Expectations for 2012: The Washington State gamer

PASADENA CA - OCTOBER 02: Quarterback Jeff Tuel #10 of the Washington State Cougars drops back to pass against the UCLA Bruins during the first quarter at the Rose Bowl on October 2 2010 in Pasadena California. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

Last year's game in Pullman was a pretty exciting classic. Played in the snow, the Utes struggled to put away the back-against-the-wall Cougars, though eventually prevailed 30-27 in overtime. It would be Utah's seventh win of the season and guaranteed the program their ninth straight winning season.

It was, at times, a pretty ugly and sloppy game, but that was to be expected solely because of the weather conditions. The snow was so bad, at times, even the masterful Steve Brown was stumped as to what was happening on the field. When Brown is lost, you know things are bad!

In the end, it was Coleman Petersen, the main cause of our current concern throughout the first couple weeks of camp, who stepped up and delivered the win - hitting a 38-yard field goal after a Cougar turnover on their first possession of overtime gave the Utes a much needed gift.

Utah left Washington with a 7-4 record and a clear path to the Pac-12 title game.

But it was a close game and the Cougars should be better this season. In fact, the Utes' defeat of Washington State all but sealed the fate of their last coach, Paul Wulff, whose loss to Utah assured him of another losing season. They replaced him with Mike Leach, an innovative offensive mastermind who's ready to turn that program into a household name - just as he did with a bunch of nobodies in northwestern Texas.

So, this is going to be a tough game. Even so, Utah has a lot of advantages, including playing at home and probably more depth and talent than the Cougars.

Still, this is another one of those pesky should-wins that creep up on your schedule and leave you vulnerable to defeat. The Utes can't afford a defeat here. These are losses that almost always cripple a season.

If Utah's going to be successful, the first two things they've got to do is take care of business at home and do it against weaker foes.

We don't anticipate an undefeated season, but if our dream of a 10-win season is to be realized, this is a game they've got to win. Especially when, a week later, they travel to take on a tough Huskies team on the road.

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