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The Figgis Forum: Washington State

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UCLA v Washington State Photo by William Mancebo/Getty Images

Welcome to the seventh edition of The Figgis Forum, a fan-driven season preview for each Pac-12 team. It’s time to hit the road and leave the beautiful scenery of Boulder behind and make the 1,150 mile trek northwest. We’re heading for a true college town located in South East Washington where there’s not much to do other than drink or watch sports. That being said, we’re headed for Pullman, Washington to get loose on the Palouse with the Washington State Cougars.

WSU

Fast Facts:

All-Time Record: 530-547-45 (.492%)

National Championships: 0

Conference Championships: 4

Bowl Games: 13

Bowl Record: 7-6 (.538%)

Consensus All-Americans: 6

Heismans: 0

NFL Draft Picks: 189

1st Round Draft Picks: 13

Weeks in AP Poll: 133

Weeks at #1: 0

Vs Oregon:

All-Time Record: 40-49-7

Longest Win Streak: 4 Games (1950-1953)

Longest Losing Streak: 8 Games (2007-2014)

Largest Margin of Victory: 55-16 (2003)

Largest Margin of Defeat: 14-63 (2008)

Last Meeting: 2016 (W 51-33)

Overview

Did you know that Washington State is one of two schools in the Pac-12 to have a sub-.500 career win percentage? I didn’t, but sadly, I wasn’t entirely surprised by this fact. It’s no secret that recruiting young talented athletes to Pullman, Washington isn’t an easy task. The Cougs have endured many challenging years with occasional teams that overachieved, surpassing expectations. They’ve also had a few truly stellar teams in recent memory. Then, there were the teams that always seemed to give the game away in the end, earning the moniker “Cougin’ it”. Why bring this up? Well, I believe that throughout the Pac-12 and even the country, you’d have a hard time finding an alumni network and fan base as loyal to their team, regardless of expectations or outcomes, as the Cougs. They embrace the underdog mentality and through it all, they endure. Wazzu even has a website dedicated to having their iconic flag, Ol’ Crimson, at every ESPN College Gameday broadcast, a streak currently at 191 consecutive appearances.

Washington State’s longest streak of consecutive seasons at or above .500 is 12, from 1926 to 1937. At that time they were led by head coach Orin E. “Babe” Hollingbery who to this day remains the winning-est coach in program history with a record of 93-53-14. He is also one of just two WSU coaches in the past 65 years to have a win percentage above .600. The other coach, Forest Evashevski, only coached for two years as opposed to Hollingbery’s 17. After the 1942 season, the football program was suspended for WWII and when it was restarted for the 1945 season, Hollingbery decided not to return. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1979.

Since the WWII hiatus, the largest streak of consecutive winning seasons has been three, achieved twice from 1957 to 1959 and 2001 to 2003. After records of 9-4 and 8-5 the past two seasons, the Cougs will likely secure a third straight winning season this year. Under current pirate head coach Mike Leach, sustained success is finally not only a possibility, but looking more and more like reality. This is a very welcome reality for fans as Wazzu has recorded just 23 winning seasons in the past 70 years. During this time, the Cougs would often have one winning season between spans of three to five years of losing ones.

The streaks began to change in the 1980’s when Washington State was finishing above .500 more frequently. Then in 1988, Dennis Erickson led the Cougs to their first 9-win season since 1930 and their first bowl win since the 1916 Rose Bowl. Erickson left after the season to become the head coach at Miami and Wazzu hired Mike Price. Price led the Cougs to heights they had never before seen, with three ten-win seasons in 1997, 2001 and 2002 with two Rose Bowl appearances. He coached Washington State for 14 years and his 83 wins rank second all-time in program history. After the 2002 season Price was hired to become the next head coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide. Before he was ever able to coach a single game, he was let go after being seen at a strip club and having $1,000 charged to his room by an unknown woman.

After Price’s departure, Defensive Coordinator Bill Doba was promoted to head coach for the 2003 season. In his first year, the Cougs finished 10-3 with win over Texas in the Holiday Bowl and a #9 final ranking. It was all downhill from there as the Cougars would not go to another bowl game until 2013. After Doba came Paul Wulff who coached for four years and never won more than four games in a season. When Wulff was let go, Washington State made a high-profile hire in the highly entertaining Mike Leach. If you live under a rock and have never seen an interview with Leach, do yourself a favor and watch this video. In his first season in 2012, the Cougs finish 3-9. The next year they finished the season 6-7 after an epic collapse in the New Mexico Bowl. In 2014 they regressed back to 3-9, but since then the Cougs have had much more success, finishing 9-3 in 2015 and 8-4 last year. This year they return a lot of talent on offense and will undoubtedly give opposing defenses a lot of trouble. The question for the Cougs is; can they climb to the upper tier of the conference or will they remain in the middle of the pack for another year?

Fan Q & A

For the following section, I would like to thank CougCenter for taking the time to answer my questions and give perspective on their upcoming season.

What win total would constitute a successful season? What bowl game?

I think anything at 8 or above in the regular season will make people feel pretty good after achieving 8 regular season victories each of the past two years. As for the bowl game, I think fans would enjoy any of the top four tie-ins -- even heading back to the Holiday Bowl and San Diego for the second consecutive year would be fine.

What win total would constitute a failed season? What bowl game?

Anything less than 6 with no bowl game would be a complete and total disaster with everyone that's coming back, including Luke Falk. I think 6 or 7 regular season wins would be disappointing, and I don't think our fans would be real fired up to go to El Paso for the second time in three years if it comes down to that.

What are you most optimistic about this coming season?

Luke Falk being awesome and the offense being awesome right along with him. We lost a couple of incredible receivers -- Gabe Marks and River Cracraft are all over the WSU record books -- but the group of running backs is among the best in the conference and Tavares Martin Jr. is poised for a massive season on the outside. The offensive line should also remain strong, led by all-American guard Cody O'Connell. I feel excellent about the offense.

What are you most apprehensive about this season?

Run defense. WSU lost its best run stuffer (nose tackle Robert Barber) and will be a little smaller up front this year than years past. It's not a massive concern, but I'm feeling a little uneasy about it. A close second is how the defense moves forward without Shalom Luani, who was a real difference maker at nickelback -- that's a hybrid LB/DB position at WSU. He was incredibly disruptive, and there are big shoes to fill there.

What do you expect to be the toughest game?

Washington. Partially because the Huskies should be good again, and partially because we haven't even been competitive against them in that game in years.

What could be a potential trap game?

The first game of the season against Montana State. Casual fans might laugh, but WSU has lost its opener to an FCS school each of the past two seasons.

Are there any injury or depth concerns heading into the season?

Not particularly. Mike Leach and his staff have done a nice job building the depth up to the point where WSU doesn't have any more depth concerns than any other typical Pac-12 team. If you forced me to pick a spot, it would be defensive tackle; I mentioned WSU is getting smaller there, and if starter Daniel Ekuale goes down, things get real thin in a hurry.

Who do you think will win each division?

Washington and USC

Who will come in last in each division?

Cal and Arizona

How do you think your in-state rival will finish?

Pac-12 champs, unfortunately.

Previous Figgis Forums:

Arizona

Arizona State

California

Stanford

Utah

Colorado