2012 Washington State Preview
Washington State WR Marquess Wilson
Washington State WR Marquess Wilson
Posted Aug 12, 2012

CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Washington State Cougars

Washington State Cougars

Preview 2012

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By Richard Cirminiello

Head coach: Mike Leach
First year: 0-0
Returning Lettermen
Off. 25, Def. 19, ST, 2
Lettermen Lost: 18
Ten Best Wazzu Players
1. WR Marquess Wilson, Jr.
2. BUCK Travis Long, Sr.
3. QB Jeff Tuel, Sr.
4. SS Deone Bucannon, Jr.
5. CB Damante Horton, Jr.
6. RB Rickey Galvin, Soph.
7. DL Anthony Laurenzi, Sr.
8. LT John Fullington, Jr.
9. PK Andrew Furney, Jr.
2012 Schedule
Aug. 30 at BYU
Sep. 8 Eastern Washington
Sep. 14 at UNLV
Sep. 22 Colorado
Sep 29 Oregon
Oct. 6 at Oregon State
Oct. 13 California
Oct. 27 at Stanford
Nov. 3 at Utah
Nov. 10 UCLA
Nov. 17 at Arizona State
Nov. 23 Washington
It's been a long time since there's been as much excitement on the Palouse about football as there is today. That's the power of Mike Leach.

The Cougars landed a proven winner, a showman and a coach who's capable of putting the program back on the radar for the first time since Mike Price was handing the baton to Bill Doba nearly a decade ago. While Wazzu is still clearly rebuilding, particularly on defense, don't expect the transformation to be a protracted process. Leach doesn't operate that way.

It's going to help that he and his staff inherit the key pieces of a passing attack that should flourish early in the season. QB Jeff Tuel is a longtime starter, who looked in the spring as if he was groomed to operate the Air Raid system. And Marquess Wilson is one of the country's most underrated wide receivers, an All-America talent, sans all of the hype and notoriety. Now all the program needs is for the O-line to begin pulling more of the weight, no small request on this campus.

The play of the defense and special teams have haunted Washington State for years, and will not likely be solved overnight. However, there are some valuable parts with which to build around, such as versatile Buck Travis Long, S Deone Bucannon and CB Damante Horton. However, at the end of the day, if the program is going to gradually emerge from its eight-year bowl-less ditch it'll be the result of the revamped offense.

In getting one of college football's premier free agent coaches, Washington State could not have landed a better fit for its dilapidated program. The coach needed a new university to begin resuscitating his career. The school was pining for new energy on the sidelines. And just like that, a very compelling marriage was born. While the Cougs are still a long way from primetime, it's not going to take much, such as a high-profile upset or a late-season push for bowl eligibility, for them to turn a flicker of optimism into a full-blown movement in certain parts of the Pacific Northwest.

What to watch for on offense: Tuel time. Spring practice was supposed to be the scene of a tight quarterback battle between senior Jeff Tuel and sophomore Connor Halliday. And then the drills began. Tuel never looked back, instantly wowing the coaching staff with his physical ability and quick retention of the system's nuances. The injury-prone incumbent appears capable of flourishing as the triggerman of the Air Raid, using his final year as an opportunity to impress all-star balloters and pro scouts. He'll ample support from the skill positions , namely WR Marquess Wilson and RB Rickey Galvin.

What to watch for on defense: Fast and furious. The Cougars simply don't have the size or muscle to bully opponents in 2012, so they'll opt instead to attack with a cadre of undersized, frenetic athletes. New defensive coordinator Mike Breske wants his unit to close quickly and swarm tackle the man with the ball. He also plans on employing a 3-4 alignment designed to trade one big body up front with a safety-sized linebacker. Washington State hopes to set the tone on defense, even if it means getting burned deep on occasion.

The team will be far better if… the quarterbacks can remain healthy all year. All things considered, the Cougars actually did pretty well offensively in 2011, but were never able to locate any continuity behind center. Starter Jeff Tuel broke his collarbone early, and injured his leg late. Marshall Lobbestael dealt with a series of bumps and bruises. And Connor Halliday's season ended when he lacerated his liver. Halliday and Tuel are back behind center, but it's imperative that the latter stays there from wire-to-wire in an attempt to bring a sense of order to the Washington State offense.

The Schedule: The Leach era kicks off with a nasty test at BYU, but dates against Eastern Washington and at UNLV makes the non-conference schedule nice and easy. The Cougars can't ask for too much more from the Pac-12 slate missing USC from the South and getting Oregon, Cal and the Apple Cup against Washington at home. There's a rough stretch of three road dates in four games in the midseason and four in six, closing out the stretch at Arizona State. Unfortunately, there's no Arizona from the South on the schedule, missing out on what would've been an interesting battle of Leach vs. Rich Rodriguez.

Best offensive player: Junior WR Marquess Wilson. Just the 96th-ranked wide receiver coming out of Tulare Union (Calif.) High School two years ago, Wilson was mostly receiving offers from Mountain West programs. Today, he's on the short of America's best amateur pass-catchers. In between, the 6-4, 183-pound gamebreaker has already caught 137 balls for 2,394 yards and 18 touchdowns. A smooth operator, with a fluid stride and soft hands, he's a tall order for even the Pac-12's best cornerbacks. Wilson best attribute is his ball skills, which are enhanced by the long arms and big mitts needed to snatch the ball out of the air.

Best defensive player: Senior BUCK Travis Long. Long is going to play BUCK this season, which is code for the senior going wherever he'll be needed to make a play. Easily the most versatile and impactful of the Washington State defenders, he'll be part-defensive end and part-outside linebacker in 2012, imposing his will as both a pass rusher and a run stopper. The reigning member of the All-Pac-12 Second Team plays with boundless energy and intensity, collecting 42 tackles and team-high with 12 tackles for loss and four sacks a season ago.

Key players to a successful season: the offensive linemen. If Washington State is going to emerge from its nearly decade-long funk, bank on the offense being the pilots of the resurgence. And if the attack is going to hit its stride in Mike Leach's debut on the sidelines, the O-line will need to block markedly better than it has in recent years. Over the past four seasons, the Cougars have ranked no higher than 116th nationally in sacks allowed, a frightful trend that needs to be addressed by veterans Wade Jacobson, John Fullington and the rest of their mates in the trenches.

The season will be a success if ... Wazzu moves one step closer to bowl eligibility. A year ago, the Cougars went 4-8, winning at least two conference games for the first time since 2007. Now, they're hoping to inch a little closer to break-even in that long quest to return to the postseason. This first season with Mike Leach at the helm is all about moving forward, some of which will show up in the standings, and some of which will only be evident in the film room and on the practice field.

Key game: Nov. 23 vs. Washington. Since Washington State won't be competing for a North Division title, and will likely be on the outskirts of bowl contention, the annual Apple Cup takes on even more meaning in Pullman. The Huskies have won the last three in the contentious rivalry, leaving the Cougars, especially the seniors, hungry for a shot at redemption. For Mike Leach, this regular season finale at Martin Stadium represents an enormous opportunity to steal some of Steve Sarkisian's thunder, and impress the state's top recruits.

2011 Fun Stats:
- Touchdown passes: Washington State 30 – Opponents 24
- Time of possession: Washington State 29:59 – Opponents 30:01
- Sacks: Washington State 17 - Opponents 39
- 2012 Washington State Preview | 2012 Washington State Offense
- 2012 Washington State Defense | 2012 Washington State Depth Chart