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1. A pirate looks at 3-9
It's cruel when a rebuilding team gets hit with loads of bad luck at once.
The job is hard enough already. Depth and confidence are fragile, and in the Pac-12, you've got nine conference games to deal with; the slate's full of middleweights and heavyweights, and you could use a few more featherweights.
That's how I led off Monday's Colorado preview. I could have saved every word for Washington State.
It is perhaps more orderly when the teams with the toughest road also deal with the worst luck. There are fewer surprises that way, fewer "what the hell is going on?" tests of the imagination.
It's also just mean. And for every bad break Colorado got last year, Wazzu was hit equally hard.
- Leading receiver Gabe Marks was forced to redshirt, in part because he got hurt.
- Quarterback Connor Halliday's career ended a few games early because of injury.
- The secondary was annihilated by injuries.
- The Cougars lost 3.5 points per game to turnovers luck in a season that saw three losses by a combined 11 points.
WSU never saw its intended first string on the field at the same time, and after the first half of the season saw bad breaks and frustrating losses, the Cougars fell apart in the second.
We make far more out of "momentum" than we should, especially in the offseason, when there is an eight- or nine-month break between games. It matters for The Narrative more than anything else. But then again, The Narrative, the buzz surrounding the program can impact recruiting, ticket sales, etc., and to the point that Uncle Mo matters, he left Pullman in 2014.
Mike Leach took over at Wazzu in 2012, inheriting from Paul Wulff a program that had hit rock bottom in 2008-09 and had begun to rebound a bit. Leach had the Cougars in a bowl in his second season; they went 6-7 but ranked a respectable 59th in F/+, a clear sign that things were headed in the right direction. But then they went 3-9 again and ranked just 77th. The offense was fine, but the defense self-destructed (in part because of a secondary made of youngsters and spare parts), and the special teams unit was as bad as can be.
Heading into his fourth year, Leach faces far more questions, but he's aggressively attempted to answer them. He's got a new defensive coordinator, a new plan for special teams, an exciting young quarterback, and one of the most experienced offensive lines in the country. It would be stunning if the Cougars didn't improve.
Now we'll see how much of a difference that makes in an unforgiving Pac-12, in which everybody is making good hires and there are fewer likely wins.
That Leach took this job was endearing; the offbeat coach headed to an offbeat locale about as far away from his Key West home as possible. When WSU head coach Mike Price left in 2002 following his second straight 10-win season and top-10 finish, the program lost luster like a sieve loses water. The Cougars won 10 games again in 2003, then averaged five wins per year from 2004-07, then won five games total from 2008-10. There is no short road back, especially in a conference that has so little dead weight.
Leach has laid groundwork and put his entertaining, lots-of-points-for-both-teams product on the field. But now he's got to respond to his first Pullman setback.
2014 Schedule & Results
|Record: 3-9 | Adj. Record: 5-7 | Final F/+ Rk: 77|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Percentile
|8-Nov||at Oregon State||74||39-32||W||56%||3.5||56%|
|22-Nov||at Arizona State||27||31-52||L||29%||-12.8||1%|
|Points Per Game||31.8||48||38.6||117|
2. And then it went to hell on a stick
The Pac-12 in its current state shows us the power of increased money and strong hires. When your conference has a lot of both, your conference gets stronger. And while Wazzu could improve again in 2014, the Cougs play only one team projected worse than 45th after September 13. They'll have to improve just to stand still at six wins.
In last year's Wazzu preview, I noted the brutal schedule. And while it didn't end up quite as difficult as I thought -- after September 13, WSU faced three teams that finished 58th or worse -- the Cougs didn't end up as good as I thought.
For half a season, they were close. They suffered disappointing losses to Rutgers and Nevada, which almost immediately rendered bowl hopes mostly moot, but they stayed closer to national title finalist Oregon than they could have, and they went to Utah and knocked off a Utes team that had just thumped Michigan in Ann Arbor and was about to win at UCLA.
