Washington State Cougars
Head Coach: Mike Leach
2016 record: 8-5 overall, 7-2 Pac 12 North
2016 Postseason results: Lost to Minnesota 17-12 in the Holiday Bowl
2017 returning starters: 7 offense, 9 defense
Odds to win 2018 College Football Championship game: 160/1
Odds to win 2017 Pac 12 Championship Game: 33/2
Odds to Win 2017 Pac 12 North Division: +525
Regular season wins: over 7 1/2 -140 / under 7 1/2 +110
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Last year, Washington State lost their first two games of the season both by a field goal. The Cougars would then win 8 straight games, before losing the last three games. The Cougars lost to Minnesota 17-12 in the Holiday Bowl.
This year, 16 starters are back for the Cougars and coach Mike Leach. The Cougars look to be a dark horse contender in the Pac 12. Let’s take a look at the Cougars on offense, defense, special teams, and the schedule and outlook.
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Washington State averaged 484 yards per game including 363 passing yards. The Cougars averaged 38 points per game. Leach is also the offensive coordinator. He gets seven starters back.
Senior quarterback Luke Falk completed 70% of his passes for 4,468 yards with 38 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He will be a first or second round pick in the NFL draft next spring. Sophomore Tyler Hilinski is the back-up. He passed for 245 yards with 2 touchdowns and an interception.
You don’t often associate a strong running game with Leach’s Air Raid offense. Despite being #114 in the country in rushing, the Cougars did have strong trio of running backs. Gerard Wicks, Jamal Morrow and James Williams are all back. Williams had 102 carries for 584 yards and 6 touchdowns, along with 48 catches for 342 yards and a touchdown. Morrow had 90 carries for 575 yards and 5 touchdowns, plus 48 catches for 488 yards and 5 touchdowns. Wicks had 88 carries for 475 carries and 11 touchdowns, plus 29 catches for 184 yards and a touchdown. Keith Harrington is back as well after missing last year with an injury.
Receivers Gabe Marks and River Cracraft are both gone. Marks had 89 catches for 894 yards and 13 touchdowns. He is now with the New York Jets. Cracraft had 53 catches for 701 yards and five interceptions before tearing his ACL last season. Tavares Martin, Jr. will be the go to receiver after making 64 catches for 728 yards and 7 interceptions. Robert Lewis had 33 catches for 394 yards and 3 touchdowns. Kyle Sweet had 27 catches for 357 yards and 3 touchdowns. Isaiah Johnson-Mack has 35 catches for 246 yards and a touchdowns.
Three starters are back on the offensive line. All-American left guard Cody O’Connell will headline the unit again. B.J. Salmonson will be the right guard. Andre Dillard and Cole Madison are the tackles. Sophomore center Frederick Mauigoa is the only underclassman on the line.
Washington State allowed 406 yards per game on defense last year, including 135 rushing yards per game. The Cougars struggled against the pass allowing 272 yards per game. WSU allowed 26 points per game. Nine starters are back for coordinator Alex Grinch.
There isn’t a lot of size on the defensive line but there is plenty of speed and quickness. Defensive end Hercules Mata’afa had 47 tackles including 13.5 for loss and 5 sacks. Nnamdi Oguayo had four sacks last year. Nose tackle Daniel Ekuale is also back.
Linebacker Peyton Pelluer is back and had 93 tackles including 7.5 for loss. Frankie Luvu had 46 tackles including 7 for loss. Dylan Hanser will start at the other linebacker.
Safety Robert Taylor had 61 tackles last year. Jalen Thompson had 51 tackles last year at the other safety. Cornerback Darrien Molton had 71 tackles last year. Marcus Strong will start at the other cornerback. Hunter Dale is the nickel back.
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Kicker Erik Powell needs to be more consistent. At one point he missed five straight field goals last year. He also takes over as the punter this season. Robert Taylor will return both kicks and punts. He took a kickoff return to the house last year.
Schedule and Outlook
The Cougars open with five straight home games against Montana State, Boise State, Oregon State, Nevada and USC. WSU has lost at home to open the season the last two years to FCS schools from the Big Sky Conference. Montana State is also in the Big Sky. Trips to Oregon and California are next. The Cougars host Colorado and then travel to Arizona. Washington State hosts Stanford and then ends the season with road games at Utah and Apple Cup rival Washington.
Washington had three games last year where they had over 200 rushing yards. They will still be a pass first offense but the running game is no longer just an afterthought. Several seasons ago, the Cougars averaged 50 rushing yards a game. The schedule is tough but manageable. I think the Cougars can win 8 games, but they aren’t at the level of Washington or Stanford in the Pac 12 North.
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