Pac-10 Preview: Cougars Are The Definition of Rebuilding

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Pac-10 Preview: Cougars Are The Definition of Rebuilding
(Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

Much like their cross-state rivals, the Washington State Cougars are thirsty for success.

It has been years since the Cougars were regarded as one of the better teams in the conference, let alone the country.

The unfortunate part for the Cougars is the struggle of returning to their winning ways may be a grueling one.

Browsing up and down the depth chart, it is difficult to find anyone that really made an impact on the team last season.

If they did, it was either for the wrong reasons or they moved on to greener pastures.

A statistic that may sum up the Washington State season is 165-570.

Those are the points for and against the Cougars.  Usually, wins are difficult to come by if the disparity is that large.

For Paul Wulff, the rebuilding process will be tedious, but the best place to do it will be from ground zero. That's where the Cougars will begin this season.

 

Offense

The brightest spot on the offense last season was Brandon Gibson. But as stated earlier, much of the good has left and he is no exception.

Filling Gibson's shoes will be a cast of several receivers.  

Jeshua Anderson returns for his junior season as the incumbent No. 1 pass catcher. In 2008, Anderson hauled in 33 passes for 305 yards, good enough for second on the team.

Flanking the junior in this spread offense will be sophomores Jared Karstetter and Kevin Norrell.

Both receivers combined for 17 receptions last season, so it would be difficult to expect drastic improvements this early.

Daniel Blackledge should also see action in the Cougar offense as a starter if Anderson does not return to the team due to commitments with track.

Tight end may provide the most leadership to the passing game as Tony Thompson, Zach Tatman, and Aaron Gehring all are seniors with playing experience under there belts.

Getting the ball to the wideouts may be a task in itself.

Kevin Lopina is currently penciled in as the starting quarterback, but that position is hardly locked in.

Lopina failed to throw a touchdown pass last season while tossing 11 interceptions in the nine games he appeared in.

Kevin rotated at quarterback with redshirt junior Marshall Lobbestael.  Both players missed a decent amount of time at one point during the season due to injury.

Lobbestael should be right there with Lopina in the battle for the starting spot this fall. His numbers were a little more acceptable: four touchdowns to just four interceptions.

He also saw threw for 150 yards or more in three straight games prior to an injury that cut his season short.

The strength of the Cougar offense may come from the running backs and the line.

The top four rushers from last year's team will return to Pullman this fall. Dwight Tardy and Logwone Mitz combined to rush for 922 yards and six touchdowns.

They will be joined by junior James Montgomery, who transferred from California a year ago. Montgomery has great speed and should be slated to start this fall.

Needless to say, Washington State will have a running back by committee mindset.

The offensive line may be the strongest suit, anchored by senior Kenny Alfred. Kenny has been the starting center for the Cougars since part way through his freshman year.

Expect the senior to lead the way for the stable of backs, on his way to possible All-American honors.

 

Defense

A change in the defensive attitude will be critical if Washington State hopes to build confidence throughout the 2009 season.

If they cannot get any pressure, then it may be the same story all over again for second year head coach Paul Wulff.

The Cougars gave up nearly 44 points per game last season. 

Senior Kevin Kooyman is the lone player to have started more then five games on the defensive line last season.

Depending how you look at it, that may be a good thing.

Joining him at end will be Jesse Feagin, who redshirted last season, but has game experience from 2007.

Toby Turpin and Josh Luapo will be the starting tackles, but look for the defensive tackles to rotate about five or six players to keep things fresh.

At linebacker, the Cougars will return All-Pac-10 Andy Mattingly. Last year, Andy played defensive end, racking up 91 stops and eight sacks.

Louis Bland will play opposite of Mattingly at outside linebacker, where he saw significant game time in 2008.

Middle linebacker will be a position battle, as sophomores Alex Hoffman-Ellis and Mike Ledgerwood will compete for the starting spot.

Hoffman-Ellis transferred last year, forcing him to sit out last fall. Ledgerwood played in ten games as a true freshman, gaining valuable experience.

The secondary returns half of its starters from a year ago.

Chima Nwachukwu and Xavier Hicks have anchored the secondary for the better part of two years at the safety spot. Look for them to be both to vocal and senior leaders in Pullman for a remade defense.

Aire Justin started six games for the team last fall, and proves to have the most playing time with the team.

Transfer Brandon Jones should start opposite from Justin at corner, as he also sat out 2008 due to transferring rules.

 

Special Teams

Nic Grasu and Patrick Rooney will compete for the kicking duties this fall. Grasu was 9-13 last year with the Cougars. 

Reid Forrest will handle the punting. Last year he averaged 41 yards per punt, with ten of his kicks going over 50 yards.

 

Outlook

Washington State will open up its season with three winnable games against Stanford, Hawaii, and SMU.

The hope may dim shortly after when the Cougars must go on the road for back-to-back games against USC and Oregon. They also will be travelling to Cal and Notre Dame this fall.

With the cross-state Huskies only getting better, Washington State may see its only chance at winning in the first three weeks, although Stanford may be too tall of a task.

Anyway you look at it, the Cougars will have to wait awhile before they are considered relevant again in college football.

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