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Brinksmanship 

by HOWIE STALWICK & r & & r & COLLEGE FOOTBALL PREVIEW Cougar fans value bowl wins over passing records, which is why quarterback Alex Brink is still on a mission & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & A & lt;/span & lex Brink is on the verge of breaking virtually every career passing record in Washington State history. Yards, touchdowns, attempts, completions -- you name it, and Brink should break them if his senior year holds true to form.





"To me, he's a miniature Peyton Manning," Cougar wide receiver Michael Bumpus says. "I call him that all the time. He just knows so much about the game."





And yet few Cougar fans regard Brink in the same glorious light cast on previous WSU quarterback standouts like Ryan Leaf, Drew Bledsoe, Jack Thompson, Mark Rypien and Jason Gesser. When The Sporting News recently listed three "underappreciated" players in college football, the first name mentioned was that of Brink.





"I'd say that's right on," Cougar linebacker Chris Baltzer says.





"I'd agree with it totally," says WSU quarterbacks coach Timm Rosenbach.





Brink modestly dodges the subject. However, Brink agrees with Baltzer and Rosenbach that WSU's 12-16 record with Brink as the starter has limited the love he receives from the Cougar faithful.





"It's the wins and losses," Rosenbach says. "But a team wins and loses football games."





"The quarterback gets all the glory," Baltzer points out, "but he gets all the blame, too."





It was Brink's misfortune to take over at quarterback after the Cougars lost most of the key contributors to the greatest run in school history -- three consecutive 10-win seasons and bowl appearances. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound Brink has started since midway through his redshirt freshman season and has gaudy career passing totals of 7,095 yards and 50 touchdowns. But some fans seem more focused on his occasional failings.





"I'm way beyond worrying about what people think," Brink says. "I chose to play this position, and I know what comes with it.





"There's no guarantee that people are going to like you, and there's no reason to try to make everybody happy, because it's not going to happen. I'm focused on making myself better and making my team better, and that's all that matters."





Brink, who has periodically been the rare Cougar targeted for boos at home games -- "It's really hard on my mom," he says -- figures a bowl appearance last year would have won over plenty of fans. Brink led WSU to a 6-3 start and No. 25 national ranking, but the Cougars lost their remaining three games -- including the season finale at home against struggling Washington -- when one more win would have vaulted them into a bowl.





Brink made the All-Pac-10 second team (and academic first team) and ranked second in the conference with a career-high 2,899 passing yards, but the 0-3 finish left him frustrated.





"We got a little complacent when we got to six wins," Brink says. "I think there was no doubt about that. We got that sixth win and it was like, 'All right, we've made it.'"





Brink's disappointment over WSU's poor finish only increased when he watched on TV a few weeks later as Boise State pulled off its miraculous Fiesta Bowl victory. Brink originally made a verbal commitment to BSU, and he found himself staring at the television and wondering, "What if?"





"It was hard. Really hard," Brink says. "It was, 'What if I'd gone there? What if I'd been playing?'" He's quick to add, however, that "I wouldn't trade the time I've spent here for anything. Obviously, I would have liked to have been more successful as a team. But looking back, I know I made the right choice."





Baltzer, a close friend of Brink's since they starred at Sheldon High School in Eugene, says he was amazed when Brink drew little recruiting interest. Even his hometown Oregon Ducks passed on Brink, who may have been skinny with a so-so arm but who had passed for nearly 4,000 yards as a senior. In addition, Sheldon won the state championship and Brink was the state player of the year.





"There are certain intangibles that you can't teach," Baltzer says. "Brink, I always believed, had them."





Washington State made a late run at Brink (who says "I always wanted to play in the Pac-10") only because Rosenbach was hired by the Cougars. Rosenbach recruited Brink when coaching at Eastern Washington, and the Cougars had an opening for a quarterback after Carl Bonnell transferred to Washington.





While Bonnell has spent most of his time at Washington with clipboard in hand, Brink has been pasting his name all over the Cougar record book while carrying a 3.6 grade point average as he nears his degree in sport management. Still, Bonnell got the best of Brink and the Cougars in last year's Apple Cup, and that's just one more reason why Brink seems genuinely underwhelmed about setting school records.





"Somebody asked me what I thought my legacy would be if it was tied in to those records," Brink says. "I said, 'I think no matter what happens with records, my legacy will be determined by the number of wins we get this year and whether or not we go to a bowl game.'





"It's great to be in the company of those quarterbacks as far as the record books go, but I'd much rather trade 3,000 yards for three bowl games."

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