Check out the advanced-stats glossary here. Below, a unique review of last year's team, a unit-by-unit breakdown of this year's roster, the full 2016 schedule with win projections for each game, and more.
1. Back to land
In 2005, Bill Doba's Washington State Cougars, just two years removed from three consecutive top-10 poll appearances, had hit what seemed like hard time. They were 30-8 from 2001-03, and after a 5-6 campaign in 2004, they appeared close to a rebound.
Alex Brink threw for nearly 3,000 yards, and Jerome Harrison rushed for nearly 2,000, but they lost five games by four or fewer points in a six-week span in conference play and finished 4-7. By the numbers, they were an average Pac-10 team; bad luck gave them a below-average record.
Wazzu fans were used to ups and downs. Even during the immensely successful Mike Price era, which featured five ranked finishes, five bowls and two Rose Bowls, success wasn't sustained without missteps.
WSU won eight games in 1995-96 before the 10-win Rose Bowl season in 1997. Before the 2001-03 run (Price left after 2002), the Cougars won 10 combined games in 1998-00. When the talent and experienced were properly balanced, the Cougars erupted. But Pullman is as much Idaho as Washington, and it's always going to be difficult to consistently recruit well. Price was great, and the successes were undeniable. And sporadic.
Doba fought the tide for two more years, going 6-6 in 2006 and 5-7 in 2007. The Cougars still weren't bad, but they weren't good enough. Doba was dumped in favor of Eastern Washington head coach Paul Wulff. He had won nine games with EWU in 2007; he won nine in four years with Wazzu.
Ups and downs are one thing, but Washington State just spent a decade in the wilderness. After four horrific years with Wulff, WSU hired Mike Leach. He managed a bowl bid in 2013 and established a mediocre level of play in 2013-14 -- and hey, mediocre is great when you've been lost in the wilderness. In 2015, his Cougars weren't demonstrably better than they had been, but they improved enough, and got just lucky enough, to have a truly happy, exciting season.
In 2015, WSU opened the season with a loss to Portland State, then followed with nine wins in 12 games. It was the Cougars' first truly good season in 12 years.
It took him a while, but Leach finally dragged WSU out of the wilderness and produced conference-average play in Pullman. It took five one-possession wins and 3.4 points per game in positive turnover luck to do it, but WSU fans more than deserved a happy season, and they got one.
Now, how long will it take to get another?
First things first: It's going to be really hard to win nine games again this year. If you're an optimistic fan, you're going to look at the players returning this year -- quarterback Luke Falk, the top three rushers, 10 of 11 receivers, an all-conference offensive lineman, two 11-TFL defenders in the front seven, aggressive safeties Shalom Luani and Parker Henry -- and figure, "We're going to be even better than last year!" And that could very well be true for Wazzu.
But the Cougars weren't an amazing team on paper and needed some good fortune to break through. That fortune doesn't tend to last. WSU should absolutely expect to improve further, but with a schedule that features four projected top-20 opponents (three in consecutive weeks in October) and an early trip to Boise State, a reversal in luck could mean a trip back down toward .500.
Regardless, Leach has restored life in Pullman. He has towed the wayward pirate ship to shore. There will almost certainly be drastic ups and downs moving forward; it's the way life is going to be at WSU regardless, and in a Pac-12 with tons of solid teams -- with the improvement of WSU, Washington, and Cal, there is only one easy out in the Pac-12 North, and Oregon State made a good hire last year as well -- a little bit of improvement or regression could make a huge difference.
But WSU is living and breathing again. Even if this team struggles to meet expectations, that probably isn't going to change in 2016.
