Countdown to kickoff prediction style
It has been a little over eight months since the Washington St. Cougars hired Mike Leach as the heir-apparent to replace the not-so-great Paul Wulff and his abysmal 9-40 record.
A very long eight months.
On the other hand, it’s been an even longer four years of blowouts, injuries and last place finishes but that’s a different story for different time and place.
Enough dwelling on the past because, well, LEACH!
It’s a new season with a new coach and college football is back. As fall camps open up this week the earth has adjusted back onto it’s proper axis and everyone can continue living their normal lives with thoughts of college football prancing in their heads.
It’s been a whirlwind of an offseason with the NCAA giving the BCS and, essentially, Penn State a big ole devastating karate chop. I think I speak for the lion’s share of people when I say it’s time for some normalcy. Seriously.
Now, onto what this post was originally supposed to outline — player predictions.
Since Leach and his baby — the Air Raid — arrived on the Palouse a lot of people have been publicly declaring that Jeff Tuel is going to throw for 12,856 yards and 74 touchdowns with 73 of those touchdowns landing in the hands of Marquess Wilson.
Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a little bit but since the Pirate has set sail in Pullman it seems as though everyone thinks that Tuel and Wilson are the next Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree on steroids.
As much as I wish that were true — not the steroids, because steroids are bad — I’m here to temper those expectations with some realistic predictions as the Cougars enter year one of the Leach era.
Feel free to disagree because that’s what the little comment box at the bottom of this article is for.
QB – Jeff Tuel
When the Cougars hired Leach, the happiest person in the locker room was Jeff Tuel. There are reports that he ran around campus jumping in front of unsuspecting strangers and dancing like this in his underwear. That, of course, is an unconfirmed report but I wouldn’t doubt that he was secretly wanting to run around in the frigid December air in his underwear knowing that he would have the opportunity to run the Air Raid.
After all, Mike Leach quarterbacks throw for ungodly amounts of yards. Don’t believe me? You should.
Mike Leach’s first quarterback at Texas Tech in 2002, Kliff Kingsbury, threw for 5,017 yards and 45 touchdowns in his senior season. The following year, B.J. Symons, not to be outdone, threw for 5,883 yards and 52 touchdowns. The next two quarterbacks in line, Sonnie Cumbie (2004) and Cody Hodges (2005) each threw for at least a “mediocre” 4,100 yards and 31 touchdowns.
But don’t forget, the best quarterback to come threw the Air Raid at Texas Tech was Graham Harrell, and deservedly so. The former Heisman Trophy finalist threw for 10,816 yards and 93 touchdowns in his final two years in the Air Raid.
He was okay.
Now, onto Tuel. Can he put up those types of numbers? I think he certainly could but he won’t.
It’s important to remember that even Kingsbury struggled in his first year in the Air Raid. He threw for 3,418 yards with 21 touchdowns and 17 interceptions in his first year under Leach.
It’s obvious that there is a learning curve that takes place before you’re throwing for 5,000 yards and 40 touchdowns on a regular basis.
Symons, Cumbie, and Hodges sat back and learned the ins and outs of this offense while throwing millions of passes in practice while waiting their turn. They knew every single aspect of the offense before they even stepped on the field.
That’s why they were able to come in and immediately put up the astronomical numbers that everyone is accustomed to seeing in a Leach offense.
Tuel is better than Kingsbury and I believe he’ll adjust quite well to the new offense — partly due to the technological advances of video tape and being able to study it extensively this offseason.
All in all, he’ll put up solid numbers immediately.
Side note: The Washington State Cougars single season passing yards record is held by Montana’s finest Ryan Leaf who threw for 3,968 yards in 1997.
PREDICTION: 484 of 709 ATT (68.2%), 4,754 YDS, 41 TD, 15 INT
WR – Marquess Wilson
The most widely circulated comparison that has been brought up since Leach arrived at WSU was Marquess Wilson to Michael Crabtree. As college football players — because we all know Crabtree is 49er now and is officially terrible — they are extremely similar. Uber-athletic, talented, and fast.
Wilson’s ceiling hasn’t even been realized yet. It’s hard to fathom that he has only been on the field for the Cougars just two seasons. He still has the ability to get better and that’s a scary thought for opposing defensive backfields.
The biggest difference that I see when comparing Crabtree and Wilson is the physicality between the two. When Wilson has been taken out of the game by defensive schemes it’s because the defenders are getting in his face and being extra physical with him.
That happened a lot more during his freshman year than it did last season mostly due to the fact that he was skinnier than a popsicle stick his freshman year and has gained a little weight since then.
Nonetheless, Crabtree was a physical specimen that wasn’t effected by a little contact at the line of scrimmage. He would shove his defender aside and use his speed and athleticism to find open space and make plays.
Wilson uses his above average speed to simply outrun his defender or use his precise route running to make his defender run circles. They are both extremely good receivers but have different skill packages.
That doesn’t mean that Wilson can’t put up numbers that rival or surpass Crabtree’s, just that they have different styles.
In 2007, Crabtree hauled in 134 passes for 1,962 yards and 22 touchdowns. He followed up his redshirt freshman season with 97 receptions for 1,165 and 19 touchdowns. Without the Air Raid, Wilson has put up back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons and has recorded a total of 18 touchdowns.
Nothing to frown about at all.
I think that Wilson can certainly hover around the 20 touchdown mark this season and collect 1,500 hashes. Barring injury, Wilson should be able to eclipse 100 receptions after hauling in 82 passes last season working with three different quarterbacks.
