WSU, Colorado State gear up for fireworks in New Mexico Bowl

THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW (SPOKANE)December 17, 2013 

Washington State and Colorado State are sitting on bowl droughts of 10 and five years, respectively.

It seems appropriate that the matchup in the New Mexico Bowl should be the first bowl played this season.

WSU will face a team that "has no apparent weakness," according to Cougars coach Mike Leach. CSU certainly has a lot of strengths on paper.

The Rams are the only team with both a 3,000-yard passer in quarterback Garrett Grayson, and a 1,500-yard rusher in running back Kapri Bibbs.

Shaquil Barrett's 12 sacks are tied for third in the country this season, while Bibbs' 28 rushing touchdowns are the second-most in the country.

The Rams do have an Achilles' heel, however, and it plays right into WSU's hands. CSU allows 265 passing yards per game, which ranks No. 109 among all FBS teams. The Cougars, who lead the country with 58 passing attempts per game, must be salivating at the chance to chuck the ball around unimpeded.

NEW MEXICO BOWL

When: Saturday, 11 a.m.

Where: University Stadium, Albuquerque, N.M.

TV: ESPN

Records: WSU (6-6, 4-5 in Pac-12); Colorado State (7-6, 5-3 in Mountain West)

The line: WSU by 4

What it means for WSU: Sitting at 6-6, whether the Cougars finish with a winning record or a losing one all comes down to the New Mexico Bowl. WSU has already shown enough improvement to be going to the school's first bowl game since 2003. Winning that bowl game would further cement the idea that the program is on the right track and it is critical at a time when the school is aggressively raising funds to pay for facilities such as a multi-sport indoor practice facility, and trying to show recruits that the Cougars are ready to compete regularly in the Pac-12. Both pitches will be much easier to sell coming off a bowl win.

What it means for CSU: The Rams can make the argument that they've improved in coach Jim McElwain's second season, but there is always a caveat. The combined record of the seven teams CSU beat this year is 23-61 and only Cal Poly (6-6) had a record at or above .500. By beating WSU, the Rams can pick up their second win over a school from an automatic qualifying conference in McElwain's tenure and prove that their bowl-worthy record isn't just the result of fortuitous scheduling.

Shaquil Barrett vs. WSU offensive line: WSU's offensive line had an up and down end to the season. First the Cougars held then-national sack leading Utah to no sacks, then gave up five of them to Washington in the Apple Cup. Barrett is one of the country's finest sack artists. WSU will want to throw the ball as much as possible against CSU's poor pass defense, meaning that Barrett will have plenty of chances to get to quarterback Connor Halliday. If WSU can hold him at bay then Halliday will have the time he needs to carve up the Rams.

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