Seriously, though, I could have skipped this intro entirely and simply posted this F/+ progression image. It takes a while to dig yourself out of a trench.
|Record: 9-4 | Adj. Record: 8-5 | Final F/+ Rk: 54 | Final S&P+ Rk: 63|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Percentile
|Points Per Game||31.5||49||27.7||74|
2. The in-between was great
Your first and last impressions are overrated. The season began with a misstep against Portland State, your regular reminder that Week 1 performances can be amazingly misleading. (It's okay -- we all get amnesia and forget this lesson every single damn year.) Meanwhile, the season ended with an Apple Cup dud and a weird Sun Bowl performance against both Miami and snowy conditions.
In between, the Cougars were rock solid. Not great, but solid.
- Wazzu in the first game and last two:
Record: 1-2 | Average percentile performance: 27% (~top 95) | Average score: Opp 28, WSU 16 | Yards per play: Opp 5.5, WSU 5.0 (-0.5)
- Wazzu in the 10 games in-between:
Record: 8-2 | Average percentile performance: 64% (~top 45) | Average score: WSU 36, Opp 28 | Yards per play: WSU 6.2, Opp 5.9 (+0.3)
Wazzu fans weren't big S&P+ fans during the season last year, and I addressed the issue in mid-November. But it bears mentioning that S&P+ was closer than Vegas in its WSU projections eight of 12 times. The Cougars were simply a strange team to figure out last year, and luck of the bounce made things even stranger.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||47.9%||15||Succ. Rt. +||105.0||54|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||31.1||96||Def. FP+||30.4||84|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity||4.3||77||Redzone S&P+||97.6||82|
|Q1 Rk||59||1st Down Rk||53|
|Q2 Rk||38||2nd Down Rk||98|
|Q3 Rk||96||3rd Down Rk||77|
Louisville's Bobby Petrino is exploring a fascination with mobile quarterbacks. Arizona's Rich Rodriguez is running a pass-first offense; in 2015, WVU's Dana Holgorsen ran a nearly run-first offense. Alabama's Nick Saban has, to some small degree, embraced tempo.
Stick around in the coaching game long enough, and your philosophy could change. Maybe you notice the game itself changing and realize that there's a better way to win. Maybe opponents have just tried to adapt to your attack to such a degree that you find more success doing the opposite.
Or maybe you're Mike Leach, and you don't change much of anything.
When Leach got back into coaching, we were really curious to see what he would change. Previous proteges like Holgorsen had been tinkering more with the run in his absence, and from his first spring in Pullman, we heard rumors of pistol formations and different looks.
Instead, we got the Mike Leach offense. Four years into his second head coaching stint, Leach's team was still throwing more frequently than anybody. Way, way, way more. On standard downs, Mississippi State ran the ball just 44.1 percent of the time, second-least in FBS. Washington State was at 30.2 percent. On passing downs, Western Kentucky ran 18.4 percent of the time, second-least; Wazzu was at 10.5 percent. Washington State's leading rusher averaged eight carries per game. Eight! Two per quarter! Meanwhile, Falk missed a game and a half and still threw 644 passes.
It's almost admirable, sticking to what you know in a changing world. Leach is the bizarro version of Woody Hayes, Darrell K Royal, and all the other coaches to whom the "Three things can happen when you pass, and two are bad" mantra was pinned. Mike Leach is going to throw the ball -- short, medium, long; left, middle, right -- no matter what else is going on in the universe. He's going to throw it 67 percent of the time when he's winning big and 80 percent of the time when he's losing big. It's comforting to have constants in life.
