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Win over Utah would signify real progress for Cougs

By Jim Moore

The Cougars can become bowl-eligible if they beat Utah on Saturday at Martin Stadium. Kickoff is at 12:30 p.m.

You can watch the game on the Pac-12 Network with Kevin Calabro on the call, or you can listen to it on 710 ESPN Seattle with Bud Nameck, Bob Robertson and Shawn McWashington in the booth and our own Jessamyn McIntyre on the sidelines. Pregame coverage starts at 10:30 a.m.

I'll be doing neither. After a season full of conflicts with my kids' football games, I'll be at Martin Stadium with my wife and 9-year-olds while our dog waits for us to return in the truck. For the listener who asked, no, I won't be taking Willie anywhere near the owl in Mike Leach's backyard.

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At 5-5 heading into Saturday's game against Utah, Mike Leach's Cougars could become bowl eligible with a win over the Utes. (AP)
As you recall – or maybe you don't – last year the Cougars' head coach and I had an awkward exchange on the air. We were 2-9 at the time and coming off a blowout loss at Arizona State.

I was trying to get at the reasons why a season of higher expectations had gone so horribly south. I asked a question along the lines of: "Do you think all of your players would run through a wall for you?"

I thought we had enough talent to be better than 2-9, so I wondered if it had more to do with players not buying in.

Whether it was that question or probing questions in previous weeks that added up to what happened next, I don't know, but Leach launched into me and basically said he didn't care what I thought about anything.

Which is fine. Sometimes I don't even care what I think about anything. Nor does anyone else. But after he finished his pretty thorough tongue lashing, I think there was a really, really awkward silence that I finally ended by saying, "I guess my dog won't be staying at your house." Earlier in the year we had talked about his kids taking care of Willie when I was in Pullman at a Cougars game.

Leach replied that he was going to "sic" that owl on my dog.

Bottom line, I had a hard time believing that we were so bad in Leach's first year. I thought we had just hired a rock-star coach, and rock-star coaches turn things around immediately.

Well, I was wrong about that. It takes time. And look at the job Leach has done this year. We're still not ready to compete with Oregon and Stanford, but you know what? We at least look like we can play with them a little bit. And the mediocre teams? We can more than hold our own with them and even beat them half of the time.

The trending arrows for the program are pointing up. We're 5-5. I don't put much stock into wins over Southern Utah and Idaho. And you can diminish the win over Cal if you want, but it was still a Pac-12 win on the road. The win over USC? OK, maybe we can thank Lane Kiffin for that one, but still, it came on the road against a team with supposedly superior players.

But last week's 24-17 win at Arizona was legit in every way. We were 12-point underdogs. I even look at the 31-24 loss at Auburn in the season opener as encouraging given the Tigers' current top-10 ranking.

Now we face a Utah team missing its starting quarterback, Travis Wilson, who is out with a concussion. The Utes have lost five in a row since beating Stanford. I'm still wary of the Utes. They lost to Arizona State 20-19 two weeks ago while we were absolutely flattened by the Sun Devils on Halloween.

If the Cougs prevail, it will be a tough one that goes down to the final minutes. Utah is trying to get to a bowl game, too. The Utes are physical up front and lead the Pac-12 in sacks.

I've got an idea: Because there are so many bowl-eligible teams with six wins, why not beat Utah and the Huskies to get to seven wins and make double-dog sure that we're invited to a bowl game.

The way I have it mapped out, the Huskies are going to lose to the Beavers, too. In this scenario, we'll finish 7-5 and go bowling; the Dawgs will finish 6-6 and stay home while facing a holiday filled with Husky fans howling about Coach Sark.

The thought of it playing out like this would certainly put extra emphasis on "tis the season to be jolly."

Prediction: Washington State 38, Utah 35 (OT)
Season record against the spread: 5-5

The Go 2 Guy also writes for his website, jimmoorethego2guy@yahoo.com, and kitsapsun.com. You can reach Jim at jimmoorethego2guy@yahoo.com and follow him on Twitter @cougsgo.

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