WASHINGTON STATE and Montana State are each going from one extreme to another this week. For the Cougs, moving from a Big 12 road trip to the friendly confines of Martin Stadium and the Division I-AA Bobcats of the Big Sky Conference is comforting. MSU, though, is headed the other way, to take on a Pac-10 team on the road after beating up last week on something called Fort Lewis College.
The Bobcats won that one, at home in Bozeman, 59-10. For the record, Fort Lewis is a Division II school from Colorado.
The Cougs and Bobcats are no strangers. They've played six times over the years, including twice in the last decade. Both of those recent games -- in 2001 and 2002 -- were fairly competitive. And that was when WSU was in its 10-wins-a-season-heydey.
The Cougars, despite their recent woes, will be heavily favored Saturday (4 p.m. kickoff) but there's no getting around the fact the Bobcats have a reputation for playing hard-nosed ball, especially on defense. Moreover, they're in the midst of a nice run -- 20 victories over the three seasons leading into this one and a No. 24 national FCS (Division I-AA) ranking.
The Cougs and 'Cats also have some personal connections. Jason McEndoo, the Bobcats' offensive line coach, was a standout on WSU's 1998 Rose Bowl team. And Mike Kramer, the assistant football operations director at WSU, was the head coach of the Bobcats until a messy dismissal in 2007 that led to Kramer filing a lawsuit against school officials. The suit recently was settled out of court with MSU paying Kramer $240,000.
After a stellar coaching stint at EWU, where Paul Wulff was his offensive coordinator, Kramer coached MSU for seven seasons and led the team to three Big Sky Conference championships and its first playoff win in more than two decades.
Kramer's successor at MSU is 56-year-old Rob Ash, a minister's son from Iowa, who spent 18 seasons as head man at Drake before coming to Bozeman. His 20 wins in his first three seasons is the most ever by a Bobcat coach, and his .588 winning percentage places him with legendary Bobcat coaches of yore such as Sonny Holland and Jim Sweeney.
Historically speaking, Montana State has had a notable presence from the state of Washington on its roster. Not this year, however. Just two Bobcats -- Alex Terrien of Auburn and Julius Lloyd of Kenmore -- hail from the Evergreen State. But get this: A whopping 17 MSU players are from Texas.
Two Bobcats -- defensive tackle Dan Ogden and offensive tackle Mike Person -- are FCS pre-season All-America picks. If Person does indeed wind up the season with All-American plaudits, he will be the fifth MSU offensive lineman to do so since Jason McEndoo started coaching the hosses eight years ago.
FSN will televise the WSU-MSU game but how exactly the game will be distributed around the Northwest wasn't known at press time. Kickoff is at 4 pm. Greg Heister will be doing play-by-play, with Jason Gesser serving as the analyst and Jen Mueller reporting from the sidelines.
Lots of statistical evidence points to a Cougar win this Saturday. In the series between the schools, WSU is 6-0. In home openers, the Cougs are 75-34-3 all-time. And against schools that currently reside in the Big Sky Conference, WSU is 41-2 all time, with 19 of those wins coming via shutout.
Of the 60 Cougar players who saw the field against Oklahoma State this past Saturday, 24 were making their debuts with the Cougars. The Cougars played seven true freshmen and nine second-year freshmen. Six players also made their starting debuts for the Cougars: redshirt freshman cornerback Nolan Washington, redshirt junior defensive tackle Brandon Rankin, redshirt senior running back James Montgomery, redshirt sophomore tight end Andrei Lintz, junior offensive tackle David Gonzales and junior offensive guard Wade Jacobson.