Washington State should at least be interesting this season under new head coach Mike Leach, the former offensive guru at Texas Tech. Leach was 84-43 at Texas Tech, leading the Red Raiders to 10 bowl appearances in 10 seasons. Five of his final six teams at Texas Tech finished ranked among the nation’s Top 25. His 2008 team was 11-1 during the regular season, beating Texas and sharing the Big 12 title with the Longhorns and Oklahoma. But Leach was fired in 2009 amid allegations he mistreated a player who had a concussion.
Paul Wulff was fired at Wazzu after going 9-40 in four years during which he was charged with rebuilding a downtrodden football program. The team opened2011 by winning three of its first four games but injuries and a lack of experience cost the team late as the squad lost seven of its remaining eight games to finish at 4-8. While his best season yet in Pullman, it wasn’t enough to save Wulff.
Jeff Tuel will be Leach’s QB. After starting and throwing for 2,780 yards and 18 touchdowns in 2010, Tuel missed all but three games last season with a broken collarbone and leg injury. . If Tuel can emulate the success other first year quarterbacks have had in Leach’s system, he’ll rewrite Washington State’s record book. Former Cougar quarterback Ryan Leaf holds the single-season passing record on passing yards with 3,968 yards; Leach’s quarterbacks have bested that number in seven of his 10 seasons as a coach.
Tailback Rickey Galvin returns after leading the Cougars in rushing last season. He gained 602 yards and scored five touchdowns, averaging a respectable 5.3 yards per carry. Also back in WR Marquess Wilson. As a sophomore, he caught 82 balls for 1,388 yards and 12 touchdowns. His yards ranked sixth nationally and he was 19th in receptions. The offensive line surrendered 38 sacks in 2011, ranking dead last in the Pac-12 and 111th in the country (out of 120 teams). Three starters are back from that group.
Leach’s offense might be able to score points, but that won’t matter if the Cougars defense is surrendering more points than the offense is scoring. Washington State gave up 31.8 point per game last season, which ranked ninth in the Pac-12 and 95th in the country. New Cougar defensive coordinator Mike Breske has the defense switching to a 3-4 scheme this season, which should make matching up with the spread offenses in the Pac-12 a little easier. Leach dismissed three starters from the team for disciplinary reasons: tackle Anthony Laurenzi along with linebackers Sekope Kaufusi and C.J. Mizell were all let go after being arrested.
Washington State hasn’t had a winning season since 2003. But with Leach, the Cougars could return to their first bowl game since 2003 when they beat Vince Young and Texas in the Holiday Bowl. Given an abundance of talent at the skill positions, WSU should be in a number of shootouts.
Top returners: QB Jeff Tuel, WR Marquess Wilson, OL John Fullington, S Deone Bucannon, LB Travis Long, WR Andrei Lintz, RB Rickey Galvin.
Key losses: LB Alex Hoffman-Ellis, LT David Gonzales, OL B.J. Guerra, WR Jared Karstetter.
Sept. 1 at BYU
Sept. 8 E. Washington
Sept. 14 at UNLV
Sept. 22 Colorado
Sept. 29 Oregon
Oct. 6 at Oregon State
Oct. 13 California
Oct. 27 at Stanford
Nov. 3 at Utah
Nov. 10 UCLA
Nov. 17 at Arizona State
Nov. 23 Washington