The Washington State Cougars football program has been on a dismal run that hasn’t had them posting a winning season since 2003.
Outside of a good stretch in the late 1990s to the early 2000s, the football program has had a rough time in Spokane, often overshadowed by rival Washington and other elite Pac 12 football programs.
The program got its first burst of excitement in years prior to the 2012 football season with the hiring of head coach Mike Leach, who had been one of the more high-profile coaches for most of the 2000s at Texas Tech. Leach is known for his high-flying air raid offense, which was consistently at the top of the list for total offense every year he was a head coach.
As for his first year as the head coach of the Cougars, it didn’t go exactly as planned. They finished 3-9 overall and 1-8 in the conference. This can be accredited to not much talent being left for Leach, as well as players having to learn the system.
Key Players: Connor Halliday, Gabe Marks, Deone Bucannon
Offense will always be the main area of focus as long as Leach is the head coach. People want to see the crazy stats and scores that are synonymous with a Mike Leach team.
The Cougars finished 10th in scoring offense in the conference last year, only scoring 20 points per game. They also finished ninth in total offense, posting only 363.8 yards per game on the season. This must greatly improve.
A lot will be thrown on the shoulders of quarterback Connor Halliday, who stepped in late in the season to become the starter last year. In 2012, he threw for 1,878 yards to go along with 15 touchdowns in only nine game appearances.
While the departure of Marquess Wilson will certainly hurt, look for receivers Brett Bartolone and Gabe Marks to have solid years and put up big numbers.
Other players to watch on offense are running back Teondray Caldwell and incoming freshman quarterback Tyler Bruggman.
The Cougar’s defense must greatly improve if they want to be competitive in the high scoring Pac 12 conference.
The Cougars gave up 36.3 points per game on the season last year, which ranked 10th in the conference. They were also eighth in total defense, giving up 416.7 yards per game.
The biggest thing for the defense will be making stops in key moments. When you play in the Pac 12, you will give up points, so it’s crucial to get turnovers and third down stops late in games.
Free safety Deone Bucannon looks to be the leader of the Washington State defense after having a great 2012 season in which he landed on the second team All-Pac 12 list. He had 84 tackles to go along with four interceptions.
Middle linebacker Darryl Monroe will be the signal caller for the defense and looks primed to be one of the best linebackers in the conference. Ioane Gauta looks to be the leader of the defensive line.
The Cougars should finish around the 5-7 to 6-6 mark on the season. They will have to pull some major upsets if they want to become bowl eligible because their schedule is one of the toughest in the country.