As far as long shots go, you can call Washington State's trip to Palo Alto, Calif., this weekend a fairly significant one.
After all, the Cardinal have one of the top defenses in the conference and Washington State has one of the worst offenses. I've never been a chef, but that doesn't strike me as a particularly tasty recipe for an upset.
And that's exactly why we're putting a spotlight on Washington State quarterback Jeff Tuel. Outside of the Apple Cup, this is probably Washington State's last shot at a memorable conference win in the 2012 season (worth noting, it would also be its first). Stringing together wins at Utah or Arizona State, or at home against UCLA -- that would be nice for the Cougars. But beating a touted defense, a top-25 team, an upper-echelon squad in your division -- and doing it on the road -- could immediately lift the cloud of dissatisfaction that seems to be growing thicker and thicker each week over Washington State's program.
When we spoke to Tuel back at the Pac-12 media day in August, we saw a confident, mature young man who looked ready and capable to put a team on his shoulders and lead. But so far his on-field performance hasn't matched his off-field confidence. Tuel is a talented quarterback with a very good skill set. Maybe even next-level skills. But a career marked by injuries and inconsistencies hasn't allowed him to reach what many believe is his full potential.
Well, there are still five games left to make something happen in 2012 -- and it starts this week with a Stanford team that's probably not looking over the horizon at its trip to Colorado -- but also could be emotionally drained after back-to-back rivalry games. Washington State is thirsting for a leader -- for someone to step up and show a little confidence. Tuel could be that guy.
Could an upset happen? Sure, it's football. Will it? Probably not: See our Pac-12 predictions for what we really think.
But we also know what kind of person Tuel is. He's a worker. But that hasn't translated onto the field. The Cougars need something positive and tangible to take from Mike Leach's debut season in the Pac-12. They need to stop this losing streak. And while it probably won't happen in Palo Alto, Tuel could re-shape the way a lot of people think about him if it actually does.