DON'T EXPECT WHOLESALE lineup changes, and don't expect the Cougs to put this season in the rearview mirror and start looking toward next year. The best players are going to play. That was the message Bill Doba delivered Tuesday in a conference call when asked if he would play more youth and sit seniors in order to get a head start on 2008. "No. We want to win," said Doba.
The concept, when or if to start playing youth -- especially junior quarterback Gary Rogers -- in this seemingly tanked season raises a number of points. How effective is such a strategy? When is the right time to look past the current season and start playing for next year? Or is there ever a right time to jettison your best chances at winning right now? If so, at what cost?
The debate on the subject has been increasing in cyberspace and other circles since last week's crushing loss to Oregon. At 2-5 and with five games remaining, Doba pointed out first that there are already freshmen playing who the staff would have preferred to redshirt but were unable to due to a lack of depth.
He then made clear he's not conceding the '07 season.
"I think we've played as many young kids as we need to and I'm not going to dump these seniors and start building for next year," said Doba. "That wouldn't be fair. Some of these guys have been here five years and they've paid the price and I'm going to do everything I can to try and help them have as much success as possible."
If you were to sit veterans, at a cost of presumably decreasing your chances to win games the rest of this season, is there a sure-fire benefit that will be realized next season? Maybe, maybe not.
THERE'S ONE OTHER point, one not to be discounted -- the time cherished axiom of the best players playing. Such a move would fly in the face of that.
A coach would, in effect, be telling guys that although they earned their spot in the staff's eyes, despite the fact they're the best player on the field at their position, they're going to share time, or sit, because he needs other guys to get experience for next year.
Thanks for busting your tail every day. Thanks for proving you're the best man for the job. Thanks for earning the starting spot. But take a seat.
That just doesn't work.
IN THE END, it's all about whether you win or lose. Opinions are formed, praise is given and criticism is dispensed all because of that bottom line.
There are still points that can be argued on the other side.
One is that the season is all but lost, and the Cougar offense can't get much worse. So why not invest some Pac-10 experience into the guy who is the heir apparent?
Maybe marked improvement would be realized on a player or two otherwise not seen if he only went through spring ball. Ultimately, however, all those arguments seem moot. Doba made it clear he will play to win. Each and every game.
"We had a good workout and team meeting (on Sunday). There are five games left, you know, and they can still make a difference in each other's lives," said Doba.
INTEREST IN WSU FOOTBALL remains high according to ticket sales data.
Washington State sold more combined football season tickets and sports passes this year than any other in school history. WSU has sold a total of 25,526 (13,993 season tickets and 11,533 sports passes), surpassing the previous high of 25,440 during the 2004-05 school year, when the Cougs were coming of three straight 10-win seasons.
Three home games remain, with tickets available online here or by phone at 1-800-GO-COUGS.
THE BYE WEEK, injury-wise, comes at the right time, said Doba. Star wide receiver Brandon Gibson has an extra week to let his injured heel rest, starting corner Devin Giles can do likewise on his shoulder plus there's the usual assortment of mid-season player ailments, all of which will benefit from the week off.
Micah Hannam's availability is unknown and might not be settled until late next week. Originally thought to be a broken leg against Oregon, the Cougs' starting right tackle has a leg contusion. Strong safety Alfonso Jackson suffered his second concussion in two weeks, and his first game back since sustaining the same injury against Arizona.
"We're beat up, I think, emotionally, mentally and physically," said Doba.
Washington State will practice Thursday and Friday, rest over the weekend, and then pick it back up on Monday, getting in one extra day during the UCLA week in the process.