Editor's note: This is the sixth in a series previewing the Pac-12 football season.

LOS ANGELES — Washington State hasn't won a lot of football games in recent years. In three seasons under Paul Wulff, the Cougars have left the field victorious just five times. Their lone road victory was a surprising 31-14 decision at Oregon State last November.

That game, along with a solid effort the following week in a 35-28 season-ending loss to Washington in Pullman, has provided the downtrodden program a little momentum.

"I'm very excited about the upcoming year," Wulff said. "I think we have a nice, youthful football team. We have a chance to surprise a lot of people."

A favorable early schedule, featuring home games against Idaho State and UNLV, could provide an additional dose of confidence.

It's conference play, though, that has been especially painful for Washington State. The Cougars are just 2-25 over the past three seasons.

Wulff, who came to Washington State after a successful stint at Eastern Washington, insists they're building a team with a specific plan in mind.

"We've gone about our business of trying to recruit the type of person with the right DNA," he explained. "When I say that, I mean from the neck up."

Specifically, the Cougars are seeking players with great passion and love for the game who are tough. Being a great person with that attitude and work ethic, Wulff noted, also work into the equation.

"They can help you build a team. That's what we've been trying to do," Wulff said. "We go after guys that fit our profile."

OFFENSE: Sophomore Marquess Wilson, who is on the Biletnikoff Award watch list, was second in the Pac-10 last season with 83.8 receiving yards per game. Senior Jared Karstetter is another receiver of note. The Cougars return eight starters on offense, including junior quarterback Jeff Tuel.

DEFENSE: Sophomore safety Deone Bucannon was one of the stars of a young secondary that came of age late in the season, holding four of WSU's final six foes to 210 passing yards or less. Seven other starters, including junior defensive end Travis Long who made 10.5 tackles-for-loss, are back.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Kickoff returner Isiah Barton is back for his senior year and averaging better than 22.1 yards per return in 2010.

PLAYMAKERS: Wilson earned first-team Freshman All-American honors from The Sporting News, CollegeFootballNews.com, Rivals.com and Phil Steele last season after making 55 catches . . . On defense, Bucannon had a team-high 84 tackles.

TOUGH STRETCH: After playing host to Stanford, the Cougars head to Seattle for a game against Oregon State. The Beavers will no doubt have revenge on their minds after last year's loss in Corvallis. A trip to Oregon follows.

EXTRA POINTS: Washington State will play two games (Oregon State and Washington) at CenturyLink Field, home of the NFL's Seattle Seahawks . . . Martin Stadium will undergo a massive renovation, beginning in November . . . Wulff is the first WSU letterwinner since Phil Sarboe in 1945-49 to serve as head coach of the Cougars.

Cougars at a glance

2011 media poll: 6th, North

2010 record: 2-10, 1-8

Head coach: Paul Wulff (5-32, fourth season)

2011 schedule

Sept. 3 — IDAHO STATE

Sept. 10 — UNLV

Sept. 17 — at San Diego State

Oct. 1 — at Colorado

Oct. 8 — at UCLA

Oct. 15 — STANFORD

Oct. 22 — OREGON STATE

Oct. 29 — at Oregon

Nov. 5 — at California

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Nov. 12 — ARIZONA STATE

Nov. 19 — UTAH

Nov. 26 — at Washington

email: dirk@desnews.com