2021 WSU football schedule expectations and predictions

WSU set to play seven of their 13 games at home; play rivals Oregon, Washington on road

Redshirt+senior+running+back+Deon+McIntosh+attempts+to+shed+an+Oregon+defender+during+the+game+against+Oregon+on+Nov.+14+at+Martin+Stadium.

OLIVER MCKENNA | DAILY EVERGREEN FILE

Redshirt senior running back Deon McIntosh attempts to shed an Oregon defender during the game against Oregon on Nov. 14 at Martin Stadium.

AARIK LONG, Evergreen copy editor

The 2021 Pac-12 football schedules have been announced. This means it is time to dig into things a full six months ahead of the season kicking off for a way-too-early look at how the schedule breaks down.

Week 1 — Sept. 4 vs. Utah State

The Cougars open up the season by hosting the Utah State Aggies. It will be just the fourth all-time meeting between the schools and just the second meeting in Pullman.

The teams first met in 1949 when WSU picked up a 33-0 win. The teams met again the following season in Logan, Utah, where the Cougars made it a 2-0 series lead with a commanding 46-6 win. The series took an eleven-year hiatus before returning for a 1961 match-up in Spokane, where Utah State pulled out a 34-14 win.

Now, 60 years later, the two teams meet again. The Cougars should cruise to a victory inside Martin Stadium, as the Aggies are coming off of a 1-5 2020 season that saw their coach lose his job.

However, this game still draws a lot of interest, as it will be the first time we see which quarterback will take the field: Jarrett Guarantano or Jayden de Laura.

Aside from WSU, the Pac-12 opening weekend is packed with interesting matchups. Arizona opens in Las Vegas against BYU, Cal hosts Nevada, Oregon hosts Fresno State, Oregon State visits Purdue and Stanford faces Kansas State in Dallas.

The most intriguing match-up of the weekend will be when UCLA, who will be coming off a week zero meeting with Hawaii, will host the LSU Tigers in a marquee match-up for the conference.

Week 2 — Sept. 11 vs. Portland State

The Cougars will continue their home stretch to open the season when they host the Portland State Vikings for the first-ever meeting between the two programs.

The Vikings compete in the Big Sky Conference of the FCS. While others in the conference are playing a spring season, Portland State is playing just one game: an April 17 meeting with Montana.

In 2019, the Vikings finished 5-7. They surprisingly kept a game with the Arkansas Razorbacks close, while getting blown out by teams like UC Davis and Idaho State.

Needless to say, this will be a comfortable game for WSU at home. The game will serve as a tune-up before Pac-12 play opens the following week.

Besides the FCS matchup for the Cougars, week two is set up to be exciting in the Pac-12. Washington will travel to Ann Arbor, Michigan to face the Michigan Wolverines, Utah will make an in-state road trip to face BYU, Oregon will travel to face Ohio State, Colorado and Texas A&M will play in Denver, Cal will travel to TCU and Oregon State will host Hawaii.

Additionally, Pac-12 play begins in week two with a rivalry match-up, as USC and Stanford square off after their 2020 meeting was canceled.

Week 3 — Sept. 18 vs. USC

To close out the three-game home stretch that kicks of 2021, WSU will host the USC Trojans to begin conference play.

Historically, USC has dominated this series, winning 60 of the 74 meetings. In recent history, the Cougars made it a little more competitive with two of their ten total wins coming in the last five meetings. The last time the two teams met in Pullman was a ranked vs. ranked matchup in 2017 where the Cougars pulled off a three-point upset.

This will be the third time in a row that the teams have played in Los Angeles with USC winning the last two by a combined 28 points. Last season, the two squared off with USC pulling off a 38-13 victory.

This will by no means be an easy matchup for the Cougars, but it will certainly be a measuring stick on how the season could go. If WSU is able to keep things close, there is reason to be optimistic for the rest of the year.

Elsewhere, Arizona State will travel to BYU, Colorado will host Minnesota, UCLA will host Fresno State and Stanford will visit SEC country as they take on Vanderbilt in Nashville.

There are not really any massive week three match-ups in the conference, but all five mentioned will be worth keeping an eye on.

Week 4 — Sept. 25 at Utah

WSU will head out on the road for the first part of a two-leg road trip, as they head to Salt Lake City to face the Utah Utes.

The series between these two schools is split at a perfect 9-9, with each team taking four wins since the Utes joined the Pac-12. This will be the sixth meeting since 2014 and the fifth time in that stretch that WSU has had to travel to Salt Lake City for the game.

Going on the road does not necessarily hurt WSU’s chances, though. The teams, once again, have a perfect split when the game is played in Utah with each team picking up five wins on the Utes’ home turf.

Utah currently holds a two-game winning streak against WSU, with last season’s meeting ending with a 45-28 win for the Utes.

