Washington State Cougars
2012 Record: 3-9 (1-8 in Pac-12)
Head Coach: Mike Leach (2nd year at Wazzu, 87-52 All-Time)
Last Bowl Game: 2003 Holiday Bowl: beat Texas 28-20
Stadium: Martin Stadium in Pullman, WA (capacity = 35,117)
Home Field Advantage: ranked 61st out of 69 BCS teams
Out of Conference: 8/31 at Auburn, 9/14 vs Southern Utah, 9/21 vs Idaho
Conference Home Games: 9/28 vs Stanford, 10/12 vs Oregon State, 10/31 vs Arizona State, 11/23 vs Utah
Stats to Fear: converted on just 31.72% of third downs (11th in Pac-12), scored TDs on 53.85% of red zone trips (11th in Pac-12)
Stat to Cheer: had 56 pass plays of 20 yds or more (tied for 1st in Pac-12), held opponents to 76.79% success rate in red zone (2nd in Pac-12)
Advanced Stats (Football Outsiders 2012 FEI Ranking): 97th out of 124 teams
Phil Steele's Returning Starters: Offense: 8, Defense: 4, Special Teams: 0
Key Defensive Returnees: S Deone Bucannon (106 tackles), LB Darryl Monroe (80 tackles)
Key Offensive Returnees: QB Connor Halliday (1878 yds pass, 52.2% completions, 15 TD, 13 INT), WR Gabe Marks (49 rec), WR Brett Bartolone (53 rec), WR Isiah Myers (41 rec), WR Dominique Williams (34 rec)
The word of the day after Mike Leach was hired as Wazzu's new head coach was "excitement". After a disappointing first year, is that excitement still there? Coming off of a 4-8 season, most thought that Leach would be able to plug and play a bit with the offense and at worst finish the 2012 season with the same record as 2011. They started 2-1 but the 35-34 loss to Colorado was a heart breaker and Wazzu never recovered until the final week of the season when they popped rival Washington 31-28. Can they build on that upset as they enter 2013?
Junior Connor Halliday will get the football for the Cougars but he struggled last year in Mike Leach's offense as he completed just 52.2% of his passes and threw 13 INTs. In Leach's offense, Halliday has to be more accurate. In Leach's best season at Texas Tech, his RBs averaged 4.83 ypc and had 28 TDs. Last year the Cougars averaged 1.38 ypc and had just 6 TDs. They ran for just 349 yards. Even in an air raid offense there has to be some balance, some threat of run and something to check to but last year it was not there for the Cougars. The receiving corps is the strength of this team and that's good news for a team that likes to throw the rock around. The OL allowed 57 sacks last year. 57! What will year two bring for Mike Leach's offense? I'm interested to find out.
Statistically the Washington State defense took a small step back last year but that tends to happen when you are near the bottom of the league in time of possession and you don't have a solid run game to control the ball when needed. The defense has some good individual players in Deone Bucannon and Darryl Monroe. Mike Breske did a good job last year with the talent that he had and it will be interesting to see if the Cougars can show improvement in 2013.
There are a lot of questions for this Cougars squad and the schedule is going to be a tough one. The Pac-12 as a whole has stepped up their game with the massive turnover they've had in the coaching ranks over the last few years and every game in the conference will be a battle. The non-conference schedule should put the Cougars at 2-1 at worst unless they can go on the road and beat an Auburn team that really struggled last season. Despite that game featuring two teams with losing records from 2012, that will be a very interesting match-up and will serve as a launching spot for one of these two teams. This could definitely be a team that turns the corner this year but I think it's more likely that happens two or three years down the line. That being said, Leach always has some tricks up his sleeve so the Cougars will be a fun team to watch in 2013. If the buzz word for 2012 was "excitement", the buzz word for 2013 is "interest" and I'm very interested to see what Leach and Wazzu do this season.
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