ONE OF THE flash points this year for Cougar fans, along with a 3-5 record, has been the lack of known verbal commitments for Washington State's 2008 class. Bill Doba in his Tuesday morning press conference talked Cal, but he also talked recruiting, saying successes and challenges in that arena are due to a combination of factors -- and one of them is the internet, and how it affects recruits.
Prior to the season starting, Doba wasn't as concerned by a lack of early verbals but here at the close of October, it is an issue.
"Well, it's a little bit of both. Sure, I'm concerned some. And because of the internet (message boards and blogs) and all the negative stuff, we've got some kids that we have offered and that I think want to commit but they want to wait and see if the internet is going to fire me," said Doba. "And then we want to wait and see what's going to happen during (a recruit's senior) season.
"And we're very, very cautious about offering -- only if we're definitely sure...I'd like to know more about the kid than just to see a videotape and talk to a coach. There are some exceptions -- you see a tremendous kid and you know the coach there -- but I'd like to at least be able look them in the eye and talk to them before we make those offers."
Doba also cited a drawback being currently experienced by some schools who landed a bunch of early commitments -- and are having trouble holding onto them.
"You can get like Nebraska where you've got everybody committed and now they're having a (bad) season and everybody's de-committing. And that doesn't look good either," said Doba.
A strong argument can be made that an early signing period, like the one used in basketball, would pay huge dividends for schools like Washington State. Another option, Doba said, would be to change the current rules.
"I wish there was some way we could say that you can't offer a kid until at least October of his senior year. Let the kid be a high school player and not worry about recruiting and all that kind of stuff," said Doba.
DOBA DOES MAKE a rock-solid point: how do the most negative and shrill words by fans on the message boards and blogs help the program they support and cheer on? A large amount of negative posts can't help but to affect recruits -- negatively.
Jim Sterk has said nothing is going to be decided until after the season, so does it do good or harm to talk about it in-depth now?
Valid arguments, to be sure, and most people have a saturation point where they get tired of discussing a topic -- any topic.
On the other hand, the Cougs have endured three straight bowl-less seasons. They sit at 3-5 this year and are in danger of running that streak to four consecutive years of staying home for the holidays.
Any coach in America should expect to receive a healthy dose of criticism in such circumstances.
It's also worth noting virtually every reporter in the mainstream media covering the Cougs has mentioned -- in varying degree -- Doba being on the hot seat. After each article is published in the newspaper(s), the message board and blog traffic on the subject, not unexpectedly, rises sharply. Welcome to the dot-com version of the chicken and egg story.
The playing field has also changed. The reality is a football coach works in an industry where the internet has a huge, multi-faceted presence -- and the recruits schools court are more tech savvy than ever before. And Washington State isn't exactly the only school whose fans are on the internet.
Take a look around at some of the message boards and blogs devoted to schools going through tough stretches this football season and it becomes crystal clear -- Washington State is not in a unique situation. In fact, the case can be made Washington State sees less criticism than many of it's contemporaries. For those less dot-com oriented, the radio dial offers perspective.
Washington coach Tyrone Willingham is being eviscerated 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, on KJR Sports Radio. The key point here is the heat Doba is feeling is a fraction of what Willingham -- and others in bigger media markets -- feel when things go badly on the field.
ON THE SUBJECT OF CAL, Doba said the athletic line of the Bears makes blitzing -- where Washington State has found much of it's success on defense -- a risky proposition. Indeed, Cal is tied for No. 8 in the nation in giving up the fewest sacks allowed.
"They do a lot of slide protection and... you have to get an overload if you can," said Doba. "And when you do that, you weaken the other side of the line and then they can run from different formations.
"We'll have to come up with something a little different and tweak what we do. You can't throw in a whole new package because you don't have enough time to teach it but..their athleticism on the line makes it difficult to beat somebody one on one.
Another match up challenge with the Bears is their team speed, said Doba. Everyone knows about DeSean Jackson, and receiver mates Robert Jordan and Lavelle Hawkins. But the Cal defense has more speed than most, and running back Justin Forsett is another who has caught Doba's eye.
"They have great speed. Coach Tedford does a great job with their offense," said Doba. "...Justin Forsett is as good as any... back in our conference."
For related recruiting articles from CF.C, see Sterk plows new ground in talking with fans and The state of recruiting