Pac 12

2010 NCAA Football Preview: Washington State Cougars

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2009 Record: 1-11 (0-9 in Pac-10)
2009 Bowl: None
Final 2009 AP Ranking:  Not Ranked
Head Coach: Paul Wulff (3-22 at Washington State, 1-17 in Pac-10, 56-60 All-Time)
Non-Conference Schedule: at Oklahoma State (9/4), Montana State (9/11), at SMU (9/18)

2009 Offensive Statistics (avoid looking directly at these stats if you are a Cougars fan!)
Scoring: 12.0 points per game (last in Pac-10, 119th in Nation)
Rushing Yards/Game: 70 (last in Pac-10, 118th in Nation)
Passing Yards/Game: 176 (last in Pac-10, 100th in Nation)
Total Yards/Game: 246 (last in Pac-10, 119th in Nation) 

2009 Defensive Statistics (avoid looking directly at these stats if you are a Cougars fan!)
Scoring: 38.5 points per game (last in Pac-10, 118th in Nation)
Rushing Yards/Game: 236 (last in Pac-10, 117th in Nation)
Passing Yards/Game: 275 (last in Pac-10, 115th in Nation)
Total Yards/Game: 512 (last in Pac-10, last in Nation)

2009 Misc Stats
Turnover Margin: -0.58 per game (last in Pac-10, 102nd in Nation)
Penalties: 56 yards per game (last in Pac-10)

Returning Starters
Offense: 8
Defense: 7
Kicker/Punter: 2

Top Returning Statistical Leaders
Passing: QB Jeff Tuel, Soph (71 of 121 for 789 yds, 6 TD, 5 INT, 131 ypg)
Passing: QB Marshall Lobbestael, Jr (67 of 144 for 655, 3 TD, 8 INT, 72 ypg)
Rushing: RB James Montgomery, Sr (37 carries for 167 yds, 1 TD, 4.5 ypc, 33 ypg)
Receiving: WR Jared Karstetter, Jr (38 rec, 520 yds, 6 TD, 3.2 rec/game, 43 ypg)
Tackles: LB Alex Hoffman-Ellis, Jr (84)
Sacks: 4 tied with 2
Interceptions: LB Myron Beck, Jr (2)

2010 Pre-Season Rankings
Athlon Sports: #96
Pre-Snap Read: #110

2010 Pre-Season Pac-10 Prediction:
Athlon Sports: #10
Phil Steele: #10

There is no way to sugar coat it, Washington State was terrible last year. In fact, they were dead last in the Pac-10 in every offensive and defensive team statistic that we look at in our previews. Washington State is among the leaders in the Pac-10 in returning starters, is this a good thing or a bad thing? The Cougars last went to a bowl game in 2003, will this be the year that they start to build toward their next appearance? We turned to the SB Nation Washington State centric blog Coug Center and got the inside scoop from Craig Powers on the 2010 version of the Cougars.

What are the major strengths and biggest weaknesses of the Cougars?

"Strength" is a word we throw around very loosely for this team. In reality, the Cougs have been bad on defense, awful on offense, and very iffy on special teams (with the exception being our awesome punter and Heisman Candidate Reid Forrest, who gets more than enough chances to display his talents).

Lamenting aside, the strongest group are the linebackers. Guys like Alex Hoffman-Ellis and Louis Bland have above average speed and are able to make big plays. I'm sure if they get a little bit of help from the guys in front of them, we could see a few of the linebackers have real impressive seasons.

The biggest weaknesses lie in the trenches. The offense line cannot keep our quarterbacks upright and rarely open up holes in the running game. In the last two seasons, we've seen our top three quarterbacks be out due to injury at the same time. There has been more than one occasion where the backup punter has finished the game.

On the other side of the ball, the defensive line has been decimated by injuries, and it wasn't that much of a strength to begin with. We were hoping to have a little bit of depth there heading into this season, after signing several JUCO's and returning almost everyone, but that is already looking like wishful thinking. One guy has been declared academically ineligible, another is struggling to qualify, and a third failed a drug test that will keep him off the field until Game 10.

Coug fans are hoping for great improvement from the big boys, but there really is only one way to go from where the level of play was last year.

Looking at the schedule who will be the first major test?

With the exception of Montana State (we hope), every team is a major test for these guys. The first of those is the opening game in Stillwater, OK. WSU will face a good Oklahoma State squad who is more talented in almost every position on the field. Our hope is that our reputation will precede us, and the Cowboys will come out flat. Two seasons ago, the Cougs hung pretty close (meaning within two touchdowns) for most of the game until some special teams blunders and Dez Bryant put the game away.

What team on the schedule do you fear the most?

Honestly? Montana State. Why? Because that is the only game on the schedule we are supposed to win and I'm terrified we won't.

Who is the best offensive player on the team?

This depends, but if he is able to come back from injury at full strength, it is running back James Montgomery. He impressed last year with his ability to get yards when there was little space (a MUST with that offensive line) and to make a few plays in the passing game. He is a little bit power, and a little bit elusiveness. Sadly, he suffered a horrific injury last year called Acute Compartment Syndrome after taking a seemingly harmless shot to the leg against SMU. In short, it causes a blood clot in his leg that threatened his life and if surgery had been delayed, he would have assuredly lost his leg. Some muscle had to be removed and that is why we are unsure of how much he will be able to contribute this year.