They were playing like a top-50 team, and it took the worst special teams game you'll ever see to lose at Cal: the Golden Bears returned two kicks for touchdowns, the Cougars missed a 19-yard field goal as time expired, and Cal won, 60-59.
Going by Win Expectancy, WSU had fared well enough to be 4-2. Instead, the record was 2-4. And then things fell apart.
- Average Percentile Performance (first 6 games): 68% (~top 40 | avg. score: WSU 38, Opp 35)
- Average Percentile Performance (last 6 games): 29% (~top 90 | avg. score: Opp 42, WSU 26)
The defense got worse, the offense lost its groove, and special teams didn't improve when Leach fired special teams coordinator Eric Russell. Halliday got hurt early against USC, and while freshman Luke Falk actually held his own (especially in a win over Oregon State), it was just a punctuation mark on a cruel season. Now begins the (attempted) rebound.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||43.5%||51||Succ. Rt. +||105.1||50|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||31.5||100||Def. FP+||101.0||53|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.5||64||Redzone S&P+||100.7||63|
|Q1 Rk||70||1st Down Rk||34|
|Q2 Rk||53||2nd Down Rk||48|
|Q3 Rk||36||3rd Down Rk||40|
3. Still gotta stay ahead of the chain gang
The name of the game in a Leach offense is distribution. It's not even, but ... it's pretty even. The five skill positions in WSU's offense -- the running back position and the four receivers (X, Y, Z, H) -- all touch the ball, and it's almost like an option offense in that you let the defense dictate where the ball goes.
If you're effective enough in both spreading the defense out and making it account for every weapon, it's going to start getting predictable, making mistakes, or both.
Including targets and carries, Wazzu running backs got 24 intended touches per game in 2014. The X receivers got 19, the Ys got 12, the Zs got 11, and the Hs got 10. And there were a few standouts: Vince Mayle (X) had a breakout campaign, seeing nearly 14 targets per game and averaging more than 9 yards per target. Isiah Myers averaged more than 8 per target from the Z, River Cracraft and Tyler Baker more than 7 per target from the Y.
Now to get more from the running backs. WSU RBs averaged just 3.9 yards per carry and 5.8 yards per target in 2014; while the catch rate was as good as you would hope for short passes (83 percent), the players who touched the ball didn't really get anywhere.
The best Leach offenses have backs that are both flexible and successful. In 2008, Baron Batch averaged 6.8 yards per carry and 10 yards per catch. In 2006, Shannon Woods averaged 6.1 and 7.6. But even as a tiny piece of the WSU offense, the run simply stunk. It's one thing to rarely do it; it's another to do it horribly.
WSU's offense was still relatively efficient -- 50th in Success Rate+, 38th on passing downs -- but the Cougars were far too inefficient on standard downs. Even in an offense like this, where virtually every down is a "passing down," you still have to stay on schedule.
Every lineman from last year's two-deep is back, including seven players who have combined for 93 career starts, and the top two backs (Jamal Morrow and Gerard Wicks) are back after frustrating freshman campaigns. Perhaps experience alone is enough to boost the rushing averages. WSU hopes so, anyway.
Note: players in bold below are 2015 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Luke Falk||6'4, 201||So.||2 stars (5.3)||NR||156||243||1859||13||7||64.2%||17||6.5%||6.7|
|Peyton Bender||6'0, 186||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8443|
|Tyler Hilinski||6'4, 200||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8608|
4. More mistakes, more big plays
Luke Falk came to Pullman with the expectation that he would have a chance to start in 2016 as a redshirt sophomore, but Halliday's late-season injury bumped the timetable up. He had to come in early in an eventual blowout loss to USC -- "Alright, kid, the offense is all yours. Go out and throw 57 passes in your first real action." -- but he looked great in a win at Oregon State, completing 44 of 61 passes for 471 yards, five scores, and no picks.
Defenses began to catch up with him a bit -- he completed just 59 percent of his passes with six picks against ASU and Washington -- but all in all, it wasn't a miserable experience.
