By TIM BOOTH
AP Sports Writer
SEATTLE (AP) – Rutgers' debut as a member of the Big Ten Conference will likely be Washington State's farewell to Seattle.
The Cougars open the season with their annual game at Seattle's CenturyLink Field on Thursday night, hosting the Scarlet Knights in their first game after leaving the American Athletic Conference to join the Big Ten.
For Washington State, this could be its final "home" game in Seattle. Washington State no longer needs the revenue bump from playing one of its games around its largest alumni base in the Puget Sound region. The new Pac-12 television contract boosted the finances of every school in the conference and athletic director Bill Moos wants to bring all Cougars games back to Pullman, Washington, especially future marquee matchups with Boise State and Wisconsin.
And there is less interest in Seattle. Washington State is expecting a crowd of less than 35,000, which would be the smallest in the 12 seasons that the Cougars have rented out the home of the Seattle Seahawks for a night.
"We got the (Pac-12) TV deal wrapped up, we got the equal distribution of the television money and we put $130 million worth of football facilities in. We're most likely going to play them all back in Pullman," Moos said. "We needed to get some energy in the fan base, we needed to rebrand ourselves. I think it really served its purpose playing over here, but it's kind of run its course."
The Scarlet Knights are coming off a disappointing 6-7 record in their final season in the American and the competition is only getting tougher with their move to the Big Ten.
Things to watch as the Knights and Cougars start the season:
FLING IT: What could be a huge senior season for Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday might get a big start. Halliday threw for nearly 4,600 yards and 34 touchdowns last season. And he gets 2014 started by facing a Rutgers secondary that features two sophomores with three combined starts and a unit that allowed 312 yards passing per game a season ago.
"It is kind of funny how it fell. First game Thursday night we play a team that passes a lot in Washington State. . So I'm excited to go out there and see how we match up against them," Rutgers linebacker Steve Longa said.
SUPER NOVA: Rutgers' Gary Nova will make his 29th career start at quarterback. He made five starts as a freshman, then started every game he's played the past two seasons. Nova begins the season ranked fifth in school history in yards passing and pass attempts and third in touchdown passes with 51.
"You think about college football, there is almost nobody that has started games for four years and he started some his first year," Washington State coach Mike Leach said. "He's been king of the hill there for a long time and I think he is the key to their offensive efforts."
SECONDARY SHAKEUP: The strength of Washington State's defense last season was its secondary, led by safety Deone Bucannon who was a first-round pick of the Arizona Cardinals. But along with Bucannon, the Cougars lost cornerbacks Damante Horton, Nolan Washington and safety Casey Locker. Daquawn Brown returns at cornerback, but the other three spots in the secondary will be filled by players with a combined 12 total starts in their careers. Redshirt freshman safety Darius Lemora will be playing his first career game.
FORGET NEW MEXICO: The Cougars can't wait to erase the memory of the last time they were on the field - against Colorado State in the New Mexico Bowl. Minutes from finishing the season with a winning record and first bowl victory since 2003, Washington State collapsed and saw Colorado State capitalize on mistakes to pull out a stunning 48-45 victory.
START STRONG: Only once since 2005 has Washington State started the season with a victory. That came in 2011 when the Cougars knocked off Idaho State and started 2-0 before losing eight of their final 10 games. Meanwhile, Rutgers has won five of eight openers and with a challenging Big Ten slate to navigate a quick start would help the Knights' bowl hopes.
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