College Football Preview: The 2014 Washington State Cougars
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2014 College Football Preview
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Overview: It was a successful year in Mike Leach’s second season with Washington State, as the Cougars won six games and reached a bowl game for the first time since 2003. Leach has proven that it’s going to take time to turn Washington State into a football powerhouse, but last season was a monster step in the right direction given what he had to work with and the fact the program won two or fewer games in four of the five seasons previously. Washington State fans likely can’t wait to see what this season holds and if more progress can be made in Leach’s third season.
Offense: You know Leach’s offense all starts at the quarterback position, and the coach has his quarterback in senior Connor Halliday. Last season, Halliday threw for more than 4,500 yards and 34 touchdowns, all while tossing the pigskin 714 times. There’s a chance Halliday could throw the ball 1,000 times this season, but he must limit his 22 interceptions if this season is going to be successful. Washington State also has its top three receivers returning in Gabe Marks, Dom Williams and River Cracraft, a trio that racked up 17 touchdowns last season. The running game doesn’t even need to be addressed given the fact Washington State doesn’t run the football with just 243 carries last season. If there’s one concern with Washington State’s offense, it’d be the loss of three starting offensive linemen.
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Defense: Washington State has the ability to improve on last year’s defense with a bunch of key guys returning for another season. Xavier Cooper led the Cougars with five sacks and should be poised to have a monster year along the defensive line. A linebacker core of Darryl Monroe, Cyrus Coen and Tana Pritchard is about as physical as they come and will quickly become the heart and soul of Washington State’s defense. The Cougars secondary, however, did lose a key duo in Deone Bucannon and Damante Horton, two guys who combined for 11 interceptions last season. Daquawn Brown has the potential to be a breakout player, but he has to get his off the field issues in order. Washington State forced a ton of turnovers last year, but must learn to get stops as well and stop relying so much on the game-changing plays.
Special Teams: Erik Powell will be the Cougars new kicker after the graduation of Andrew Furney. At punter, Wes Concepcion will take over the job after averaging a little more than 36 yards per attempt in limited action.
Outlook: In order for Washington State to take that next step as a program, Halliday must stop throwing so many interceptions and the defense must improve greatly. The Cougars were 97th in points allowed last season, which simply isn’t going to get the job done, especially in a loaded Pac-12. Washington State has a favorable schedule with games against Oregon, Arizona, USC and Washington all on its home turf. There’s potential, but Washington State fans have to be realistic. I think the best case scenario for this team is an eight-win season.