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WSU Cougars 

by Howie Stalwick & r & NATIONAL RANKING: Sports Illustrated ranks WSU 38th out of 119 teams in NCAA Division I-A.

PRESEASON POLL: Media pick the Cougars to finish sixth in the Pacific-10 Conference.

GOOD NEWS: Nasty middle linebacker Will Derting, who basically played with one arm last season due to a broken wrist, says his surgically repaired wrist is pain-free (though he's been limited in practice by a hamstring injury). Running back Jerome Harrison was a big-time player in the second half of last season. Wide receiver Jason Hill set a school record with 12 touchdown catches last year, and he looks even better this fall. Troy Bieneman is one of the best pass-catching tight ends in the country. Kyle Basler's punts hang in the air longer than autumn mist.

BAD NEWS: Quarterbacks Josh Swogger and Alex Brink have given no indication they will ever be standouts, and their drawn-out battle for the starting job will remain a distraction for weeks to come. The secondary must force-feed three new starters into the mayhem that is the pass-happy Pac-10. The offensive line and kickers are unproven. A promising young defensive line must live up to its potential and apply heavy pressure to quarterbacks to help out the secondary. It remains to be seen if the Cougars are playing an uncommonly high number of true freshmen because the youngsters are so good or because depth is so lacking.

2004 RECORD: 5-6 overall, 3-5 Pac-10 (seventh)

2005 OPENER: At home vs. Idaho on Thursday, Sept. 1, at 7 pm. (FSN cable television, KXLY 920 radio and other Cougar network affiliates)

HOME FIELD: Martin Stadium (35,117 capacity)


HEAD COACH: Bill Doba (third season; 15-9 career, all at WSU)

COACH SEZ: "Our goal is a winning season and a bowl game."

HOWIE PREDIX: A soft early schedule will help the Cougars open 6-0, but then they'll lose to Cal, USC, Arizona State and Oregon before thumping Washington in Seattle. Mark down the Cougs for a fifth-place finish in the Pac-10, a loss in the Las Vegas Bowl and a 7-5 final record.

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