Auburn is a loaded football team that's a serious contender for the national championship. Few look forward to facing the Tigers, especially at Jordan Hare Stadium.
Yet Washington State coach Bill Doba can't wait to play Auburn in the season opener on Sept. 2. Or Idaho the next week or Baylor the week after that or
Doba has seven offensive and seven defensive starters returning from last season's team, which finished 4-7 but lost five games by four or fewer points. He embraces every minute of the scheming, planning and strategizing that goes into rebuilding a team.
The brain provides great comfort when the heart is hurting.
Last April, Judy Doba, Bill's wife of 44 years, succumbed to ovarian cancer. The usually light-hearted, playful coach endured the worst pain of his life. A new football season won't eliminate that pain, but may help ease it just a bit.
"It's a savior," Doba said of the new season.
Doba doesn't want to talk too much about losing his wife, and initially offers only that she was a "great, great girl."
But then he tells the stories that reveal how great Judy Doba was.
Last year the Dobas asked the Pac-10 media not to report Judy's illness - a request that was honored - because she didn't want to be a distraction.
She had taken a trip to Europe and reveled in the fact no one knew she was ill and did not ask how she was feeling.
In lieu of flowers, she requested donations go to a local hospital. Thousands of dollars were contributed.
She wrote her own obituary.
"She wanted to keep it easy on us," Doba said. "She said, 'If funerals are a celebration of life why is everybody crying?' "
And so Doba enters this season perhaps more focused on football than ever before, maybe even more than 2003 - when he guided the Cougars to a 10-3 finish and a Holiday Bowl victory over Texas.
He's even optimistic about the possibilities of sophomore DeMaundray Woolridge and freshman Darrell Hutsona at running back in place of All-American Jerome Harrison. And he's encouraged by last year's close calls.
"The only team that really hurt us and embarrassed us was USC, and they did that to a couple of other folks, too," Doba said. "We were close and we've got some kids back that competed, but didn't finish. That's what we've stressed all year finish, finish, finish. We have 'finish" with a Cougar head posted everywhere. It's been a good summer. Our strength coach said the kids worked hard and they said they worked hard.
"But you can get into a mentality when you start losing. You go into the fourth quarter thinking, 'What's going to happen now?' That's what concerns me most about Auburn. But if we can beat Auburn it would be a great springboard for us."
Just a strong showing on the road at Auburn could propel Washington State to a successful season, which would provide Doba great comfort for several reasons.
"Quite honestly, there are 10 families I'm responsible for," Doba said. "If I get fired my assistant coaches probably will, too. They have kids, and I brought them here. So, you have to get over grieving in a hurry and get to work."