That's according to The Sportings News'
Matt Hayes. He notes that while the Seminoles were losing out on prime time
prospects to LSU and Florida, Penn State to Cal and Tulane, and to
(this is not a typo) South Florida, Ol' Wazzu's "top two prospects may not
even make it," he says, adding, "Defensive lineman Tolifili Liufau
likely is junior college bound, and dynamic running back Chris Bruhn failed to
qualify in 2001 and 2002."
Some folks may read that as being negative. To me, it's a
powerful statement of how far the WSU program has ascended when a nationally
respected columnist for the bible of the true sports fan considers the Cougars
worth considering. Not too long along ago, WSU wasn't on any national radar
screens. Recruiting well or recruiting poorly, no one outside the state of
Washington much cared what the Cougars were doing.
Now The Sporting News is analyzing Cougar recruiting
classes the way they've done for years with the likes of Oklahoma, Texas and
Here's what else Hayes had to say about the Cougars' class fo
2003: "It's hard enough recruiting to Pullman. It's worse when the town's
ambassador escaped to the cosmopolitan beauty of Tuscaloosa, Ala. Plus, half of
new coach Bill Doba's staff hadn't been hired midway through January."
Alas, Matt, we're not too worried. Only two verbal commitments
(Rudy Burgess and Dwayne Wright) were lost after Mike Price left for Bama and
Bruhn looks to be a lock to wrap up his AA degree this spring. Best of all, the
class may be devoid of rating service star power but it's heavy on speed and
athleticism --- the same hallmarks of the classes that helped produce the
Cougars' 10-win seasons in 1997, 2001 and 2002.
HERE'S ANOTHER LITTLE
nugget that shows you how far WSU has scaled the national mountain. In a
December column sizing up the 2003 Pac-10 race, Hayes opined that USC will be in
for tough sledding without "18-year starter" Carson Palmer. He quickly
added, "That's why Washington State will be back in the Rose Bowl next
season. Matt Kegel, Jason Gesser's backup, slipped against the Huskies in the
Apple Cup, but Mike Price says Kegel has as much talent as any quarterback he
has coached and just needs reps."
How notable is that? After 1997, pundits dismissed the Cougars'
Pac-10 title as a fluke. Now, with back-to-back 10-win seasons, including
national championship talk this past year as late as mid-November, a Pac-10
title grants the Cougars the label of "favorite" going into the next
AND SPEAKING OF Sporting
News columnists, I must admit that TSN's Tom Deinhart earned a permanent
soft spot in my heart after the Cougars' Rose Bowl-clinching victory over UCLA.
He wrote that he had voted for Palmer for the Heisman Trophy, but wished in
retrospect that he had penned in Gesser instead.
"The more I thought about it, the more I know I voted for
the wrong Pac-10 quarterback," he said. "Washington State's Jason
Gesser should have been the quarterback clutching the Heisman on Saturday night
in New York. It was Gesser's Cougars who won the Pac-10, not Palmer's Trojans.
Gesser's Cougars even beat Palmer's Trojans. And as far as closing salvos go,
none was more impressive than Gesser's effort vs. UCLA on December 7. He
essentially played on one leg, wearing braces on a right knee and ankle he
sprained two weeks earlier."
Deinhart, by the way, predicted this week that the 2003 Pac-10
race would be a four-team battle among USC, Arizona State, Washington and
If the last eight seasons are any guide (the Pac-10 champion
in each of those years was quarterbacked by a veteran fourth- or fifth-year
player), then Oregon and UW should go to the front of the list because Jason
Fife and Cody Pickett are the only
returning starters and seniors-to-be who will start in 2003 (though Fife's
starting status could be in question). Matt Kegel will be the only other
senior starter in the conference. And while he isn't a returning starter, he
does have more than 1,000 air yards to career credit so far. ASU's Andrew Walter, a highly talented
returnee, will be a junior in '03, as will USC has Matt Cassel,
who threw all of
four passes last season.
QUOTE OF THE
Texas head coach Mack Brown, responding to the fact he again
landed what pundits believe to be among the finest recruiting classes in the
nation, poured water all over that notion last week. He likes his class, to be sure, but
in terms of its national prominence he said it's just a matter of geography.
Basically, he said, because the media attention paid to high school ballplayers
in Texas is more intense than anywhere in the nation, Texas prepsters get more
publicity --- and therefore more currency with national analysts --- than
players anywhere else in the country.