CFN Preview 2013 - Washington State Cougars
Washington State WR Bobby Ratliff
Washington State WR Bobby Ratliff
Posted May 31, 2013 2013 Preview - Washington State Cougars

Washington State Cougars

Preview 2013

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By Richard Cirminiello

Head coach: Mike Leach
Second year: 3-9
Returning Lettermen
Off. 23, Def. 17, ST, 3
Lettermen Lost: 19
Ten Best Wazzu Players
1. FS Deone Bucannon, Sr.
2. LB Darryl Monroe, Soph.
3. LB Cyrus Coen, Jr.
4. WR Dominique Williams, Soph.
5. WR Gabe Marks, Soph.
6. DT Xavier Cooper, Soph.
7. NT Ioane Gauta , Sr.
8. WR Brett Bartolone, Soph.
9. PK Andrew Furney, Sr.
10. QB Connor Halliday, Jr.
2013 Schedule
8/31 at Auburn
9/7 at USC
9/14 Southern Utah
9/21 Idaho
9/28 Stanford
10/5 at California
10/12 Oregon State
10/19 at Oregon
10/31 Arizona State
11/16 at Arizona
11/23 Utah
11/29 at Washington
A decade in Lubbock gave proof that Mike Leach is a gifted coach. A year in Pullman revealed that he is not an illusionist.

There was justifiable reason for optimism associated with the arrival of Leach, the successful and controversial former head man at Texas Tech. But this is Washington State, a program eminently capable of humbling a coaching staff. The Cougars haven't bowled since 2003, and have dropped at least eight games in each of the last five years. So, last season's 3-9 mark may have disappointed some, but it shouldn't have surprised anyone.

The 2012 season at Wazzu was all about installing new systems, the Air Raid on offense and a 3-4 look on D, and firmly planting the roots of a new coaching philosophy. From that perspective, the Cougars achieved their goals, even if Leach questioned his team's heart at one point during an eight-game losing streak. Now that the learning curve, for both staff and player personnel, has gradually started to flatten, the school will turn its attention to executing better on Saturdays in the hopes of becoming more competitive in the Pac-12.

This is a Mike Leach production, so all eyes will be on the race at quarterback. The coach doesn't harbor one of his vintage Red Raider gunslingers, or at least yet. Junior Connor Halliday is the inconsistent veteran who'll be challenged by a pair of rookies, second-year Austin Apodaca and blue-chip newcomer Tyler Bruggman. Whoever gets the ball from the coach will delight in throwing to an up-and-coming corps of young receivers led by Gabe Marks and Dominique Williams.

While the Cougars won't win games with defense in 2013, the unit did improve under coordinator Mike Breske last season. They attacked from all angles to finish No. 11 nationally in sacks. Breske will once again turn loose his defenders, beating the bushes with a combination of S Deone Bucannon, linebackers Darryl Monroe and Cyrus Coen and tackles Xavier Cooper and Ioane Gauta.

Just because Leach was not a transformational overnight success story in Year 1 at Wazzu does not mean that enthusiasm ought to be dampened about the direction of the program. As long as the lightning-rod coach sticks around and patience is applied, the Cougars should get incrementally better with each passing season.

What to watch for on offense: On your Marks, get set, go. Second-year wide receiver Gabe Marks ran out of gas toward the end of his rookie season, yet still finished with 49 catches for 560 yards and two touchdowns. With a full offseason to get his body ready for contact, he's poised for a monster season from "Z". Marks has arguably the best hands on the team, often making the spectacular appear routine. He also practices as hard as he plays, a mindset that'll help make him a star in Pullman before too long.

What to watch for on defense: Fast and Furious: The Sequel. Washington State just doesn't harbor the size or the muscle to manhandle Pac-12 teams at the point of attack, so it will opt instead to attack with a wave of undersized and chaotic athletes. Second-year coordinator Mike Breske wants his unit to close quickly on the ball and swarm tackle as much as possible. The blueprint paid dividends a year ago, as the Cougars finished among the FBS' top dozen schools in sacks and tackles for loss.

