On August 31, the Washington State Cougars travel to hostile Auburn, Ala. to take on the Auburn Tigers.
One of these teams will remain the butt of jokes for the rest of the season—that is probably a reasonable conclusion given that both teams finished their 2012 seasons with an identical and equally pathetic 3-9 record.
The SEC has been a dominant conference for the past seven years but does have a reputation—some of it deserved, some of it not—for playing cupcakes for its non-conference slate. On paper, this contest appears to be one of those cupcakes for Auburn.
Less than two weeks after Auburn won its BCS Championship, it was announced that the Tigers would host Washington State, a school that had just finished its 2010 season with a 2-10 record. So yeah, Auburn was ostensibly looking for a lower-tiered BCS team willing to forego a home-and-home format and travel to Auburn for just one game and endure a beat-down in the South.
Unfortunately, Auburn football hasn't maintained its championship level of play. After a few years of mediocre football and a victory over the Sun Belt's Louisiana-Monroe—which had to be decided in overtime—the Tigers are now entering the 2013 season with new coach Gus Malzahn and a lot of work to do before facing a hungry Cougar team.
Washington State football hasn't always been bad. From 2001 to 2003 the program enjoyed three consecutive 10-win seasons and a 2002 Rose Bowl berth. Still, since World War II, only five coaches have had a winning overall record for the Cougars: Forest Evashevski (1950-51), Warren Powers (1977), Dennis Erickson (1987-88), Mike Price (1989-2002) and Bill Doba (2003-07).
A victory at Auburn would give the Pac-12 some muscle. Sure, Washington State is in rebuilding mode, but beating an SEC team in its own stadium would give the team and the conference instant swag.
And more credibility.
Washington also had an opportunity to flex some Pac-12 muscle in its home-and-home series with an SEC powerhouse but went 0-2 against the LSU Tigers. Both games showed the SEC's superiority, but it also showed how an SEC powerhouse wasn't playing an equal foe—Washington went 5-7 in 2009 including a 31-23 loss to LSU and 7-5 last season when it lost 41-3 to LSU (10-3).
Husky head coach Steve Sarkisian's job isn't in any danger—he currently has a 26-25 overall record at Washington—but that may change with another ho-hum season. Washington football has seen two national championships, with the most recent a generation ago in 1991. It's not like Husky football is mediocre.
Both Washington and Washington State have had some great years of football followed by absolutely horrible football. For the Pac-12 to get stronger, both of the Washington schools must get better.
Washington opens its season at Boise State on August 31, while Washington State plays at Auburn that same day.
Two wins by these two schools, and the Pac-12 will have opened the 2013 season with a strong message across the college football landscape.