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North #5: Washington State


State of the Program:

Washington State is a program beginning to show signs of recovery from the the worst period in program history. The Cougars won only 5 games in the three seasons from ’08– ’10, going a dismal 2-25 in conference play. During that time, the Cougs were outgained by over 250 yards per game.

The 4-8 finish WSU posted last year might seem grim on the surface, but four was more than double the win total of any WSU team of the previous four years, and in 2011, WSU actually outgained their opponents for the first time since 2007. Jeff Tuel proved to be a quality starting quarterback and Marquess Wilson had one of the best seasons of any WR in the country.

Into this improving situation steps college football’s most fascinating – and possibly most innovative – coach, Mike Leech. Leech has engineered the most prolific passing attack in school history at pretty much every place he’s ever coached. In Leach’s first year at Kentucky, the Wildcats went from a sub 1,000 yard passing season the previous year to 3,800+. At Oklahoma, the jump was 745 to 3,850. At Texas Tech, 1,900 to 3,500.

The Red Raiders rode incredible production from Leach’s “Air Raid” offense to bowls in all ten of Leach’s seasons. One year, (2007) they averaged an incredible 470 passing yards per game.

The similarities between Washington State and Texas Tech are striking. Both are unassuming programs in isolated college towns struggling for relevancy in power conferences that include the biggest and flashiest names in College football. Both are programs that thrive on developing players the big boys didn’t want, and both Lubbock and Pullman are places where a man from Cody, Wyoming, who has very little use for pretense, can be himself. Even if doing so involves making frequent speeches about pirates that do not always relate to football.

Star Watch:

One big advantage to having Mike Leach in Pullman will be that the Cougars will get more exposure; meaning that we’ll all see a little more of Marquess Wilson this season. Wilson led the Pac-12 in receiving last year with nearly 1400 receiving yards and averaged almost 17 yards per catch! Both of those numbers were better than USC’s Robert Woods who lead SportsCenter every Saturday night last season. How may of Wilson’s highlights did you see last year?

With Leach in town and QB Jeff Tuel back for his senior year, Wilson could be even more productive. Hopefully, us football fans will get a chance to see it. C’mon ESPN! Show us some Marquess Wilson!

Roster Changes:

The Cougs are fairly experienced this year returning seven starters on each side of the ball. On offense, WSU returns Wilson, Tuel, three O-linemen and all three of their top rushers from last year. The defense looks good too returning four of its top six tacklers (But ol’ Blackbeard is running the show now; who cares about defense?)


The Schedule does not look too bad for the Cougars this year. Their BYU, Eastern Washington, UNLV non-conference opponents strike a pretty good balance between interesting and winnable. In conference, the Cougs have five Pac-12 home games to only four on the road.  They draw Colorado out of the South, and get the Apple Cup game with UW at home. PS: One of those conference road games is a very winnable one at Oregon State.


WSU is still rebuilding and transitioning head coaches is almost never easy, but Mike Leach tends to get immediate results (at least offensively) and here he steps into a situation with built-in personnel that looks made for his offense.

The schedule is about as nice as you can ask for in the Pac-12, and you can’t help but love this Mike Leach/Pullman combination. The Pac-12 North is tough, but let’s call for Leach to keep his 10-year bowl streak alive and lead the Cougars to their first post season since 2006.