Note: players in bold below are 2016 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Luke Falk||6'4, 214||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||NR||447||644||4561||38||8||69.4%||37||5.4%||6.3|
|Tyler Hilinski||6'3, 191||RSFr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8608|
|Justus Rogers||6'2, 218||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8303|
|Gerard Wicks||RB||6'0, 226||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8209||107||610||3||5.7||4.9||42.1%||2||2|
|Jamal Morrow||RB||5'9, 191||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8314||53||347||0||6.5||4.5||56.6%||1||0|
|Luke Falk||QB||6'4, 214||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||NR||45||157||3||3.5||3.2||35.6%||9||0|
|Keith Harrington||RB/WR||5'8, 191||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8509||37||238||2||6.4||5.8||48.6%||3||3|
|James Williams||RB||5'11, 195||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8528|
|Romello Harris||RB||5'10, 175||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8513|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Targets||Catches||Yards||Catch Rate||Target
|Gabe Marks||WR-Z||6'0, 188||Sr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9287||149||104||1192||69.8%||20.8%||8.0||61.1%||55.0%||1.35|
|River Cracraft||SLOT||6'0, 203||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8247||78||53||609||67.9%||10.9%||7.8||61.5%||55.1%||1.26|
|Robert Lewis||SLOT||5'9, 162||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8691||56||43||490||76.8%||7.8%||8.8||67.9%||62.5%||1.27|
|Gerard Wicks||RB||6'0, 226||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8209||54||39||149||72.2%||7.5%||2.8||75.9%||31.5%||0.70|
|Keith Harrington||SLOT||5'8, 191||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8509||51||43||312||84.3%||7.1%||6.1||74.5%||45.1%||1.33|
|Kyrin Priester||SLOT||6'1, 194||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8913||43||33||241||76.7%||6.0%||5.6||74.4%||41.9%||1.18|
|Jamal Morrow||RB||5'9, 191||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8314||41||34||309||82.9%||5.7%||7.5||68.3%||53.7%||1.30|
|John Thompson||SLOT||5'8, 192||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||NR||37||24||255||64.9%||5.2%||6.9||54.1%||48.6%||1.17|
|Kyle Sweet||SLOT||6'0, 190||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8457||31||21||222||67.7%||4.3%||7.2||51.6%||45.2%||1.49|
|Tavares Martin Jr.||WR-X||6'1, 182||So.||3 stars (5.5)||NR||23||16||124||69.6%||3.2%||5.4||60.9%||39.1%||1.42|
|CJ Dimry||WR||6'5, 200||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7819|
|Brett Bartolone||WR||5'10, 185||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||NR|
|Kaleb Fossum||WR-X||5'10, 186||So.||NR||NR|
|Isaiah Johnson||WR-Z||6'3, 214||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8646|
|Renard Bell||WR||5'10, 165||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8437|
|Grant Porter||WR||6'2, 185||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8428|
4. More big plays wouldn't hurt
Wazzu has basically run a bend-don't-break offense of late, capable of constantly staying ahead of the chains but pulling off fewer big plays than preferable. Because of pure volume, the Cougars had more passes of 10-plus yards (200) than anyone else in FBS, but they had only 19 30-yarders, 54th in the country and fewer than such passing non-stalwarts as Kansas State, Florida, Rice, and Virginia Tech. Fewer than Stanford, even!
There are two ways to attempt to move the football: by creating numbers advantages for yourself, or by having your guys simply beat the guys across from them. Wazzu's skill guys don't tend to beat their opponent very frequently, turning short passes into huge gains. But if you are accurate enough in simply getting them the ball and working the ball up the field six to eight yards at a time, you can still rack up points and yards. And unlike predecessor Connor Halliday, Falk seems perfect content with this approach -- he isn't fighting hero-ball instincts like Halliday frequently seemed to be doing.
Of the 13 players who caught at least four passes in 2015, only one averaged better than 11.6 yards per catch (Dom Williams) and one averaged more than 8 yards per target (Robert Lewis). But the success rates were tremendous. That will almost certainly be the case again in 2016, but with Williams gone, Wazzu has gone from one known deep threat to zero.
