Washington State isn't getting much attention in the Pac-12 North title conversation. Still, you can bet the Cougars will be a factor in the race when all is said and done.
There are question marks at key positions, most notably quarterback, heading into the 2019 season. It isn't wise to underestimate Mike Leach's ability to restock those positions and keep things going in the right direction. Leach knows how to recruit to run the Air Raid. His defense has also become stout enough to support the offense. If the passing attack proves equally as fearsome as last season when Gardner Minshew threw for a Pac-12-record 4,779 passing yards and led the Cougars to a school-record 11 wins, then 2019 might be equally memorable.
Washington State will face some challenges in its quest to push for the Pac-12 North title. The Cougars have tough road games at Utah, Arizona State, Oregon, and Washington. Success for Washington State will definitely require the team being able to win away from Pullman this fall.
Washington State Cougars 2019 Schedule
Byes: Week 6, Week 10
Week 1 — Aug. 31 vs. New Mexico State (Pullman, Wash.)
Minshew's successor will get a chance to work out the kinks. The Aggies haven't beaten a Pac-12 opponent since upsetting Arizona State 35-7 in 1999 and are a long shot to reach six wins this year. This is the first meeting between both schools.
Week 2 — Sept. 7 vs. Northern Colorado (Pullman, Wash.)
The Cougars are on a two-game winning streak against Big Sky Conference teams. Making it three in a row against the Bears shouldn't be a problem. Northern Colorado is coming off a 2-9 season and has had just two winning seasons over the past decade.
Week 3 — Sept. 13 at Houston (Houston)
This battle of Cougars could provide some fun offensive fireworks. Dana Holgorsen had little trouble putting together explosive offenses at West Virginia and he should be able to do the same at Houston. This will offer Washington State's defense its first true test of the season.
Week 4 — Sept. 21 vs. UCLA (Pullman, Wash.)
Can UCLA make significant strides under Chip Kelly in year two? The Bruins endured their worst start since 1943 in Kelly's debut season and finished just 3-9 overall. They ranked 11th in the Pac-12 in total and scoring defense. Washington State hasn't lost to UCLA since 2012, but the two teams have met just twice since that time.
Week 5 — Sept. 28 vs. Utah (Salt Lake City)
This is a daunting road trip on paper, but beating Utah hasn't been a problem for the Cougars during Leach's tenure. Washington State earned its fourth straight victory over the Utes last fall, edging Utah 28-24 behind 445 yards and three touchdowns from Minshew. With the Utes returning most of their key playmakers, it will take a similar effort on offense to make it five in a row.
Week 7 — Oct. 12 at Arizona State (Tempe, Ariz.)
Arizona State is undergoing a bit of a rebuild on offense after losing starting quarterback Manny Wilkins and top receiver N'Keal Harry. Still, the Sun Devils are always a tough out at home and Eno Benjamin is coming off a season where he ran for 1,654 yards.
Week 8 — Oct. 19 vs. Colorado (Pullman, Wash.)
Colorado has struggled to generate much offense in recent years against the Cougars. The Buffaloes have totaled 48 points over the last four games in the series. It remains to be seen if the offense will become more explosive under new head coach Mel Tucker. Washington State shut out Colorado in Pullman two years ago and won 31-7 last season.
Week 9 — Oct. 26 vs. Oregon (Eugene, Ore.)
Justin Herbert's decision to forego entering the NFL draft gives Oregon a shot to challenge Washington for the Pac-12 North crown. Herbert threw for 3,151 yards and 29 touchdowns a year ago. Of course, the Ducks need to prove they can get past Washington State first. The Cougars have won four straight in the series.
Week 11 — Nov. 9 at California (Berkeley, Calif.)
Road games against the Bears always provide an unexpected danger. California has knocked off the Cougars each of the last two times that the two teams met in Berkley. The Bears have given up just 11.0 points per game to Washington State over the last two seasons.
Week 12 — Nov. 16 vs. Stanford (Pullman, Wash.)
Minshew led a fourth-quarter rally to secure a 41-38 win over the Cardinal last season. Washington State has won three straight in the series, but Stanford is a tough, physical team that always makes an opponent earn everything it gets. K.J. Costello has made strides at quarterback, which should keep the Cardinal in the mix in the Pac-12 North.
Week 13 — Nov. 23 vs. Oregon State (Pullman, Wash.)
Unless the Beavers make significant strides on defense this season, it could get ugly in a hurry for Oregon State. The Beavers were dead last in the Pac-12 in several defensive categories by a substantial margin a year ago and it kept an improved offense from making much of a difference. The Cougars have won five straight in the series and have topped 50 points three times in that stretch.
Week 14 — Nov. 29 at Washington (Seattle)
The Huskies fielded one of the nation's best defenses a year ago and, once again, shut down the Cougars in the Apple Cup. It isn't a new scenario either. During Washington State's six-game losing streak to Washington, the Cougars have averaged 14.3 points per contest. They haven't scored 20 or more points in a game against the Huskies since 2012.
— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.