Wazzu’s talent beginning to emerge
The Cougars have a rich history of quarterbacks being nominated for awards and this season is no different. But, for the first time in recent memory, The Washington State Cougars have a handful of other positional players up for preseason awards on both sides of the football.
The college football football season is just over two weeks away giving way for speculation and predictions.
Every year, the National College Football Awards Association deliberates over a two week period in early July to put together preseason watch lists for 15 different awards.
Last season, the Cougars had a deficiency of watch list nominees as Marquess Wilson was the only player on the 80 man roster that landed on any of the lists. Wilson, who was named to the Biletnikoff Award watch list which names the nations most outstanding receiver, was not among the ten semifinalists for the award.
2012 is a different year with new expectations and a number of Washington State upperclassmen, who have been nominated for the awards, will be looked upon to help reach those heightened Cougars football expectations.
WR – Marquess Wilson – Junior
Award: Maxwell Award, Biletnikoff Award
Wilson, who has been the most exciting football player on the Washington State roster for the last two seasons, has added another watch list to his already astonishing Cougars career. In addition to the Biletnikoff Award that he was nominated for last season, Wilson has been added to the Maxwell Award watch list given to college football’s player of the year.
In 2010, Wilson became the first freshman in Washington State history to gain 1,000 yards through the air and followed up his magnificent freshman year with 82 receptions, 1,388 yards, and 12 touchdowns.
He was also named Second-Team All Pac-12 wide receiver.
With the addition of a pass-happy offense, Wilson’s production should equal and, most likely, surpass his record setting pace. It wouldn’t be unrealistic to label Wilson as a dark-horse Heisman Trophy candidate, though it’s unlikely he’ll be able to put up the numbers needed to win the award based on voters’ negligence towards “system players.”
All in all, expect Wilson to be a strong candidate for the Biletnikoff Award when semifinalists are named later this fall.
K – Andrew Furney – Junior
Award: Lou Groza Award
Special teams is a vital part of any team but Mike Leach seems to value special teams play above all else as we’ve seen in fall camp so far. Andrew Furney, the Cougars’ junior placekicker, will be relied upon to kick massive amounts of extra points, but he has also shown a knack for putting the ball through the uprights on field goals on a consistent basis.
Furney has been added to the Lou Groza Award watch list, the award that crowns the nation’s top kicker. As a sophomore last season, Furney was named as a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award and should be considered one of the favorites for the honor once again this season.
In 2011, Furney connected on 14-of-16 field goals and set the WSU all-time record (.875) for field goal percentage. Not to be outdone, the junior also knocked down 39-of-41 extra points and finished the season with 81 total points, good for the seventh most points by a kicker in WSU single season history.
Furney is as consistent as they come and will more than likely find his name among the finalists for the award in 2012.
LB/DL – Travis Long – Senior
Award: Rotary Lombardi Award, Bronko Nagurski Trophy, Butkus Award
As the new toy in Mike Breske’s 3-4 defense, senior Travis Long should be able to put up huge numbers as the BUCK linebacker. Long takes home the cake for the Cougars with three watch list nominations, highlighted by the Bronko Nagurski Trophy which names the nation’s most outstanding defensive player.
Last season, Long was named Second-Team All Pac-12 as a defensive end recording 42 tackles, 14 tackles for a loss, all while racking up five sacks.
Upon moving to linebacker this season Long was also nominated to the Butkus Award watch list given to the nation’s best linebacker. Having never played linebacker before, it speaks volumes to his athleticism and his knack for getting in the backfield and taking down the quarterback.
It’s unlikely that he’ll be included as one of the finalists for the Rotary Lombardi Award — the award given to the nation’s best defensive lineman — because Long will primarily be lining up at linebacker.
Long will be a force on the Washington State defense this season and, with a strong season, could likely find himself in the mix for a number of awards.
QB – Jeff Tuel – Senior
Award: Davey O’Brien Award
Following in a long line of legendary Washington State quarterbacks, Jeff Tuel will look to solidify himself as one of the all-time WSU greats. The senior, who has been riddled with injuries during his career, could flourish in Leach’s quarterback friendly offense and has looked the part early this fall.
Despite not having been named the starting quarterback yet, Tuel has been named to the Davey O’Brien Award given to the nation’s best quarterback.
Realistically speaking, Tuel was more than likely added to the O’Brien list based on Leach’s past success with quarterbacks rather than Tuel’s career numbers.
With just one Pac-12 win, it’s hard to imagine Tuel as the nation’s best quarterback, but his intangibles and ability to move throughout the pocket, avoid defenders, and ability to find the open receiver in space should allow him to put up big numbers in the Air Raid this season.
If Tuel can stave off sophomore Connor Halliday — which is likely at this point — he should be in line to throw for customary Air Raid numbers and be mentioned among one of the nation’s top quarterbacks as so many Leach disciples have in the past.