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Minnesota Football: Getting to Know Washington State Cougars

Washington State v Arizona State Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Perhaps we can remember that next week the Gophers will be playing in a bowl game. The Holiday Bowl is still going to occur and the Gophers are still going to participate. The opponent is the Washington State Pirates Cougars. I’d like to take a little bit of time to get to know WSU.

Just the Facts

School: Washington State University, formerly called Agricultural College, Experiment Station and School of Science of the State of Washington

Location: Pulman, WA. Which is about 4.5 hours from Seattle on the eastern edge of the state. Population is approximately 30,000 which is roughly half the size of Iowa City.

Mascot: Cougars, specifically Butch T. Cougar...he’s no Goldy

Head Coach: Mike Leech, that’s important because he’s a bit unique

All Time Head-to-Head Record: 2-3, last played in 1988 with the Gophers losing 9-41 at home.

SBN Site: Coug Center

Interesting Tid-Bits

Notable Alumni

Interesting that the Cougars have a number of high profile former quarterbacks who played for WSU. Drew Bledsoe, Mark Rypien, Ryan Leaf and Timm Rosenbach are all notable names.

  • Paul Allen - co-founder of Microsoft was a student but dropped out
  • Phillip Abelson - "father of the nuclear fueled submarine" and member of the Manahattan Project
  • Drew Bledsoe - former NFL Quarterback who was Wally Pipp’d by Tom Brady
  • Craig Ehlo - better known for being the defender on one of Michael Jordan’s signature NBA Playoff shots.
  • Jack Elway - John’s father
  • Gary Larsen - creator of Far Side cartoon
  • Keith Millard - former Viking’s All-Pro defensive tackle and infamous Hardee’s drivethrough flee-er.
  • Edward Murrow - "father of television news broadcasting"
  • Klay Thompson - Golden State shooting guard and son of former Gopher Mychal Thompson.
  • Bill Nye - the science guy!

They produce cheese at WSU. The Washington State University University Creamery produces approximately 250,000 cans of Cougar Cheese annually. In fact at WSU they created a method to store cheese in tin, take that Wisconsin!


I’ll steal this from Sports on Earth. They graded each of the Pac-12 teams, giving WSU a B+ grade. But I think this gives a solid recap of their season.

Washington State (8-4): B+. Two factors hurt this grade: an opening loss to Eastern Washington, an FCS team, and another blowout loss to Washington. It's the second year in a row that the Cougars started a season by losing to an FCS opponent, and the second year in a row they got run off the field in the Apple Cup. Still, the season needs proper perspective: Washington State won nine games last year, and it has won eight games this year with the Holiday Bowl still left. Before 2015, it hadn't won more than six games in a season since 2003. Mike Leach's Air Raid offense has taken flight, along with improved play in the trenches. The result is three bowls in four years after a nine-year drought. The Cougars beat Oregon for the second year in a row and dominated Stanford, and while their list of marquee wins is short, they were still alive for the Pac-12 championship entering the last week of the regular season. It's hardly been a flawless season, but this absolutely adds up to another success for Leach.

Key Players on Offense

  • OG - consensus All-American guard. Notable that he was a backup on last year’s team and blossomed to become an NFL prospect
  • WR - Gabe Marks - back-to-back All-Pac 12 honors. Second in Pac 12 with 85 receptions, 13 of which were touchdowns.
  • QB - Luke Falk - second team All-Pac 12. Second in passing yardage per game, 37 touchdowns and 10 interceptions on the season.

Key Players on Defense

  • DB - Shalom Luani - 1st team All-Pac 12, 4 picks and 9 passes defended this season
  • DL - Hercules Mata’afa - 2nd team All-Pac 12, 12.5 TFLs
  • LB - Peyton Pelluer - 7th in Pac 12 in tackles and was honorable mention All-Pac 12

Offensively this is a very good football team, particularly dangerous through the air. A very good receiving corp, a talented quarterback and a good offensive line. We all know how the Gopher’s secondary depth is going to be for this game, and with a talented passing offense this could get ugly.

But here are the S&P rankings for both teams playing in the Holiday Bowl.

Overall Offensive S&P Ranks Defensive S&P Rank
Rank Overall Pass Run Overall Pass Run
Washington State 33rd 15th 25th 41st 63rd 104th 41st
Minnesota 37th 73rd 59th 99th 23rd 26th 23rd

I do like this matchup, particularly if the Gopher secondary were at full strength.  But we will actually preview the game at another day.  A couple of universities enjoying some recent successes in the 8-win range and looking for more with a bowl win.