The Tuel to Wilson connection should be on fire this season, lets just hope that we can convince him to come have some more fun for his senior season after he puts up career numbers in 2012.
PREDICTION: 104 REC, 1,724 YDS (16.5 YPC), 18 TDs
LB – Chester Sua
Shifting gears over the the defensive side of the ball where they hope to not give up Air Raid-esque numbers while staying on the field for excruciating amounts of time due to our quick strike offense.
Chester Sua is one of those guys that you love like your neighbor but don’t quite trust enough to leave your kids with them. If that makes sense at all.
Let me put it this way: Sua could be a beast in this attacking defense with his speed, ability to cover and tackle but he’s so raw and has yet to really make his mark as a leader on this defense.
With the dismissals of Sekope Kaufusi and CJ Mizell there is a huge void left in defensive coordinator Mike Breske‘s 3-4 defense. With the exception of Travis Long, linebackers coach Jeff Choate has his work cut out with him due to the inexperience that he has to work with at the position.
The lack of experience, and therefore depth, at the linebacker spot makes me want to trust that Sua, who appeared in all 12 games last season as a true freshman, can shoulder some of the load and become an impact player on the defensive side of the ball.
Sua started four games last season, recording 22 tackles (13 solo), including a game-high 11 tackles in the Apple Cup, and recovered one fumble.
A very small sample size but his performance against Washington to finish the season has me wanting to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Honestly, I think Sua puts together a solid sophomore season for the Cougars in 2012. He has the speed to get to the quarterback in Breske’s blitz-happy defense and has proven he can make the necessary tackles inside the box or in space.
Do I think he’ll earn Pac-12 honors this season? No. But I do think he’s on his way to being a valuable linebacker in the Pac-12 in years to come.
This year will be interesting to see if this linebacking unit, led by Sua and Long, can take a huge step towards growing the defense as a whole on the fly. I fully expect Sua to be one of the team leaders in tackles when all is said and done because he needs to be that guy.
Deone Bucannon led the Cougars in tackles last season with 83. He is a safety. Unless your safety is freakishly good, that’s not usually a good sign. No offense to Bucannon, but he’s not one of those freakishly good safeties that should be leading your team in tackles.
That means there’s a lot of players running with the ball past your front seven.
So, Mr. Sua, don’t let that happen.
PREDICTION: 74 TKLS, 6.5 TFL, 2.5 SACKS, 2 FF, 1 INT
WR – Andrei Lintz
I’ve spent a lot of time talking about Andrei Lintz this offseason because of the intrigue he brings to the offense. He’s essentially a hybrid tight end converted to wide reciever and at 6-5 and 250 lbs. he gets around the field surprisingly well.
I keep wanting to compare him to Rob Gronkowski of the New England Patriots because I think that he can have that type of contribution to this Cougars football team.
A gigantic human being and receiver, Lintz should be able to have enormous amounts of success in the spread offense especially in the redzone and on third down. He only has eight catches for 100 yards and two touchdowns in his career but those stats are construed because of the necessity for him to block in previous years.
Lintz will be lining up in the slot for the vast majority of formations meaning he’ll either be covered by a linebacker or the nickel back. Regardless of who he is lining up against, he will most likely have a size advantage 90% of the time.
That size advantage bodes well for the Cougars inside the opponents 20-yard line as Tuel should have no problem finding his largest receiver on the seam route in the endzone.
Don’t get me wrong, I know fully well that he is as unproven as any player on this offense but the potential for production is off the charts. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him catch 80 balls and 10-plus touchdowns this season.
But I’ll be modest in my prediction because of the fact that he has never been featured in the offense at any point during his collegiate his career.
One thing is for certain though — Lintz will be a matchup nightmare for defensive coordinators and will have a pronounced impact on opposing game plans based solely on his size across the middle.
PREDICTION: 67 REC, 879 YDS (13.1 YPC), 9 TDs
BUCK LB – Travis Long
And finally we arrive at the focal point of the Washington State defense. Entering his senior season, Travis Long, looks to build on an already impressive career that has entirely focused on his defensive end play.
This season, however, Long is being asked to play the pivotal BUCK linebacker position in the Cougars’ attacking defense.
Long is a member of the Bronco Nagurski preseason watch list, the award given to the nations most outstanding defensive player. A high praise for the senior who looks to build upon his impressive junior season.
Last season, Long was selected to Second-Team All-Pac-12, tied for fifth on the team with 42 tackles and recorded 12.0 tackles for a loss including four sacks.
Long is more than capable of creating havoc with his hands on the ground but using his raw athleticism and knack for getting to the quarterback or the ball carrier will suit him perfectly in Breske’s swarming defense.
I’ve already outlined the lack of experience at the linebacking position and that goes for Long as well. He has never started a game at linebacker but the BUCK position should allow for Long to have a smooth transition.
He’ll be asked to blitz the quarterback an awful lot but the main question is whether he can become a factor in coverage against the pass. He’ll have his fair share of blown coverages but he’s not being asked to be a lockdown defender in the passing game — he’ll be asked to knock the quarterback on his back.
When the season gets underway expect to hear Long’s name a lot.
Breske has a new toy, and Long is his toy. That sounds extremely inappropriate but it’s the truth.
Can he shoulder the load? I certainly believe so.
PREDICTION: 63 TKLS, 10.5 TFL, 7.0 SACKS, 1 FF, 1 INT