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2016 Fierce 40 Previews: #34 Washington State

by DJ Boyer on Jul. 12, 2016

#34 Washington State Cougars

2015 Recap:
 A 9-4 record including a Sun Bowl victory over Miami was the best record Washington State has seen in some time. Expectations may be getting higher and higher, will double digit wins now follow?


Coaching:
Mike Leach is an accompished college football coach and offensive guru throwing the football. Last year was a huge year for Leach, the spotlight was on him after logging just 12 victories in his first three seasons at Washington State. The Cougars had the top ranked passing game at the FBS level last season and they bring back their quarterback and three of their top four receivers.  Alex Grinch leads the defense for his second season and Leach continues to handle all of the offensive duties.


Offense

Luke Falk has the controls of the offense and for as many times as Washington State throws the ball, having only 8 interceptions is quite an accomplishment. Falk had an impressive 38 touchdown passes and added another 3 with his feet. Falk has the ability to spread the ball all over the field as we already explained three of his top four targets from last season are back. What does that equate to exactly.....only 200-2297-19 worth of production. Tavares Martin will start as the 4th receiver as he will be turned loose as a deep threat to take advantage of his sub 4.4 speed. Gabe Marks leads the corps and he may be the best draft prospect on the entire team. The offensive line will be the concern as Washington State allowed 41 sacks a season ago, again that number will be a little inflated due to the offense and the number of dropbacks. Even with these concerns Washington State wants this number to stay on the south side of 30 and they are led by tackle Cole Madison.
 

Best Draft Prospects: Luke Falk QB 3rd Round 2018 (possibility remians open for early entry in 2017 Draft).

                                       Gabe Marks WR 2nd/3rd Round 2017.


Defense

With the amount of talent returning on offense I know you are reading this and thinking a ranking of #34 must be low for an explosive offense like the Cougars. Well the game is played on two sides of the ball and the defense leaves much to be desired. Last year the defense performed well but Alex Grinch doesn't have the same horses up front. Washington State will primarily play a 3-4 set and only tackle Robert Barber returns up front. Hercules Mata'afa will be counted on for a lot of pressures and this will be a question mark heading into the season. The starters are Pac-12 calibur but the depth is thin so any injuries up front could be devastating to the Cougars. Much of the backside of the defense returns and Peyton Pelluer leads the charge at middle linebacker. Pelluer registered 101 tackles with 11 coming for loss a season ago. Shalom Luani came over from the junior college ranks last season and helped stabilize the secondary as he went between free and strong safety. The cornerback position is where the Cougars enjoy the most depth and the top four on the depth chart will all see significant time including returning starters Darrien Molten and Marcellus Pippins.

Best Draft Prospects: Shalom Luani S 7rd Round 2017.

                                      Hercules Mata'afa 4th Round 2019.


Special Teams:

A massive area of concern comes on special teams where Washington State failed to register a return touchdown a season ago while giving up a pair of punt return and kickoff return touchdowns. A -4 in the special teams touchdown column along with an overall -1 turnover ratio does not instill a ton of confidence. Washington State was beat soundly in the special teams department in nearly every game they played in 2015. Erik Powell and Zach Charme return in the kicking game but both finished well near the bottom of the conference with their overall performance.


Schedule:

Washington State opens at home with Eastern Washington, this game doesn;t sound dangerous but Eastern Washington is a giant killer. Not to mention last year Portland State defeated Washington State in their opener. Week 2 on the road against Boise State will go a long way in showing us all where Washington State ranks heading into conference play.  Washington State gets a lot of their tougher Pac-12 opponents at home so a quick start could go a long way.

Draft and Overall Outlook:

The turnaround by Leach last season was remarkable and maybe the best at the FBS level. After the Portland State loss many were wondering if Leach would make it past 2015 or even get fired during the season. The pattented Mike Leach system is in place on offense, now they need to find a way to attract big name defensive talent to the school to become a consistent title contender. It will be interesting to see if Falk stays for his senior year at quarterback or if he follows wide receiver Gabe Marks to the NFL.

DJ Boyer