Now that Falk has gotten an offseason, we'll see what he can do. He made all the mistakes you would expect a thrust-into-the-spotlight freshman to make: his sack rate was higher than Halliday's (6.5 percent to 3.5), and his interception rate was higher (2.9 percent to 2.1). But he also got the ball downfield; after a couple of years of tamping down his Heroball instincts, Halliday was more measured and solid last year, completing 67 percent of his passes at 10.9 yards per completion. Falk: 64 percent, 11.9 per completion. If his supporting cast is up to the task, Falk could be, too.
|Jamal Morrow||RB||5'8, 189||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8314||87||351||0||4.0||3.4||33.3%||1||1|
|Gerard Wicks||RB||5'11, 219||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8209||62||234||4||3.8||3.6||32.3%||0||0|
|Luke Falk||QB||6'4, 201||So.||2 stars (5.3)||NR||19||35||1||1.8||2.0||31.6%||4||2|
|Keith Harrington||WR||5'7, 180||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8509|
|James Williams||RB||5'11, 185||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8528|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Targets||Catches||Yards||Catch Rate||Target
|Gabe Marks (2013)||WR-Z||6'0, 190||Jr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9287||118||74||820||62.7%||16.3%||67.8%||6.9||88||7.2||89.6|
|River Cracraft||WR-Y||6'0,198||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8247||101||66||771||65.3%||13.5%||57.4%||7.6||-24||7.6||89.3|
|Jamal Morrow||RB||5'8, 187||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8314||69||61||460||88.4%||9.2%||72.5%||6.7||-239||6.6||53.3|
|Dom Williams||WR-X||6'2, 199||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8248||65||43||656||66.2%||8.7%||60.0%||10.1||139||10.2||76.0|
|Robert Lewis||WR-H||5'9, 167||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8691||56||41||370||73.2%||7.5%||67.9%||6.6||-114||6.8||42.9|
|Tyler Baker||WR-Y||5'10, 180||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||NR||42||27||308||64.3%||5.6%||59.5%||7.3||-18||7.3||35.7|
|Gerard Wicks||RB||5'11, 211||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8209||24||16||76||66.7%||3.2%||66.7%||3.2||-116||3.1||8.8|
|Calvin Green||WR-Z||5'10, 173||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8524||20||13||68||65.0%||2.7%||90.0%||3.4||-89||5.2||7.9|
|Brett Bartolone (2013)||WR||5'10, 185||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||NR||18||10||53||55.6%||2.5%||70.6%||2.9||-78||3.1||5.8|
|Daniel Lilienthal||WR-X||6'2, 204||Sr.||NR||NR|
|John Thompson||WR-H||5'7, 194||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||NR|
|Zaire Andre||WR-Z||5'10, 157||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8553|
|Barry Ware||WR||6'2, 213||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8660|
|C.J. Dimry||WR||6'6, 210||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7819|
5. Patchwork with potential
With Marks back, Wazzu is an interesting position: the Cougars lose their No. 1 and No. 2 receivers but return their No. 1 receiver.
Vince Mayle had an incredible senior season in Marks' absence, and the Wazzu passing game continued to be solid despite major shifts in roles. Marks and Kristoff Williams, 2013's No. 1 and No. 4 receivers, went from 190 combined targets to 3 thanks to injury, and Mayle, River Cracraft, and Isiah Myers went from 203 to 380.
Marks and Cracraft will lead the way, though Dom Williams is a name to watch. An all-or-nothing threat in 2013, he averaged 15.3 yards per catch with a 66 percent catch rate last year as Mayle's X backup. If a WSU player is to pull a Mayle, going from reserve to senior star, it will be Williams.
