Last Updated: 2018-07-19
How do you motivate a team when in the same offseason the head coach accepted a new position and the incumbent starting quarterback took his own life? Coach Mike Leach has the difficult task ahead of him of doing just that for the Washington State Cougars.
During the offseason Leach accepted the head coaching position at the University of Tennessee. However the Athletic Director was immediately fired and Mike Leach was no longer their guy. How will the players respond to the return of their shortly departed coach? Did they check out from offseason workouts? Will the effort be there in late game scenarios?
The Wazzu football family also saw another painful reminder of how destructive the game of football can be with the tragic passing of starting quarterback Tyler Hilinski.
As a bettor you have to decide on boundaries. We are trained to use every piece of data in order to make our decisions. Between the suicide and the head coach drama the Cougars had an offseason unlike any other.
Washington State is also dealing with a lot of roster turnover. The school record holder for wins as a quarterback, Luke Falk, was drafted by the Tennessee Titans. Pac 12 sacks leader and top five best athlete names of all time, Hercules Mata’ata, also left for the NFL.
Both leading wide receivers are gone, Tavares Martin Jr (831 yards and 9 touchdowns) and Isaiah Johnson-Mack (555 yards and 5 touchdowns). Tavares was either cut or granted release by the team (no one knows for certain) and Isaiah was granted release from the program.
The market is aware of the troubles Washington State has had to deal with. The Cougars win total is set at 7.5 (-115 Over / -115 Under, BetDSI) despite winning eight or more games over the last three seasons. With a strengthened Pac 12 WSU is +3500 (5Dimes) to win the Pac 12 and +70000 (5Dimes) for National Champions.
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The hits keep coming as running back Jamal Morrow graduated after leading the team in rushing yards (522) and rushing touchdowns (4). The good news is that James Williams who lead the team in carries while totaling 877 yards from scrimmage and 4 touchdowns is returning.
The quarterback battle will be decided between Gardner Minshew a transfer from East Carolina University and Redshirt Juniors Trey Tinsley and Anthony Gordon. Minshew threw for 3,487 yards, 24 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions in 17 games over two seasons at ECU. The Juniors have the advantage of experience in the system, but at this point the starting job is wide open.
The offensive line also lost talented tackle Cole Madison (draft) and both guards. However, offensive line is not as important as at other schools due to the nature of the quick passing attack that the Cougars run.
The linebacker corp features some exciting prospects and depth. Sophomores Jahad Woods and Justus Rogers will be the two starting outside linebackers. In the middle is Senior Peyton Pelluer who only played three games last season. For his career he has appeared in 39 games and will provide valuable veteran leadership.
The defensive line will be missing Hercules all season long. He signed with the Minnesota Vikings, but unfortunately just tore his ACL and was waived. defensive lineman Nmamdi Oguayo is expected to be one of the best players on defense after collecting four sacks and seven tackles for loss in 2017.
The secondary should be in good hands as long as safety Jalen Thompson is on the filed. Jalen led the team in tackles last year with 73 and also had four interceptions. He was listed on the Bednarik Award (given to the best defensive player in the country) watch list.
The schedule is awful. There are no easy home games once conference play begins. The Cougars welcome Washington, Oregon, Utah, Arizona, and California. The games that should be wins against Oregon State and Colorado are going to be played on the road. The good news is Mike Leach has been coaching for a long time.
Since he took over the Texas tech job in 2000, Coach Leach has won eight or more games in eleven out of 16 seasons (there was a three year hiatus after the Texas Tech job). The Cougars do have a new defensive coordinator in Tracy Claeys, but Leach has been watching coordinators come and go for a while.
Tracy Claeys was brought over from Minnesota where he was the head coach. Previous defensive coordinator Alex Grinch left to join the Ohio State staff most likely due to the uncertainty around Leach’s future. Tracy engineered some very strong defensive units at Minnesota and should be able to help WSU sustain previous defensive success.
My Pick: Under 7.5 (-115)
The roster turnover and offseason events are too much for me back this team. I respect Leach for his coaching abilities, but he has always created unnecessary drama for his team.