In Gabe Marks, you've got the receiver version of a workhorse back. And inside receivers River Cracraft and Lewis are ultra-efficient. Keith Harrington, easily the most explosive running back of last year's trio, has evidently moved to inside receiver as well. Chances are this offense is what it is; the big plays aren't likely to change much.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||2015 Starts||Career Starts||Honors/Notes|
|Eduardo Middleton||RG||6'5, 323||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8395||13||25||2015 1st All-Pac-12|
|Joe Dahl||LT||9||34||2015 2nd All-Pac-12|
|Riley Sorenson||C||6'4, 327||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8472||12||22|
|Cole Madison||RT||6'5, 305||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8119||13||21|
|Andre Dillard||LT||6'5, 290||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8159||2||2|
|Cody O'Connell||LG||6'8, 351||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8362||0||0|
|B.J. Salmonson||RT||6'4, 281||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7652||0||0|
|Carlos Freeman||OL||6'3, 308||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8141||0||0|
|Mack Hopkins||LG||6'5, 309||So.||NR||NR||0||0|
|Noah Osur-Myers||C||6'4, 309||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8375|
|Cedric Bigge-Duren||LT||6'6, 320||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8280|
|Drew Norvell||RG||6'4, 293||RSFr.||NR||NR|
|Frederick Mauigoa||OL||6'4, 295||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8632|
5. Good at exactly what you need to be good at (and nothing more)
Wazzu's line kept Luke Falk upright on passing downs and gave running backs a shot at the second level in rare rush attempts. The Cougars weren't great in short yardage (lack of practice, probably), but that's not part of the package. WSU was successful in the areas where it most needed to be successful. It rarely moved backwards.
The quick passing game neutralizes any line disadvantages by getting the ball out of the quarterback's hands too quickly for pressure to occur. So that should make the loss of two starters (including all-conference tackle Joe Dahl) more palatable. There was enough shuffling last year that eight guys ended up starting at least one game, and four of them are back. Barring implosion at left tackle, things should be fine here.
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||43.4%||85||Succ. Rt. +||103.0||53|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||30.0||60||Off. FP+||30.1||61|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity||3.8||17||Redzone S&P+||107.3||37|
|Q1 Rk||54||1st Down Rk||60|
|Q2 Rk||40||2nd Down Rk||36|
|Q3 Rk||59||3rd Down Rk||68|
6. A good first step for Grinch
Former Missouri safeties coach Alex Grinch took over Leach's defense in 2015, and while improvement wasn't rampant, it was obvious. Wazzu improved from 95th to 72nd in Def. S&P+, and Grinch was quickly able to do some damage with a secondary made up mostly of sophomores and juniors. Run defense was problematic, but pass defense was downright strong. And any defensive strength is an improvement for Wazzu.
The secondary should get even better in 2016, as sophomores and juniors turn into juniors and seniors. But the front seven is a mystery. Six Cougars produced at least nine tackles for loss a year ago, but only two are back. End Hercules Mata'afa was a dynamic pass rusher as a freshman, and Peyton Pelluer was Wazzu's best run defender. But that's it. And since WSU basically played only five linemen and five linebackers, we don't really know what the reinforcements are like.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Hercules Mata'afa||DE||6'2, 245||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8075||13||26.0||3.5%||11.0||7.0||0||0||1||0|
|Daniel Ekuale||DE||6'3, 296||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||NR||13||20.0||2.7%||5.0||0.0||0||0||1||0|
|Robert Barber||NT||6'3, 309||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||NR||12||12.0||1.6%||4.5||1.0||0||0||2||0|
|Jeremiah Mitchell||DE||6'4, 270||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8412|
|Ngalu Tapa||DT||6'2, 314||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8059|
|Kingston Fernandez||DE||6'2, 260||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0.8033|
|T.J. Fehoko||DE||6'1, 272||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8495|
|Hunter Mattox||NT||6'3, 270||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8442|
|Nnamdi Oguayo||DE||6'3, 218||RSFr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7785|
|Garrett McBroom||DE||6'3, 276||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7893|
|Lyric Bartley||DE||6'3, 245||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8381|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Peyton Pelluer||MIKE||6'0, 229||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8369||13||79.0||10.7%||11.0||0.0||1||2||2||0|
