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ATQ's Pac-10 Preview Spectacular: Washington State University

Washington State Cougars


Head Coach:  Bill Doba 25-22 @ WSU

2006 Record:  6-6 (4-5 Pac-10)

2006 vs. Oregon:  34-23 Cougs at the Palouse

2007 vs. Oregon:  10/13 at Autzen

Returning Starters:


7 offensive, 5 defensive

2007 Schedule:


9/1 @Wisconsin

9/8 San Diego State (Qwest Field in Seattle)

9/15 Idaho

9/22 @USC

9/29 @Arizona

10/6 Arizona State

10/13 @Oregon

10/27 UCLA

11/3 @California

11/10 Stanford

11/17 Oregon State

11/24 @Washington

Bill Doba is a really nice guy.  He's a really good defensive coordinator.  The problem is that it just doesn't seem like he's a very good head coach.  While Wazzu does have a winning record during his time in Pullman, Washington State has become more known for blowing games in which victory was certain than anything else.  The Cougars have blown so many of these games in recent years that the term "Coug it" has become common college football nomenclature when a team snatches defeat from the jaws of victory.  Last year was a big example.  The Cougars were 6-3 after nine games last season, their only losses to Auburn, USC, and Cal.  With a bowl game certain, they Coug'd their season, losing the last three to less than stellar Arizona, ASU, and UW.

The good news in Pullman is that there is talent returning.  Duck fans will no doubt remember the performance that quarterback Alex Brink had against Oregon last season.  Michael Bumpus and Brandon Gibson are fine receivers.  But questions about the suspect defense, which has caused Doba to resume his duties as defensive coordinator, and a potential quarterback controversy could make for a long season in Pullman.  Wazzu hasn't been to a bowl game in three years.  That streak is likely to extend to four--and if it does, Bill Doba might be given the boot out of the Palouse.

Offense

Quarterbacks


Former Sheldon quarterback Alex Brink will start in Pullman for a third consecutive season.  Brink has always had good stats.  Last season, he had over a 60% completion rate and 2,900 yards with 19 touchdowns to 10 interceptions.  However, his lack of a big arm, and, more likely, lackluster win-loss record over the last few years, has led many fans to become unenamored with Brink, and clamoring for his backup, Junior Gary Rogers, to take over as the starter.  Rogers has the big play arm that fans fall in love with, but has never shown the consistency that Brink has.  That being said, if the season spins out of control early, Rogers could see his playing time increase.

Running Backs


The Cougars are definitely a pass-first team.  That being said, they run more than you seem to think, averaging 128 yards on the ground last year.  With the loss of Jason Hill from the receiving corps, the backs will need to help pick up the slack.  Starter Dwight Tardy only had 667 yards last years, but averaged a very respectable 4.6 ypc.  Tardy will have the opportunity to rack up a lot more yards this year because it is unsure what exactly Wazzu has behind Tardy on the depth chart.  There are some academic concerns among some of the more experienced backups.  However, the coaching staff is reportedly high on Chris Ivory, who could end up with the job despite only having three carries in his career.  Its important that somebody step up, because Tardy may not be able to carry the load himself.

Receivers


The bad news for the wide receiving corps is that they lost their best player, as Jason Hill will now play on Sundays.  However, the Cougs still return a considerable amount of talent that should make this a strong group of WRs.  Michael Bumpus is a great possession receiver who can also be deadly in the open field (as his moonlighting as a punt returner attests).  Brandon Gibson will have to take over for Hill as the deep threat.  Both were excellent last season, but won't have Hill to help them out this year.  A deep group looks to engage in a tough competiton for the remaining spots in the rotation.  Charles Dillon has the most experience, but 3-4 other guys could see meaningful possessions as well.  As Duck fans well know, Jed Collins is a beast at tight end.  When this team falters, it will not be the fault of the receivers.  They should be a good group.

Offensive Line


The offensive line is a unit with a lot of uncertainties.  The returners are pretty average, and the newbies have a lot of question marks.  Center Kenny Alfred and tackles Bobby Byrd and Dan Rowlands return.  The real problems could be at the guard positions.  There are a slew of candidates to replace the two starters.  They are short on experience, but long on potential.  Depending on how these two positions do, they could elevate or downgrade this unit.

Defense

Defensive Line

The bad news is that the defensive line lost Mkristo Bruce and his eleven sacks.  But this crew is still probably the strongest unit on the defense.  Three starters return.  TacklesAaron Johnson and Ropati Pitoitua are huge at 6'7" and 6'8", respectively and are the kind of run stopping linemen that really eat up the middle of the line.  They were a big reason why Bruce was able to come in from the end to get those sacks last season.  Lance Broadus, who signed his original LOI with Oregon a number of years back, returns at one end, although he is more linebacker size than lineman size.  Mike Graise and Matt Mullennixwill compete for the spot at the other end.  Graise is small and quick, while Mullennix is bigger and may be better served backing up the tackles on the interior.

Linebackers


The Cougs return only one starting linebacker, but that returner is a stud.  Greg Trent is a four year starter and the emotional leader of the defense at middle linebacker.  The guys on the outside should be okay as well, as Wazzu has some talented depth there.  Four guys, Cory Evans, Alex Hammill, Jason Stripling, and Andy Mattingly should share time at the other position.  They all have talent and experience.  This unit could may not have as much upside as the defensive line, but should be more consistent.

Secondary


The secondary could be a real weak point for Wazzu.  The unit that got roasted last year returns only one of the four starters, free safety Husain Abdullah.  After that, It'll be interesting to see what happens.  Christian Bass will probably get the nod at the other safety spot, and JUCO transferTerry Mixonwill play somewhere.  After that, who knows?  Mixon should be an upgrade somewhere, likely on a corner.  But, quite honestly, the rest of the bunch is a lot of the same group of retreads that they threw out there last year.  Unless they got significantly better, its just not that good of a unit, and good opposing quarterbacks will make them pay.

Special Teams


Special teams will not be a huge source of strength for the Cougs this year.  Bumpus could be explosive in the return game, but the kickers are nothing to crow home about.  Darryl Blunt averaged a respectable 41 yards a punt.  However, there is a controversy at kicker.  Three year starterLoren Langley fell apart at the end of last season, and soccer playerRomeen Abdollmohammadi was kicking at the end of the season.  Langley should have every opportunity at the job, but if he struggles again, we could have a nasty situation on our hands.

Prediction


Wazzu really has their work cut out for them this season.  The coaching isn't great.  The offense is average, and the defense is below.  And trips to Madison, Eugene, Berkeley, and the LA Coliseum isn't doing the Cougars a whole lot of favors.  Add a trip to Seattle for the Apple Cup--a game that Washington State always struggles in--and things get really difficult.  Its going to be another long season on the Palouse.  They'll beat Stanford, and probably pull out a couple of other conference games.  But three wins in this conference is only good for eighth place.  But, hey, at least the Cougars have basketball season to look forward to.

--Dave