No. 16 WSU Cougars know what’s at stake in Friday’s titanic clash against No. 5 USC

The Cougars have improved immeasurably since they last hosted USC in 2014. But this high-stakes game against the fifth-ranked Trojans could either expose them as pretenders or cement their legitimacy as a top-flight Power Five team.

Washington State coach Mike Leach desperately wants his players to approach Friday night’s titanic tilt against No. 5 USC as just another game.

That razor-sharp focus is what the Cougars will need if they hope to pull an upset against the Trojans (4-0) and stay undefeated.

But for everyone else who will be watching when 16th-ranked WSU takes the field at Martin Stadium Friday night (7:30 p.m., ESPN), this game is a referendum on the Leach era and a chance to truly evaluate how good this WSU team really is.

The 4-0 Cougars are one of just 18 undefeated Power Five teams left in the country.

Yet, those wins have come against FCS Montana State, a 2-2 Boise State team, a 1-3 Oregon State team, and a Nevada squad that’s still looking for its first victory.

Thus, Friday’s USC game provides WSU its first opportunity to show how it measures up against some of the best in the nation.

“It’s an exciting chance for us, an opportunity for us to go out and play our game on a big stage,” senior linebacker Isaac Dotson said. “But that’s not gonna change anything about how we prepare or how we play.”

On paper, up and down, Leach says this is the most complete team he has assembled on the Palouse.

The Air Raid offense is cranking out its usual gaudy numbers, but – more importantly – it’s matched with a top-20 defense for the first time in Leach’s WSU tenure.

In his third season, defensive coordinator Alex Grinch has built an aggressive, ball-hawking defense that leads the Pac-12…

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