The Washington State Cougars open the season against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights on neutral turf in Seattle, Washington. This is the first-ever meeting between the two schools and both teams posted a 6-7 record last season.
Cougars head coach Mike Leach and his staff were given significant pay increases this offseason from Washington State for the progress they’ve made with the football program. After going 9-16 in just two seasons, Leach equaled the amount of wins from the previous four years of the program. Washington State also added a $61 million upgrade to the football facility that will benefit Leach and his staff toward the future.
There’s a chance the Cougars will be successful again this season, returning eight of their 11 offensive starters at all positions except for the offensive line. The key piece returning for the Cougars is quarterback Connor Halliday, who was third in the nation in passing last season with 4,597 yards, 34 touchdowns and 22 interceptions.
Halliday was second in the Pac-12 to Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion, who threw for 65 more yards with 4,662. The Cougars only averaged 53 rushing yards per game last season and they’re expected to be a passing-heavy team again this season.
As for the Cougars’ defense, there are six starters returning from last season and a huge loss with SS Deone Bucannon moving on to the NFL. Three of the five defensive players the Cougars lost this offseason were in the secondary. It will be hard to replace the production value in the secondary and might present a challenge for the Cougars throughout the season.
A huge year is coming for Rutgers as it will move from the American to the Big Ten. The opening game against Washington State will be the furthest distance the Scarlet Knights will have to travel this season and will be a sample for things to come for the embattled football program.
Offensively, Rutgers was a nightmare last season with no progress and a high amount of turnovers. Scarlet Knights quarterback Gary Nova threw for 2,159 yards with a lousy 18 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Nova must have a productive senior campaign that is mistake free for Rutgers to compete within the Big Ten.
Rutgers had many challenges last season, but the one that hurt the most was the points allowed by its defense. The Scarlet knights were ranked 81st in the country for points against and allowed 29.8 points per game. The upside for Rutgers is there’s nine starters returning on defense, giving some stability for the season.
Rutgers will travel to Seattle to take on Washington State at 10:00 p.m. EDT on Thursday, Aug. 28. The game will be broadcast on FOX Sports 1.
PREDICTION: Rutgers 16, Washington State 41