Schedule analysis: Washington State

We'll be reviewing each Pac-12 team's schedule, starting with the North Division.

Up next: Washington State

Breakdown: six home (four conference games), six road (five conference games)

Nonconference opponents (with 2010 records)

Sept. 3 Idaho State (1-10)

Sept. 10 UNLV (2-11)

Sept. 17 at San Diego State (9-4)

North Division games

Oct. 15 Stanford

Oct. 22 Oregon State

Oct. 29 at Oregon

Nov. 5 at California

Nov. 26 at Washington (Qwest Field)

Crossover games

Oct. 1 at Colorado

Oct. 8 at UCLA

Nov. 12 Arizona State

Nov. 19 Utah

Conference misses



Key stretch: Washington State can't afford to start slowly, and this schedule is set up for a fast start: Each of the first five games is winnable. The Cougars should be 2-0 when they visit a tough San Diego State team. Win that one, and they are halfway to bowl eligibility. After an off week to get ready for Pac-12 play, the Cougars face two road dates at Colorado and UCLA, teams that are expected to finish in the bottom half of the conference.

Trap game: The Cougars don't really have the right to take any foe lightly, but some of their fans might prematurely pencil in a win at San Diego State without looking at the Aztecs, who won nine games last year and have one of the best quarterbacks in the nation in Ryan Lindley.

Sure thing: The Cougars will open 1-0, beating an Idaho State team that finished winless in the Big Sky last season.

Analysis: Washington State is hoping for a massive transformation: From five wins in three years under coach Paul Wulff to bowl eligible -- six wins -- in 2011. That is doable with this schedule. The key is the first five games. At worst, the Cougs need to start 3-2. As shocking as it might sound, 5-0 is not implausible, though winning consecutive road games at Colorado and UCLA -- teams with more overall talent -- is unlikely. It's not only about stockpiling victories during the soft part of the schedule, it's also about building confidence. At, say, 4-1, the Cougs would no longer see themselves as the conference patsy. That matters. And, of the final five games, only the visit to Oregon seems to be a sure loss. Although Stanford, Oregon State (seeking revenge for last year's embarrassment in Corvallis), Arizona State and Utah surely expect to beat the Cougars, recall that Pullman is not an easy place to play when the fans are into the action, particularly in November. Further, keep in mind that the Apple Cup will be played at Qwest Field. Playing in Seattle against the Huskies still qualifies as a road game, but it won't be as challenging as Husky Stadium. Wulff is on the hot seat. This schedule gives him a fair shot at getting off it.