Revisiting the magical 2018 WSU football season

Four years ago, College Gameday finally came to Pullman

Cougar+legend+Gardner+Minshew+II+is+placed+fourth+on+all-time+quarterbacks+list.

ABIGAIL LINNENKOHL | DAILY EVERGREEN FILE

Cougar legend Gardner Minshew II is placed fourth on all-time quarterbacks list.

BRANDON WILLMAN, Evergreen reporter

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly listed Tom Pounds as the founder of the ‘Ol Crimson Booster Club. While he is the club’s current president, John Bley is the founder of the ‘Ol Crimson Booster Club.

Trigger warning: This story references suicide. If you or anyone you know needs help, please visit 988lifeline.org or seek other help. You are not alone and you are not less for seeking help.

October 20, 2022.  Today is the fourth anniversary of ESPN College Gameday in Pullman, the most unforgettable day in Pullman of the 21st century, for football fans at least. So now, better than ever, is an excellent time to look at what College GameDay means for WSU and what made that 2018 season so remarkable and magical.

2018 feels like a century ago with everything that has happened worldwide, notably a global pandemic. But, it was the year that WSU had its most exciting football season since the 1998 Rose Bowl team.

Since then, WSU has hired and fired a new head coach, is starting its fourth straight season with a different quarterback starting the first game, and has been unable to recapture everything that went right that year.

Expectations for the season were low, as tragedy had surrounded the team.

The tragedy was that of Tyler Hilinski. A man struck with depression who was posthumously diagnosed with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy.

 

COURTESY OF KYM HILINSKI

 

Hilinski’s Hope is a foundation the late QB’s parents started to raise awareness for mental health on college campuses. Many students wear a Hilinksi’s Hope wristband, shirt or any other representation, as his story means a lot to many on campus.

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Hilinski was poised to start at the most prominent position for the Cougs, but his tragedy made the team change course. They turned to Gardner Minshew, East Carolina transfer QB. Originally committed to Alabama, Minshew was swung to WSU by the promise of getting the playing time that could help him reach his goal of making the NFL.

Minshew was unproven, and this showed in analyst predictions for the year. College Football News had the Cougs finishing a measly 5-7 and missing a bowl game altogether. Safe to say, no one had any clue what was coming.

“When you see the quarterback having fun, you will start having fun. He brings out the team’s personality,” defensive back Hunter Dale said.

The season started with three quick wins against non-conference opponents in dominating fashion. Through those three games, the Cougs outscored their opponents by a score of 131-43: Then came the USC game.

USC fought out a late surge to steal the win from the visiting Cougs by a score of 39-36. A minor setback of a loss did not change the trajectory of WSU’s season.

After quick and easy wins against Utah and Oregon State, WSU had the season’s most memorable moment. College GameDay was coming to Pullman for their matchup against the ranked Oregon Ducks, led by Justin Herbert, a future NFL MVP candidate

College GameDay is notable for WSU, as the Ol’ Crimson flag has been waved every week of College GameDay for 19 years. The show travels to different locations across the country each week, which makes the fact that ‘Ol Crimson has been on every show since 2003 quite impressive. For every year that many WSU students have been alive, WSU has had a flag waving at each College GameDay set.

OLIVER MCKENNA | DAILY EVERGREEN FILE
Tom Pounds, current president of the Ol’ Crimson Booster Club, waves Ol’ Crimson as fans cheer during ESPN’s College GameDay broadcast on Oct. 20, 2018 in Pullman.

But, in 2018, GameDay finally made its way to Pullman, something the players and fans were incredibly excited about.

KIERSTEN BUTTERWORTH | THE DAILY EVERGREEN
College GameDay bus arrives in Pullman on Wednesday for the Oregon Ducks versus Washington State Cougs on Saturday Oct. 20, 2018 at the entrance of WSU.

“We’re excited and proud of this team for bringing it to Pullman for the first time. It’s an honor,” Minshew said.

The Cougar faithful did not disappoint, making the broadcast one of the most memorable in the program’s history.

RYAN PUGH | DAILY EVERGREEN FILE
Cougar fans pile in and wait for ESPN’s College GameDay to start Saturday at Martin Stadium.

“We’ve had some fun GameDays over the years, but that was as crazy and festive of an atmosphere throughout the show,” ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit said.

WSU took the Ducks down in a fantastic game by a score of 34-20.

OLIVER MCKENNA | DAILY EVERGREEN FILE
Sophomore wide receiver Tay Martin attempts to avoid being tripped up by the Ducks’ defense during the ESPN College GameDay game versus Oregon on Oct. 20, 2018. Martin has 465 yards on 46 receptions with six of those catches resulting in touchdowns.

Following the GameDay, WSU took on four conference opponents, including a ranked Stanford team. All of these games were easy wins for the Cougs, getting the team to ranked seventh in the nation leading up to one of the most anticipated iterations of the Apple Cup.

WSU and University of Washington were having some of their better seasons in recent memory. No. 7 WSU at home against No. 16 UW. In a heartbreaking result for every fan of the Cougs, the Huskies took the game by a score of 28-15.

Although this loss guaranteed that WSU would miss out on the College Football Playoff, it did not take away from the season’s magic. They would face No. 25 Iowa State in the Alamo Bowl, a game in which they came out victorious. 

Expectations ignored the 2018 WSU Cougars, but that could have been expected with tragedy surrounding the team, a new offense and an unproven QB. Through all adversity, they managed to exceed expectations.