If this trio clicks with Falk, and another couple of weapons emerge -- sophomore Robert Lewis? senior Brett Bartolone? redshirt freshman Barry Ware? -- Wazzu's passing numbers could improve. They'll be good no matter what -- this is a Leach offense, after all -- but there is undeniable potential.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Career Starts||Honors/Notes|
|Gunnar Eklund||LG||6'7, 308||Sr.||NR||NR||32|
|Joe Dahl||LT||6'4, 302||Sr.||NR||NR||25|
|Eduardo Middleton||RG||6'5, 315||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8395||12|
|Riley Sorenson||C||6'4, 320||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8472||10|
|Cole Madison||RT||6'5, 303||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8119||8|
|Jacob Seydel||RT||6'6, 287||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8067||4|
|Sam Flor||C||6'4, 308||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7894||2|
|Devonte McClain||LG||6'5, 314||Sr.||NR||NR||0|
|Moritz Christ||RG||6'5, 318||Sr.||NR||NR||0|
|Cody O'Connell||LG||6'8, 356||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8362||0|
|Carlos Freeman||C||6'3, 310||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8141||0|
|B.J. Salmonson||OL||6'4, 289||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7652||0|
|Brandon Evers||OL||6'6, 284||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.7916|
|Andre Dillard||LT||6'5, 266||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8159|
|Joseph Price||OL||6'6, 270||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8457|
|Noah Myers||OL||6'5, 300||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8375|
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||43.2%||87||Succ. Rt. +||99.5||66|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||26.9||123||Off. FP+||97.0||99|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.8||106||Redzone S&P+||94.2||88|
|Q1 Rk||89||1st Down Rk||99|
|Q2 Rk||43||2nd Down Rk||110|
|Q3 Rk||119||3rd Down Rk||110|
6. The D never had a chance
Former WSU coordinator Mike Breske really wanted to attack. The Cougars wanted to change games with havoc plays and turnovers, essentially breaking serve and creating those deadly TD-INT-TD combos that have turned so many games for Oregon and Baylor through the years. You can risk big plays when you know your offense is going to score 30-plus points.
An aggressive defense is a nice complement to a Leachian offense, but Breske went full "damn the torpedoes" when he didn't have the ship to do so.
The front four was actually solid; WSU ranked 25th in Adj. Line Yards and 22nd in stuff rate (run stops behind the line), and the sack rates were decent. And while we're in the mood for compliments, the Cougars' pass efficiency ranked a mediocre 54th in Passing Success Rate+.
But you have to be more efficient to make big plays worth the risk, and with an incredibly rearranged back eight, there were too many big plays.
WSU was forced to play about 12 defensive backs, and only two (corner Daquawn Brown and Taylor Taliulu) played in all 12 games. A combination of injuries and general shuffling gave WSU a new secondary every week, it seemed, and the results were predictable.
WSU fell from 57th in Def. S&P+ in 2013 to 95th, and Breske was fired. To replace him, Leach got a little creative, bringing in a young gun: former Missouri safeties coach Alex Grinch. Grinch is Mizzou coach Gary Pinkel's nephew, and while Tiger fans cried "NEPOTISM!" when he was hired in 2012, he made a quick impact as a recruiter and safeties man.
It appears Grinch will be going with an alignment similar to what Missouri had, a flexible one with lots of five-DB looks. If you've got an active line and lots of DBs, that can work, and ... damned if WSU doesn't have those things.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Kache Palacio||RUSH||6'2, 235||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8307||12||45.0||6.6%||9.0||6.5||0||2||1||0|
|Ivan McLennan||RUSH||6'4, 240||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8693||12||16.0||2.4%||5.5||4.5||0||0||1||0|
|Darryl Paulo||DE||6'2, 265||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8382||12||13.5||2.0%||7.0||2.0||0||0||1||0|
|Destiny Vaeao||DT||6'4, 304||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||NR||10||11.5||1.7%||3.5||2.0||0||1||0||0|
|Daniel Ekuale||NT||6'3, 288||So.||2 stars (5.4)||NR||12||7.5||1.1%||3.0||1.0||0||0||0||0|
|Reggie Coates (Nevada)||DE||6'0, 237||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7000||4||4.5||0.6%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Robert Barber||NT||6'3, 312||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||NR||12||4.0||0.6%||1.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Ngalu Tapa||DT||6'2, 314||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8059|
|Hercules Mata'afa||DT||6'2, 243||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8075|
|Kingston Fernandez||DE||6'2, 254||RSFr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.8033|
|Jeremiah Mitchell||DE||6'4, 260||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8412|
|Thomas Toki||DT||6'1, 307||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9045|
|T.J. Fehoko||DE||6'1, 265||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8495|
|Hunter Mattox||DE||6'4, 260||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8442|
7. Dare I say it, an exciting front
Though I'm sure he'll experiment, it appears Grinch will be working mostly with four down linemen. At first glance, Wazzu should have the size and speed to make that work.
