to improve.''

Washington State last appeared in the poll in 2015, when the Cougars entered the rankings in Week 11 following a road win at UCLA, and stayed in the Top 25 for two weeks.

The Cougars have beaten one ranked team this year, then-No. 15 Stanford. Still left to play are No. 21 Colorado in Boulder in three weeks and the rival Huskies.

Receiver Robert Lewis said there's little chance the Cougars will get over-confident despite this spate of success. The players remember their opening two games of the season, when they were upset at home by FCS Eastern Washington and then lost at No. 24 Boise State.

Lewis said the team remains focused on its longtime goal of returning to the Rose Bowl for the first time since 2002.

''That was the plan,'' Lewis said. ''To see it within reach is great.''

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