No. 23 Washington State has a major chip on its shoulder, and Northern Colorado is next in its path.
The Cougars, highly irritated over the bridesmaid position it was given during the latest wave of realignment, look to improve to 3-0 when they entertain the Bears on Saturday afternoon at Pullman, Wash.
Washington State is one of two programs left in the Pac-12 for next season after the rest of the schools took off for other major conferences. There doesn't appear to be a landing spot for the Cougars.
Washington State made a loud statement last weekend when it recorded a 31-22 home victory over then-No. 19 Wisconsin, the second straight season the Cougars defeated the Badgers. The victory propelled the Cougars into the national rankings for the first time since early in the 2019 season.
"There's a lot of things I would really love to say, but at the end of the day, our team belongs at the highest level," Washington State coach Jake Dickert said afterward. "Our program does. I believe that. That's in my heart. I say that with a meaning. And for all this stuff to go on, I think it's just another way for our guys to go out there and prove who we are."
The Cougars outscored their first two opponents — Colorado State and Wisconsin — by an 81-46 margin and they figure to have an easy time against the FCS-level Bears (0-2).
Northern Colorado was outscored 73-18 in losses to FCS foes Abilene Christian and Incarnate Word to open the season. It will be an impressive feat if the Bears keep the game close against Washington State.
"We're gonna respect Northern Colorado to come in here, and they wanna get the win, and we've gotta go show who we are — and do it for 60 minutes," Dickert said.
Cougars quarterback Cameron Ward is off to a strong start by completing 70.4 percent of his passes for 663 yards and five touchdowns. He hasn't thrown an interception in 81 attempts.
Ward passed for a career-best 451 yards in the season-opening 50-24 win over Colorado State.
Northern Colorado was outgained 617-261 last weekend while losing 42-7 to visiting Incarnate Word.
The Bears are allowing an average of 555 yards per game and have yet to record a single sack. Offensively, they are gaining just 225.5 yards per game.
First-year coach Ed Lamb was not happy with the results of his two first games.
"Same sentiment as last week, an unacceptable result," Lamb said. "I've said it, I continue to believe it, the team is talented enough and good enough to win. It's my job to get them there and we aren't there. I thought the game was close and competitive for a long time and we couldn't get over that hump."
Quarterback Jacob Sirmon was 13-of-27 passing for 114 yards and one interception against Incarnate Word. Overall, he has passed for 220 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
In reality, Northern Colorado is just hoping to avoid a blowout loss while playing an FBS school for the first time this season.
"We have to learn from the struggle," Lamb said. "We're not going to remove the struggle. When we learn from that and really embrace that, that's when we get better."
Washington State won the lone previous meeting, 59-17 at home in 2019.
—Field Level Media