Can the Washington State Cougars keep shredding opposing defenses now that Mike Leach and his Air Raid offense have moved on to the SEC? The Cougars will face a tough task in proving they still have the teeth and claws to light up the scoreboard at will.
Nick Rolovich comes to Pullman from Hawaii where he ran the run-and-shoot with great success. Given the talent, depth, and experience that Washington State has at wide receiver, the Cougars will continue to emphasize the passing game. Now Rolovich just needs to find the right trigger man for the attack. Cammon Cooper, a redshirt sophomore, seems to be the favorite to become the starting quarterback after the team's first fall scrimmage. Cooper is getting pushed by freshmen Jayden de Laura and Gunner Cruz.
Will the Pac-12 schedule be friendly to Rolovich's efforts to make a smooth transition from the Leach era in his first season? The short answer is it won't be easy. Oregon, Washington, and California all play in Pullman, and the Cougars have road tilts with USC, Oregon State, and Stanford. There are no obvious wins on the schedule with uncertainty facing Washington State on both sides of the ball.
Athlon asked a couple of editors and one college football contributor to share their realistic win/loss projection for Washington State in 2020:
Washington State Football Game-by-Game Predictions for 2020
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
I think Nick Rolovich was one of the offseason’s top hires and should work out well for Washington State in the long run. However, first-year coaches in this abbreviated season won’t have it easy. The Cougars won’t have non-conference games to work out some of the scheme changes and depth chart battles before Pac-12 play begins. Instead, Rolovich’s team is jumping into the mix with a tough trip to Oregon State, followed by a date against Oregon. Running back Max Borghi is one of the nation’s most underrated players and a solid foundation remains at receiver and up front. However, the Cougars do not return a quarterback with a pass attempt in a game and major concerns remain on defense after giving up 31.4 points a game in 2019. Washington State will be fun to watch and should get better over the 2020 season. However, wins might be tough to come by this fall.
Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR)
It's probably going to be a rough Pac-12 indoctrination for Nick Rolovich at Washington State. Yes, there are similarities between his and Mike Leach's offensive approach but it's still a different system and one that his players haven't had the benefit of a normal offseason to learn and become familiar with. The growing pains will be obvious, especially navigating a schedule that features USC as the lone crossover opponent as well as the usual divisional slate. There will be plenty of offensive fireworks but considering Rolovich is inheriting a defense that had trouble stopping anyone last season, I don't think these Cougars will be able to manage enough points to pick up many wins.
John Coon (@johncoonsports)
It could end up feeling like a long six-game season for the Cougars. None of the quarterbacks on the roster have taken a snap at the FBS level. Washington State also struggled to stop teams from moving the chains at will last season. The Cougars are using a new 4-2-5 scheme to try to slow down opponents after allowing 452.5 total yards per game in 2019. Offensively, there's plenty of experience returning at receiver despite losing the top three pass catchers from a year ago, and running back Max Borghi is a proven threat both as a runner and receiver out of the backfield. Still, there are enough question marks that it may take a year or so for the Cougars to hit their stride under Nick Rolovich.