Washington State Cougars
Head Coach: Mike Leach
2015 record: 9-4 overall, 6-3 Pac 12 North
2015 Postseason results: Beat Miami-(FL) 20-14 in the Sun Bowl
2016 returning starters: 8 offense, 6 defense
Odds to win 2017 College Football Championship game: 300/1
Odds to win 2016 Pac 12 Championship Game: 31/2
Odds to Win 2016 Pac 12 North Division: 7/1
Regular season wins: over 7 -245 / under 7 +175
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Last year, the Washington State Cougars went 9-4 and 6-3 in the PAC 12. It was the program’s first winning season since a 10-3 campaign in 2003. The season included upsets over Oregon and UCLA. Three of the four losses were by 7 points or less, including a two point loss to Stanford. The Cougars ended the season on a somewhat sour note getting crushed in the Apple Cup by rival Washington. Washington State would upset Miami-(FL) 20-14 in the Sun Bowl.
The Cougars enter 2016 with 14 starters back for coach Mike Leach. Washington State could be a dark horse contender for the PAC 12 North title.
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Last year, Washington State averaged 470 yards per game on offense. The Cougars were #1 nationally in passing at 389 yards per game but dead last in rushing out of 128 teams with 81 yards per game. Despite the prolific offense, Washington State averaged only 32 points per game. Leach serves as his own offensive coordinator and gets eight starters back from last year on offense.
Quarterback Luke Falk threw for 4,561 yards with 38 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. He is a long shot Heisman contender but he will continue to sling the ball with abandon. He averaged just under 50 attempts a game. He missed three games with an injury last year, including the blowout loss to Washington. Sophomore Peyton Bender started in those three games and threw for 498 yards with 3 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. He was ruled academically ineligible and will not play in 2016. There are five guys who are locked in a battle for the back-up job but no decision has been made yet. They are mostly walk-ons though.
Redshirt freshman James Williams looks to unseat incumbent running back Gerard Wicks. Wicks had 107 carries for 610 yards and 3 touchdowns, along with 38 catches for 128 yards. Jamal Morrow and Keith Harrington will also get some carries. They combined for 585 rushing yards, but are more dangerous in the passing game with a combined 77 catches and 7 touchdowns.
Gabe Marks is one of the nation’s top receivers and could have gone to the NFL. However, he decided to come back to Pullman. He had 104 catches for 1,192 yards and 15 touchdowns. He has been battling a leg injury in camp but is listed as probable for the season opener. The Cougars do lose Dom Williams who is now with the San Diego Chargers. He had 75 catches for 1,040 yards and 11 touchdowns. River Cracraft (53 catches, 615 yards and 4 touchdowns) and Robert Lewis (43 catches, 490 yards and a touchdown) are both back and will start. Speedster Tavares Martin, Jr. moves into the starting lineup after making 16 catches last year as freshman. The running backs will continue to get plenty catches as well.
The Cougars must replace the left side of the line, but the other three starters are back. Riley Sorenson returns at center along with guard Eduardo Middleton and tackle Cole Madison on the right side.
The Washington State defense wasn’t as bad as it has been in recent years. By no means was it great, but it did the job. The Cougars allowed 416 yards per game including 193 rushing yards. Teams scored 28 points a game. WSU forced 24 turnovers last year. Six starters are back for coordinator Alex Grinch.
Washington State must replace two all-conference ends in Darryl Paulo who had 13.5 tackles for loss and 7 sacks and Destiny Vaeao who had 12 TFL and 4 sacks. Sophomore Hercules Mata’afa will be the next star at defensive end. He had 11 tackles for loss and 7 sacks last year. Daniel Ekuale will start at the other end after making 5 tackles for loss. Robert Barber will start at nose tackle.
Middle linebacker Peyton Pelluer led the team in tackles at 101. Frankie Luvu will start on the weak side. Dylan Hanser and Nnamdi Oguayo will platoon at the rush linebacker spot.
Safety Shalom Luani had 90 tackles and 4 interceptions. Cornerbacks Darrien Molton and Marcellus Pippins combined for 87 tackles last year. Henry Parker will start at nickel back and freshman Jalen Thompson will start at the other safety.
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Kicker Eric Powell made 20/26 field goals, but he missed 5/10 of from beyond 40 yards. Punter Zach Charme is back after averaging just under 40 yards per punt as a freshman. Kaleb Fossum will return punts so Marks can focus on being a receiver. Martin, Jr. will return kicks again after averaging 22 yards per return.
Schedule and Outlook
Washington State hosts Eastern Washington and Idaho, and travels to Boise State in non-conference play. The Cougars open PAC 12 play with a daunting three game gauntlet that includes home games against Oregon and UCLA sandwiched around a road trip to Stanford. The schedule lightens up considerably after that with road games at Arizona State and Oregon State, followed by home games against Arizona and California. The Cougars close the season with a road game at Colorado before the Apple Cup showdown with Washington in Pullman.
A trip to Boise is never a picnic, and it very possible the Cougars could be 2-4 after six games. They do get Oregon and UCLA at home, and they beat both of teams on the road last year so we will see. It is possible after that they could win 5 games in a row against the PAC 12’s weakest teams. I think they win 7 games and go to another bowl.
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