In terms of sheer positive sentiment, Washington State may be the most popular team in the country this season outside of Boulder, Colo.
The Cougars have jumped out to a 4–0 start in their presumptive final year in the Pac-12 Conference, dispatching ranked Wisconsin and Oregon State teams in the process. Coach Jake Dickert, meanwhile, has garnered kudos for his irreverent attitude toward college football’s establishment—particularly ESPN.
On Saturday, College GameDay panelist and former West Virginia kicker Pat McAfee harshly criticized Dickert and former Washington State quarterback Ryan Leaf for shots they took at ESPN after the Cougars beat the Beavers on Sept. 23.
McAfee's comments proved a misread of the situation, and the college football world rallied to Washington State's defense.
Many wondered whether College GameDay—long a touchstone of American sports in the cable era—had lost its way.
@CollegeGameDay used to be a really special part of CFB. Worth waking up early for on Saturday mornings. They used to embrace the quirkiness of CFB and had a big tent, included all programs coast to coast, big & small. Now? Lost, broken and pandering to the top dogs of the sport https://t.co/WhAOACut87— Matty Ice (@Dr_Mr_Sheets) September 30, 2023
Fans pointed to the Cougars‘ history and support, questioning why ESPN would pick a fight with such a broadly inoffensive school.
Pathetic comments about an undefeated top-20 team with a passionate fanbase and incredible gameday atmosphere. Why is he bringing up 2009? How is that relevant? What a joke. https://t.co/8kXq3it6Vk— Jackson Frank (@jackfrank_jjf) September 30, 2023
McAfee’s status as a former player taking a stance against current players in a situation such as Washington State’s was called into question.
“Who cares?” And “Shut up!”?— Jessamyn McIntyre (@JessamynMcIntyr) September 30, 2023
I thought Pat was funny and brought a unique perspective on things.
A former player trashes on a program fighting for their brothers, the history and everything that makes college football & a TEAM great - the nicest word I can use is disappointing https://t.co/AvXZByMNAZ
The Cougars' beat writer for the nearby Spokesman-Review, Greg Woods, chimed in, noting the popularity of Washington State's cause.
Last thing here: Literally nobody likes this.— Greg Woods (@GregWWoods) September 30, 2023
ESPN bet this will drive up engagement and ratings (and maybe it already has) but most everyone in CFB supports Wazzu and OSU. ESPN will quickly lose the support of the general public the more they roll out bits like these. https://t.co/iLo2GJYStF
Even Washington fans lent some very NSFW support.
The Cougars' tight-knit community closed ranks, rallying in support of their beloved program.
Cougs vs. Everybody. All that needs to be said. https://t.co/zHLfErZlO2— Jamey Vinnick (@jameyvinnick9) September 30, 2023
More than a few McAfee supporters changed sides, finding his rant gratuitous and below-the-belt.
This is lame as hell from Pat McAfee. Absolute trash. Lost a lot of respect for him. https://t.co/baGY0hjc99— John Kurtz (@jlkurtz) September 30, 2023
In the end, the nation seemed to recognize that Washington State remains worthy of celebration.
What a classless rant by McAfee. What exactly is his point? Put down passion? Loyalty? Things that make college football great! And the yo yo's laughing at this jagoff? Disappointing to say the least! https://t.co/OLnOgxxRX7— Steve Tannen (@SportsTalk953) September 30, 2023