Coming of their best season in a decade, the Washington State Cougars are looking ahead to a big year. In 2013 they went to a bowl game for the first time in 10 long years. The Cougars lost the New Mexico Bowl, but this year the team is looking to improve on that record by going to a bigger bowl and winning it.
The Cougars return virtually all of their offensive weapons including record setting quarterback Connor Halliday, who threw for 4,597 yards last season. Also returning are his top eight receivers, all of whom had over 300 yards receiving last season.
WSU has also beefed up their running game with new players. The emergence of Theron West, Jamal Morrow, and Gerard Wicks has led to such a glut of running backs that second leading rusher from last year Teondray Caldwell has been switched to defense. Marcus Mason, last years team leader in rushing and receiving, isn't even in the top three on the depth chart. All of this leads to the belief that the coaches feel the new running backs can do a lot better this season.
The only question mark for offense is the line. But the answer to this question may surprise some fans. Last season's offensive line averaged a paltry 275 pounds, but this years unit is up to almost 310 pounds. Although lacking experience, the sheer increase in size should make this unit better.
As is normal on Mike Leach coached teams. the defense is the weakness of WSU. While many feel the defensive line is the strength of the unit, the defensive secondary is probably the worst in the league. The only returning starters are cornerback Daquawn Brown and safety Taylor Taliulu. True freshman Marcellus Pippens is battling with redshirt freshman Charleston White and senior Tracy Clark for the opposite corner spot. The other safety position is a battle between redshirt freshman Darius Lamora and sophomore Isaac Dotson. Whoever ends up starting is going to be inexperienced, which is not a good recipe in the pass-happy Pac-12.
Special teams are also a problem for the Cougars. After losing both their kicker and punter, Leach is struggling to find replacements. Andrew Crookston at CougCenter has a great rundown of the WSU special teams here.
While the defense may be shaky, the overall offensive firepower should give this team 6 or 7 wins. That gets them to a bowl, which athletic director Bill Moos has publicly stated that he expects.
Last year the Cougars went to the New Mexico Bowl, their first post-season appearance in 10 years. Despite losing that game, just making it to a bowl was a huge step forward.
"I think it cracks the door open on what our potential is," Leach said at the Pac-12 media days this summer.