|Isaac Dotson||WILL||6'1, 214||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8259||8||31.5||4.3%||1.0||0.0||0||1||0||0|
|Chandler Leniu||MIKE||6'0, 260||So.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8683||12||11.0||1.5%||1.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Frankie Luvu||WILL||6'2, 239||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.8233||11||11.0||1.5%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Dylan Hanser||RUSH||6'4, 230||Jr.||NR||0.7900||11||9.5||1.3%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Logan Tago||RUSH||6'3, 240||So.||2 stars (5.2)||0.8200||12||8.0||1.1%||0.5||0.0||0||1||0||0|
|Nate DeRider||LB||6'1, 222||Jr.||NR||NR||13||6.5||0.9%||0.0||0.0||0||0||1||0|
|Aaron Porter||LB||6'3, 228||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8491||12||3.0||0.4%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Paris Taylor||WILL||6'3, 215||Sr.||NR||0.7667|
|Greg Hoyd III||LB||6'1, 230||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8472|
|Chima Onyeukwu||LB||6'3, 215||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8541|
|Suliasi Tamaivena||LB||6'2, 225||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8467|
|Mason Vinyard||LB||6'5, 215||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8471|
7. The downside of a small rotation
Mata'afa and Pelluer are lovely building blocks, but of last year's 10 regulars, only five return. Linebackers Chandler Leniu, Frankie Luvu, Dylan Hanser, and Logan Tago all saw a little bit of action, but they combined for 1.5 tackles for loss between them.
So we don't know much about some of the players who will be counted on this fall. Leniu was a four-star recruit per Rivals, and Tago appears to have some potential as a rush end. But if Wazzu's front seven improves in 2016, it's going to be because of newcomers to the rotation, especially on the line. Of JUCO transfers Garrett McBroom (DE), Chima Onyeukwu (LB), and Suliasi Tamaivena (LB), at least one, preferably two (most preferably McBroom) will need to provide early disruption. Meanwhile, Leniu, Tago, and big tackle Ngalu Tapa will need sophomore leaps. And if someone like redshirt freshman T.J. Fehoko or Hunter Mattox wants to quickly break through, that would be great.
It could happen. But the odds are against it. The more likely bet is on a level of quality familiar to what we saw last year, if not slightly worse.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Shalom Luani||FS||6'0, 198||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8892||13||78.5||10.6%||3||0||4||6||2||0|
|Parker Henry||NB||5'11, 203||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||NR||13||53.5||7.2%||6.5||1||1||1||0||0|
|Darrien Molton||CB||5'10, 173||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8539||11||39.0||5.3%||1||0||1||4||1||0|
|Marcellus Pippins||CB||5'10, 170||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8426||13||35.5||4.8%||1||0||3||6||0||1|
|Charleston White||FS||6'0, 195||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8082||12||28.0||3.8%||0||0||1||2||0||0|
|Kirkland Parker||NB||6'1, 182||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8367||12||13.5||1.8%||1||0||0||2||1||0|
|Colton Teglovic||NB||6'0, 188||Sr.||NR||NR||11||4.0||0.5%||1.5||0||0||0||0||0|
|Darius Lemora||NB||6'0, 193||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8141||7||3.5||0.5%||2||0||0||0||0||0|
|Treshon Broughton||CB||6'0, 174||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8495||8||3.0||0.4%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Hunter Dale||SS||5'10, 203||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8631|
|Suli Hameed||S||5'10, 185||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8345|
|Kameron Powell||S||6'0, 194||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8760|
|Deion Singleton||CB||6'2, 184||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8612|
|Robert Taylor||DB||5'11, 180||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8159|
|Jalen Thompson||SS||6'0, 176||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8406|
8. Another great secondary
In last year's preview, I claimed that the WSU secondary would be very good ... in 2016.
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. Grinch should have more than enough to field a decent secondary in 2015 and a very good one down the line.
Turns out, it was quite a bit better than decent. Despite run deficiencies, Wazzu allowed only a 124.2 passer rating, down from 158.0 the year before. An absurd 33-to-3 TD-to-INT ratio in 2014 flipped to 13-to-13 last fall, and the pass defense got better as the game wore on. (Unfortunately, opponents didn't necessarily have to pass late in games.)
