For the last three seasons, Washington State has been bringing up the rear of the Pac-12 conference. This forced them to bring in a new head coach, and oh what a splash was made with the hire of Mike Leach.
Leach is known as an offensive guru from his time at Texas Tech. His dismissal from Tech was controversial but his results were not. In his 10 years with Tech, he never had a losing season. Leach will be his own offensive coordinator, which is really no surprise. The defense will be run by Mike Breske who has been coaching for over 30 years. He comes over from the University of Montana.
I think Leach steps in to a perfect situation for his offense with where Washington State is at. They had the ninth best passing offense in the country without Leach calling plays.
First and foremost, the quarterbacks need to stay healthy. Jeff Tuel broke his collarbone against Idaho State in the first game of the season. After missing almost half the season, he came back but then injured his leg. Back-up Connor Halliday played well when he got on the field but then ended up with a lacerated liver. Both are back and healthy so expect big numbers in the passing game.
Marquess Wilson is one of the top wide receivers in the country. He is the top returning receiver in yards, average yards and yards per game. While having Wilson back is great for Washington State, they lose their next two leading receivers. After the spring game, Dominique Williams and Kristoff Williams made their presence known. Bobby Ratliff will get plenty thrown his way as well. I could sit here and name everyone I expect to see in the rotation but it would almost be the whole receiver depth chart.
For as good as they were in the air, they were almost equally bad on the ground. The team's leading rusher was Ricky Galvin who only ran for just over 600 yards and five touchdowns. The backup, Carl Winston, added in almost 450 yards of his own and four touchdowns. Both are back but I don’t know how they will be used with Leach.
Another area of concern is with the offensive line. They just might be the worst in the conference. But it kind of depends on how you look at it. Clearly, they weren’t opening running lanes last season. But they were giving the quarterbacks plenty of time to throw. This year, they must replace a couple of starters but have upperclassmen to step in to those spots. With Leach running things now, I think they will be better than last season.
While I like the fit of Leach and the Washington State passing game, the defense on the other hand, I am not so sure about. None of these units are even in the middle of the conference.
Travis Long is the star of the defense and he will be in a hybrid position of end and linebacker. He had eight tackles for loss last season and four sacks. Around him will be plenty of new faces to the starting line up as only one other starter returns to the front seven.
Linebackers took a hit when Leach dismissed C.J. Mizell and Sekopi Kaufusi. The move of Long from end to linebacker or hybrid position will be something of an experiment that should help until this unit gets established.
The secondary returns intact. I don’t just mean the starters, they also return all the backups. Normally, that is a good thing. They were only 93rd in pass defense though. The experience should help them to be vastly improved. Safety Deone Bucannon should receive post season conference honors.
Kicker Andrew Furney returns after a solid year kicking, but needs more power for kickoffs. Oregon transfer Mike Bowlin will likely take over the punting duties. The return game has a couple guys with experience but none were really standouts last season.
I think Washington State made a good hire with Leach and it should pay off. It could even pay off this year. I don’t really expect that they will be competing for the division, but they could very well make a push for a low tier bowl.