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Cougars living out a worst-case scenario

October 18, 2008|David Wharton | Times Staff Writer

At first glance, the point spread might seem outlandish, USC heading into Washington State favored to win by more than six touchdowns.

But consider that roughly halfway through the season, the Cougars have already surrendered 63 or more points in three of their six losses.

At this stage, it seems reasonable to ask: Are they the worst team in the history of the Pacific 10 Conference?

"The program has hit some hard times," first-year Coach Paul Wulff said. "It's just an overall culture that kind of went sideways."

Subpar recruiting by the previous regime left Washington State with scant talent, and injuries have further thinned the ranks. The offense could be missing as many as five starters for today's game, including leading rusher Dwight Tardy.

So many quarterbacks have gone down that Wulff recently invited students to an open audition, looking for a warm body to run the scout team.

"We're regrouping from a lower level," he said.

How low?

The only victory in the Cougars' 1-6 start came against Portland State, a lower-division team that also lost to Sacramento State.

The closest they have come to winning a conference game was a 28-3 defeat at UCLA. They lost 66-3 against California, 63-14 against Oregon and 66-13 at Oregon State.

Even Washington, winless this season, has been competitive enough to play Stanford and ninth-ranked Brigham Young within a touchdown.

But Washington State still has a ways to fall before reaching the depths of futility exhibited by Oregon State from 1975 through 1987, a harrowing stretch that began shortly before the Pac-10 expanded from eight teams with the addition of the Arizona schools.

The Beavers were 10-86-2 in conference play over those years. At their statistical worst in 1981, they lost to conference foes by an average score of 47-10.

So far this season, the average score for Washington State is 56-8.

USC Coach Pete Carroll and his players have talked all week about lessons they learned from upset losses to Oregon State and last season's mega-underdog, Stanford. They say that point spreads and statistics mean nothing when game time comes around.

"I try not to think about that," kicker David Buehler said. "But, I mean, teams have scored a lot of points on them."


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