If Montgomery is out, the best offensive player is probably wideout Jared Karstetter. He is a big body and has enough quickness to create space and make plays, especially in the red zone. He has played a huge hand in WSU's last two wins, catching the game tying touchdown against SMU last year and breaking free for a huge gain against UW two years ago to set up the game-tying field goal (Obviously that sealed his fate as a fan favorite).

Who is the most impactful defensive player on the team?

Chima Nwachukwu is a four-year starter in the defensive backfield. He began as a corner, but has been moved back to safety. The last two years he has been one of the few on the defensive side of the field for the Cougs that could be described as "Pac-10 caliber."

What player(s) needs to step up this year in order for the team to reach it's full capability?

The lines. There is some talent in the backfield on both sides of the ball, but that talent isn't worth anything if the guys up front can't hold their own.

Who is the top offensive newcomer that can make an impact this year?

Ricky Galvin. A running back in the mold of Jacquizz Rogers at Oregon State. He probably won't see a lot of time from scrimmage his freshman year, but he should be an upgrade in the return game. He is speedy and could break off big runs if given a gap on kickoffs. With WSU's defensive capabilities, Galvin should get many kick return opportunities.

Who is the top defensive newcomer that can make an impact this year?

Brandon Rankin. A JUCO defensive lineman. He is probably best fit at the rush end position, but he is going to have to play inside because of the Cougs' lack of size and depth on the line. He is very talented and actually received a late recruiting pitch from Alabama. We are desperately hoping he provides a consistent, effective presence.

Paul Wulff has been on the job for 2 years. He inherited a 5-7 team and has gone 2-11 and 1-11 and is 1-17 in conference play. Is this team close to coming out of the other side of these past two seasons?

It's true, Wulff did inherit a team that had went 5-7 the season before, but it was not the same team. He lost a four-year starter at quarterback and there was a mass exodus of players who didn't like Wulff's style (meaning they didn't like to do "conditioning") or guys that Wulff saw as bad influences on the team. Wulff also was left with the task of putting together a recruiting class that had ZERO commitments when he took the job.

These last two seasons have seen a very young team that was largely decimated by injuries. Wulff really did not have much to work with.

As far as if the team is "close to coming out of the other side," I would say yes. The current coaching staff has done a remarkable job on the recruiting trail and are only now starting to get their players in place. Even following those two awful seasons, Wulff and company already have 11 verbal commitments for the 2011 class. What's left to be seen is how well he implements his system with those guys in place.

What does Wulff need to do better to get this team headed in the right direction?

One thing Coug fans have not seen with Wulff in charge is a game where WSU comes out with a perfect game plan and executes it against a team with superior talent. If the Cougs are going to win games this year, that absolutely has to happen.

What is the general feeling of the fanbase towards Wulff? Do they feel he is the right guy and if he has another 0 or 1 win Pac-10 year is he likely to be on his way out?

It really depends which message board you read and who you ask. Most sensible fans realize that Wulff arrived to a bare cupboard and has been doing all he can to inject some talent into this team. Most think that Wulff probably needs at least another year after this one before we can really judge him. However, if the Cougs finish 1-11 again, there is a strong possibility that he is let go. What really matters is how competitive the team is. These guys have been losing by 5-8 TOUCHDOWNS a game for the last two years. It will take a lot of improvement to get those games close, and that is what we are hoping to see this year.

Gut feeling on the teams final record at the end of the regular season and what makes this a successful season in your eyes?

My gut says this team beats Montana State and pulls one more win out of the hat. This season is a success for me if the Cougs do rise up and challenge most teams they face. The last two years, the games have been over by halftime and Coug fans are getting pretty tired of it. If this team shows me they can compete, I will feel good about the future. To be honest, that's pretty sad considering this program was kicking around Texas in the Holiday Bowl as recently as 2003.

Make sure to visit Coug Center this year to follow the progression of Washington State. You can also follow them on twitter @CougCenter. They even have a podcast you can listen to!

Previous Pac-10 Previews:
Arizona State Sun Devils 
Oregon Ducks 
Stanford Cardinal 
USC Trojans
Washington Huskies

Next Up: California Golden Bears

Previous Pre-Season Previews
ACC- Boston College Eagles, Duke Blue Devils, Florida State Seminoles, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, Maryland Terrapins, Virginia Cavaliers, Virginia Tech Hokies, Wake Forest Demon Deacons
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Big Ten- Illinois Fighting Illini, Michigan Wolverines, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Northwestern Wildcats, Ohio State Buckeyes, Purdue Boilermakers
C-USA- Houston Cougars,  SMU Mustangs, Southern Miss Golden Eagles, Tulane Green Wave, UTEP Miners
Independent- Army Black Knights, Navy Midshipmen, Notre Dame Fighting Irish 
MAC- Ball State Cardinals, Bowling Green Falcons, Buffalo Bulls, Central Michigan Chippewas, Temple Owls, Toledo Rockets
MWC- BYU Cougars,  Colorado State Rams, UNLV Rebels, Utah Utes
SEC- Auburn Tigers, Georgia Bulldogs, Kentucky Wildcats, LSU Tigers, Mississippi Rebels, South Carolina Gamecocks, Vanderbilt Commodores
Sun Belt- FIU Golden Panthers, North Texas Mean Green, Troy Trojans
WAC- Boise State Broncos, Fresno State Bulldogs, Louisiana Tech Bulldogs, New Mexico State Aggies