COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2012 PRESEASON TOP 25
Pac-12 North PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Mike Leach, 3-9 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Mike Leach | DEF. COORDINATOR: Mike Breske
Now that Jeff Tuel has graduated, Connor Halliday takes over as the No. 1 guy after sharing the starting job last year. Halliday needs to improve his accuracy. A gunslinger who tends to force things, Halliday threw 15 touchdown passes and 13 interceptions in 2012. He completed 52 percent of his throws, which is unacceptable to coach Mike Leach, who demands better precision.
If Halliday struggles, redshirt freshman Austin Apodaca might be good enough to replace him right away. Apodaca threw for 3,849 yards with 44 TDs and 10 interceptions as a senior in high school.
The Cougs had the worst running game in the country last year, rushing 252 times for a net of only 349 yards. Teondray Caldwell did a decent job in limited work last year, averaging a respectable 4.8 yards on his 56 attempts. Arizona transfer Daniel Jenkins was expected to push Caldwell for the starting job. However, he decided to return to Arizona in late May. Pushing Caldwell for time in the backfield will be Marcus Mason and Leon Brooks.
But Leach’s offense isn’t called the Run Raid — it’s the Air Raid, and the Cougs have talented receivers to make it fly. Gabe Marks caught 49 passes for 560 yards and two TDs last year as a true freshman. The Cougars are expecting an immediate contribution from junior college transfer Vince Mayle. He has good size (6'3", 220) and great hands, plus he loves to block.
Washington State allowed an average of 33.7 points and 425.9 yards per game, numbers that don’t sound very good. But the defense had a few more bright moments than the offense.
The line played a big part in Washington State’s surprising win over Washington in the Apple Cup. Toni Pole’s interception and runback to a near-TD in overtime is already considered one of the greatest defensive plays in Cougar history. Pole returns to give the Cougs a pair of 300-pound rocks at tackle, along with Xavier Cooper.
At linebacker, the Cougs have a physical player in Darryl Monroe, a playmaker in Cyrus Coen and a pass-rusher and run-stopper in Logan Mayes. Free safety Deone Bucannon led the Cougars with four interceptions last year and returns to anchor the secondary. Washington State allowed 262.7 passing yards per game, intercepted 15 passes and gave up 26 passing touchdowns.
An Andrew Furney Fan Club was started after the Cougar kicker booted a 60-yard field goal at the end of the first half against Eastern Washington. The senior had a decent season, converting 14-of-20 field goals, including the 27-yarder that beat Washington in overtime. Michael Bowlin was sixth in the Pac-12, averaging 42.0 yards per punt. Bowlin also handles kickoff duties for the Cougs.
Leach arrived in Pullman last year with warranted fanfare. The new Washington State coach had led Texas Tech to 10 bowl games. But Leach’s Air Raid offense sputtered.
The season was marked with big losses and a controversy involving WSU’s all-time leading receiver, Marquess Wilson, who left the team in November after claiming verbal, mental and physical abuse by the coaching staff. That prompted Washington State and Pac-12 investigations, which cleared the staff of any wrongdoing.
Most Cougar fans support Leach’s disciplined approach, believing that a culture change was necessary after Washington State went 9–40 during the previous four seasons under Paul Wulff.
From all indications, players know what to expect from Leach now. They’re all on board, pulling in the same direction. That is a good start, but the Cougars still have work to do. They should be improved, but it would be a bit of a surprise if they flirted with a .500 record.