Washington State is going to be better in 2013, though based on the last five years, that isn’t saying much. A football program that began the 21st century as a likeable unsung, posting three consecutive 10-win seasons from 2001-03, has since 2008 gone 12-49.
Long forgotten for many is how the Cougars went to two Rose Bowls in a five-year span before they became the Pac-12’s version of the Washington Generals. WSU last avoided a losing season in 2006 (6-6), and they haven’t been to the postseason since Will Derting and D.D. Acholonu did this to Texas in the 2003 Holiday Bowl.
No one would have blamed devoted WSU football fans if they opted to nosedive off the Lower Granite Dam into the Snake River after Mike Leach, a spread offense pioneer who never had a losing season in his 10-year head coaching career, came to Pullman and in his first year went 3-9 (1-8 Pac-12). By midseason, fans had to do this to stomach watching a game from start to finish.
What are the reasons for optimism?
Leach bused the team to Lewiston, ID., for the first 10 days of fall camp, where WSU practiced at Sacajawea Junior High. All indications are that players responded well to the move.
The receiving crew is among the deepest, and most talented, in the conference. QB Connor Halliday has, Leach says, taken more of a leadership role and managed to fend off the nagging injuries that plagued the first half of his WSU career.
The defensive line and linebackers aren’t bad, either. Christian Caple, WSU football beat reporter for The Spokesman-Review, wrote Thursday that the running game has made noticeable gains a year removed from finishing last in the country in rushing with 29.1 yards per game (that factors in yards lost via sacks).
What do you think? Is Leach, in his second year in Pullman, capable of taking the Cougars to a bowl game? Will the offensive line give Halliday enough time to throw? Or will WSU suffer the same fate it did in 2012, its only hope for salvaging a season coming when it plays the Apple Cup?