This season’s matchup will be interesting. No matter the circumstances, WSU will have a more experienced quarterback ready for this matchup. The Cougars will likely come in as underdogs but could give Utah a tough day.

Week four also sees every team in the Pac-12 playing a conference opponent. Oregon hosts Arizona, Arizona State hosts Colorado, USC hosts Oregon State, Washington hosts Cal and, most notably, Stanford hosts UCLA.

Week 5 — Oct. 2 at Cal

The Cougars finish out the road trip as they travel to Berkeley, California for a game against the Cal Golden Bears.

This series heavily favors Cal historically, as the Golden Bears hold a 48-28-5 record in their 81 meetings.

However, the last few years have been very back and forth. They have met five times since 2015 with no team winning consecutive games in that stretch. And, strangely enough, the games have not necessarily been nail-biters either.

Only two of those five games have been won by single digits (WSU’s 19-13 win in 2018, Cal’s 34-28 win in 2015). In the other three games, teams won by an average of just over 27 points. This includes WSU’s largest margin of victory in the whole series, which came in a 56-21 win back in 2016.

The Golden Bears are coming off of a bad season where they finished 1-3. The one win came in an upset of Oregon in their season finale. This game certainly favors WSU on paper and will be hugely important for WSU to capitalize on.

Week five is another week of conference-only meetings as Colorado hosts USC, Oregon State hosts Washington, Stanford hosts Oregon and UCLA hosts Arizona State. Arizona and Utah both get their bye in week five.

Week 6 — Oct. 9 vs. Oregon State

WSU will return home during week six for a three-game home-stand that begins with Oregon State.

Although not officially announced yet, this will likely be the homecoming game for the Cougars considering the talent levels of the opponents in the following two games.

WSU holds the all-time series lead with a 53-40-3 record in the 96 meetings between the Beavers and the Cougars. More recently, we have seen the Cougars control the series with WSU taking the last seven meetings, dating back to 2014.

The teams met last year in Martin Stadium for their season openers on a delayed Pac-12 season. WSU pulled out a 38-28 victory over the Beavers.

Oregon State could very easily come out and put up a fight against the Cougars. Two years ago, WSU won by a single point. Oregon State is known as a gritty team that never gives up.

WSU likely comes in as the favorite to win the battle of these two small-town schools in the Pac-12, but it could end up being a very close meeting.

Conference play continues elsewhere, as well, with Arizona hosting UCLA, Arizona State hosting Stanford on that Friday and USC hosting Utah. Cal, Colorado, Oregon and Washington all take their bye weeks in week six.

Week 7 — Oct. 16 vs. Stanford

In the second of three straight home games, WSU will host the Stanford Cardinal.

This is another series that historically favors WSU’s opposition. Stanford holds a 40-29-1 record in 70 all-time meetings.

However, despite the talent Stanford has consistently shown, the Cougars have been the better team in recent history with WSU currently sitting on a four-game win streak. Before last season, Stanford had an eleven-season streak of appearing in the AP Top 25 at some point.

Coming off of a tough 2019, Stanford started last season off with two losses. However, they closed it out with four wins and seemed to figure things out. The first few weeks of 2021 will be huge to see if they can keep things rolling. If they can, this game could be trouble for the Cougars. If not, WSU should take this one without a ton of trouble.

Throughout the Pac-12, Colorado will host Arizona, Oregon will host Cal, Utah will host Arizona State and Washington will host UCLA. USC and Oregon State have byes in week seven.

Week 8 — Oct. 23 vs. BYU

WSU will close out their home-stand with a meeting against the pseudo-Pac-12 member, the BYU Cougars.

The Cougars from Utah play five Pac-12 teams this fall, with WSU being the penultimate of these games. This will be the fifth all-time meeting between the two schools as BYU holds a 3-1 series lead.

It will be the first time the programs have met in Pullman, with three of the previous meetings being in Provo, Utah and the fourth being a Holiday Bowl in San Diego. It will also be the first meeting since a 30-6 win for BYU in 2012.

“The Cougar Bowl” will be an interesting one to keep an eye on. BYU had a great 2020, but the Cougars are losing their top player in quarterback Zach Wilson, who will be getting drafted into the NFL. By the time this game rolls around, it will be clear if BYU was able to rebound and rebuild. As of now, this one is anyone’s game and could be the first win for the Cougars against BYU since 1989.

It is mostly just more Pac-12 play throughout the conference as Arizona hosts Washington, Cal hosts Colorado, Oregon State hosts Utah and UCLA hosts Oregon. There is one other non-conference meeting, though, as USC travels to South Bend, Indiana for their historic rivalry with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

Week 9 — Oct. 30 at Arizona St.

WSU starts a “sort of” road trip as they head to the suburbs of Phoenix to face the Arizona State Sun Devils.

