The football season is getting closer, and while our Bruins are getting ready for the 2015 season, so is the rest of the Pac-12. So we're taking a quick look around the conference to see how the other 11 teams are stacking up. We posed the same 4 questions to each of our Pac-12 conference mates so we can get to know their team and expectations a bit better, and added a 5th question geared for each school individually. We add some notes on the teams key losses and returns after the Q&A, as well.
Next up for our Pac-12 preseason previews are the Washington State Cougars. Our friend Jeff Nusser is one of the co-managing editors at CougCenter, the fantastic WSU SBN site. Jeff was kind enough to share his time and insights with us at BN. Check out his thoughts in the Q&A below, and for the best inside look at the Cougars, just look for the ubiquitous WSU flag on every single College Game Day and ask those guys because those guys are amazing, or you can take a shortcut and head on over to Coug Center here.
BN: Who are the players on offense we don't know about, but should?
Jeff: Gabe Marks is probably at the top of this list. He's a former four-star recruit who was WSU's leading receiver two years ago, but he redshirted last year after experiencing some injury and off-field issues leading up to the 2014 season. He was dominant during spring practice, which isn't really a huge accomplishment against our secondary, but still: The talent remains, and he's poised for a huge season.
There's also a good chance you'll want to familiarize yourself with WSU's three-headed monster at running back. While it's not called the Air Raid for nothing, the Cougars are hoping to get more from the backfield this year, and Gerald Wicks, Jamal Morrow and Keith Harrington probably are as talented a group as WSU has had in some time. Wicks (5-11/219) is a wrecking ball, Harrington is a jitterbug who converted from WR (5-7/180) and Morrow is a nice middle ground between the two (5-8/189).
BN: Who are the players on defense we don't know about, but should?
Jeff: Jeremiah Allison is a playmaker at linebacker -- you'll see him from sideline to sideline. Cougar fans also would hope to be able to add anyone in the secondary to that list when the game rolls around, because that means the defensive backfield -- the achilles heel of the team the past few years -- is substantially improved.
BN: What game has the biggest circle on the calendar and why?
Jeff: The standard answer is the Apple Cup, because duh. But if we're talking about WSU's season prospects, the second game -- on the road at Rutgers -- is absolutely enormous. The loss to the Scarlet Knights last season contributed to the season getting off the rails right out of the gate. A win in that one and WSU should be able to polish off a 3-0 nonconference schedule the following week against Wyoming at home, paving the way for a return to a bowl game.
BN: What is your prediction for your season record?
Jeff: I'll go 6-6, because I think this is a six-win team on talent. But I've been a fan long enough to know that wins don't always follow talent, as was exemplified last season.
BN: This will be Mike Leach's 4th year at the helm in Pullman. His Air Raid Offense should be well ingrained and he'll have most of his own recruits playing key roles this year with experience in the system. Will the addition of the new DC provide enough push on defense to supplement the high powered offense and get the Cougars back into bowl territory this season?
Jeff: I think so, yes -- presuming new defensive coordinator Alex Grinch isn't in way over his head. It's helpful that he comes from Missouri, as the Big 12/SEC feature similar kinds of innovative offenses as the Pac-12, so there shouldn't be any surprises. The talent has steadily improved, and this should be the year we really see that take effect on the field.
Washington State Cougars
Head Coach: Mike Leach, 4th year
2014 Record: 3-9, 2-7 (conf), tie 5th in Pac12 North
2014 Bowl: none
Key returnees: QB Luke Falk (rSo), WR Gabe Marks (rJr), WR River Cracraft (Jr), WR/RB Jamal Morrow (rSo), DE Kache Palacio (Sr), LB Jeremiah Allison (Sr)
Key losses: QB Connor Halliday, WR Vince Mayle, WR Isiah Myers, DL Xavier Cooper, DL Toni Pole, DB Daquawn Brown
For all the details on WSU's depth chart and season prospects, check out Coug Center's incredible Football Season Preview section here (we're totally stealing the code for that next year).
AP Preseason Rank: NR
Matchup with UCLA: v WSU, Sat Nov 14, kickoff time tba
Thanks again to Jeff and all the gang at Coug Center. Check out their excellent site here, and follow them on Twitter at @CougCenter.