The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 56 Washington State.
Previewing Washington State’s Offense for 2014:
Washington State returns many of the components of a passing offense that ranked second in the Pac-12 with 368.0 yards per game. Connor Halliday had 410 passing yards and six touchdown passes in the New Mexico Bowl, but the most impressive part of his day? He threw only one interception in 58 attempts. Halliday enters his senior season with a chance to break all of the school passing records. That’s impressive when you think of the QBs who have played at Washington State — Drew Bledsoe, Mark Rypien, Ryan Leaf, Jack Thompson and Jason Gesser, among others.
But Halliday has a tendency to throw too many interceptions. Along with 34 touchdown passes and 4,597 passing yards last year, he threw it to the opposing team 22 times.
As you’d expect with an offense that stresses the passing game, the Cougars are loaded with guys who can stretch the field. It’s their strongest position, led by Gabe Marks, who had 74 receptions for 807 yards and seven TDs last year. Four other wideouts had at least 40 receptions.
Offensive line could be a source of concern with the loss of two-time honorable mention All-Pac-12 center Elliott Bosch, right guard Matt Goetz and right tackle John Fullington.
Previewing Washington State’s Defense for 2014:
Washington State will need to improve on this side of the ball after ranking 10th in the Pac-12 in total defense (458.0 ypg) and scoring defense (32.5 ppg). The defense did, however, force 30 turnovers, second in the Pac-12 in that category.
WSU had one of the more solid defensive lines in the conference last year and returns the three standouts from that unit — Xavier Cooper, Kalafitoni Pole and Destiny Vaeao. Cooper registered five sacks and 13.5 tackles for a loss last year. Pole’s numbers don’t match those, but he will be the 290-pound key to WSU’s run defense this year.
At linebacker, the Cougars have a hard-hitting group featuring Kache Palacio, Cyrus Coen, Darryl Monroe and Tana Pritchard. Palacio led the linebackers with four sacks and 6.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Monroe, a junior, finished third on the team with 94 tackles.
The Cougars will need to shore up a secondary that lost three of its four starters to graduation, including All-Pac-12 strong safety Deone Bucannon. Daquawn Brown might be the best defensive back, but his status was unclear coming out of spring practice. He was arrested in the offseason on felony second-degree assault and misdemeanor assault charges.
Previewing Washington State’s Specialists for 2014:
Michael Bowlin held the punting job for most of the 2013 season but was replaced late in the year by Wes Concepcion, who will hold the job on a full-time basis this year. Reliable Andrew Furney made 16-of-20 field goals last year, but he graduated. Now it’s freshman Erik Powell’s job. The left-footed Powell had an outstanding spring, showing accuracy and range. The Cougars have a variety of candidates for kickoff and punt returns. Dom Williams or Rickey Galvin should handle kickoffs, while Robert Lewis is the likely frontrunner for punt returns.
Leach has engineered a quick turnaround in Pullman, guiding the Cougars back to a bowl game in his second season. He has eliminated the losing culture and given the program an identity. Leach’s third season figures to be similar to his second. The Cougs, with a senior quarterback and solid corps of receivers, will score a ton of points, but the defense remains an issue. Washington State can be a consistent bowl team as it’s currently constructed but will need to improve on defense to emerge as a contender in the tough Pac-12 North.