All-time, Arizona State leads the series 28-14-2 in 44 meetings. WSU has won two of the last three, though, making this one to keep an eye on.

The most recent meeting came in 2019 when Herm Edwards and company took down WSU 38-34 in the desert. Edwards is a perfect 1-0 against WSU as a coach.

Last season, Arizona State went 2-2 with their biggest win being a 70-7 win against their rivals, Arizona, that ended up getting the Wildcats head coach Kevin Sumlin fired.

Arizona State will be a big challenge for WSU. Either team could come out on top in this game, making it a must-watch meeting.

For just the third time all season, every Pac-12 team will be in action with a full slate of conference play. Cal will host Oregon State, Oregon will host Colorado, Stanford will host Washington, USC will host Arizona and Utah will host UCLA.

Week 10- BYE

Week ten sees WSU gets their bye week before a three-game stretch to close out the regular season. Typically, you would want to see the bye a couple of weeks earlier to give players a chance to rest and reduce injury risks, but a chance to get healthy right before two of the most important games of the season is huge for the Cougars.

Elsewhere in the conference, Arizona hosts Cal, Arizona State hosts USC, Colorado hosts Oregon State and Stanford hosts Utah that Friday. Week ten also sees the two teams that WSU fans dislike more than most, Washington and Oregon, facing off in Seattle. UCLA joins WSU with a bye in the final time that any Pac-12 team will get a scheduled in-season break.

Week 11 — Nov. 13 at Oregon

The Cougars will head back on the road with a game in Eugene, Oregon against the Oregon Ducks.

Oregon is likely going to be the favorite to win the Pac-12 North heading into the year. If WSU plays well in the games leading up to this game, this could be a chance for the Cougars to pull off an upset and put themselves in a position to have a chance at their first division title since a split with their in-state rivals in 2018.

While this series favors Oregon historically, it is much closer than some others with Oregon having a record of 48-37-6 in 91 meetings. The Ducks also currently hold a two-game winning streak, which ended the Cougars’ run of four-straight wins from 2015-2018.

The last two meetings have been decided by a combined 16 points. WSU will almost certainly come in as an underdog barring some otherworldly collapse by the Ducks during the season, but this is one that you can never write WSU out of. Whether it is widely considered as one or not, this is a rivalry, and the teams play as if it is. This is the second-biggest game of the season for the Cougars, hands down.

Elsewhere in the Pac-12, Arizona hosts Utah, Cal hosts USC, Oregon State hosts Stanford, UCLA hosts Colorado and Washington hosts Arizona State.

Week 12 — Nov. 19 vs. Arizona

With just one more game after this one, WSU returns home to Martin Stadium for the final time in 2021, as they face the Arizona Wildcats on Friday of that week. The game will almost certainly be Senior Night considering it is the final home game of the year.

Arizona leads the all-time series 27-17 but only won one of the last four and two of the last six. The Cougars currently hold a one-game win streak, having won the last meeting in 2018 69-28.

This is a game that WSU should win. The Wildcats are coming off an 0-5 year and have not seen a winning record since going 7-6 in 2017. Arizona will also be with a new head coach, as Jedd Fisch joins the team for his first-ever real head coaching job (he was the UCLA interim head coach in 2017 before Chip Kelly took over).

Elsewhere, Colorado hosts Washington, Oregon State hosts Arizona State, Stanford hosts Cal, Stanford hosts UCLA and Utah hosts Oregon.

Week 13 — Nov. 26 at Washington

This is the big one: rivalry weekend. The Cougars will travel to Seattle to take on the Washington Huskies on Black Friday in the 2021 Apple Cup.

With the cancelation in 2020, the Apple Cup ended its nearly three-quarter century run of being played every year.

All-time, Washington leads the series 66-30-4 and has won the last seven.

While things do not look great for WSU when it comes to history, this is a Cougars team that could give Washington everything they can handle and then some. Head coach Nick Rolovich has put together a squad in just over a year that can compete with anyone in the conference. While there will be a lot of rivalry games in the conference to watch in week 13, this is one that every Pac-12 fan should be watching.

Elsewhere, Arizona State will host Arizona, Oregon will host Oregon State, Stanford will host Notre Dame, UCLA will host Cal, USC will host BYU and Utah will host Colorado on that Friday.

Season Predictions

This season has the chance to be a great one for the Cougars. WSU will, without a doubt, pick up the six wins required to earn a trip to a bowl game. Realistically, I think this team finishes with a 9-3 record in the regular season, but it is not as crazy to say they could win ten or even eleven games. WSU has a stronger squad than they did one year ago and will have a full offseason to get ready for the year.

The Cougars will not be predicted to be anywhere close to nine wins by most media outlets, but seeing what they put together on short notice last year, the pieces they brought in for this year and the experience they gained last year, this team is going to be a threat to the top teams in the Pac-12 North in 2021.