What can Washington State do for an encore? The Cougars are coming off a season where they recorded a school-record 11 wins that included an Alamo Bowl victory over Iowa State. Washington State has been a factor in the Pac-12 North over the last four seasons. There's no reason to believe it can't keep the momentum going.
Mike Leach knows how to find the right players to plug into his Air Raid offense. The bigger key, however, is that Washington State is also getting it done on defense. The Cougars ranked among the top third of Pac-12 teams in both rushing defense and passing defense a year ago. They allowed 359.5 yards and 23.3 points per game in 2018, ranking 42nd in the FBS in both categories.
Washington State's fortunes in 2019 will hinge on how well the team performs on the road. The Cougars have tough road tests at Utah, Washington, Oregon, California, and Arizona State. A de facto road date with Houston (at NRG Stadium) also awaits in the non-conference finale. It isn't a forgiving schedule.
If Gage Gubrud can mirror Gardner Minshew's effectiveness at quarterback, it will go a long way toward Washington State pushing for another 10-win season. Gubrud accumulated more than 11,000 yards on offense and 100 total touchdowns at Eastern Washington before joining the program as a graduate transfer.
Athlon asked a few editors and one of its college football contributors to share their realistic win/loss projection for Washington State in 2019.
Washington State Football Game-by-Game Predictions for 2019
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
New quarterback? No problem for Mike Leach and Washington State. As evidenced by Gardner Minshew's emergence for the Cougars in 2018, Leach will reload under center and keep this program in the mix for the Pac-12 North title. Whichever quarterback – Gage Gubrud, Anthony Gordon or Trey Tinsley – wins the starting job will have a strong supporting cast that includes four starters up front, a deep receiving corps and an All-Pac-12 candidate at running back in Max Borghi. Washington State's defense has made considerable progress over the last few years. Safety Jalen Thompson was a big loss over the summer, but coordinator Tracy Claeys returns a good foundation to build around at all three levels. The road schedule does no favors for Leach's team. The Cougars get Oregon, Washington and Utah – the Pac-12’s top front-runners – all on the road. This program also has tricky road dates at California and Arizona State.
Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
Washington State will plug in a new quarterback, likely Gage Gubrud, and that new QB will likely throw for over 4,000 yards and lead the Cougars to a better-than-expected record. I'm projecting 8-4, with losses in four of Wazzu's five Pac-12 road games. The Cougs did go 3-1 on the road in league play last year, but two of the wins came against Colorado and Oregon State, the two worst teams in the league. This year's road slate is more challenging. Washington State's trip to Houston to play the other Cougars will be one of the better early-season games.
John Coon (@johncoonsports)
Washington State has reached a point where it is more about reloading than rebuilding. The Cougars will always have enough pieces to make the Air Raid operate like an efficient machine. Still, it is asking a bit much to expect Gage Gubrud to turn out to be the reincarnation of past quarterbacks like Gardner Minshew or Luke Falk. There's too much talent here for the Cougars to fall all the way back to the pack. Getting a second straight 10-win season, on the other hand, could prove to be an insurmountable task. Washington has owned the Apple Cup over the past decade. Washington State owns long winning streaks against Oregon and Utah, but those two teams are divisional favorites hosting the Cougars in tough road environments this season. Ultimately, Washington State will take a medium-sized step back from 2018 but still fare well enough to reach a bowl game for a fifth straight year.