This was spectaular improvement, and only one of seven regulars is gone. Free safety Shalom Luani and nickel back Parker Henry are back after combining for 9.5 tackles for loss and 12 passes defensed as juniors. Corners Darrien Molton and Marcellus Pippins are back after combining for four picks and 10 breakups. This is a relatively undersized unit -- Molton and Pippins both weigh in under 175, and only Henry tops 200 pounds.
But the Cougars are fast and fun in the back. Unless the pass rush completely falls apart, I'd be shocked if WSU fell out of the Passing S&P+ top 30 or so. If the front seven does regress, that would be a shame because it would probably prevent us from seeing exactly what this secondary is capable of.
|Zach Charme||6'1, 188||So.||47||39.6||4||9||10||40.4%|
|Erik Powell||6'1, 195||Jr.||76||56.5||21||0||27.6%|
|Erik Powell||6'1, 195||Jr.||49-49||15-16||93.8%||5-10||50.0%|
|Tavares Martin Jr.||KR||6'1, 182||So.||25||22.1||0|
|Kyrin Priester||KR||6'1, 194||Jr.||6||18.8||0|
|Gabe Marks||PR||6'0, 188||Sr.||11||9.6||0|
|Kyrin Priester||PR||6'1, 194||Jr.||4||5.5||0|
|Special Teams S&P+||102|
|Field Goal Efficiency||56|
|Punt Return Success Rate||93|
|Kick Return Success Rate||85|
|Punt Success Rate||119|
|Kickoff Success Rate||97|
Washington State's special teams unit was bad in 2015. That's good! Because "bad" isn't "worst in the nation"! The Cougars were still beyond dreadful in punt coverage (14.5 yards per return, 123rd in the country), and they allowed four more return scores (two via punt, two via kickoff). But Erik Powell was downright solid in the place-kicking department, and the return games were ... less awful? Powell needs to produce more touchbacks in kickoffs, but still, this unit had an actual strength. That's something. And basically everybody's back this year. That's something, too.
|Date||Opponent||Proj. S&P+ Rk||Proj. Margin||Win Probability|
|10-Sep||at Boise State||36||-6.8||35%|
|22-Oct||at Arizona State||57||-2.2||45%|
|29-Oct||at Oregon State||86||4.3||60%|
|Projected wins: 6.2|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||-9.7% (82)|
|2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk||56 / 57|
|2015 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin*||-1 / -9.2|
|2015 TO Luck/Game||+3.4|
|Returning Production (Off. / Def.)||79% (87%, 71%)|
|2015 Second-order wins (difference)||7.6 (1.4)|
10. Wazzu vs. expectations
I am indeed a little bit concerned about expectations this year. When you win nine games and return as much as WSU does (especially on offense), the inclincation is to set the bar awfully high. But the Cougars really weren't significantly better than they had been in the previous two years. And while they will almost certainly improve again in 2016, their record may not.
They're going to play in a ton of close games, though, and that will give them a chance. The schedule is weirdly symmetrical -- per S&P+, the Cougs have two likely wins (EWU, Idaho), one likely loss (at Stanford), four games with win probability between 31 and 35 percent, and five between 45 and 63. In all, nine games are projected to finish within 8.5 points. So if Wazzu is able to maneuver well in close games again, and if the ball bounces the Cougars' way again, there are a lot of potential wins on the table.
S&P+ doesn't think about luck, though, and it projects both a top-50 campaign and a 6-6 record. As fun as the college football world can be with Washington State making things crazy and winning a lot of games, I'm going to try to set the bar around six or seven wins as well.
Still, it's fantastic to be talking about Wazzu as a "disappointing" six-win team, isn't it? After a lost decade, Wazzu fans might actually have something to be disappointed about. That is a morbid form of growth.