Kache Palacio and Ivan McLennan should be fine as ends after combining for 11 sacks a year ago, and despite the loss of Xavier Cooper and Toni Pole, the Cougars have some options on the interior. Big Destiny Vaeao is solid, and sophomore Daniel Ekuale made some plays.
Moving from three down linemen to four can obviously create depth issues up front, but between the returnees, big redshirt freshman Ngalu Tapa, JUCO transfer Jeremiah Mitchell, and four-star freshman Thomas Toki, I don't see that as a concern.
Combining these playmakers with the pairing of Jeremiah Allison and Peyton Pelluer at linebacker (plus intriguing redshirt freshman Chanlder Leniu), it would appear this front could make quite a few plays without taking huge risks. And if that's the case, a freshly experienced secondary could be offered room to improve.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Jeremiah Allison||WILL||6'2, 228||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8717||12||64.5||9.5%||8.5||3.5||0||0||0||0|
|Peyton Pelluer||MIKE||6'0, 228||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8369||12||29.0||4.3%||5.5||1.0||0||0||0||0|
|Paris Taylor||WILL||6'3, 216||Jr.||NR||0.7667||12||4.5||0.7%||1.5||1.0||0||0||0||0|
|Frankie Luvu||LB||6'2, 219||So.||2 stars (5.2)||0.8233||8||2.5||0.4%||0.0||0.0||0||0||2||0|
|Dylan Hanser||WILL||6'4, 214||So.||NR||0.7900|
|Chandler Leniu||MIKE||6'0, 255||RSFr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8683|
|Greg Hoyd III||LB||6'1, 225||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8472|
|Aaron Porter||LB||6'3, 230||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8491|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Darius Lemora||NB||5'11, 192||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8141||11||56.5||8.3%||0.5||0||0||3||0||0|
|Taylor Taliulu||SS||5'11, 210||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8264||12||55.5||8.2%||0||0||0||4||2||0|
|Charleston White||CB||5'10, 180||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8082||10||32.0||4.7%||0||0||1||13||1||0|
|Sulaiman Hameed||SS||5'10, 193||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8345||6||15.5||2.3%||0||0||0||1||0||0|
|Pat Porter||CB||5'9, 174||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.7979||4||9.0||1.3%||0||0||0||2||0||0|
|Marcellus Pippins||CB||5'10, 170||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8426||3||7.5||1.1%||2||0||0||2||0||0|
|Parker Henry||NB||5'11, 201||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||NR||10||7.0||1.0%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Colton Teglovic||NB||6'0, 189||Jr.||NR||NR||10||3.0||0.4%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Isaac Dotson||FS||6'1, 214||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8259||4||2.5||0.4%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|David Bucannon||CB||6'0, 197||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8207|
|Willie Roach||FS||6'1, 206||Jr.||NR||NR|
|Shalom Luani||S||6'1, 200||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8892|
|Treshon Broughton||CB||6'1, 175||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8495|
|Kameron Powell||S||5'11, 195||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8760|
|Hunter Dale||S||6'0, 190||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8631|
|Darrien Molton||CB||5'10, 165||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8539|
|Deion Singleton||S||6'2, 190||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8612|
8. Very good in 2016
Wazzu allowed 58 passes of 20-plus yards, and while part of that had to do with tempo (and the fact that opponents were passing more frequently than the national average), that also resulted from the backfield's deficiencies. With the intended starting four in the back almost never seeing the field at the same time, WSU ended up playing a lot more freshmen than intended.
