Gildan New Mexico Bowl

Washington State Cougars (6-6) vs. Colorado State Rams (7-6)

Dec. 21, 2 p.m. ET, Albuquerque, N.M. (ESPN)


Welcome back, Wazzu.

Not since beating Texas in the 2003 Holiday Bowl have the Cougars been bowling. Their time away from the postseason was a trying time in Pullman, where fans clung to little hope for several years.

Those days are over.

In his second season, coach Mike Leach brought the program back to respectability, re-energized the fan base and now has a chance to take another step forward against Colorado State, which is led by another second-year coach, Jim McElwain. Leach’s Air Raid offense, paired with the expectation that WSU will travel well, was enough for bowl officials to select the Cougars instead of Arizona or Oregon State.

The Cougars finished the regular season with a loss in the Apple Cup, but recorded consecutive wins at Arizona and home against Utah in the weeks prior to reach bowl eligibility. Before that, the season saw its fair share of ups and downs.

Looking back, the Cougars’ 31-24 loss at Auburn in the season opener looks even better now than it did then. Granted, both teams have changed a lot since August, but WSU -- which finished 4-5 in the Pac-12 -- was a few plays away from beating the eventual SEC champion. The next week, WSU went to Los Angeles where it contributed to coach Lane Kiffin’s dismissal by beating then-No. 25 USC despite not scoring an offensive touchdown.



After four years without a bowl game, the Rams are back in the postseason.

Colorado State returns to the New Mexico Bowl, where it beat Fresno State 40-35 in 2008, to play Washington State.

While the Cougars will throw the ball nearly every down, Colorado State, under second-year coach Jim McElwain is the epitome of balance. The Rams rank No. 39 in the country in passing (258.5 ypg) and No. 31 in rushing (202.7).

Despite its seven wins, Colorado State was far from a lock to reach a bowl. The six FBS opponents it beat were a combined 17-55. The Rams best showing of the year might have been their 31-6 loss at then-No. 1 Alabama.