Can Leach Lead the Cougs to a Bounce-back Year?
The 2012 season for the Washington State football program could not have been more disappointing. The hype was through the roof in the Palouse for the first time in years, and not one glimpse of hope was given to the fan base – aside from the ridiculously awesome Apple Cup victory, that is.
The Cougars finished the season 3-9, including losses to 1-11 Colorado and 3-9 Cal. At home.
There were great expectations after the arrival of media monger Mike Leach. The thought of Marquess Wilson teamed up with Jeff Tuel in Leach’s air raid offense had the Cougar faithful salivating all summer long leading up to kickoff.
Now, a few months before Leach’s second season, the fans have a severe case of cotton mouth.
It is hard to garner any faith into this program. New athletic director Bill Moos even admitted his strategy prior to last season in an interview. He stated that he inflated the hype to gather donations, which led to the highest donation total in school history. He now is regressing in his predictions, commenting on the difficulty of the team’s schedule and that the scoreboard may not show improvement – but it will be there.
These are all true statements, and the money being put in to the football program is definitely a positive for the program moving forward. But I must say, I do feel like an ass being taken for a ride all preseason last year.
But nevertheless, another season approaches. What should we expect this time?
No Bowl, But Get Your Spoons Ready
As Moos stated, this will be yet another learning year. Last season, Leach started 17 freshmen. The youth was painfully evident throughout the season, but it was necessary.
It may not be evident, but the 2013 recruitment class might be the best in school history.
Leach brought in four 4-star recruits - Tyler Bruggman, Vince Mayle, Peyton Pelluer, and Robert Lewis. Now in a perfect world, these players would all red shirt and get some growth under their belt before hitting the turf in Martin Stadium.
However, we all know the Cougar football world is far from perfect, and some of the freshmen might find themselves put into play early.
I think Bruggman has the talent to compete for the starting QB job right away, but I do not believe that would be the best case scenario. The last thing you want for a young, talented player is to throw him in to a position where his confidence could be tainted.
Leaving the starting job to Connor Halliday is likely the best option for the Cougars right now regardless of how careless he is with the ball.
Vince Mayle is a JC transfer and has the build to play right away. If given the opportunity, I think this guy will turn some heads. Due to a unique schooling situation, Vince Mayle is applying for another year of eligibility and is expected to get it. So we will likely to be fortunate enough for two years of this:
The season is going to rely on three things this year: The offensive line having being relevant, the running game not being the worst in the country, and the defense stepping up. There are a few players to watch on this defense that will likely answer the call.
Deone Bucannon, Safety
The Pac 12 is rather safety heavy with the duo of Reynolds and Richards in the Stanford secondary, and even UW’s Shaq Thompson if you consider him a safety. But you could make the argument that Bucannon surpasses them all.
He has had an outstanding career at WSU and added to the totals last season: 106 total tackles, leading the team as well as all non-linebackers in the conference with a team-high 4 interceptions.
Bucannon has been a favorite of mine since his freshman year because the kid lays out hits. Sometimes when he shouldn’t, mind you, but he never gives up on a play.
If our secondary has any shot at being relevant, it is on the shoulders of this future NFL player, who has already been named to the pre-season All American 4th team.
Darryl Monroe, Linebacker
Along with Bucannon, Darryl Monroe burst onto the scene in his freshman season: 80 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, 3 sacks and a recovered fumble.
Monroe was honored with Pac-12 second team honors last season, and showed a unique skill set throughout the year that earned him the award.
He is far from the biggest player on the field at 6’1, 235 lbs, but he hits a hole quicker than nearly anyone. His wrap up in the backfield is a trait you rarely see at such a young age, and his incredible instincts and anticipation allow these traits to flourish.
The defense under Mike Breske had its struggles, but also showed glimpses of solidity and stingy play. Surprisingly enough, this is the strongest part of the Leach-coached team right now. With these two players leading them, they could surprise some people.
I don’t expect a bowl game. Leach says he does, but what else is he supposed to say?
The schedule isn’t a cake walk by any means, and it doesn’t get off to an easy start. They begin on the road at Auburn, then head to USC to take on the Trojans. They also have games at Oregon, Arizona, and UW that will likely make them major underdogs in the betting polls.
However, there are some very winnable games. Southern Utah, Idaho, Arizona State and Utah are all at home, and Cal is on the road.
I could see the Cougs getting four to five wins this year. It’s a subtle improvement, but it’s not going to wow anyone.
The true excitement is brewing in the recruitment. Leach is bringing in talent left and right, and the consensus is that we must develop.
Give these young guys time, and you will see a much different Cougars team in 2014.