The team will be far better if… the O-line isn't so ghastly in pass protection. As the passing game goes, so goes Washington State now that Mike Leach is in charge. But the passing attack isn't going anywhere unless the blockers can cut down on the number of sacks allowed. The Cougars ranked last in the nation a year ago, yielding 57 sacks in a dozen games. Countless was the number of times that one of the quarterbacks was chased from the pocket and forced to make a throw with a 265-pound defender breathing down his neck.

The Schedule: The Cougars have to be far better and need to come up with several upsets to have a decent year. Starting out on the road at Auburn and USC won't help, but coming back to Pullman to finish out the non-conference slate against Southern Utah and Idaho should provide a decent base of wins going forward. However, the meat of the North schedule kicks in with Stanford, a trip to Cal, Oregon State and a road game against Oregon as part of a seven-game run before finally getting a break.

Unfortunately, the week off in late October is followed up by a date with Arizona State and another week off – it would be nice to have had a bye week in late September. Missing Colorado from the South is a bad deal, but the Cougars get Utah as the final home game of the season in between road games against Arizona and Washington.

Best offensive player: Sophomore WR Dominique Williams. WR Gabe Marks might easily wind up in this position as well. However, Williams spent the tail end of his first year playing like the second-coming of Marquess Wilson, the Cougar he replaced in the lineup. Anonymous in the early going, the 6-2, 192-pound weapon caught 31 passes for 498 yards and three touchdowns over the final six games. Williams has strong hands, a long gait and a trajectory that could land him on the All-Pac-12 Team if he can pick up where he left off in November.

Best defensive player: Senior FS Deone Bucannon. The rest of the Pac-12 missed out on Bucannon, who has authored a terrific career in Pullman. He's started all but six games in his career, peaking by earning Second Team All-Pac-12 honors a year ago. At 6-1 and 198 pounds, he has good size for a pass defender to go along with the ferocity and hitting ability of a linebacker. Bucannon is the leader of the Washington State defense, posting 106 stops a year ago, the most by a Cougar in 16 years, and a team-high four interceptions.

Key player to a successful season: the quarterback. Sure, it's a little spot-on, but what do you expect from a Mike Leach-led team that ranked 96th in passing efficiency a year ago? Someone, likely junior Connor Halliday, has got to maximize the Cougars' young receivers without making so many mistakes through the air. If it is Halliday, he needs to throw the ball with a much higher degree of accuracy. If one of the freshmen, Austin Apodaca or Tyler Bruggman gets the nod from Leach, he'll have to grow up in a hurry, while thoroughly processing the nuances of the system.

The season will be a success if ... Wazzu wins five games for the first time since 2007. Are there five wins on the 2013 schedule? Possibly, but it'll be very tight. The Cougars should get to 2-2 following back-to-back games with Southern Utah and Idaho in September, leaving three Pac-12 games that would need to be captured. If this program can reach 5-7, and 3-6 in league play, it'll qualify as a significant step forward for Mike Leach and his staff.

Key game: Nov. 29 at Washington. The Cougars captured the Apple Cup last November, snapping a three-game losing streak in the series, while gaining some momentum for the offseason. It was a thriller that really helped the cause of a staff that entered the final week surly and losers of eight consecutive games. This is clearly a Huskies state. But if Mike Leach can get to 2-0 versus Steve Sarkisian, it can only help his recruiting efforts in February.

2012 Fun Stats:
- Rushing touchdowns: Washington State 6 – Opponents 21
- Passing yards per game: Washington State 330.4 – Opponents 262.7
- Third-down conversions: Washington State 32% - Opponents 45%
- 2013 Washington State Preview | 2013 Washington State Offense
- 2013 Washington State Defense | 2013 Washington State Depth Chart