Of the nine returnees who saw the field, six were freshmen and two were sophomores. That equation probably won't work out in your favor if you're Alabama, much less Wazzu.
But freshmen become sophomores, and sophomores become juniors. One can only expect so much improvement in one year, but by 2016, the WSU secondary could be fantastic. Corner Charleston White defensed 14 passes, most in the country for a freshman, and while he had his redshirt torn off in the 10th game, Marcellus Pippins still managed to defense a couple of passes and make a couple of plays behind the line. Between a motherlode of sophomores, a pair of well-touted JUCOs, and four three-star freshmen, Grinch should have more than enough to field a decent secondary in 2015 and a very good one down the line.
Wazzu's defense probably would have improved by quite a bit in 2015 even if Breske had stayed. If Grinch is able to bring extra energy and a better risk-taking balance, the Cougars could improve by even more.
|Erik Powell||6'1, 178||So.||54||58.6||8||1||14.8%|
|Quentin Breshears||6'0, 183||Sr.||41-42||6-9||66.7%||3-3||100.0%|
|Erik Powell||6'1, 178||So.||6-6||2-4||50.0%||0-1||0.0%|
|Jamal Morrow||KR||5'8, 187||So.||22||20.6||0|
|River Cracraft||PR||6'0, 199||Jr.||4||4.3||0|
|Special Teams F/+||127|
|Field Goal Efficiency||111|
|Punt Return Efficiency||126|
|Kick Return Efficiency||85|
|Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency||116|
9. Redefining how bad a special teams unit can be
So the offense could hold steady or improve, and the defense will almost certainly improve. So ... what about special teams? Is there any hope there, or is it going to be bringing the Cougars down like an anchor once again?
Wazzu had a new punter, place-kicker, kickoffs guy, and punt returner in 2014, and as a result, the Cougars ranked 126th in punt efficiency, 111th in field goal efficiency, 118th in kickoff efficiency, and 126th in punt return efficiency. Special teams is a small-sample enterprise, and as such, it's hard to produce awful averages at everything, but WSU pulled it off. Only Appalachian State had a worse overall special teams unit last year.
Quentin Breshears made all three of his long field goals last year but missed three sub-40 yarders ... and that's the closest I can come to a compliment. Maybe new coordinator Eric Mele is able to generate structure.
2015 Schedule & Projection Factors
|Date||Opponent||Proj. S&P+ Rk|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||-16.6% (92)|
|2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk||55 / 62|
|2014 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin*||-17 / -8.6|
|2014 TO Luck/Game||-3.5|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||16 (8, 8)|
|2014 Second-order wins (difference)||4.2 (-1.2)|
10. Plenty of winnable home games
WSU's 2015 will be defined by solid starts. That means two things:
- Starting the season quickly. Wazzu plays seven teams projected lower than 50th; four visit Pullman, and four come up in the first four games. If you're looking for a path to six wins, it involves starting the season at least 3-1. WSU started last season playing decent ball, but the close-game breaks weren't friendly.
- Starting halves more quickly. WSU ranked 70th in Q1 Off. S&P+ and 89th in Q1 Def. S&P+ and had a scoring margin of minus-52 in the opening quarter. The offense improved in each quarter, and the defense improved as a half elapsed, but horrific defense led to a minus-51 scoring margin in the third quarter. That WSU was plus-22 in Q2 and Q4 didn't really matter because of slow starts. That can't continue.
With a sophomore quarterback, sophomore running backs, exciting sophomore defensive backs, and a couple of high-upside youngsters at linebacker, Leach has plenty to build on even if there are growing pains in 2015.
But this fall is drastically important nonetheless. First of all, it will tell us what the Cougars' upside is. Second, both lines are loaded with seniors, meaning a) WSU could be a decent candidate for a big bounce back this fall, and b) these units will rebuild in 2016.
College football is more fun when a Leach team is doing crazy things, and that was only so much the case last year after the crushing loss to Cal. The potential for both fun and wins seems higher this time.