Washington State's current run of incompetence is reaching historic proportions. The Cougars have lost at least eight games in each of the past five seasons, a stretch spanning Paul Wulff's entire career at the helm with the program and former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach's debut, a 3-9 opening complete with a last-place finish in the Pac-12 North and a rather embarrassing loss to Colorado. With the only highlight of last season being a dramatic finale win over cross state rival, Washington Huskies in the Apple Cup, momentum has seemed to finally find itself into the beginning of the 2013 season. "I was there in Pullman for the Apple Cup last year and it was the most exciting game I have ever seen. I am real excited to be a part of the Cougar family this year and to finally sit with the students at the games," said freshman Katie Wiley.
College football seasons are not the easiest to predict, especially when the majority of the fans do not see their team for the first time until their regular season opener. With that said, this is a different circumstance. With the kickoff of the 2013 college football season already underway, we have a 2013 outlook of the best-case scenario for the Cougs this season.
The offense welcomes back seven starters from a unit that put up just 20.4 points per game last year. Leach’s Air Raid offense didn’t take flight in its first season, but it should be much more efficient in the second year of the new system. QB Connor Halliday returns along with four starters along the offensive line and five of the top six receivers. Most offensive starters should have a much better grasp on the system now, which should lead to a more successful season offensively. “As long as we stay confident and keep our heads up, do not get down on ourselves at any point during the season and finish out our games strong, there is no doubt in my mind that we will have a strong season this year,” said WSU student Cameron Kalahar when asked about his outlook of the season. I have been watching Cougar football ever since I was a little kid and this is one of the most exciting seasons I have ever looked forward to, he adds.
On the other side of the ball, the defense allowed 33.7 points per game last season and must improve. That should not be a problem considering nine starters and six of the top seven tacklers are back. However, the Cougars lose arguably their best player on this side of the ball in Travis Long due to the NFL, but leading the way for the team will be FS Deone Bucannon (106 tackles, 4 INT) and LB Darryl Monroe (80 tackles, 8.5 for loss).
The Cougars opened up with a tough game on the road in SEC environment at Auburn. Although they may be at the very bottom of the pack in the SEC, do not fall asleep on this newly revamped team under new head coach Gus Malzahn. If I were to make a pick before the season began, I would have taken the Cougs over the Tigers in a tough match that came down to the Cougar defense frustrating new QB Nick Marshall all night. Cougars win 27-17. Leach and company will have fire in their eyes as they head to “The Coliseum” for the Cougs’ second week matchup. There is no doubt that the Cougs will be focused and ready to go coming off that tough loss. This is a much-improved team that has shown they have the potential to matchup with the Trojans. If you are like me and watched the Trojans last week versus Hawaii, then you definitely have to think upset alert. If our defense can contain Trojan star WR Marqise Lee and Halliday can find his rhythm early, this game has potential to go in the favor of the Cougs. Cougs win 21-17. Heading back home to Pullman, the Cougars take on Southern Utah and fellow neighbor Idaho Vandals to round out the non-conference schedule. Cougs take out both those teams easily in an orderly fashion and start the season hot with a 4-0 record.
Week 5’s matchup takes place in Seattle for all the Coug fans on the west side of the state. The Cougs battle powerhouse Stanford that comes into Washington highly ranked in the BCS top 25 poll. This one gets away from the Cougs early and the Cardinal send them back to Pullman with a grueling 37-17 loss. The Cougs bounce back from a tough loss and travel down to California for an interesting matchup the following week. In a breakout game by sophomore WR Gabe Marks who goes for over 125 yards and 2 touchdowns, the Cougs whip California 28-14. Week 7 goes back to Pullman for a competitive and entertaining game versus Oregon State for Dad’s Weekend. It’s a back and forth game all night with senior kicker Andrew Furney nailing a deep field goal for the win at the closing seconds. The Cougs win a thriller 31-28. On the road once again for week 8, this time in Autzen Stadium versus the high powered offense of the Oregon Ducks. Speed and quickness kill the Cougs defense early and Oregon runs away with an easy win behind Heisman hopeful RB De’Anthony Thomas who goes for over 150 yards on the ground and 3 touchdowns including a punt return for a score. Cougs fall 42-21.
Week 9 brings a real quiet but talented Arizona State team into the Palouse. Keys to this game will certainly be how our defense handles QB Tyler Kelly. I predict that our defense plays exceptionally well with the help of the hometown crowd and bounces back to limit the Sun Devil offense to only a few scores and some huge stops late. Cougs win this one 28-21. Week 10 is the trip to Arizona to take on the Wildcats. This is another challenging game for the Cougs because of Arizona’s All-American RB Ka’deem Carey. The Cougs’ struggle to stop the run all season shows in this game as the Wildcats pounce the Cougars 28-10. Going back home for the Cougs’ arguably easiest conference game of the season, facing the Utes of Utah. This game comes easy for Connor Halliday as he finds numerous downfield strikes versus the weak Utes secondary. Cougs prevail 34-17.
The Apple Cup, the last game of the regular season versus cross-state rival Washington Huskies. Remember what happened last year against this squad? Of course you remember. The game this year is going to have the same outcome. With the game taking place in Seattle, plenty of Cougar fans will still be there to cheer on a consecutive Coug win over UW. Connor Halliday leads this 8-3 WSU team strong throughout the whole game throwing for over 300 yards and multiple TD’s with zero interceptions. UW hangs close alongside talented QB Keith Price but can’t get it done in the closing minutes of the game. The most thrilling game of every season ends in the Cougars favor, 28-24.
Finishing the regular season with an astonishing 9-3 record and placing third in the Pac-12 standings leads us into the post season Holiday Bowl game versus our own Coach Leach’s former team, the Texas Tech Red Raiders. Two high-powered passing attacks go head to head with high scores being posted on the board. I have the Cougs winning 35-28. The first bowl game won since 2003!
This is our season best-case scenario season preview for the Cougs this year. Stay tuned for more stories regarding the WSU Football team and remember, GO COUGS!