The Cougars possibly lost the best offensive and defensive players in team history in Luke and Hercules. Washington State is a victim of my raised expectations for the rest of the Pac 12. On top of the previously mentioned issues, I also hate the schedule. I would not be surprised if Leach accepts another position next offseason.
-END OF 2018 PREVIEW-
The Washington State Cougars have turned into contenders under head coach Mike Leach, as they have gone 17-9 in the last two years. They went 6-3 in the Pac-12 two years ago and last year they were 7-2. Could 2017 be the season where the Cougars challenge Washington for the Pac-12 North title? The Cougars have the offense to contend, as they have a top quarterback in Luke Falk, so if the defense continues to improve, there is a chance Washington State could steal the Pac-12 North this season. Oddsmakers set the win total for the Cougars for 2017 at 7.5 at 5Dimes Sportsbook. Let’s see if Washington State can win at least 8 games to go over the total.
2017 Washington State Cougars Win Total
2017 Washington State Cougars Schedule
Sept. 2 – Montana State
Sept. 9 – Boise State
Sept. 16 – Oregon State
Sept. 23 – Nevada
Sept. 29 – USC
Oct. 7 – at Oregon
Oct. 13 – at California
Oct. 21 – Colorado
Oct. 28– at Arizona
Nov. 4 – Stanford
Nov. 11 – at Utah
Nov. 18 – BYE
Nov. 25 – at Washington
The Cougars are going to have an explosive offense this season led by quarterback Luke Falk. He is coming off a season in which he threw for 4,561 yards and 38 TDs. He has a lot of talent around him with a trio of good running backs in Gerard Wicks, Jamal Morrow and James Williams who combined to rush for 1,645 yards and 22 touchdowns last season. Those three are joined by Keith Harrington who returns from injury.
The Cougars return three starters from the offensive line including 6’9″, 370-pound left guard Cody O’Connell who was a unanimous All-America selection last season.
The Cougars have plenty of receivers for Falk to throw to led by Tavares Martin who had 64 catches for 728 yards and 7 TDs last season. Washington State will miss Gabs Marks but someone else will step up and get a lot of work.
The Cougars continue to make progress under defensive coordinator Alex Grinch. The one weakness is up front as the Cougars have Hercules Mata’afa, who has 12 sacks in the last two years, and not much else. They will rely on their linebackers to help out Mata’afa. Washington State has senior Peyton Pelluer, Frankie Luvu and Isaac Dotson.
The secondary is led by Robert Taylor and Jalen Thompson. The Cougars also have cornerback Darrien Molton and sophomore Marcus Strong.
The Cougars did a great job last year forcing turnovers, as they had 23 takeaways.
The Cougars return Erik Powell who missed his first five field goals last season and then hit 9 of his last 10. Powell may be called on to also handle the punting duties this season.
You have to give Leach some credit, as he has turned Washington State into a good team. They still have their issues, as they are undisciplined, taking a lot of penalties. If Leach could just get his team to play smart they might have a chance to win the Pac-12 North this season.
2017 Washington State Cougars Win Total Prediction
Anything less than an 8-win season would be a disappointment and winning 9 games is a real possibility. The schedule for Washington State is really weird, as the Cougars play their first five games at home and then five of their last seven on the road. Let’s look at the slate to see if the Cougars can get to 8 wins.
The first four games of the season should all be wins for the Cougars and then Washington State gets a massive home game against USC. That game may decide the season, as if they win they would get to 5-0 and have momentum heading to Eugene to face the Ducks but a loss could send the season the wrong way. The Cougars need to take advantage of their early schedule because they close the season with a tough home game against Stanford and then road tilts at Utah and Washington.
At first glance the Cougars should go over the total of 7.5 but I am leery of getting too excited about this number simply because I can see things spiraling out of control if they lose the games against USC and Oregon. I think the Cougars will be all or nothing in 2017, as they will win 10 games and have a shot at a big bowl or they will struggle to have a winning record. I am leaning toward a big season for WSU and the team winning at least 8 games but it is a cautious play.
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