Can Washington State take another step forward and win a Pac-12 North title this season?
It seems like a crazy question to ask of the Cougars. Washington State is replacing star quarterback Gardner Minshew after an 11-win season that included an Alamo Bowl victory over Iowa State. On the other hand, the Cougars defied expectations when Minshew emerged as a perfect successor to record-setting quarterback Luke Falk during his lone season in Pullman.
Washington State faces questions at quarterback again and has some holes to fill elsewhere on the roster. Still, it's not safe to underestimate what Mike Leach can do. Leach has strung together four consecutive winning seasons now and has his system running smoothly on both sides of the ball.
5 Storylines to Watch During Washington State's Spring Practices
1. Who will be the next starting quarterback?
Will a graduate transfer lead Washington State to success again in 2019? Mike Leach appears ready to travel that route a second time after bringing in former Eastern Washington standout Gabe Gubrud. Seniors Trey Tinsley and Anthony Gordon, along with redshirt freshman Cammon Cooper, expect to be in the mix for the starting job. Gubrud is probably the favorite based on what he accomplished at the FCS level with the Eagles. He threw for 9,984 yards with 87 touchdown passes and 32 interceptions during his time at Eastern Washington. Gubrud's best season came in 2016 when he threw for an FCS single-season record 5,160 yards and earned Player of the Year honors.
2. Will the defensive line stay dominant?
Washington State's defense ended up being a force on the line of scrimmage a year ago. The Cougars' front seven accounted for 35 sacks. It's natural to assume there could be a drop-off in production with the loss of Taylor Comfort, Logan Tago, and Nick Begg. That changes when you realize nose tackle Lamonte McDougle is finally eligible this season. McDougle was a freshman All-American at West Virginia before sitting out last year as a transfer. In his first season with the Mountaineers in 2017, McDougle tallied 23 tackles, four tackles for a loss, two sacks and a fumble recovery. His speed and strength make him an instant force up front and a good anchor for Washington State to build around.
3. Can Max Borghi pick up where James Williams left off?
Borghi is the obvious candidate to follow Williams as the lead back this season. The Air Raid isn't famous for posing a running threat, but Williams made defenses account for him at all times after totaling 1,173 all-purpose yards last season. Borghi showed promise as a freshman. He ran for 366 yards and eight touchdowns while averaging 5.1 yards per carry. Borghi also was a pass-catching threat out of the backfield, piling up 374 yards and four touchdowns on 53 receptions. If he can build on that this season, Williams' early departure for the NFL draft won't leave a huge void.
4. Who will step up at cornerback?
Building some depth on the outside in the defensive backfield is a major concern going into the spring. The Cougars return just four cornerbacks from the 2018 roster. Marcus Strong should fill one of the spots nicely after recording 41 tackles, five pass breakups, and three interceptions last season. There isn't a ton of experience beyond Strong at the position. Junior college signees Daniel Isom, Derrick Langford, and Shahman Moore will get a chance to make heavy contributions at cornerback in the spring and could be a factor in the fall.
5. Who will emerge at left tackle?
Replacing Andre Dillard will not be a simple task. Dillard opted to leave for the NFL and, even with pretty much everyone else returning on the offensive line, it will be tough to replace his leadership. He's a big reason why quarterback protection improved so dramatically last season from where it was two years ago. Liam Ryan could switch from left guard, where he started last season, to fill the empty slot at left tackle. That seems like the likeliest move given the depth and experience Washington State has at both guard spots.
— 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.