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By raising its record to 6-0, Washington State qualified for a bowl for the first time since it was co-champion of the Pac-10 in 1997. Moreover, the Cougars firmly believe they can compete with the two powers of the league, No. 4 UCLA (5-0) and No. 5 Oregon (6-0), both of whom still have to visit Pullman, on Nov. 3 and Oct. 27, respectively.
That optimism might be a stretch, given that 3-0 Stanford was the first team with a winning record that Washington State has beaten and given the way the Bruins dominated previously undefeated Washington 35-13 last Saturday. UCLA tailback DeShaun Foster rushed for 301 yards, a school single-game record, and four touchdowns. In addition the Bruins' defensive front was "the best we've played in a long time," according to Huskies offensive coordinator Keith Gilbertson.
Speaking of defense, Washington State won by converting a fumble, a blocked punt and an interception into first-half touchdowns. The Cougars also outscored the Cardinal 10-0 in the fourth quarter. "This team knows how to finish," strong safety Billy Newman said after the game. Last year Washington State didn't: Those 4-7 Cougars lost three games in overtime and tied for last in the conference standings, their third straight season at the bottom. Although some boosters had begun to grumble about Price—"I'm an alum. I was pissed off too," he says—he knew that success was within reach.
Over the spring and summer Price and his 12 fifth-year seniors, the last remaining members of Washington State's Rose Bowl team, performed an attitude adjustment on the rest of the Cougars. Price ended each spring practice with a goofy drill. "Relay races, home run derby, golf shots, linemen kicking field goals, linemen catching punts," he says, "so the players would forget about their poor record. For two years their heads had been down."
The veterans demanded more of their younger teammates. "I was the bad cop," Newman says. "Shoving was involved. I had a lot of guys ticked off at me. I wasn't going to allow us to be mediocre." Voluntary workouts increased. So did film study. Three days before facing Stanford, defensive back Erik Coleman noticed on tape that whenever Cardinal quarterback Randy Fasani touched his right shoulder pad at the line, a quick screen followed. Coleman passed the tip to Newman. When Fasani gave the signal in the second quarter, Newman left his receiver, intercepted a pass intended for Ryan Wells and returned it 54 yards for a touchdown.
After the victory Price demanded that the Cougars be given their due. "We deserve to be ranked, and we deserve to be ranked high," he said, pounding the podium with his right index finger. "This team is for real."
On Sunday, Washington State entered the AP poll at No. 19.