Washington State hasn't played in a bowl since the 2003 season, but two players from the central San Joaquin Valley are out to change that this season.
Junior quarterback Jeff Tuel (Clovis West High) and sophomore receiver Marquess Wilson (Tulare High) never met in high school, but they've meshed into a formidable duo in Pullman.
The pair first began to gel in the 2010 season opener, a 65-17 loss to Oklahoma State. Tuel had 212 yards passing, 108 to Wilson – including a 48-yard touchdown pass.
"With what he did, I knew he was going to be a special player," Tuel said. "He got more and more comfortable over the course of the season. He grew and will continue to grow."
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Tuel received a scholarship from the Cougars before he became the starter his senior season at Clovis West.
He went on to complete 136 of 271 passes for 1,714 yards and 12 touchdowns and rush 152 times for 674 yards and five touchdowns while leading the Golden Eagles to the Division I Central Section title. He then became the first true freshman to start in Pullman since Drew Bledsoe and is now thought to be one of the better quarterbacks in the newly expanded Pac-12 after completing 219 of 366 passes for 2,780 yards, 18 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in 2010.
Wilson, meanwhile, was a repeat Bee All-Star while catching 52 passes for 1,099 yards and 20 touchdowns his senior season at Tulare.
He then nabbed national acclaim last season when he led Washington State with 1,006 receiving yards (the only freshman to record more than 1,000 yards) on 55 catches with six touchdowns, earning him freshman All-America honors from three outlets. This summer, he was put on the watch list for the Biletnikoff Award, given annually to the nation's top receiver.
As last season went on, Tuel and Wilson developed a chemistry that had Tuel looking for Wilson downfield whenever the quarterback would scramble.
"We're kind of starting to understand each other more, and defenses, and what works best," Tuel said. "I understand his game more now and what he likes to do, where to put the ball with him. Every receiver is different."
Tuel said Wilson's abilities to bring down jump balls and separate from defenders when the ball is in the air help make him a go-to threat, while Wilson enjoys Tuel's accuracy, timing and his abilities to read defenses and scramble out of trouble.
"It's nice knowing that I have a quarterback that's going to put it in a spot only I can get it or give me the opportunity to go up and get the ball, knowing every time it's thrown to me it's going to get to me and not go behind me," Wilson said.
They'll need to improve upon those skills – and they plan to, coming off a 2-10 season – in order to help save coach Paul Wulff's job and get the Cougars to a bowl.
"That's what we're striving for," Wilson said.
Added Tuel: "We hate to lose, we want to win. We want to win for Cougar nation, and we want to win for us. We're all hungry. We just want it really bad. It's more desire than pressure."